Norma J. Livo,
Troubadour's Storybag
(Fulcrum Publishing, 1996)

This is a wonderful resource book for the storyteller, teacher, musician, or folklorist. Packed with 39 folktales about musicians, musical instruments, or the way music impacts the world, this volume could rapidly become one of the most well-worn on any storyteller's bookshelf. The tales span the globe, from Russia to the United States, from New Zealand to Nigeria. There are tales about drums, about songs, about harps, about pipes. There's a story in here for every taste that includes an interest in music.

I consider myself to be quite knowledgeable when it comes to folktales, folklore, and stories about musical instruments. I was quite familiar with standards such as "The Nightingale," "The Singing Bone" and "The Ladies from Hell." However, I discovered material in this book that I had never heard before. Have you heard the tale from New Zealand about the young chief who falls in love with a lovely maiden from a neighboring tribe, and woos her with love songs on his flute from across the water? How about the Mexican tale about how music first came to be? Have you read the original folk tale that inspired the libretto for Mozart's opera, "The Magic Flute?" Have you heard the story about a drum, styled like a Kipling "Just So" story, or how the turtle got his shell? If the answer to any of these is no, you need this book!

Norma Livo has done an excellent job of collecting and retelling these tales. She has not presented them in the oral tradition, as is common in many folklore books of this nature. Instead, she has taken the source information and smoothed it over so that it makes easy reading. The tales remain simple and elegant, without unnecessary decoration or details. However, they read much more fluidly, and tend to make more internal sense than many written down solely from the oral tradition. Folklore purists will not appreciate this, but those with a fondness for literary elegance will.

Another wonderful element to this book is the "suggestions for extending experiences" at the end of each section. This list is obviously designed for teachers, as it suggests projects students of all ages and levels can pursue to learn more about various aspects of the tales, or about music. There are instructions for making a simple "African Rainstick," which I learned from this book originated in Chile, not Africa. There are suggestions for doing further research on some of the common themes of these folktales. There are suggestions for putting on plays. The ideas are stated simply, without much elaboration, but are enough to spark ideas in a teacher's mind which will lead to new and creative projects for every class or student. These lists would also be useful for music group leaders, or even individuals with an interest in further study.

All in all, this is a terrific book. I would have liked to have seen a list of suggested resources for further study, and a list of sources for each tale, rather than attributions for only some of the stories. Overall, however, the collection is well-constructed and well-told. A must-have for the bookshelves of every storyteller and musician.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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