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Three Tales Told Well From The 2013 Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival

Jim Johnson

Storytelling is an innate human trait.

Long before the written word, stories were conveyed audibly through voice and music, and/or visually through art. They were used to explain significant events like natural disasters, conflicts, and histories. Myths, legends, fairytales, fables, ghost stories, heroic tales, epic adventures, religions, and origin stories grew from acts of storytelling.   

“I think it comes down to something as deep and profound as somebody’s DNA,” said professional musician and storyteller Patrick Ball. “There’s just something in somebody’s makeup that finds these things marvelous and wants to be a part of them.”

Ball shared tales and insights into the art of professional storytelling during the 2013 Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival. 

“The very first time I ever heard anyone telling a story was in the Blueridge Mountains,” Ball said. “This was a pretty long time ago. I was living in a place called Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. I was about to leave to go to travel in Ireland and the UK and somebody said, ‘There is this really old storyteller in the mountains. He got into a car accident and all his friends are going to come out and tell stories.’”

The injured storyteller was Ray Hicks, regarded by many in the region as the patriarch of Appalachian storytellers.

“So all these storytellers from the hills came out and put on a benefit for him,” Ball said. “That was the first time I ever heard anyone telling stories.  I was stunned, less by the story itself and by what was happening in the story, but much more so by the lyrical quality to the way they told the stories.  And I was just so overwhelmed by how musical it was.”

The actual story was secondary to Ball, who in his early years as a professional storyteller focused primarily on the musicality of the craft.

“One of the problems I had as a storyteller in the beginning was I didn’t care at all what the story was about,” Ball said. “All I cared about was what the story sounded like. And so I had very few fans.  It was only after I began to dig into the material and get a grasp of the cultural lineage of the stories that the musicality of the story and what they were actually talking about began to blend and actually began to work in my stories.”

These days Patrick Ball incorporates his musical sensibilities into a unique and well-crafted presentation that usually focuses on the culture and mythology of Ireland – as was the case with the stories he shared during the 2013 Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival.

Ball was joined in 2013 byJudith Black, who is considered a pioneer in the field with her work on the long-running Storytellers in Concert series; Barbara McBride-Smith, a current resident of Oklahoma and recipient of the John Henry Faulk Award for Outstanding Contributions to Storytelling; and Alton Chung, whose storytelling is anchored in the lore of the Hawaiian Islands.  

Editor’s Note: The 2014 Oklahoma City Storytelling Festival will take place August 21-23, 2014 at the Oklahoma History Center.

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Jim is a journalism/mass communications graduate from the University of Oklahoma who has been a life-long radio listener and enthusiast.
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