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Julia Meek brings Folktales to the classroom

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Julia Meek, the host and producer of Northeast Indiana Public Radio’s Folktales on WBOI (88.7 FM), has long wanted to add something to her popular program. “One thing that I’ve always found missing (on the radio show) is spoken word folktales that are not in my voice,” she says.

Those other voices will come courtesy of students from Sara Zielinski’s 6th grade language arts class at Central Lutheran in New Haven, when Meek brings a version of Folktales to the classroom later this month. “The kids have been studying stories and folktales,” says Meek. “After talking to the kids about writing and reading their own stories, we’re going to ask for those who want to write one for us. I’ll be collecting anecdotes and adages they might remember, like their aunt who always said ‘if you look like that, your face is gonna freeze.’” The children will record their fables for a later broadcast on Meek’s program, and Meek will “collage in” the stories with music.

A few basic ingredients go into every fable. As a rule, fables are usually pretty short and to the point; the more details you can include, the more convincing the story, but the whole purpose is to illustrate a virtue, a lesson, or a legend that might explain something. “Every folktale is something that should be remembered,” Meek explains. “Teach a lesson, pass on a moral or an important bit of advice.” The great-aunt’s dire warning about your face freezing permanently into a sour expression, for example, could be the foundation for a story on the virtues of gratitude or optimism.

Meek has always been passionate about local lore and social history, and cites two musicologists as her heros: Francis Child, who compiled The English and Scottish Popular Ballads in the late 1800s, and Alan Lomax, the American archivist who developed the Archive of Folksong at the Library of Congress and is widely credited with bringing artists like Woodie Gutherie and Leadbelly to national attention. What is remarkable about folktales and folk music isn’t necessarily how far back these stories can be traced, but the fact that the same basic stories seem to show up everywhere in the world, and are transferred into music. “Everybody knows Aesop’s fables,” she says. “There’s no theme in Aesop’s fables that’s not covered in folktales world ‘round. There are common threads. That’s not just a pat phrase. It doesn’t matter what language we speak, what government we have, every culture has these same, basic stories.”

Meek says she can’t wait to see what the kids come up with, and hopes to bring this program into more schools next year. Like her radio show, she says that she’d like to bring different themes to each program, and see what the kids can do with them. “When I’m teaching art or music or storytelling to kids, I always admire and thrive on their own creativity,” she says. “If you can get them past their shyness, that basic pure creativity will show through.”

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