mixed-mode performance – Helen & Fred

Well, I performed the new piece on Tuesday at the folk club (everyone was finger-popping 🙂 and also in Machynlleth at the Owain Glyndwr Centre for the singer-songwriter night. I had good feedback and audience response for both performances. The piece consists of a spoken frame at beginning and end with the song embedded in the middle with gestures and dance moves.

This version is different from the first draft, so even if you read the earlier post, it is worth reading this one. I’ve sharpened up the lyrics and written out something like the spoken bit as I actually deliver it.

Helen and Fred

By Mary Jacob, revised 14 November 2010

This piece is called ‘Helen and Fred’ and it goes like this: last week I was down with the flu. I slept all morning and I slept all afternoon. In between naps, I had nothing to do, so I thought I’d write a song. I was too tired to play guitar and my throat was too sore to sing, so I laid back on the sofa and closed my eyes, imagining.

I pictured myself performing at a gig, with a friendly audience, like this one. I asked the audience for three words: a person, a place, and a thing. I asked for a person – there was a pause – I thought I would listen rather than supplying the answer myself. The audience said ‘Helen’ – I have no idea who she is. Then I asked for a place – another pause – ‘the Spar’.  Oh, great! How can you write a song about the Spar? The third word came quickly, ‘bottle’.

Keep in mind I’m laying on my back, silent, with my eyes closed, all this time. I then pictured myself singing:

Helen went down to the corner Spar.
She slipped a bottle under her coat.
Then she sat beneath the railway bridge
for a good long drink and a smoke.

She looked up at the trestle overhead
as a train came trundling by.
It went clickety clack, clickety clack,
clickety clackety clickety clackety click clack clack.

She closed her eyes, drew a deep breath,
and slipped into a dream.
She saw herself dancing with Fred Astaire,
up on the silver screen.

She wore glittery tights and a spangly hat,
ruby-red stack-heel shoes.
They went tippety tap, tippety tap,
tippety tappety tippety tappety tap tap kick.

She opened her eyes, the shadows grew long.
It had been quite a while since the train had gone.
She picked herself up, hobbled down the street
with her moth-eaten coat and her swollen feet.

But I heard a boy say to his friend as she passed,
He said, ‘What’s that sound, is that a tippety tap?’
Tippety tap, tippety tap,
tippety tappety tippety tappety tap tap kick.
Her coat hem fluttered as she went past.
Her coat hem fluttered as she went past.

I opened my eyes and thought, ‘Once I get my voice back, I’d better sing this song. And I’d better write it down before I forget it’. So I did.

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clarifying things

I’ve been thinking about ways to help clarify difficult questions. Sometimes we are faced with complex situations in which it is hard to know exactly what we want or how to assess things because there are so many variables and unknowns, contradictory benefits and pitfalls. It is easy to get caught in circular thinking in which everything is contingent on something else (especially someone else’s attitude or actions, which you can’t control). The result can be a big tangle and your thoughts can run around in circles (I’ve been there, believe me).

Here is a more flexible alternative to the traditional ‘pros and cons’ balance sheet approach. On separate bits of paper, write down each of the factors in your decision. Some will be clear ‘pros’, some clear ‘cons’, others might be contingent upon somethng else or maybe even neutral facts but ones that need to be considered. The point of putting each item on its own bit of paper is so you can rearrange them easily.

Now lay out the bits of paper on a table in two columns, one for factors in favour and one for factors against.

Find and remove all the factors that are contingent on something that you aren’t sure is currently true. This can be a challenge because sometimes a factor might be contingent on something we really want, such as ‘if we can recover what we had before’ or something we aren’t sure about, such as ‘if so-and-so is now being honest’. If you aren’t fully confident that the condition is currently the case, then remove those items from the mix and see if a different pattern emerges.

If you are looking at several different courses of action, lay out the same slips of paper for each possible course. How does the pattern change? Which factors are most important?

This little method is one way of digging to a deeper level of honesty with yourself, obviously the first step in making any sound decision.  I hope it helps.

song experiment

I’ve been down with the flu most of this week, and this has given me a unique opportunity for imaginative activity (dreamtime, surrealist practice). Not much else you can do when muscles are weary and you keep coughing/sneezing.

So in between naps, I lay on the sofa and closed my eyes. I imagined I was doing a gig and asked the audience for three words – a person, a place and a thing. The answers came back ‘Helen’, ‘Spar’, and ‘bottle’. I have no idea who Helen is, but I can picture her.

Then I imagined myself singing. A story unfolded, complete with mental images of this strange person and her own fantasies, played against words and a melody. I rather liked the story and the song structure so just ran through it mentally again just now. Ha! I got a nice ending this time, and want to write it down while I can still remember it.

Keep in mind that the composition process to this point has been entirely silent. I have now polished the lyrics and formalised the melody and dance movements. It needs the right venue…I nearly performed it tonight at the AberLive open mic but held back because my throat is still not quite right and I don’t have my normal voice completely back yet.

Helen and Fred

By Mary Jacob, November 2010

Helen went down to the corner Spar.
She slipped a bottle under her coat.
Then she sat down beneath the railway bridge
for a good long drink and a smoke.

She looked up at the trestle overhead
as a train came trundling by.
She heard clickety clack, clickety clack,
clickety clackety clickety clackety click clack clack.

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath,
and then slipped into a dream.
She saw herself dancing with Fred Astaire,
up on the silver screen.

She wore glittery tights and a spangly hat,
and ruby-red stack-heel shoes
They went tippety tap kick, tippety tap kick,
tippety tappety tippety tappety tap tap kick.

She opened her eyes, the shadows grew long.
It had been quite a while since the train had gone.
She picked herself up and hobbled down the street
with her tattered coat and her swollen feet.

But I heard a boy say to his friend as she passed
‘What’s that sound, is that a tippety tap?’
Tippety tappety tippety tappety tap tap kick.
Her coat hem fluttered as she went past.