Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Stars

How fantastic it can be to see stars whether in the night sky or on stage. Stars in the sky are a thrill: as you look, they seem to call you up to the sky to join them. On stage, stars give out a similarly thrilling kind of brightness. This week, I saw and heard some very special ones at the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol, the Welsh National Eisteddfod in Cardiff. What was especially exciting about the particular three I’m thinking about right now is that they were all under 21 years old.

Eisteddfod is an interesting word. Eistedd in Welsh means sit or sitting. Bod (mutated here to fod) means being. So, to me, the word eisteddfod immediately summons up the sense of people sitting together, being together. It brings with it a strong feeling of community and also a big sense of expectation. What is going to happen?

A place for all kinds of competitions in music, recitation, dance, art and literature, the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol happens in the first week of August every year, each year taking place in a different part of the country. After a year when it is mounted in the north of Wales, it will take place in the south the following year. The choice of Cardiff Bay as this year’s venue was controversial. What would it be like in the heart of a city, not on the usual very large field? What would happen to all the stands that are usually arranged around the field’s periphery? How would they fit in? Would visitors get the usual sense of being part of the whole thing?

I think the Cardiff Bay Eisteddfod has been deemed a great success. The Millennium Centre took the place of the huge pink marquee that, for some years now, has been the central pavilion for the competitions. The National Assembly building became the venue for the enormous exhibition of entries to the arts competitions. Stands lined the various routes all the way through the Eisteddfod to the Norwegian Church at the far end.

As to those three competitions on Tuesday afternoon that stand out now in my mind, they felt like real examples of what the Eisteddfod encourages and honours.  I heard a young man, Cai Fôn Davies, win two singing competitions and one recitation competition, all for young people aged between 16 and 21. Like the two other competitors who’d reached the finals in each of those particular competitions, he was superb. Relaxed and confident in his presentation, with a lovely, clear voice and a style of performance that seemed to come both from the heart and the mind, he wasn’t showy. He was thrilling. I came away with a renewed feeling of how important the Eisteddfod can be in the development of performers. (Bryn Terfel is one who emerged in that way.) To me, with their good clear voices, confident and relaxed presentation and an ability to engage an audience, their excellence was comparable to the best in good storytelling.

Then the following morning, as it happens, I heard some very good storytelling. Cath Little, Fiona Collins and Helen Wales were performing an hour of stories in the rather noisy Welsh Learners’ meeting hall. All three describe themselves as Welsh learners. Yet in each case their Welsh, their storytelling skills and the stories they told completely held the attention of their audience. Altogether it was a triumph for storytelling. Conceivably it may lead on to other things in the future. Fiona among others has been arguing that a storytelling competition should be included as one of the main Eisteddfod competitions. This year already a possible forerunner of such a thing took place in one of the smaller Eisteddfod venues.  And now, with a new storytelling organisation for women storytellers in Wales or from Wales currently in the process of being established, (more on this another time), the voice to make this happen might soon be heard. The new group already has a name. It’s Chwedl, which is one of several Welsh words for a story.

PS: The signpost in the top photo points the way to the many venues on the Eisteddfod site. Considering all the Eisteddfod focus on voice, I thought it appropriate to have a nightingale as the other photo.

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