Darke County Center for the Arts’ virtual presentation of Cincinnati-based singer/songwriter Zak Morgan for kindergarten through third grade students in all local public schools during the entire month of December provides an inspirational trip to “Zakland,” a truly magical place. Zak’s tuneful performance, filled with imagination, leaves a lasting impact of hope, joy, and belief in one’s own ability to make a difference in the world if you only believe in yourself and work hard, while teaching the basics of good storytelling and literature itself. “How does Zak accomplish this amazing feat?” you might ask. Well, by energetically performing silly songs with love and care amid myriad scenes of happy people of all ages inhabiting lovely images of Cincinnati, that’s how!
After asking if his audience likes stories, Zak talks about the fun of playing with words to create a good story, explaining that a delightful component of that wordplay is using words which end with the same sound—rhyming. He then skillfully demonstrates his point with a song about a funny farm “where the bees don’t sting and winter’s warm.”
Next, Zak explains the difference between fiction (imaginary) and non-fiction (real) to introduce his song about the real-life Cincinnati attraction, Fiona. Famed hippopotamus Fiona weighed but 29 pounds at birth, but has grown and thrived due to the love and care shown her at the Cincinnati zoo. Zak’s song tells of kids “coming on a yellow bus to see the hippopotamus,” demonstrating creative rhyming and apt storytelling. He then goes on to talk about alliteration — a row of words all starting with the same letter, as in “Zany Zak and Zoey are zipping around Zimbabwe on a zebra,” and suggesting that students try writing a sentence using their own names in an alliteration.
After singing a song in which “Voldemort” is uttered several times about the bad guy in the Harry Potter books who is so bad you can never say his name out loud, the skillful entertainer states that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is an expert in the essential elements of story telling setting (where), characters (who), plot (what—conflict, problem, action, climax), and resolution. He then presents an appealing song about sailing on the sea of smiles while sweetly explaining that smiling is an act of kindness that is contagious.
Zak goes on to say that he admires people who help others, like firefighters, and while singing about those who “put out the flames” amid filmed images of brave men performing heroic acts, the artist hilariously portrays an incompetent firefighter. Next, what seems like a nonsense word, “Tiodnaci,” is turned around to become I Can Do It in a song inspiring confidence.
In a Tom Waits-like growl, Zak delivers “Snow Day,” a tune channeling every school kid’s dream of waking up to a day when school is called off and then partaking of all the snow-fueled fun that can ensue. Before telling what he warns will be a spooky story in song, Zak suggests that alert listeners might learn some new words, but to “not let out a polyphloesboeoan transmission” (a loud racket). “The Case of the Dry Markers” includes a convincing rap chorus from Zak’s Grandma Lucille before its ultimately happy ending.
The show closes with a sweet, moving nod to Grandma Lucille. “We always had each other’s back,” Zak says, before adding that his last song is about loved ones always being there for each other. After urging audience members to “find the courage to confide in a loved one when you feel bad about something,” he sits alone at a piano in a vast empty space, singing a vow to “always love you if you will just let me in.”
The warmth and affection of that sentiment does not fade as the show ends, but lingers to encourage confidence and perseverance as one faces the challenges of the day. While students learned about the essential elements of storytelling, they were also inundated with positive emanations that can live beyond the present moment to resonate throughout life.
Marilyn Delk is the former executive director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.