Orator combines poetry, lyrics in Folk Sessions performance
Layne Longfellow, an orator whose voice sounds as if it were spun of gold, will be among Folk Sessions performers in a concert Sunday at the Highlands Center for Natural History.
"He has a beautiful voice. The quality of his speaking voice is so nice to listen to," Folk Sessions director Tom Agostino said. "He is an eloquent speaker. I don't know that many people who can speak that dramatically. Even though he is speaking words, it's very musical."
Longfellow will be a part of Folk Sessions' ninth year celebration of presenting acoustic concerts throughout Yavapai County. Linda Bilque and Hannes Kvaran, Dennis Garvey, Soul Creek and Weatherglass with Callaghan Howard will also be a part of the entertainment. The show begins at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 and are available at the Highlands Center gift shop, 1375 Walker Road, Prescott, or by visiting www.folksessions.com.
From the time Longfellow was very young, his destiny seemed apparent.
"I was born in a Welsh community," he said of his Jackson, Ohio, roots. "They are very musical. All school children performed on a musical stage as a part of first grade. I was accustomed to performing in public at an extremely early age."
In fact, when Longfellow was only 18 months old, his mother would set him on the counter of the town's dime store, where he would recite 30 nursery rhymes for candy and peanuts, he said.
His career would only escalate from that counter-top stage. He graduated with the highest honors from Ohio University and received his doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of Michigan. He said he discovered in his academic pursuits that he preferred a humanistic approach to psychology rather the scientific because "it doesn't suit my soul."
He won a two-year fellowship with Carl Rogers, who took a humanistic approach to psychology, and spent three and a half months in the wilderness, an experience that "transformed his life," he said. When he came out of the bush, the first magazine he picked up was Time, where he read about Prescott College's use of the wilderness as both a teaching and character-building tool. He set his sights on becoming a member of the Prescott College faculty, he said.
He came for an interview with Prescott resident Ron Barnes, who was on the Prescott College faculty at the time, "dressed in bellbottom hip-huggers, an open collar shirt, shoulder-length hair and a Fu Manchu moustache," he said. Barnes hired him, he said, adding, "Everything that has happened to me in my professional career is because of Ron Barnes."
Longfellow rose through the ranks to become vice president of the college. He continued on his career path by developing executive wilderness seminars at the Menninger Foundation and broadened the program to Canada's Banff Centre, where expeditions included mountaineering, rafting, canoeing, sailing and skiing. The goal of the program was to combine environmental awareness with personal development through intensive wilderness experiences, he said.
He left that position in the late 1970s and launched his own company, Lecture Theatres Inc., affording him the chance to combine two aspects of his life - music, which had been his major as an undergraduate in college, and psychology.
Until his retirement 17 years ago, Lecture Theatres took him around the world working with corporate audiences, immersing a topic of substance that required a lecture, graphs and charts into his talent for playing the piano, singing and reading poetry.
Because of his academic background, Longfellow said, "I've never been comfortable with just entertainment. Entertainment is not the end. Entertainment is a means to the end. Entertainment guides information for people - information into their hearts and minds."
In recognition of his career, the Veteran Speakers Retreat, a spin-off of the National Speakers Association, awarded Longfellow the prestigious "Legends of the Speaking Profession" at a ceremony in August in Pennsylvania.
Now, Longfellow enjoys appearances in the community. He recently did a reading at a tribute to Woody Guthrie, and for Sunday's Folk Sessions celebration, he plans to come up with special lyrics and poems that fit this ninth anniversary.
This kind of performance is "being able to do what you do on behalf of your community," he said.