Tag Archives: Bill Harley

Stories & songs with Bill Harley

Maybe you didn’t make it to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix for the recent celebration of John Lennon’s 70th birthday.

Bill Harley brings family-friendly story and song to the MIM in Phoenix on Sunday (Photo: Tom Thurston)

No worries. Sunday will be another fabulous day at the MIM as Grammy Award winner Bill Harley brings his family-friendly fare to the MIM Music Theater.

I spoke recently with the prolific singer/songwriter, storyteller, author and playwright — and his team was kind enough to send me review copies of his latest CD (“The Best Candy in the Whole World”) and soon-to-be-published paperback (“Between Home and School.”)

Harley is the father of two grown sons and currently lives with his wife Debbie near Providence, Rhode Island. He grew up in Indianapolis and Connecticut.

Two of Harley’s “Best Candy” stories are originals — while others are adapted from the British Isles, Africa and Appalachia. While you’re at the MIM for Harley’s concert, take some time to experience musical instruments from these (and other) regions.

"Best Candy" from Bill Harley is a decadent dessert for those with a sweet tooth for storytelling

I asked Harley whether storytelling seems a dying art. “It can’t really die,” shared Harley, “because it’s what people do.” Storytelling, says Harley, is what makes people human.

While talking about the family-friendly nature of his show, Harley noted that “songs and stories always go hand in hand culturally.” But what exactly is a story?

Story is “saying what happens before and imagining what happens after,” reflects Harley. “History is the winner telling the story.”

“My job,” says Harley, “is to watch, listen and pay attention” — adding that artists help others take a second look, to notice things they might otherwise miss.

So what are we missing as parents today? Many would say it’s family together time. Or ways to connect and communicate with our kids. Which is why a shared experience of story and song might be just the ticket this weekend.

Bill Harley's "Between Home and School" is an ode to the fine art of communicating

“I’ve done my job,” says Harley, “if I give kids and parents a common language.” Harley loves seeing parents and children in the audience elbowing each other during his show with a “Yup, that’s us” grin.

We focus too often, observes Harley, on what we think kids need to learn in order to grow up. It’s no less important, he says, to honor children’s emotional lives.

Harley describes his work as more descriptive than prescriptive — hoping concertgoers will leave considering not simply what they know, but what they feel.


Note: Harley performs this Sunday at 2:30pm at the MIM Music Theater. Visit www.themim.org or call 480-478-6000 to learn more about this concert and others in the MIM 2010-2011 Concert & Film Season.

Coming up: Reflections on NPR, “Glee” and GQ magazine


Weekend art adventures

My oldest daughter Jennifer once enjoyed a brief clowning gig as “Jumpin’ Jenn” — an homage to her beautiful, bouncy personality. Jennifer performed with a wonderful clown who took Jenn under her wing for an annual clowning event in the Valley.

That was some ten years ago, so folks who head to Desert Ridge Marketplace in Phoenix Saturday morning for the 10am “Cirque Dreams Illumination” audition (for a featured role when the troupe performs at the Mesa Arts Center Nov 9-14) will have one less strong contender.

Get a sneak peek at Cirque Dreams Illumination Saturday at Desert Ridge Marketplace in Scottsdale

The audition is limited to the first 100 attendees so event organizers suggest folks arrive early to secure a place in line. But what of other art adventures taking place in the Valley (and beyond) this weekend? You have plenty to choose from…


“Arab-American Festival.” Sat, Oct 23 and Sun, Oct 24 at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix. www.arabamericanfestival.com.


“Key Ingredients: America By Food” (A Smithsonian traveling exhibition). Opens Sat, Oct 23 at the Tohono O’odham Nation Cultural Center & Musem in Topawa. www.azhumanities.org.

The traveling Smithsonian exhibit "Key Ingredients" comes to Arizona this weekend


“Tetra String Quartet.” Fri, Oct 22 at 7:30pm. Delightful and talented group of young musicians I enjoyed meeting and listening to recently at the MIM. King of Glory Lutheran Church in Tempe. www.tetraquartet.org.

Tetra String Quartet performs classical works this weekend in Tempe


“Pirates of Penzance” presented by Arizona Opera. Fri, Oct 22-Sun, Oct 24 (times vary) at Phoenix Symphony Hall. www.azopera.com.


“Halloween Storytime featuring Splat the Cat.” Sat, Oct 23 at 11am. Barnes & Noble at 101 Fwy and Shea Blvd in Scottsdale. www.bn.com.


“On Golden Pond.” Opens Fri, Oct 22 at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale. www.desertstages.org.

“The Brothers Grimm: Out of Order.” Fri, Oct 22, at 7pm (also Sat 2pm, Mon 7pm) at the Queen Creek Performing Arts Center. www.qcpac.com.

“The Wiz.” Opens Fri, Oct 22 at 7pm (and through Oct 31) at Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale. www.phoenixtheatre.com.


“Cirque Shanghai Bai Xi.” Sun, Oct 24 at 7pm at the Chandler Center for the Arts. www.chandlercenter.org.

“Friends of the Phoenix Public Library Book Sale.” Sat, Oct 23 and Sun, Oct 24. 1330 N. 29th Dr in Phoenix. www.phoenixlibraryfriends.org.

“Otsukimi: Moonviewing.” Sat, Oct 23 from 5-9pm. Assorted cultural activities for kids and adults. Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix. www.japanesefriendshipgarden.com.

To learn more about weekend events in the Valley, visit the online calendar for Raising Arizona Kids magazine — and read earlier blogs featuring everything from Bill Harley’s MIM concert and Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” at ASU Gammage.


Note: The recent post titled “Pumpkins & performing arts” will be updated as I learn of more arts adventures with a Halloween theme. Families can enjoy “Boo at the Zoo” at the Phoenix Zoo this weekend — and stop by the Raising Arizona Kids magazine booth to meet various members of the magazine staff.

Coming up: A “bonus blog” to be posted on Friday — which will share insights from award-winning storyteller Bill Harley in advance of his Sunday performance at the Musical Instrument Museum.

Storytellers grace Arizona stages

The fine folks at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe tell me I’ll have to wait a few more weeks before reading the never-before-released autobiography (or at least the first volume) from one of my favorite storytellers — Mark Twain.

But Valley fans of the fine art of storytelling will be enjoying two contemporary storytellers during the next several days as John Lithgow and Bill Harley hit Valley venues.

John Lithgow performs in Scottsdale Thursday and Friday night

Renaissance man John Lithgow, veteran artist of many mediums — from theater, film and television to writing and musical performance — shares “Stories by Heart” for two nights at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Lithgow considers storytelling “the unacknowledged tie that binds humanity.” “Stories by Heart” takes place Thurs, Oct 21, at 7:30pm and Fri, Oct 22, at 8pm. Go. Relish. Acknowledge.

You may not think of yourself as an aficionado of the art of storytelling, but consider for a moment that storytelling is all around us. Ads. Tweets. Musical theater. News. All variations on storytelling, for better or worse.

Bill Harley performs songs and stories “portraying contemporary American life with a slight off-center bent” at the Musical Instrument Museum on Sun, Oct 24, at 2pm.

Bill Harley performs in Phoenix Sunday

The musician, storyteller, author and playwright will share family-friendly fare with audiences at the MIM’s Music Theater — which routinely features performances by musicians from around the globe.

I spoke by phone with Harley not too long ago, and will share a bit of our conversation in a future post.

Harley’s recent works include a book titled “Between Home and School” (available Nov 1) and a CD titled “The Best Candy in the Whole World.”

We aren’t only listeners. We’re storytellers too. Especially in the words we share with our children each and ever day.

I’d like to get better at it. I’d like to feel part of the larger storytelling community. I think time spent with Lithgow and Harley will jump-start my journey.

How about you?


Note: Local resources for storytelling and creative writing include the Storytelling Institute at South Mountain Community College and the ASU Young Writers Program,

Coming up: Upcoming Arizona premieres, Getting to know Tetra Quartet, Local First and the arts

It’s a small (musical) world

It’s easy to drive my husband bonkers. Just hum a few bars of “It’s a Small World” from the Disneyland ride that once featured teacups. But the song came to mind today as I was exploring the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

MIM Iraq Exhibit (Photo: Lynn Trimble)

I’d been invited to attend an early morning kick-off event for the musuem’s education/school tour program — which culminated with MIMers greeting children piling out of their big yellow school bus for the museum’s first school tour.

I arrived early and chatted with various MIMers before taking a seat at what ended up being a table full of delightful MIM volunteers — a new grandma, a mother of two grown children, a woman who shared some of her best tips from a parenting group she’d attended many years ago and a charming man with a small Canon camera.

MIM Roma Exhibit (Photo: Lynn Trimble)

Turns out the gentleman was John Friedman, father of Daniel Friedman — who writes the daily “DYK?” gems you find on the RAK homepage and takes truly amazing photographs. I got the inside scoop on how Daniel came to love taking pictures — something about his parents giving him a camera as he set out on a bike ride through Europe as a teen.

I mentioned that my children attended the same elementary school as Daniel and Lisa’s children — and their grandpa was happy to catch me up on their latest adventures. Seems his grandson, who was playing music at a young age, is still going strong with his instrument. His grandaughter will soon return from spending several years in China, where I’m told she has taken some photos that may well be even better than her dad’s. I don’t think Daniel will mind.

MIM Orchestra Exhibit (Photo: Lynn Trimble)

I shared my growing conviction that students need more time for world travels (with camera and journal in hand), and Friedman noted that travel within the U.S. can be just as valuable. I realize this is unlikely for most given economic and other factors, but am so grateful the MIM is here so we can all explore the world’s music, culture, history and religion without leaving the Valley.

I started a mental list of all the Valley resources I wish had been around when my children were wee ones –the Children’s Museum of Phoenix and the Musical Instrument Museum among them. I never met a museum I didn’t like, and am delighted about the many Arizona museums that offer fun and educational experiences for our children and teens.

MIM Chile Exhibit (Photo: Lynn Trimble)

I’ll share more details about MIM education/school tour offerings in another post. For today let me simply share that I shadowed one of the two small groups who toured the museum today — and that the children (who looked like middle schoolers) were wildly excited to be there and had hands-on experiences I feel certain will stay with them for a lifetime.

The docent who led the tour I shadowed did a marvelous job of engaging and interacting with students — making art and culture, history and religion come alive. He was a smart and unassuming man who didn’t let on during the tour that he’s actually a longtime collector of instruments.

Portion of MIM China Exhibit (Photo: Lynn Trimble)

I learned from Sarah Weber, education manager at the MIM, that he’s a doctor who routinely travels the globe with the World Health Organization. This cements something I have long suspected. If you want to find fascinating folks, hit the MIM. You can’t walk more than ten feet inside this temple to our common humanity without finding a story.

As it happens, my plans for the afternoon included talking by phone with storyteller Bill Harley, who will perform “songs and stories for everybody” at the MIM Music Theater on Sunday, Oct 24, at 2:30pm. Harley is a “playful Grammy award-winning musician, storyteller, author and playwright” who “appeals to parents and children alike.”

MIM Greece/Cypress Exhibit (Photo: Lynn Trimble)

The fact that he’s warm, funny and brilliant can’t hurt. Watch for a future post with Harley’s thoughts on storytelling in the modern world. Also watch for a post about the music program at Shadow Mountain High School. The school had a lovely string quartet playing at the Wednesday morning event. There’s a story there too.

I’m becoming a bit of a MIM-rat at this point, but it’s all good. When I’m at the MIM, whether for business or pleasure, I feel that the world is at once intimate and expansive. And I’m thrilled that Target’s generous gift to the MIM will allow more Valley children to discover that despite our many differences, the planet we all call home is truly a small world after all.


Note: Having never met a museum gift shop I didn’t like, I dropped by the MIM gift shop on my way out. My most recent fun finds include a washboard tie (fun, easy, unique Halloween costume), silver charms (all sorts of music and instrument themes — for men and women of all ages) and hip wallets made of eco-friendly material (I bought the one with the sheet music motif).

Coming up: Arts experiences for homeschoolers and unschoolers, Valley theaters offering holiday fare, The fine art of Winnie the Pooh