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from: Hawkwood
Category: Voicework

Helen Chadwick interview

We are so excited that Helen Chadwick is coming to Hawkwood and I thought you would like to know a bit about what inspires her. She is so creative, warm, committed and musical...

Helen Chadwick interview with Katie Lloyd-Nunn, Hawkwood College  January 2012

In advance of Helen’s visit to Hawkwood in February 2012


17-19 February SONGWRITING Weekend with Helen Chadwick 

18 February “SUNG STORIES” concert with Helen Chadwick. 

Original settings of work by well-known and loved writers from around the world, together with unusual instruments in an intimate atmosphere. 8.00pm £9 / £6 concessions


Katie: I thought it would be nice for people to get to know you a bit before booking a place or coming to the concert.

When did you start writing songs?

Helen: I wrote my first one when I was a theatre student at Dartington. It was a four line ballad. The tutor just said,  “Come back next week with a song you have written on the theme of relationships.”

What are your sources of inspiration?

Helen: Poems from around the world, poets whose spirit has survived the toughest experiences life can throw at one. Then there are rhythmic patterns and body percussion, gum boot dancing from South Arica, the close harmony tradition of Bulgarian women, the amazing harmonies in Georgia, the rhythms of Samba…

How do you go about writing a song – start with tune first, or words?

Helen: I usually start with the words but sometimes a tune comes to me when in the shower or the bath or near water. Funnily enough, this is a traditional way that the Bolivian Quechua learn their new tunes each year, from the waterfall.  I also love rhythmic patterns so sometimes I just start with a rhythmic idea, then work out a tune, and then find or write words for it.

When did you make your first recording?

Helen: 1994 was when I recorded my first album AMAR. The sound engineer who made that with me has continued as a collaborator through all my albums and I learnt a great deal from him, including “perfection if not always best, we are after FEEL rather than perfection.”

Which countries or cultures excite your imagination? 

Helen: Georgia for its harmonies, Argentina for its old people still dancing the tango, South Africa for the way they create songs where each harmony starts at a different moment,  and central Africa where the Pygmies create tunes shared between many voices.

What are some of the different settings you have worked in?

Helen:  Drama schools, theatres, schools, opera houses, prisons, pubs, village greens, churches, cathedrals, international festivals, community choirs, with all ages and abilities.

How do you go about making it easy and possible for people to write and sing their own songs?

Helen: Giving the opportunity to give it a go. Start, spend some time doing it, get support from others, work within limited time frames for short tasks, sharing different approaches….

Do people get scared/frustrated trying to create songs – what do you do to help them feel confident and comfortable?

Helen: I hope there won’t be time to feel scared or frustrated!  We will start with small tasks and build up rather than sitting in front of a blank sheet and hoping for inspiration.

Are you sometimes surprised by the creativity of participants in your courses?

Helen:  Everyone can create, it’s part of who we are, sometimes after a course people say “so writing songs is not difficult after all!”

What will the participants go home with at the end of the weekend?

Helen:  Songs and fragments of songs that they and others in the group have created,  the pleasure of getting to know some new people through singing in harmony with them and through collaboration. It will be very experiential and everyone is welcome.

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