Music is Music

This afternoon, I entered into a Zoom meeting with composer and musician Tayo Akinbode, hosted by Z-Arts. Being a storyteller, can be a lonely process and we are living in a lonely time, so it was great to hear about how Tayo creates music to tell a story.

One of the thoughts that regularly swills around my head is around the difference and similarities between working with children or adults. It’s a question I get asked regularly moving between these different groups that I work with. It leaves me a bit stumped as other then a slight modification of language, there is no difference. Children laugh and so do adults. Adults struggle crossing the creative threshold and so do children. Both children and adults want to hear and tell stories. So it is a relief to hear someone as experienced as Tayo say ‘I wouldn’t dumb down music for children.’

I have finished writing the story of my family ancestors. A project I was inspired to start after working with Emily O’Shea company, On The Border. I am now in the process of editing the story into an audio experience and it is a relief to be piecing the story together. The writing process has been difficult. The vision I sat down with was to create a piece of audio storytelling about my great-grandparents. They were performers at the turn on the 20th century who went on to manage some of the first variety cinema’s in the country (a mixture between Music Hall and Cinema). Before I sat down to research, this part of my family had mythical qualities. I wanted to use Music Hall numbers in order to help tell their story. I wanted this to be a piece for family audiences. Something that could be enjoyed with everyone – an intergenerational activity. That you could listen at a distance together with your elderly granny who is shielding and your 8 year old nephew who is home schooling. That it would open up conversations about family stories in a way that I could not have with my own grandparents. I was going to use this idea to develop my creative practice, to experiment and play.

But the doubts creep in. Will children get this? Is the music too bawdy? Am I just inventing truths that I cannot find? Is this material appropriate for family audiences? Nothing kills playtime like doubt and nothing makes experimentation more pointless then isolation. So thanks to Z-Arts for providing connection and thanks to Tayo for grounding me and reminding me that children are no different from the rest of us, which in my wobbly, lonely, creative moments I forget.

Solsbury Hill

I grew up in Reading and we had family down in Bath. When we drove down to see them in Bath, my Dad would play Peter Gabriel’s albums. We loved the track, Solsbury Hill. We used to drive past Solsbury Hill on the route to see our family. We used to climb up it (when you could). We loved that song. We’d ask for more Peter Gabriel. We’d listen Red Rain, Don’t Give Up and Games without Frontiers. We did not hear the loaded political meaning in these songs. We didn’t here the meanings that I as an adult now hear. Tayo told us today ‘Children like Music.’ Its a simple statement, but it is an easy one to make. No matter how much I see my children request Michael Jackson (their Dad’s favourite) or sing along to Fleetwood Mac (Rumours is my go to Album), in my artistic process my lived knowledge gets crowded out by my doubts over how to execute an idea. I managed to create children into something ‘other.’

That is why I love working creatively with children. They remind me that we are all not that different from each other. I’m looking forward to Z- Arts opening their doors again so I can be reminded of this by the real child experts, the children themselves. Until then, I will keep going. Clumsily put one foot in front of the other.

After all music is music to be made, all stories are stories waiting to be told and all humans are humans waiting to be heard, no matter their size.

This project am I am working on has bee made possible by funding from the Arts Council Emergency Response Fund. The funding has allowed me time to develop my skills, conduct research and connect to other artists. My thanks go to Z-Arts for providing free access to these conversations and understanding that these conversations are needed.

In the way of a good tale.

This time, more then ever we need stories. Many famous and more intelligent thinkers and writers than me say that after shelter, food and air we need stories. We need stories to listen to and we need stories to tell. But after numerous conversations with friends, peers, fellow artists and family I see a similar trait in behaviour and it’s linked to the way we tell stories.

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.”

― Philip Pullman

‘I know how lucky I am compared to others…’ is a mantra that is rolled off the tongue repeatedly. I hear it so often, as often as tales begin with “Once upon a time…”. However where “Once upon a time” leads to a story, “I know how lucky I am compared to others” is the completion of a story that hasn’t even been uttered. Now don’t get me wrong, of course we are lucky compared to others and during this difficult time, we need to count our good fortunes and appreciate what we do have. Gratitude is important. Good fortune can keep us healthy and secure. There are plenty of tales of characters losing everything through a lack of appreciation – like this one.

“I know how lucky I am” has become a sneaky silencer of our conflicts and our stories. But it doesn’t need to be. Your stories matter. Hearing the stories of our friends, colleagues and family (the good, the bad and the ugly) will combat the other dominant force in our lives currently – Loneliness. By denying the stories that you need to tell, you are denying your humanity. Many of us would be horrified to find out that we had been silencing the voice of others, and yet we think nothing of silencing ourselves.

I am currently, furiously, painfully trying to tell the story of my great grandparents. They died in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. This has involved a lot of connecting dots through research using ancestry websites and it has been a background project for about 8 months. I have discovered so many wonderful things about them, things that none of us knew. But I have to guess at what they think and feel.

I would have loved to have found letters and diary entries that they had written, I would have loved to have stories told down through time, so much so that the way the stories were told is a story in themselves. But I do not. For many reasons this is not available.

So I want you to imagine, that 100 years from now, your great grandchild is trying to understand how you felt about the time you live in. What would you want them to know? And if you’re not sure where to begin, what questions would you ask your ancestors who lived 100 years ago?

You could write these questions down and you could answer for your time. You could or you could not. Or you could tell your story to the audience that you currently have, the audience who are invested in you now. Your friends, your colleagues, your family.

So instead of using “I know how lucky I am compared with others”, try “Today, I felt…” because we want to, need to hear your stories, even if your voice shakes.

The Mouse, The Bird, The Sausage

A tale adapted from the Grimm Brother’s collection

nce, three unlikely friends lived in the hollow of a tree – a mouse, a bird and a sausage. They lived happily in their home, each with their own tasks to keep their home happy.

It was Bird’s job to fetch the twigs for their small fire. It was Mouse’s job to keep their home swept and clear of spiders and cobwebs. It was Sausage’s job to make their dinner. He would stir the pot and then he would go for a swim through the dinner to add flavour.

One day, Bird got to thinking about the different jobs that they all did. Mouse only had to sweep the floor once a day and all Sausage did was go for a swim through the pot and stand there stirring. Meanwhile the bird had to fly through the forest all day to collect twigs and carry them home. It didn’t seem fair that she had to constantly come and go while the others did very little.

Bird complained to her housemates that she felt she worked harder then the others. Mouse and Sausage did not want their friend to be unhappy. They agreed to swap jobs. Sausage would go and fetch the twigs, Mouse would make the dinner and Bird would sweep the floor.

Bird was happy this. She felt she had gone from the hardest job to the easiest.At the start of a new day she swept the floor. Seeing that her job was done she decided to go for a nap. It wold seem that frustrations had taken its toll and she slept all day.

Meanwhile Sausage, had headed out of there hollow and into the woods. He felt great to be away from the host stove and he enjoyed looking at the forest and all of its wonders. He smelt great. So great that his smell filled the forest and snuck into the nose of a nearby fox. The fox followed the scent trial over and under logs until Sausage came in sight. As Sausage bent down to pick up a fallen twig, the fox leapt out from behind a bush and swallowed Sausage down in one noise gulp. That was the end of Sausage.

Meanwhile back at home Mouse had been making the dinner, just as she had seen Sausage do. She chopped up the vegetables, just as she had seen Sausage do. She slid the vegetables into the boiling pot of water, just as she had seen Sausage do. She stirred and stirred all day long, enjoying making food for her friends, just as she had seen Sausage do. And just like Sausage, she dived into the boiling pot to add flavour. Unlike Sausage, she could not swim and the heat was too much for her small fragile body. She drowned in the dinner. That was the end of Mouse.

When Bird woke it was dark and the house was quiet. The fire had gone out and the dinner was cold. She scoffed. Clearly Sausage and Mouse were not up to the tasks that they had taken on. She waited. A long time. The whole night through. And as the night wore on, she started to worry. Why was the home in the tree hollow so empty? So quiet? So friendless? Where were Mouse and Sausage?

Bird decided to clean up. After all that was her job now and it turned out that a lot of spiders wanted to make the Hollow the home so she swept the cobwebs away and shooed the spiders back outside. Sh thought she had better clean up after dinner. So she went to empty the pot and there curled up in a little ball was her dear friend mouse. Bird understood what had happened. Then she worried about Sausage where was he? Why wasn’t he home?

So now she flies from tree to tree searching for her friend Sausage, skittish and cross with herself for being such an ungrateful fool.

Love Letters – #3 Ever Moving Mind

Dear Emily,

I am not Cathy Earnshaw.

I am not Cathy Linton.

Or Isabella Linton.

Yet you are write these characters with such texture that I connect to them. They are not women who are likely heroes, but I still hear the trials and understand them.

This seems important, as you seem like none of these women either, from the short biographies we now have of your life. You write in such an a rich way, that we even connect with Heathcliff.

You come over as someone who had a sense of wonder alongside a sense of home. Who could carve rich imagined worlds from the limits of your bedroom. If we could all write like this or imagine life like this, we would all be able to live freely.

Your poetry also talks of being in the moment. Connecting ourselves into the presence.We have a name for that now – Mindfulness. Linking that to your rich imagination is both inspiring and humbling.

“Thy mind is ever moving
In regions dark to thee;
Recall its useless roving—
Come back and dwell with me.”

Shall Earth No More Inspire Me, Emily Bronte

My mind is ever moving. If I could hang out and chat with you, I am sure that I could become enlightened on this darker regions.

Love,

Felicity

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Love Letters – #2 Joyful Leaving

Dear Frida,

You were brave.

And I loved that.

You gave us all you pain

Your doubt

And your uncertainty

In sharing your complex relationship

You had with yourself

And the world around you.

You showed us

That identity is a movable feast.

In this you were not only ahead of your time,

But my time too.

 

I hate boxes.

I hate labels.

I hate the notion

That we are one thing

Or the other.

You showed us all

That we could be more

Than what the world

Would shape for us.

We could be more

Then what we could

Shape for ourselves.

 

You lived fiercely

Overcoming pain

And sharing it with us

In vivid paintings.

In your work,

I see that as Artists

We have to be brave

In sharing ourselves

With the world.

We can not simply

Put ink to paper

Without our heart

Pulsating through our hand

And onto the page.

 

You last diary entry

‘I hope the exit is joyful

And I hope never to return.’

Sings sweetly of a life lived to the full.

 

All my love,

Felicity.
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Love Letters – #1 Still Marching

 

Dear Suffragettes

 

Here I am writing

The first of my of Love Letters.

I plan to write a 100.

1 letter for every year

Since the change you

So fiercely fought for began.

1 letter to all 100 women who I love.

 

You stand out

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Deeds Not Words

In a crowd of women and men

Who changed the course of history.

You saw that quiet negotiation

Was not working

And you drove social change

With your militant approach.

I am in no doubt

Had you been here

100 years later

Trump would have described you

As a ‘Nasty Woman’.

 

And you were.

You were unsettling

You discomfort drove others to be uncomfortable.

You were loud and divisive

You were more the floppy hats

We see now in grainy black and white

You were cotton and earth

You were long hours

You were sexually, physically

And emotionally attacked

You were without things

I now so readily take for granted

Rights over my body

Rights over my property

Rights over my children.

 

You were dismissed as temperamental

You were dismissed as difficult

And I am so thankful

That inspite of this

You ploughed on.

You clogged up the prison service

With your revolution.

When they had enough of the force feeding

When they had realised that prison

did not hold sway over the power

Of your mighty hearts

They took their violence onto the streets

Assaulted in broad daylight at the middle of the road.

 

How can I honour you?

How can I carry on your fight?

It’s more than voting and petitions.

It’s more than banner waving.

It’s more than marching.

It’s more than online campaigning

It’s living my life to the fullest

Not being held back

By the views of others

The laws support me

Even if some people do not.

I will stand up for fairness

And I will stand up for others

Whose representation is missing

I will hold space, create space

For others.

I will support, share, hold hands

Walk alongside those

Who are not granted the platform

That I do have.

 

I will not run away

I will not be apathetic

Or indifferent.

I will not be silent.
Love
Felicity

Too Many Choices…..

That’s what she said.

Too many choices.

That’s the problem for us women today,

We just have too many choices.

Too many choices.

Like the idea that all the infinite possibilities that women could pursue

is  whittled down to the same principle of picking your dinner.

Too many choices.

When you go to a one of those big pub chains and you unfold the double sided 5 paged and your like I don’t know what to have there are just too many choices

That’s just the way that women feel.

Me.

I’m a woman.

That I don’t know whether to have the lasagna or the salad.

and I’ll spend ages thinking about it

and the waitress comes over

and I ask for more time.

And lasagna or salad

lasagna or salad

salad and lasagna?????

And just when I’m convinced the choice is whittled down to two and I’m just about to leap off  and commit to one

I see it.

The Mexican section.

And its there and I think what ever was i thinking going for lasagna when i could have an enchilada

or a burrito

or a fajita?

Then I think well aren’t these things all the same thing?

Just wraps in different varieties?

And they have a whole section on wraps.

And I love wraps.

They are all there.

Duck in Hoisin Sauce with iceberg lettuce and cucumber

Southern fried chicken with BBQ sauce

(less bothered about this one)

Chicken, bacon and tomato.

And Oh Mer Gerd!

They have goats cheese. With beetroot and carrot and baby spinach.

That does sound great.

Yep really good.

Like well tasty.

I mean it is a bit of a risk.

having something with that little ‘v’ next to it in a pub that could probably fund its own abatoir with the high levels of meat on this menu.

but no this is good.

great actually.

yep and I’m sure that’s what I’m going to say as the waitress comes over but when she says

what would you like?

It just happens

the words just fall out of my mouth

and I say a cheese burger in a brioche bun with onion rings and side salad and skin on fries.

That. That there.

That is just like the problem for us women today.

Too Many Choices.

Girls -The Process

When I did P.E. in school it was a requirement that we all had to shower post exercise. I’m pretty sure that we were not the only group of school girls who had to do this. We were fortunate as we had individual cubicles in which to shower in with curtains for a privacy which is more then our male counterparts had! The deal was this:
If you were on your period you were excused from showering. A little ‘P’ was marked next to your name in the register. This is odd looking back, like our periods made us all witches where we would burn if water was thrown on us. Like our periods made us unwashable or informed in some way. (This belongs in a different blog I think.)
The Wizard Of Oz
If you were not on your period, you got down to your knickers and bra, pulled your bra straps off your shoulders and wrapped your towel around you. You would then walk into the shower. Splash some water on your upper body, walk out and then be ticked off as washing. We all did this. Without exception. We weren’t challenged to shower properly, even though it must have been really obvious to the female staff that checked us off. After we showered we dosed ourselves with Charlie Red or Impulse.
This was 15 plus years ago, before the internet had really made its mark on us all and certainly before the days of social media. Even then, we were ashamed of our bodies not wanting to reveal them to each other for fear of being found lacking.
Last week I shared this video in response to the Children’s society’s report that revealed that 1 in 3 girls aged between 10 and 14 felt worthless based on their appearance.

It triggered an anger in me that compelled me to write and deliver that piece within a day. How, for all the vast leaps that we have achieved in our culture, are we still sending a message to young girls that how they look is the defining thing about them.

I wanted to place images in the video that were linked to the words being spoken. I decided to type words into google images to use the results. Here are some of the things I discovered….

If you type in Girls you get this page….

girls-google-search

When you type lips:

lips

And so on…

eyes

Typing eyes

And so on…

hair
Typing Hair

And so on….

legs
Typing Legs
Sobering stuff. None of these images are less then what we would class as perfect. These legs are long, smooth, tanned and exact. They don’t represent that majority of the world’s legs, they represent a very particular group of women’s legs. The eyes have all got make up on, as natural as they are being made to look. The lips are also perfectly shaped, have lipstick on them and are mostly fairly seductive. The hair is all thick and voluminous. Its shiny and smooth. I have never seen hair like this on a real person in the flesh in front of me. What’s more concerning is that I didn’t add the prefix of ‘girl’s’ to legs, hair, eyes and lips. Yet all the images that came up are of young women. While I can’t gurantee the ethnicity of all of these models, I think it is fair to say they are predominantly white women.
It is images that are being broadcasted all the time to our young women and girls. When you look at these images they mostly seem like incredibly striking women and its easy to see why we would all like to look like them.
We need to make moves to fight these images and getting these girls more body positive. Schools and communities need to be taking responsibilities and tackling this issue head on. The message being sent out is that if their bodies fit into a certain criteria then they are more desirable. Girls are seeing this and hearing this. Along with the ‘perfect’ bodies that are being projected at them, no wonder their self esteem is worryingly low. Malala Yousafzai puts it well “I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
We, as a society, are holding girls back by placing their value in how they look over what they can achieve.
So what can we do?
1. Compliment a girls character, not her appearance. What’s she good at? what’s she overcome recently? What has she been working on? What does she like to read? Take her to things. spend time learning about what she would like to do.
2. Get writing to you M.P asking for it to be compulsory to teach sex education, mental health and body image in every single school. www.writetothem.com is a great inline tool for finding your local MP and writing to them.
3. Limit time on the internet. I spoke to a teacher recently who said that the girls she taught were looking very tired. when she spoke to their parents, they would say ‘She’s up all night on her phone’. Make some rules about where and when to use the phone. Maybe the whole family can implement a system of putting all their phones on charge in the kitchen for the night? Not having devices out at the dinner table? Is your daughter old enough to be using social media? Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Youtube and Instagram say users need to be over 13.  The problem is its pretty impossible for these companies to enforce these rules, and for a parent. We must understand however that when we arm our daughters with a phone or device we are giving them access to a world of information that we might not feel comfortable looking at.
4.Call people out for making jokes or insulting comments at the expense of someone’s appearance. We’ve all heard these off the cuff remarks about the way someone looks and felt the feeling that we should just laugh it off. However we are sending a message out that this behaviour is appropriate at best and at worst, funny.
Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher, Writer and Theatre maker based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in Vocal Training or collaborating. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk