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It’s all in the telling

By Staff | Mar 28, 2013

In his music appreciation classes at Shepherd University and Hagerstown Community College, Shepherdstown native Adam Booth compares Beethoven and Mozart to Kanye West and the Sugar Hill Gang. He tells stories about the lives of composers and what was going on in their cultures when they were writing music. He believes the stories make classical music more relevant to his students and shows them the value of history and culture. But storytelling is more than just a technique he uses; to Booth it is an art form.

“Its really easy to look at any history and see it as bunch of old, dead, white, patriarchal men, who are really out of touch with what’s happening today. But the thing is it’s much, much cooler than that. It’s just that very few people think about it in a way that’s engaging and inspiring,” said Booth.

To be engaging and inspiring is Booth’s goal both as a teacher and as a professional storyteller. He competes in storytelling competitions statewide and nationally. Booth, now 30, has been a winner in the “Tell Fredericksburg” monthly storytelling contest; the Northeast Storytelling Festival Liar’s Contest, and he is a three-time West Virginia State Liar’s Contest winner. The West Virginia Liar’s Contest is a public competition where anyone in West Virginia can compete. The first place prize is a golden shovel and bragging rights as West Virginia’s biggest liar. The contest is held during the Vandalia Festival in Charleston each year. “As an Appalachian storyteller, I help keep Appalachian culture alive and keep the tradition of Appalachian storytelling going as it is growing and changing,” Booth said.

Booth, who has a bachelor of music degree in composition from the University of South Carolina and a master’s degree in musicology from Case Western Reserve University, is a music professor, private instructor, and Appalachian storyteller. He comes from a seven-generation legacy of tellers. He began hearing stories at a young age from his grandfather, who would tell him about his family history.

Booth’s family had a large tract of land in Virginia, and his ancestors helped timber it. “So, there are great timbering stories. They would cut the trees and ride them down the river to the convergence of the Guyana and Ohio,” Booth said.

He believes storytelling comes naturally to some, while others must practice. Most techniques like timing, delivery, and when to stop and give the audience time to think are studied to improve storytelling. Booth says many people are good storytellers.

“They’re those people you can’t get to shut up like the ones down the hall, the ones in your apartment building and in your dorm. The people that love to talk make good storytellers just not always on a professional level,” Booth said.

Some friends and acquaintances in the Shepherdstown area have sought Booth out because of his reputation as a storyteller.

Kitty Clark, the owner of a local dance studio invited Booth to tell stories between numbers during one of the studio’s dance recitals. “What I can say is that Adam is smart, witty, easy to work with. He is interested in art and in making artful events. I asked him to create stories for my next project to tie an eclectic grouping of dances together.” Clark said.

One of Booth’s former students, Kayla Neidermaier Betts, who travelled with him for a class and has seen him perform stories multiple times, enjoys the time she spends with him. “I really like Adam. I heard him tell an Appalachian story first and he has a real knack for it. He tells some personal stories and some real tales, but no matter what, he always wins the crowd over,” Betts said.

Booth says everything in his life is used as an experience for his art. He wants to continue learning about West Virginia history and culture to keep promoting storytelling and sharing the traditions and values of Appalachia.

“At first I thought it was cool to just tell everyone I was a ‘Champion Liar,’ but then I started listening to everyone else and realized it should be more than just a title,” Booth said. “I traveled to places, and people would call me an ambassador of West Virginia, and they were questioning what it was like. I want to be a representative for the state.”