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'Wolves!': Vermont storytellers dispel the myths – and offer new ones

January 5, 2007

Illustration by Mary Azarian
Tim Jennings & Leanne Ponder
Storytellers Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder will present "Wolves!" "tales of our best friend's wild cousin" for all ages, Saturday, at 2 p.m., at the Kellogg Hubbard Library, Main Street in Montpelier. For more information, call (802) 223-3338.

Every year the Chinese calendar represents a different animal. This year it's the pig. But in central Vermont, this year will be the "Year of the Wolf." At least this is what Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder hope with the release their new CD "Wolves!" They chose this past Wednesday, Jan. 3, as the official release date for their CD because it is the full moon, specifically, according to the Farmer's Almanac, "the full wolf moon."

Jennings and Ponder are a long-running duo with at least two decades together telling stories and playing music. Jennings plays concertina and Ponder the Celtic harp. While their music is based on the Celtic repertoire, and this CD contains two instrumentals from that genre, they are also two of the best storytellers anywhere. In our age of mass media, the Internet, music downloads and high definition television, storytelling sometimes gets lost in the mix. But, it is the oldest form of entertainment on the planet, and it once was the sole means of transmitting culture from one generation to the next. This couple has gathered a treasure trove of fine stories and Wolves! is just a small sample of their folk-tale repertoire.

Wolves have never gotten great press over the centuries. Feared by many, hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 states, wolves seem to need better public relations. On this CD we see wolves in a very different – and sympathetic – light.

"Wolves!" is a five-track recording, an introductory and ending music track book-ending three folk tales. It was recorded live in Calais last June in front of an audience comprising mostly children. This is, in essence, an album of tales for children. However, as my companion and I discovered while listening to the CD while driving, these are folk tales that adults can equally enjoy.

What we all learn from this performance is, as Jennings and Ponder say in their liner notes, that "Wolves are not bogeymen."

In "Hungry Wolf's Lucky Day," "St. Ailbe's Wolf Mother" and "The Dog and the Wolf," tales that originated in the nations of Georgia, Ireland and Ukraine, we learn how deep the wolf is imbedded in world culture and mythology – and just how good these performers are in telling these tales.

I'm not going to give away the premise of the three folk tales on this CD, they are best listened to. However, deep praise for Jennings and Ponder is in order. Their delivery here is fresh, interesting and theatrical.In the days before television, for those of us old enough to remember, radio was the media of choice for entertainment. Back in the 1940s and into the 1950s, there was a wide variety of programs where one had to listen, not just sit passively and watch. We could hear "The Lone Ranger," "Superman," "As the World Turns," among many programs on the radio. What made them popular, and kept them that way for decades, were the strong scripts and the fine acting. Listeners could visualize the stories they heard.

Jennings and Ponder are masters at this and it comes through in their CD. They don't just tell a story, they act it out. In this recording, their interplay, which never misses a beat, is both theatrical and very humorous. The many voices they imitate, the actions they express and the story settings they describe keep the listener glued to the CD player.

If this duo is that good on a recording, one can only imagine how entertaining they must be in a live performance. Luckily, you can catch a performance of "Wolves!" tomorrow at the Kellogg Hubbard Library.


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