Mythmakers keep stories alive at Montclair’s Van Vleck House
By ERIN ROLL
“Stories live because one person tells another, tells another, tells another,” said the Mythmakers.
That was the lesson that Gerald Fierst and Richard Stillman imparted to an eager audience at the Van Vleck House & Gardens on Sunday, along with five folk tales and some music.
The room was full with a young and not-quite-so-young audience who appreciated a good story. So many, in fact, that the Van Vleck staff had to set up additional seating just across the hallway.
Fierst and Stillman, together known as the Mythmakers, are professional storytellers and musicians. They have been featured at the New Jersey Storytelling Festival and the MAST Gathering of Storytellers in the Northeast, among other venues.
The storytelling at Van Vleck started off with a “stuck” note, when Stillman “couldn’t” get his parlor bagpipes to stop playing. “Make it stop!” the audience shouted when prompted. When that didn’t work, “Bite it!” So Stillman bit down on the bagpipes. That did it.
The first tale was from Ireland. The story was told of the traveling peddler and storyteller Michael O’Malley and his plot to get out of a deal he’d made with the Devil for 500 years of youth and good times.
Next came the Italian tale “And Seven!” The tale was about a lazy princess who gets out of spinning a room full of flax with the help of three old spinning women.
From Japan came the tale of Urashima Taro about a fisherman who saves a turtle from being abused and is brought to the palace of a princess beneath the sea as a reward. But he fails to realize just how long he is away.
There were two American folk tales as well: the ballad of John Henry, accompanied by Stillman on guitar, and the story of the Hodag, a monstrous-looking - but in this telling, quite harmless - creature from the forests of Minnesota.
Each tale was accompanied by some music to help set the scene and the rhythm: a lyre for the tale of Urashima Taro, a whistle and bodhran for the tale of Michael O’Malley, and the guitar and a wooden train whistle for John Henry.
Fierst and Stillman ended the program sending the audience on their way with a benediction of sorts in American Sign Language that they may all tell their own stories, in their own way.