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The King & The Thrush

Facts and Fiction
"The UK's Premier Storytelling Journal
"A brilliant example of how to tell as a duo... you have to be completely in tune to work like this, it's almost verbal jazz. I thoroughly recommend them." Pete Castle, editor
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School Library Journal
starStarred Review
"Masterful telling...The storytellers' incredible performance takes tandem telling to its highest level with their overlapping delivery, crisp dialogue, and songs and instrumentals. This not-to-be-missed recording will enchant and delight both children and adults."
full text

American Library Association
"Sparkles with vitality and humor. Polished by their stage performances (these stories were recorded in front of a mixed-age audience), their timing is impeccable, and humor infectious."
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European Online Magazine
" Master storytelling; unique, very entertaining and engaging; spontaneous and innovative. Lovely."
full textFolkWorld website

Seven Days
Vermont's Independent Voice
"Vermont master storytellers transfix listeners of all ages...hypnotic and utterly captivating."
full text | 7 days website

Montpelier Times Argus
"Leanne Ponder and Tim Jennings have been regaling Vermont audiences with tales and music for over 20 years, weaving stories, characters, places and themes in a compelling narrative style. Paupers and rich men, imps and talking pots come to life in a delightful blend – with lots of expression, wit, and good humor."
full text | times-argus website home | The King and The Thrush

Facts & Fiction

"The UK's Premier Storytelling Journal"
Two or three years ago I was sent two CDs by a couple of American storytellers I hadn’t heard of before— Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder. I had a quick listen and liked what I heard but sent them both off for other people to review. I’ve kicked myself ever since! I should have kept at least one of them. They were a brilliant example of how to tell as a duo and I would have loved to be able to use them as illustrations of that at various workshops since. Well, now I have their latest offering to use! (By the way, the other reviewers were equally impressed!)

Tim and Leanne are a couple in every sense and that shows in the telling. You have to be completely in tune to work like this. Other duo tellers I’ve seen break up the stories into obvious sections: one tells this part, the other the next; or they take separate characters and each tell that part of the story, like doing a play. Or sometimes it’s just a case of alternate stories! Tim and Leanne work much more like musicians, it’s almost verbal jazz. They start and finish each other’s sentences, they overlap— sometimes saying the same thing sometimes something different (just like any old married couple!) they build excitement or tension by shouting almost random strings of words... It sounds free and easy and improvised, and I would guess it is; but it must also be well thought through and thoroughly rehearsed. Sometimes the layering of voices suggests that you are hearing more than two people, but you’re not.

This is a live recording made at Vermont College of Fine Arts last September, and I would guess from the audience reaction that there is a lot of physical action going on as well. It’s a family audience and they all seem to be having a good time especially on the final story where they provide the sound effects. Obviously they were “trained” before the story started but on the CD it comes as a huge surprise!

The stories on this album are The Wonderful Pot; The King and The Thrush; Imps of Misfortune; and Jackal’s Pond. Between each story is “a little Celtic music on harp and concertina” which serves as a punctuation mark. They are accomplished musicians as well.

You can buy this and their other albums direct from their web site or from but these are both US based and I don’t know what delivery would cost. But you can also buy it from F&F— see ad on p29.

I’d thoroughly recommend them both for your simple enjoyment but also as a guide if you are thinking of telling in tandem with someone else.
Pete Castle (editor)

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starSchool Library Journal - starred review

Issue: May 1 2010
Vermont storytellers Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder have adapted
three folktales and one original story for this live recording. Celtic
music played on harp and concertina separate the tales, while the
laughter and singing of the audience enhance their masterful telling. In
the title story, a small thrush in beautiful clothes is captured by the
king and eaten. Singing a lilting tra-la-la (even from the king's
stomach), the bird declares the king is not an honest man, ultimately
causing his death. "The Wonderful Pot," with roots in Denmark, tells how
a three-legged pot brings the queen's pudding and all the king's grain
and money to a pauper and his wife. In "The Jackal's Pond," a foolish
jackal wears dead frogs as earrings and requires a song of praise before
allowing animals a drink from a pond in a time of drought. "Imps of
Misfortune," adapted from Christina Oparenko's Ukrainian Folktales
(Oxford, 1996), tells of a poor carpenter so plagued by bad luck that he
must beg food for his family from his wealthy but selfish brother. Given
only water (which tastes mysteriously like wine), the carpenter turns
toward home and discovers the imps of misfortune. Tricking them, the
brothers' fortunes are reversed in this satisfying and delightfully
moral tale. The storytellers' incredible performance takes tandem
telling to its highest level with their overlapping delivery, crisp
dialogue, and songs and instrumentals. This not-to-be-missed recording
will enchant and delight both children and adults.-Mary Jean Smith,
Southside Elementary School, Lebanon, TN



Issue: May 1, 2010
The King and the Thrush: Tales of Goodness and Greed.

Jan 2010. Eastern Coyote, CD, $12.00. (9780979355448).

Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder’s tandem method of storytelling sparkles with vitality and humor. Polished by their stage performances (these stories were recorded in front of a mixed-age audience), their timing is impeccable, and humor infectious. A Danish classic, “The Wonderful Pot,” may be familiar to young audiences from the picture book The Talking Pot (1990). Next, the title story, hailing from India, tells how a thrush is chopped into pieces and eaten by the greedy king. In true fairy-tale fashion, the underdog bird gets her revenge. "Imps of Misfortune,” a Ukrainian adventure, will have listeners anticipating the trickster ending, and “Jackal’s Pond,” also from India, is a lighthearted emperor-has-no-clothes story in which a foolish canine wears dead-frog earrings.Traditional Celtic harp and concertina music are welcome and appropriate interludes between tales. Pair this family-friendly audio with the storytellers’ Wolves: Folk Stories Featuring Our Best Friend’s Wild Cousin (2007).
— Kristi Elle Jemtegaard

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Issue 42 07/2010

With Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder we have a real master story telling duo, and their latest album "The King and the Thrush - Tales of Goodness and Greed" does not disappoint. The duo from New England masters the storytelling in a unique, very entertaining and engaging way. Their working together is extremely well oiled; the storytelling appears spontaneous and innovative - sometimes both talking some words simultaneously to emphasise, doing different voices and sound effects, and presenting the stories full of emotion and ideas. The stories they tell are traditional tales as humans have told their children for generations, and before that they may have been told also between adults as a main source of entertainment. The four stories on this album stem originally from Denmark, the Ukraine and India; they are unusual enough for me not having heard them before. Between each story, there are very short (less than a minute) little tunes which are as timeless as the stories. The album has been recorded live, in the true tradition of storytelling. Lovely.
--- Michael Moll (Germany)

article on FolkWorld website | top


Seven Days

Vermont Master Storytellers Spin Out a New Collection of Tales
State of the Arts
By Pamela Polston
TAGS: culture, performing arts, spoken word, state of the arts

After sex, storytelling is probably the oldest form of entertainment known to humankind. We seem to be hardwired to enjoy a good yarn well told. It might take a neurobiologist to explain why the brain finds this so satisfying, but we don’t need science to tell us that children are soothed by bedtime stories, that grownups are captivated by books on tape or podcasts … or that Vermonters Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder can transfix listeners of all ages. They certainly do that in person, but the magic persists on disc, as evidenced by their new recording, The King & the Thrush. More on that in a moment.

Jennings and Ponder are master storytellers and musicians — on concertina and harp, respectively — who live in East Montpelier and make a living from their considerable talents. It’s a modest living, to be sure, though why great storytellers are not paid handsomely is a mystery. The pair sometimes performs in a musical duo called Sheefra, but telling stories has been their main gig for more than two decades at festivals, schools, theaters, libraries and other venues across the country.

“Telling” is too neutral a word, however, to convey how Jennings and Ponder deliver a tale. Jennings, an impish fellow with long blond hair and a full beard, has a commanding roar and growl. Ponder, a graceful woman with a braided mane and a penchant for long skirts, offers a feminine counterpoint in an expressive and comforting alto. When Jennings’ voice leaps out to startle you, Ponder’s reassures. Along with this dramatic emotional counterpoint, Jennings and Ponder have perfected a rhythm of alternating and sometimes overlapping voices that is hypnotic and utterly captivating.

They also choose their material well: folk tales whose themes are universal. While old, these stories never go out of style. On The King & the Thrush, which was recorded before a live audience, Jennings and Ponder offer four “tales of goodness and greed” interwoven with Celtic music. The title story in particular serves their theme well, and I’m not going to give away the reason here. Suffice it to say that adults will filter the conclusion through the lens of modern global tensions — speaking of universal — while even small children can grasp the “moral of the story.”

If that sounds heavy, it’s not. Jennings and Ponder are frequently funny, and seem to regard their stories’ characters with bemused compassion — even the foolish, crass and mean ones. It’s no surprise the couple’s previous recordings have garnered awards from the American Library Association and the Parents’ Choice Foundation, or that they won a competitive Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant to make The King & the Thrush possible. Jennings and Ponder are promoting it with nine live shows around Vermont, this week through January. The official CD release party is this Friday in Montpelier. Do tell.

article on 7 Days website | top

Barre-Montpelier Times Argus

TALES FOR ALL : Jennings and Ponder continue to satisfy audiences of all ages

By MARY GOW Arts Correspondent

In a country of poor farmers,
In a village of poor farmers,
In the poorest part of the village,
There lived the village paupers– a husband and his wife …

So poor they did not even have bread to eat, these paupers were about to have their humble lives shaken up by a cast iron pot – a clever, talking, three-legged pot.

This evening Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder will tell the tale of "The Wonderful Pot" and other folk stories at the T.W. Wood Gallery & Arts Center in Montpelier. This celebration, with music and tales, launches their newest CD, "The King and the Thrush," and their upcoming performance tour.

"The King and the Thrush: Tales of Goodness and Greed" features four stories and four short musical interludes. Ponder plays the harp and Jennings the concertina in traditional Celtic arrangements. The CD was taped before audiences in September at Vermont College of the Arts' Noble Hall. The tales performed by these veteran Montpelier-based storytellers come from Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and India.

"These are four of our favorite stories that we had not already recorded," said Ponder about the selections. "We chose them because there is something in each one of them that we really love and that we won't get bored by."

For almost two decades, Jennings and Ponder have been performing original adaptations of traditional tales together. In their arrangements, they weave stories, characters, places and themes with their two voices in a compelling dual narrative style. Paupers and rich men, imps and talking pots come to life. As they move their stories along, Jennings' and Ponder's voices work together in a delightful blend – with lots of expression, wit, and good humor.

Jennings' fascination with storytelling began early. "When I was very young my grandmother told me a story. She told it right out of her head without a book. It was the 'Bremen Town Musicians,'" Jennings said. "I loved that donkey. There was no book, no pictures, but it was right there."

Years later, in the 1970s, his interest was re-ignited when he heard a storyteller at an arts festival in Lake Placid. Jennings recalls, "I was enchanted. It was completely familiar and completely different, and I thought, well maybe I could do that."

He already had been performing as a musician and in theater. Jennings still tells the first story he adapted, "Dimwit."

With degrees in literature and psychology, Ponder also had a career performing. For several years she had a one-woman show as a Vermont peddler.

For Ponder and Jennings, adapting stories is a long process.

"The most organized room in our house is a small room filled with books of folktales – they are all organized by country," said Ponder. They are constantly building their collection – often through used book shops where they find out-of-print volumes.

In selecting stories, "We choose carefully," said Jennings. "You want those that are good enough to tell for the rest of your life. Leanne does most of the writing – she is a more literary person than I am, she writes like a poet."

Finding most of their material in books, they need to adapt them to oral presentation. Jennings said, "You don't usually need all the adjectives and adverbs, because you have your voice." Jennings and Ponder work together through piles of edits, telling and retelling the stories as they find the right voices, timing, and interplay.

"When we're performing, the stories get better," he said. In performances, audiences participate – they join in ditties sung by a feisty bird, chatter with imps, and respond to crafty jackal.

The appeal of folk tales seems to be universal – with their villains and heroes, triumphs and twists, they have something for everybody. And there may even be a physiological reason they attract us, noted Ponder.

"I recently read an article online about a study of things that make the pleasure centers of the brain light up. They were sex, chocolate and fairness – being treated fairly. I think that hearing stories that end fairly is very satisfying."

Without giving away too much, the stories on "The King and the Thrush," have very satisfying endings, and if someone offers you a talking iron pot, you probably should accept it.

story on Times Argus website | top home | king & the thrush index | top

2010 American Library Association

Notable Children's Recording