Matapeake students travel to see storyteller spin yarns
WYE MILLS — Third-graders from Matapeake Elementary attended a one-of-a-kind performance at Chesapeake College on Friday, April 29. Students in Kari Claytor, Kelly Herold, Rebecca Rickabaugh, Karen Welsh’s classes attended a storytelling session by nationally recognized storyteller and awardwinning songwriter Michael Reno Harrell.
Harrell hails from the south, specifically the Southern Appalachian Mountains, which feature prominently in his stories. Harrell has the distinction of being a featured teller at the National Storytelling Festival and to be TellerIn-Residence at the International Storytelling Center, as well as performing at major music events like MerleFest and the Walnut Valley Festival. Harrell often conducts workshops in songwriting and storytelling as well.
Queen Anne’s County Library director John Walden welcomed the students to Friday’s performance. The library and Chesapeake College partnered with the Queen Anne’s County Arts Council to present the two-day event. For many of the students, it was their first time experiencing a live performance.
Harrell entertained his student audience with engaging folk songs “Me and You” and a zany little storytelling song about a pirate who was no good at stealing because his victims always smelled him coming and sailed away “real fast.” The pirate, whose “hair was full of slime and never brushed his teeth; had dog poop on his shoes and never changed his underwear,” was an instant hit with the third graders; they found Harrell’s sense of humor hilarious.
Harrell’s stories often feature tales of his youth in Appalachia, and the students listened raptly as he told of his attempt to impress his elementary school sweetheart with the best Halloween costume ever. To win her over, Harrell said he took a bed sheet and cut out holes for the eyes. His brother wrapped him in twinkly Christmas lights and covered his eyes with welding goggles. Harrell wanted, he said, to be a real, flying ghost, so he set up a ramp in front of his friend’s house and took off racing down the mountain on his bike. Down the mountain, and over the ramp, Harrell said, he went “flying through the air, flying through the air, flying through the air, all the way over the side of the mountain ... and I thought to myself I’m going to be a real ghost in a minute,” when he landed in a patch of blackberry bushes.
When he woke up he was lying in the hospital with his mother standing next to him. Harrell said she took him home wrapped head to toe in gauze bandages. The girl Harrell wanted so badly to impress stopped to visit him and fell in love with his mummy costume.
The students wanted to know if all of Harrell’s stories were true. He answered, “Every word was a story.”
Harrell explained storytelling is his job. “I take a story, and make it a little better,” Harrell told the children. “It may be made up, but it is fun to tell.”
Harrell said there is often a little bit of truth to the stories he weaves. “Every time I tell a story, it is the same mountain in the story, the mountain I grew up on,” he said.
“When we laugh together, we bond,” he added.
Students from Matapeake Elementary School listen to award winning storyteller, Michael Harrell at the first Chesapeake Storytelling Festival at Chesapeake College.