THE LOCAL LIFE: The sounds of Beaufort and the wonders of listening

lisa@beaufortcountyarts.comFebruary 13, 2012 

Beaufort's distinctive art scene is about to get audibly more distinct.

"The art of storytelling stems from sitting at Grandma's knee on the front porch, listening to stories of the family," J.W. Rone, explained. He's the director of ARTworks and is planning the new BIG Story Fest, in partnership with the Literacy Volunteers of the Lowcountry. BIG stands for Beaufort Intergalactic because the popularity of stories is out of-this-world.

"This storytelling festival is a chance for people to get in tune with focused listening that's limited in visual effects. The listeners themselves create the pictures in their minds as the story unfolds. Listen for the clues that storytellers will place in front of you," Rone said.

Listening can be a challenge, as audience members cough and cellphones jangle, or the marsh views and bird calls distract, or bothersome thoughts about work or car pooling arise, or perhaps your attention tends to wander, chasing after every interesting bug like hungry urban chicken.

Just ask a few middle school girls, as I did during my creative writing session at ARTworks. What sound do you hear in your daily life? I wondered. " 'Stop talking!'<2009>" they told me, quoting their teachers at school. "A storytelling festival is a way that people can reflect laughter toward one another using communicative words," opined Anna Miller, who had just written a story about an angel and the weight of wings.

Sounds and stories soar around us continuously. Poet Starkey Flythe, whose poem "Greeks" was published in The New Yorker last year, will give a seminar at ARTworks this month.

"First of all, enjoy the humor of Starkey Flythe," advises Warren Slesinger, a resident of Beaufort and accomplished poet. "He wants the people in the workshop to relax. For me, listening is the key to reading and writing. That is why I order recordings. I find meaning and emotion in the human voice. In the hope that I get them 'right,' I say my own lines aloud before I write them down."

He also pointed out that a line of poetry ughly the length of a human breath, which creates a compelling biological tempo to telling and listening.

The BIG Story Fest in March also includes a liars competition (start sharpening your stories now!) and infuses music throughout. Vic Varner, who teaches and often performs at the Foolish Frog, explained that "listening is everything ... musicians have to listen, that's how we learn new songs and licks and chord changes."

Beaufort is dense with ethnic sounds, he explained, reflecting on the our foundation of blues and old-time culture

"I have a captive audience in my music courses at USCB. I love seeing these college kids react to John Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' or Franz Schubert's 'Erlkonig.'<2009>" His advice to listeners is to make a point of exposing yourself to music that is "out of your normal listening pattern." (I suggest Googling Greasy Greens by the Pazant Brothers and the Beaufort Express as a local starting point.)

Good stories can be a launchpad. "A good listener is not thinking about what'll say next," said Burton Sauls, who is the audio-guru at CityTrex. "Listeners are grabbing the speaker's words and forming a handle on a life outside of their own. We all need validation from outside acknowledgement, but you have to listen to be heard. It's straight out of Sunday School, 'He who will lose their life will find it'."

Sauls, who has recorded the voices of Gullah, Geechee, artists and tour guides (and is looking for more sources) pointed out that active listening requires hearing words and tone, and then considering context and source.

"Do you know that a 60-word vocabulary is all that's needed to get through daily life? Listening opens the door for understanding beyond mere verbiage. Some say that listening is dead in the modern world. I say it's never been more alive. We have more channels than ever to get our stories produced and published."

Lisa Annelouise Rentz is the transmedia publicity leader for ARTworks, the community arts center in Beaufort. She is the author of "Pencils, Words & Kids" and "Beaufort SC 365." She can be reached at and 843-379-2787.

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