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'Stories From Deep in the Heart'

Austin teens use radio to preserve traditions, thanks to Texas Folklife

By Robert Faires, Fri., Aug. 10, 2012

Summer Institute fieldwork at the Green and White Grocery, 1201 E. Seventh
Summer Institute fieldwork at the Green and White Grocery, 1201 E. Seventh
Photo courtesy of Texas Folklife

Listen.

We grownups spend so much time ordering young people to do that, it's only fair that every so often they get to tell us to do the same. And trust me, you'll want to heed that command and open your ears at the LBJ School of Public Affairs this Friday evening, because a handful of Austin youth will be sharing some quite wonderful tales – and doing it through a medium that seems much more suited to their grandparents or great-grandparents than to themselves: radio.

See, Texas Folklife has instituted an ongoing program that teaches local middle school and high school students (and their teachers) how to make short audio documentaries about people, places, and traditions in their communities, and judging from the two dozen samples posted on the "Stories From Deep in the Heart" Tumblr page, does a terrific job at it. You can hear Kealing Middle School students chasing ghosts in the Driskill Hotel and rooting around in the Cathedral of Junk, an Eastside Memorial High student reviewing the handmade art and gifts sent to her by her father in prison, an LBJ student conversing with music teacher Ponder East about the meaning of jazz in their lives, one young woman describing how her grandfather inspired her to take up softball and another on how her grandmother inspired her to take up rowing. These short sonic bursts of narrative, of remembrance and investigation – each just two to six minutes – reveal a solid handle on what makes a good story but also what makes good radio. The use of description and interview, and the incorporation of recorded music and live sound play to the ear, creating a vivid sense of where we are and who we're hearing.

In addition to its programs during the school year, "Stories From Deep in the Heart" hosts a Summer Radio and Folklore Institute to give participants an intensive grounding in radio documentary production, aided by professional producers, journalists, and folklorists. This year's 10-day institute is being held at the LBJ School on the University of Texas campus, with award-winning public-radio producer/journalist Maria Emilia Martin (Despues de las Guerras: Central America After the Wars, Latino USA) lending her considerable expertise to five high school students and seven high school and middle school teachers as they create new documentaries. As is traditional with "Stories" when new work is completed, a party will be held at which the pieces may be heard publicly, and the 2012 Summer Institute's listening party will include radio stories by Martin as well as the institute fellows. Refreshments and appetizers will be served starting at 6pm, and the audio program will start at 7pm. The event is free, and the public welcome.

But whether you catch the audio live in the LBJ School's Bass Lecture Hall or archived at www.storiesfromdeep.tumblr.com, just be sure you do one thing: Listen.

The "Stories from Deep in the Heart" 2012 Summer Radio and Folklore Institute Listening Party & Reception will take place Friday, Aug. 10, 6pm, at the Bass Lecture Hall in the LBJ School for Public Affairs, 2315 Red River. For more information, visit www.texasfolklife.org.

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