Today I told two Holiday tales to 300 middle school kids in Laconia, NH. I don’t know if I’ve ever had so much fun holding middle school kids spellbound for fifty minutes as I did today, I really don’t. I harped for them as they noisily came in and sat on the bleachers. Slowly but surely the music began to get them, 6th and 7th graders from a somewhat rough-and-tumble town along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee, all relating like mad to one another in little clumps of conversation, which I always expect from middle schoolers during the entering of the space.
At most stage shows, the audience gets to come in and either sit in silence or else listen to piped music until they begin to chat in a happy roar and then the curtain opens. For better or worse, in my shows, as kids leave their classrooms and line up to come down to the gym or auditorium or multi-purpose room, they can hear the harp music probably from thirty or forty feet away from the doors.
I have Charles Bradley and the great people at the Putnam Fund to thank for today’s show and others I did earlier this month up in Laconia. The other ones were at a Catholic school for an all-age group, and shows for elementary schools where I experienced the great privilege of being trusted enough to to even have Pre-K children in my audience, very young and sensitive souls that they are, and to make them laugh and feel safe inside my stories.
The Pre-Ks, just out of diapers and learning to socialize, are little tiny children, they really are, and I always like when they’re the first to come in. It’s not that they’re privileged, it’s just because as the shortest kids, they’re naturally in the front row. All these kids are sitting on their gym floors or in auditoriums. The Pre-Ks, who are like numinous little beings, only trust their parents and their beloved teacher usually. And other gentle ladies around them. They’re not sure about the custodian men or most other males. Children at this age are still deeply attached to their mothers and dads only.
But I’m a stranger. To make things even more horrible, I’m a big bearded man (beards are known to scare little kids fairly often) sitting there playing a harp, paying more attention to the playing than I am to them at first. Wonderful, watchful women have led them in. So eventually I smile at the kids and make some sparkly tinkle of harp music, and lo, they burst into smiles and so I touch my heart and thank them, take a breath, and I play for them some more, some extemporization that is tender or fast or whatever, and this utterly engages them. I watch their teachers glancing down at the problem boys or girls, exchanging comments that I never hear, but I know they’re remarking about how certain students who are usually bouncing off the walls are sitting uncharacteristically still.
Anyway, I had that privilege again today, to tell other stories in yet another setting to older kids. Lots of young musicians and artists, a teacher told me after the show. One kid was a guitar player and had realized I was playing a 12-string. I don’t think he’d ever seen one played. One girl, who I’d noticed had been one of the first to listen to the harping even while kids around her were chatting, came up afterwards and smiled, saying she’d liked the harp a lot. I thanked her a lot. A little boy with a mop of purple hair said those were cool stories. With a bunch of other kids who wanted to high-five, I declined, saying to them that I didn’t want to give them my cold.
Alison, the principal, said she’d enjoyed the most just watching the kids’ faces.
So that was this morning.
In any case, I’m offering two last WINTER CHERRIES shows for this Holiday Season over the next couple of evenings, here in New Hampshire. If you have friends anywhere near Hampton or Plainfield, New Hampshire, please let them know that WINTER CHERRIES storytellings are for families, sponsored by two fine libraries, and they’re happening during the next two evenings. They’re free to the public.
Details are at my web calendar here.