Mat­a­peake stu­dents travel to see sto­ry­teller spin yarns

Record Observer - - News - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

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.

HAN­NAH COMBS

Stu­dents from Mat­a­peake Ele­men­tary School lis­ten to award win­ning sto­ry­teller, Michael Har­rell at the first Ch­e­sa­peake Sto­ry­telling Fes­ti­val at Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege.

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