May 6, 2011
When Bill Harley appears tonight at the Lawrence School in Falmouth, he will be performing for the children of some of the kids he entertained when he first began sharing his songs and stories in Falmouth in 1982.
And parents and children are likely to enjoy the show with equal enthusiasm. His stories are about the everyday life of children and growing up, told with warmth, humor, and a touch of magic, stories children can relate to, stories you can listen to again and again. Harley understands well the many roles of storytelling, not only to entertain, but to transport, teach, inspire, and illuminate new ways of thinking about the world.
Harley has twice won Grammys for his CDs, the latest of which is “”The Best Candy in the Whole World” (his 11th Grammy nomination), which five satisfyingly long stories, some told in song. The title story, over 20 minutes long, tells the story of a boy whose mother picks him up from school and insists on just stopping off at the grocery store, as she does nearly every day. He doesn’t want to go, he just wants to go straight home for once. He decides to wait for her outside, and, there, meets and helps an old woman, who rewards him with a piece of candy, the best piece of candy in the world.
The candy has magical powers, of course. Harley told me in a telephone interview that that woman, seemingly a minor character in the story, is one of those characters in a story who, though inconspicuous and ordinary, a crucial to what happens next, because they introduce the magical element, even though the listener might not realize it at the time.
And so she does. Being a kindly child, the boy does not eat the candy himself, but puts it in his pocket and later offers it to a friend, who immediately pronounces it the “best candy in the whole world.” Curiously, when the boy puts his hand in his pocket later, he finds another piece of candy. Confused, he thinks, maybe the old woman gave him two pieces. . . .
It is a wonderful story, and Harley tells it with multiple voices and expressions, painting a vibrant picture with words and stimulating the imagination. A nice alternative to the video barrage that children (and adults) are often surrounded by.
Harley’s stories and songs are original, but he often uses folk tales and constructs to inspire his own. And his stories may change in the telling over time, as all good folk tales do. Harley doesn’t just tell stories; he wants to enlighten children and others about the human condition, to let kids know that others have experienced their problems and joys, to build community, and to reflect on what we have in common.
But his messages are subtle, woven into the stories and songs, and they are open to interpretation, encouraging creative thought. Above all they are fun, and so is Harley.
In addition to producing his 28 CDs, Harley has written numerous children’s books and is working on a new project relating to school culture. He is also a regular commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and featured on PBS.
Lawrence School is at 113 Lakeview Avenue in Falmouth, and the show is at 7 PM. Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for children and may be purchased at the door or, in advance, at Eight Cousins and Booksmith book stores on Main Street in Falmouth. The event is sponsored by the Falmouth Schools Arts Council and local school PTOs.