Find a Storyteller – Mr. Jon Sundell

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For over forty-five years Jon Sundell has been performing as a professional storyteller, folksinger and square dance caller across the United States, as well as several countries of Europe and Latin America, entertaining people of all ages and backgrounds in Spanish as well as English.

Jon weaves together folk songs, accompanied on guitar, banjo, autoharp, mountain dulcimer, ukulele and spoons, with multicultural folk tales of all genres – from tall tales and legends to animal tales, fables and fairy tales. This sometimes includes “twisting-and-telling” – creating a balloon figure as he spins a tale around it, then uses the figure as a storytelling puppet. Jon uses regular hand and rod puppets as well, to assist him in several stories and songs. He provides many opportunities for audience participation - through singing, movement, playing rhythm instruments, and responding verbally in different ways.

Although born and raised in New York, Jon moved to East Tennessee in 1971, and he has lived close to the Southern Appalachian Mountains ever since. In the 1970’s and 1980’s he gathered songs and tales first hand from traditional artists and organized local festivals for them to share their talents with people in the region. Jon’s book, Stay With Us: Visiting With Old Time Singers and Storytellers in the Southern Mountains can still be viewed on line at his web site, Jon Appalachian folk songs, along with the people who have carried them on, still form the core of Jon’s musical repertoire.

Starting in the mid-1980’s when Jon began working as a children’s librarian, he has been expanding his storytelling to include folk tales from many countries and cultures. This is underpinned by his extensive travel throughout Latin America and work with Hispanic residents within and beyond the public library. It is also enriched by his experiences living in Japan and minoring in Asian Studies, as well as researching his Russian Jewish background and other immigrant populations. Jon often complements his multicultural tales with songs of good will to build multicultural understanding, especially with children’s audiences. Seeking to expand appreciation of diverse cultures, Jon introduces them in different ways and degrees, depending on his audience. Through many years of performing with a wide range of ages and cultures, Jon has learned to vary his repertoire and approach to entertain and suit any audience.

During his time working in public and school libraries, Jon kept a low profile, but continued learning and performing both inside and beyond library walls. After retiring in 2016 from the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools, he returned to full time work in entertaining and edutaining and began seeking wider audiences. Since then he has added balloon twisting to his talents, “twisting-and-telling” stories as part of his performances, as well as creating personal balloons for individual children, often assisted by his wife, Vivian. Jon performs for all ages, in Spanish as well as English) at varied venues, including festivals, camps, schools, churches, scouting groups, family parties and more.

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