Jenni Roditi in conversation with Peter Wiegold, Part 1

Part 1

An in-depth conversation about Jenni’s work as composer, performer, workshop leader, voice therapist, Jewish Buddhist and improvisation choirs’ artistic director. Recorded  September 24th 2019. 

Threads and Hip Hopping 

P.W. What was the most memorable musical experience of this year (2019) for you?

J.R. It would have to be the performance I did at a concert a few months ago, in a duo, myself and my colleague Alistair Smith – the Vocal Tai Chi duo as I called it. Alistair plays the harp and he accompanied me improvising with my voice and something happened in that performance where a number of different threads around my research into voice, and my artistic impulses seemed to come together at a new level. It began a new sequence of thinking and wondering about pathways beyond. It has opened up a very rich vein actually.

P.W. And threads — what would a thread be?

J.R. Well there are so many threads.

P.W. Let’s have a few.

J.R. One of the threads has been Indian classical music. I’ve got a Western classical music background but after my studies I was looking at improvisation in Indian classical music. And — (cat arrives) oh hello — other threads, but Indian classical music, and particularly the alap section of the raga, which is the slow non-rhythmic opening, is very openhearted and subtle in nuanced expressions.

P.W. And you thought that thread was particularly alive in this performance?

J.R. I think that’s one of the threads that was alive. Another was the edgy voice in the gypsy tradition of flamenco, canto hondo (deep song), using very high chest register, which is pushing on the boundary of chest voice. Another thread is contemporary classical music.

P.W. What did contemporary classical music allow?

J.R. A certain kind of freedom to jump across the lines.

P.W. What kind of lines?

J.R. I’m not trapped in any particular line of musical thought. I could be on one line of musical thought and then flip somewhere else and then come back to that line or jump somewhere else. Contemporary classical music has given me that sense of non-linearity.

P.W. Which you’ve described as cubist in some of your early work.

J.R. Yes, in my earlier compositions.

P.W. That’s a very odd, but interesting mixture, the sustained Indian singing, the cante hondo and loosely hip hopping between them.

J.R. That’s a nice way of putting it, grounding it.

P.W. The cante hondo and the Indian are very different. How did they work together? How did they behave together in you?

J.R. I tend to be quite magpie like. Like a theatre deviser who will go around and pick something from here, something from there, in an eclectic way. I’ve heard theatre director Simon McBurney saying, ‘We prostitute ourselves to what’s needed” So I do, I pick and choose, for example, in the cante hondo style there’s a lot of rules and conventions, but one of the things that particularly struck me is the high chest voice sound.

P.W. What quality does that have?

J.R. The Spanish call it ‘putting your heart in your mouth’. It’s very intense, not like belting, which is upper chest and throat centred, but pelvic floor centred. Drawing up the sound from low, low down and squeezing it up into the heart/chest area.

P.W. So, you’re not obeying the rules of cante hondo or Indian classical music, and you’re talking about how contemporary classical music has enabled you to shift zones, shift pathways.

J.R. Mm hmm.

How does the music move forward and who is ‘she’? 

P.W. So how does how does it go forward? What drives it forward? In that particular performance?

J.R. This is what I’ve been studying all my artistic life really. How do things (in music) move forward? What are the reasons? The music moves forward in time and my research has taken me towards listening to an emotional landscape internally. Listening to the inner felt sense, sensations, emotions and thoughts as well. What is going on in the landscape of this body, mind, soul, spirit? What is the emotional graph of that? Where’s the high point, the low point, the next most attractive point to go towards?

P.W. Where’s the peak and where is the end?

J.R. That’s to do with letting the impulse roll through. There are natural body rhythms, you could say bio rhythms, breath rhythms and for me, specific pitch sequences that unfold which have an inner logic to them.

P.W. So, you’re logical when you’re doing this heartful free (improvised) singing. There’s also a part of you also saying, ‘add a note to this line, ‘reverse that shape’. There’s the composer there?

J.R. Definitely yes. She’s determined to keep track of things.

P.W. Is she a ‘she’?

J.R. Oh, I don’t know, Yes, she is in a way, because, you know, I am!

P.W. She’s a ‘she’, – ‘the composer’ – who is ‘the composer’? Where’s that voice coming from?

J.R. Well I might argue that she’s not a she, actually. She is beyond gender. The word ‘entity’ just came up.

P.W. Mm hmm mm hmm. Do you have sense of what that ‘entity’ feels or looks like?

J.R. It’s an impulse, a stream, it’s an alignment. It’s an alignment.

P.W. With?

J.R. I was just thinking about the Kabbalah. This is part of opening into the next phase. I was looking at some of the practices of Kabbalah and the meaning of the word itself – it means to receive.

P.W. Right.

J.R That is becoming an important touchstone. Do I have to generate it? Or can I receive it?

P.W. You seem to be saying you’re more able to receive it than say ten or twenty years ago?

J.R. I think so. I was more driven to generate in earlier life because I had a plethora of ideas. How to actually manage my energy and my ideas has been something I’ve had to work hard at. It’s been hard to find out what voices are underneath the plethora.

P.W. But there is this ‘entity’? Something you’re receiving. Is that constant? The entity? Do you have a sense of different entities? Is there a sense of that? What that voice is?

J.R. This feels like the work I’m going to be doing for the next twenty years. It’s only just starting to crystallize now, in the last few months. How that’s going to…could you just say the question again?

P.W. It’s not so much a ‘she’, as an ‘entity’ that is speaking? I’m asking what colour it is? Is it constant? Always the same entity or different?

J.R. This is interesting – because last night I started a new project. I had a few people round. A conversation came up around this. The name of the project is The Essence Choir for Improvisers.

P.W. Ah

J.R. We were talking about ‘essence’ and I provided a simple compass of points on an ‘essence map,’ based on Kabballah teachings.

P.W. Yeah

J.R. We have north, south, east, and west – each of those points have qualities – the ‘four breaths’ (or winds) and the ‘four spheres.’ It’s all very new.

The next twenty years 

P.W. I heard that performance you’re talking about (the Vocal Tai Chi duo). It was exceptional. It did seem like everything coming together.

J.R. Thank you.

P.W. That’s how it feels. From a very long way back. It feels like a presence, an essence, a presence that is something stable that will go forward for twenty years.

J.R. Thank you.

P.W. What will you be doing then? How will you be singing in twenty years’ time?

J.R. That’s a leap, isn’t it? I have no idea. Let’s think about it for a second. The only thing that I can grasp is that the vocal nuances will be fully alive. It’s a journey for twenty years into nuance.

P.W. Lovely Jennifer, nuance. All the different cavities, all the different colours.

J.R. Exactly.

P.W. They all become more and more resonant around the stable base.

J.R. Hopefully it’s not only an ‘entity’ giving me musical information there’s also the physiological practice, a breath practice and technical practice, as well.

P.W. So, you still feel the need to practice?

J.R. Well the trouble is I don’t really. (both laugh)

P.W. Do you feel you should practice?

J.R. To get to that place over the twenty years, I might have to practice – but maybe I just have to live?

P.W. Yes and listen.

J.R. Maybe it’s just about living, listening, breathing, meditating, doing yoga and then it’ll happen.

P.W. We’re talking about a very interesting point, because we have both said there was an arrival there. Almost like the basis for the next twenty years – the ground, or the vehicle for the next twenty years.

J.R. Yes definitely.

P.W. So, it’s a good moment to talk – and it’s been a very long journey. You’ve been through many different phases and I can see the echoes of all those phases in what you’ve already said, but it’s been a journey since you were a child, messing around on the black notes, partly through theatre, partly contemporary classical music, partly vocal work of a very advanced kind, through to you in particular, directing and conducting vocal work.

Turning ‘the most difficult’ around through the wilderness 

What was the most difficult moment in that journey?

J.R. Musically?

P.W. (laughs) What comes into your mind after the question? We’re gracious about years, but you’ve been on an extraordinary trajectory and it’s been very authentic. You have bravely gone through all sorts of different doorways. In that journey on the artistic voyage – what was the storm? What was the hardest night to get through in the artistic voyage?

J.R. Um. In the1990’s I was writing an opera called Spirit Child, (which I later renamed Siddhartha Spirit Child). Lontano commissioned me to write the piece. I’d been studying and had taken refuge with a Tibetan Lama.

Spirit Child is a folktale about the life of the Buddha and, in parallel, it has an opening docu-song, the Prelude, set in a Chinese prison cell, where a young monk who has been kidnapped by the Chinese, The Panchen Lama, in 1995, looks out from behind bars. After his Prelude, he calls on his special, lineage infused, memory, to tell the story of Siddhartha. So, there were two timelines. The Panchen Lama is an adolescent boy, having been in jail for ten years, captured at the age of five. That part is based on fact. Then we go back in time, and through his spiritual memories, the boy Lama tells the life story of the Siddhartha, who becomes Buddha.

The inspiration for music came from my personal refuge in Buddhism and with this Tibetan Lama. I’d met him when I was twenty-four. Around 1999 something happened, and I felt let down by the Lama. I’d surrendered, because you were invited go on the ‘devotional path’ with the teacher, a path called Dzogchen and Mahamudra. The embodiment of this was said to be (and it seemed that way to me) the Rinpoche (precious one) himself, with whom I had taken refuge. Sadly, my ‘devotion’ collapsed. The gift and commitment to him as a high Lama, as a representation of the Buddha, fell away.

[additional material..] I was in free fall for a while. Luckily, I was in therapy at the time and that sustained me, but the gift and my commitment to him as Rinpoche, a representation of Buddha, dissolved: but that’s not the end of the story. After a long dark night of the soul, coming out of that situation, something surprising began to happen. After about seven years the Lama started appearing in my dreams. For the first three years of having these dreams (maybe once a month or so) I would wake up and think ‘huh, go away’, even though some of the dreams were quite magical. In the fourth year of these dreams I began to notice the original devotion I had felt to this Teacher arising in my heart again. It was as if the devotion had not been touched by this shock that I went through, it was somehow still intact. I feel it was showing me that the devotion was not, in the end, ‘to him’ but – to my own heart, which I had been so far away from. Through this experience I was able to return to myself, not to an external representation of an ideal. That journey took about eleven years.

[….]

P.W. I can see how that must have affected you at the heart of what you were offering. How did it affect you as an artist? What did it say about the work? Did it make the work seem pointless or it did the work still seem to carry something?

J.R. My father died during that period of composing the opera and […] other factors were at play too. But, both in the Prelude, and in the main part of the score, there were strong musical things happening.

P.W. Which were Jennifer things?

J.R. Definitely. There are a lot of my fingerprints on it.

[….]

Mystery in Music 

J.R. A tour for the opera was planned in 2003. […] One afternoon I found myself at a spiritual ‘hands-on’ healing session in a local church. After the session I found myself saying, ‘enough now, enough’. I cut completely from the project […] and the work never got a second performance or a recording. It all died. After that there was a wilderness period for me.

P.W. Is it a Buddhist piece? In what way is it a Buddhist piece? Spirit Child.

J.R. It’s a narrative of a Buddhist folktale.

P.W. But does it have a quality of Buddhism in the actual music, in the actual shape and emergence of the music? Do you see it as a Buddhist piece?

J.R. There’s an instrument featured in it called the duduk, an Armenian folk flute which Dirk Campbell beautifully improvises on at certain points in the score. I scored it all around the mode of the duduk. It’s all within his modality and offshoots from that. There was something about the quality of the duduk. It has a soulful, melancholic, plaintive mystery.

P.W. Mystery.

J.R. It evoked other worlds, although it’s from Armenia, which is not a Buddhist country.

P.W. It’s halfway there. So, would you say that mystery was, and still is, embodied in the piece?

J.R. I think it’s there.

P.W. Mystery is not something I always associate with you. Is it an important quality for you? Are you seeking mystery always? Your music has many qualities, and a lot of them are, let’s say, ‘foregrounded’. They’re very present. So, it’s interesting that you talk about mystery. Is that something you always want to have in your music? And what is mystery? What does that mean to you – mystery?

J.R. I think it’s something that’s being uncovered as I mature. I’ve got a lot of foreground energy; first as an up-front performer and musically through lyricism and chunky chord changes etc, but the mystery is something behind music. There is always something else. I think it was most strongly revealed to me as I was listening to Indian raga and the alap (slow introduction) particularly. I heard the nuancing of ornaments and decorative practices and how it cracks your listening open to other layers of consciousness. When I first heard that it opened me in really interesting ways. It was a sensational (- of the senses) experience as well. I saw that there was more that I could learn and discover.

P.W. A sense of the other.

J.R. Cooperation with the mystery. So, it’s both.

P.W. But it’s inside yourself, rather than imaginatively far away. It’s close – this mystery?

J.R. I think it is. But you have to know how to open that door. That’s opening a huge conversation actually.

P.W. It’s good, isn’t it. That was my instinct too. Could you rest in that mystery?

J.R. Well I’m beginning to. I think resting is something I’ve never been good at. I’m anxious, energized, edgy, nervous, insecure on some levels. Finding Buddhism was my attempt at beginning to learn how to rest. I’m longing for that. It feels like home when I glimpse it.

P.W. It seems to me a really important thing to let yourself get into this new sense of consolidation. This is clearly what you’re doing now. It seems like risking the mystery could be a really important practice as you go forward.

J.R. That’s nice. Yes.

P.W. Maybe we will come back to that?

J.R. Can we put that on one side, then go somewhere else and come back?

P.W. I think it’s a really important thing.

Buddhist by nurture, Jewish by nature 

So, rewinding. That was a Buddhist piece (Siddhartha Spirit Child) with a heart-full Buddhist devotion in it, that became problematic. But the piece still carries these qualities. Are you a Buddhist now?

J.R. Well, this is all very fresh, but I was having brunch with a friend on Saturday. She said there are a group of people called ‘Ju Bu’s’ (Jewish Buddhist’s). There are a lot of Jewish people who turn to Buddhism. And my roots are Jewish, on my father’s side. I seem to be a Buddhist who is turning to Judaism.

I’ve never really had any time to look into it. My father rejected it and converted to Christianity in his seventies. But as my music is developing, I’m beginning to hear a Sephardic vibe, phraseology, inflection in it and I don’t know where else it’s coming from apart from my bloodline. My father spoke Ladino when he was growing up. He was steeped in Sephardi life. So that’s another mystery too. I haven’t listened to much Sephardic music. I went on Google the other day to have a look at the Sephardic music of the synagogues. I found men singing rigid, four-square hymns. It was awful.

P.W. So that’s not it, but in its own way, in crude terms, it’s like your middle eastern sensibility. Maybe that might have deeper roots than your far eastern sensibility?

J.R. That seems to be true. I seem to be coming back towards Europe or the Middle East and Southern Europe. I did my DNA test and it’s very interesting. My mother’s side is Northern European, Scandinavian, Celtic but my father’s side goes all way down into Iraq, Egypt, Persia and up into Belarus and along to Greece and Italy. There is a lot in Italy and nothing in Spain, which was a surprise.

P.W. So, you are dealing with fault lines. You are right on the fault line between east and west and all those terrible contrasts there which are in both Sephardic music and in Western music. You’re living on the fault line.

J.R. We’ve got relatives in Izmir and Istanbul, ‘the gateway between the West and the East’ they say.

P.W. Yes, yes. But then the voice… in a way that’s why I asked – are you still a Buddhist, because I’m thinking of the original strength that you began with, about the relationship of the Indian influence, and now sensing you way back to Europe, which gives you a different kind of energy.

J.R. I’ve been reading a book on Kabbalah, it’s an accessible description by Rabbi David Cooper. He talks about two types of Kabballah practice: one where you understand Hebrew and you go deeply into the letters, the numbers and all the symbolism of the texts – the scholarly way or, the other way, where you work intuitively.

The book I’m reading is about intuitive Kabbalah and – ‘it’s just the same as Buddhism…!’ – she says in a Jewish accent!  It’s the same type of work – it’s about breathing, about mantras and what they call exstasis, which is being ‘out of place’. It’s coming away from everyday consciousness and popping into higher consciousness through practices of subtle breathing, mantra, singing, chanting and all the things that Buddhism also contains.

P.W. But a different quality though, isn’t it?

J.R. Well, I haven’t gone deeply enough into it yet, but the practices seem to me very similar.

P.W. If I say you’re locating yourself on a ‘fault line’, that point between east and west – does that mean anything -that pull, that split?

J.R. I don’t see where else I’m going to be.

P.W. Is that quite a dynamic place to be?

J.R. It’s quite a hard place to be.

‘Contemporary cool’ was never fully it 

P.W. I think that’s why I talk about ‘fault lines’, because you’ve been threading across those fault lines, putting a cubist approach to compositions on a page, which is quite detached, very Stravinskian, or letting out various kinds of primal screams, in Voice Movement Therapy.

J.R. In VMT we don’t like the term ‘primal scream’.

P.W. That’s why I said, ‘of various kinds.’

J.R. Yes, it’s a raw approach to voice which is designed to ‘unlock the block’.

P.W. Yes, as opposed to a more high-minded classical sensibility might which be slightly more detached.

J.R. It’s about being completely non-detached.

P.W. Yes. It’s not cool. It’s not cool.

J.R. No, no. Maybe that’s where my 80s/90s cool avant-garde thing came up from? I attempted it in my cubist pieces and minimalist songs, to cool it all down. But that wasn’t ever the whole picture. Before I went to the Guildhall I was writing as a singer songwriter, emotional folk songs, love songs, road songs. I was completely happy with that musical narrative as young person. I wasn’t questioning it, just innocently doing it.

P.W. So, what made you stop doing that? What made you think ‘maybe I ought to’ or ‘I want to’ do something else?

J.R. The piano.

P.W. The bloody piano! Not just a guitar but a piano.

J.R. When I was sixteen and seventeen. I began to experiment at the piano. I wrote a couple of pieces, ‘Fantasy 1’ and ‘Fantasy 2’, (later changing the titles to ‘Reality 1’ and ‘Reality 2’ as they were my lived emotional experience).

They were stylistic explorations, energized, magical, angry, a crazy outpouring. By the time I was 18 I was thinking ‘there’s more to me than a few dozen songs’ and my mother got hold of Nicola Lefanu who promptly sent me off to the SPNM (Society for Promotion of New Music) Composer’s Weekend at York University in 1978. I arrived there with my guitar and my two piano pieces and heard an enormous amount of contemporary classical music.

P.W. Were you blown away by that? Did you immediately engage with it?

J.R. I had a mixed reaction to it. Part of me was overwhelmed and fascinated and part of me was thinking ‘I’m going to stick to what I know’.

P.W. So, the nub of where your confusion started?

J.R. Yes, it probably was.

P.W. So quite useful in that sense, to encounter it.

J.R. Yeah.

P.W. Have you ever felt totally comfortable as a contemporary classical composer?

J.R. I don’t think so.

P.W. What would it feel like if you were that kind of composer?

J.R. Remote. I’d rather feel present.

P.W. So, the classical composer is literally not present all of the time? They are at the back of the hall watching their score while other people do it.

J.R. Even if it’s perfectly done, you are still, to a degree, remote from the articulation of it.

P.W. So, you want to be present. That seems like it’s always been there.

J.R. I think so. I would always have a go at doing it again, if asked.

P.W. I don’t believe you.

J.R. Okay! If the London Sinfonietta said do a ten-minute piece in a remote style (they may not say that, because they do all sorts of things nowadays), but I would do it.

P.W. That’s not just for the money, that’s an attraction? What attracts you to it? What says; ‘I like doing that’?

J.R. It’s a challenge. It’s a rich canvas on which to paint.

P.W. Do you feel slightly regretful that you’ve not been sufficiently recognised for doing that kind of thing?

J.R. I am slightly regretful, but I don’t think I’ve done it well enough yet. I only got one really fab review of a piece, in the Independent in 1997. I said to myself, ‘that should be carved on my gravestone’.

P.W. What qualities does it need to do it really well?

J.R. You’ve got to have such dexterity with your imagination which has to be incredibly flexible, across all parameters and then get that down 100% accurately on the page. I am more dexterous in some parameters than in others.

P.W. But it seems to me you do have a quite deep sense of the emergent form. For example, when you compose you have a very strong sense of how long three minutes is. That’s a quality that people don’t easily have. It is easy for people to write page one, much harder to write page twenty, but you do have a good sense of emergent form.

J.R. I think I’m good at the big forms, yes. I have a sense of structure.

P.W. But you would never be entirely comfortable in the Society for the Prevention of New Music (ridiculing the name) of the 1980s, would you?

J.R. No

The signs there were ‘other forces’ at play. 

P.W. We’re now in 2019. It’s a different world. Is it possible for you to say that you weren’t entirely comfortable with that old world – as opposed to, ‘I felt a bit disappointed that I wasn’t as good as others’? Can you acknowledge that you genuinely weren’t comfortable? Obviously, there was a degree of alienation and it seems that, partly, you attribute that to not keeping up with them, but can you also go back and feel that you were not sure of that world?

J.R. I need to honour myself and say that must be the case. If I was sure of that world, I would have dedicated my time to manifesting the scores that would stay in that world, but I kept being pulled musically in other directions. My scores were never purely of that world. There were other forces at work.

P.W. Going back then, to the SPNM, and then shortly after that you went to Guildhall to study composition. What was one of the first things that pulled you away at that time? What pulled you away at the Guildhall?

J.R. It started straight away when I got to the Guildhall. I’d been working with the Royal Court Young People’s Theatre on a piece (as musician/composer) and it included an electronic score as well as guitar songs. I was in the first year at Guildhall and a dance company were pointed towards me. They put me in the third-year electronic music module with someone called Peter Wiegold. (I had first met you at the SPNM in 1978 two years before). It was not contemporary classical music that came out for that piece, it was part ambient, part sonic gestures of colour. I was trying things out, splashing around with sound and colour, using a Moog, as I recall.

[…]

P.W. Given you could have kept working on the scores what drew you to the Roy Hart theatre?

J.R. There’s lots of lovely memories flashing back as you say that. I found out about it through someone called Linda Hartley, who was in the Buddhist sangha, and also taught me Tai Chi. She had gone to Roy Hart Theatre herself, so she mentioned it. I was not singing when I was at Guildhall. I was pianist. I was composer. The idea of singing didn’t get a look in for about eight or nine years. I just zipped my bouche. By the time I got to the mid-eighties I was bursting to use my voice. I was steeped in experimentation and the avant-garde and the Roy Hart theatre was linked beautifully to that. Roy Hart worked with Peter Maxwell Davies. He performed the first version of Eight Songs from Mad King. This was a great link because it was an experimental, contemporary voice laboratory in the context of contemporary classical music.

P.W. That’s the next step.

J.R. It was inevitable at that point.

P.W. There must be the moment when you open your voice for the first time in years?

Connecting with body and voice, off the radar 

J.R. Yes. It absolutely came flying through. I wrote a song called ‘White Bird’. It was about this bird, this voice. I used that song as my calling back to the voice through this intense, physical, vocal theatre, where there was a lot of moving, writhing around, running, pushing against people, contact improvisation for voice, full on.

P.W. It feels really pleasurable, feels like a real release.

J.R. It was amazing, and I would see the Roy Hart theatre practitioners in the workshop, who’d been doing the work for years, demonstrating – my eyes popped, my jaw dropped, agog with how extraordinary it was.

P.W. Were you thinking of it as music?

J.R. Oh definitely

P.W. You weren’t thinking it was vocal release? Or emotional release?  Were you thinking ‘I love that sound’ or ‘I loved that line’? Was it still essentially musical?

J.R. Absolutely it was. I mean by this point I’d done several SPNM weekends and four years at the Guildhall, listening to tons of contemporary music and my ears were able to appreciate what was going on with Roy Hart Theatre as a form of music making. It was very avant-garde, full of vivid, ‘extended vocal technique’.

P.W. Yeah very avant-garde, so it connected up.

J.R. Absolutely. It was with this visceral, not remote space, that was a breakthrough to discover.

P.W. And then?

J.R. I did a couple of other courses before I did Voice Movement Therapy training. I did Chloe Goodchild’s first Naked Voice training and I did Gilles Petit’s Indian Raga workshops. Then I jumped into VMT which had come out of the Roy Hart Theatre. One of the practitioners splintered and set up on his own – Paul Newham.

P.W. Then you were training to get other people to release their voice and body. And therefore, you are also beginning to enter a role as therapist or as a facilitator.

J.R. That’s right. But it also played beautifully into the fact that I had just been commissioned by Lontano to write an opera – Inanna. A lot of that recent vocal work was absorbed into the opera.

P.W. Did you feel that you could have absorbed the fullness of that Roy Hart experience into the opera or did some composition take over?

J.R. Composition definitely took over, but it was not in a dodecaphonic style, so-called. I was back in tonality.

P.W. Yeah. Do you mean tonality or modality?

J.R. I mean modality probably. Back in pitch centred fields of notes with tonal resonances and lyrical content. Extended song forms were my friends.

P.W. Different from what you were doing in the Roy Hart sessions? And Voice Movement therapy workshops?

J.R. It had to be set. There was a written score for instrumentalists as well as singers. It was not a workshop. It was not an experiment. It was a set piece, performed at the ICA, but it did include elements of improvisation, indicated on the score.

P.W. You had had that deep physical and performative experience and you put that into the piece. What did you feel after that? What did you feel should come next, after having gone into that experimentation and then formalized it into a piece? Was that a difficult moment to reconcile those two things, or did it flow naturally forward?

J.R. I was in a state of flow during those years.

P.W. There was a lot of flow happening.

J.R. I wouldn’t say that there was any reconciling going on. I was in a receptive place and things were coming out. It was no problem. The score is infused with the energy and freedom of spirit from the RHT. It was uninhibited. If I wanted to write a massive great tonic chord, I had no problem doing it. I was saying ‘forget whatever the so-called rules are’. I was breaking every contemporary classical rule in the book by that point.

P.W. This was a special period. This is a really rewarding period.

Bereft

J.R. It was, though it was tinged with sadness because my mother was ill with cancer. She died six weeks after the premiere. Seeing the piece was her last night out.

P.W. What followed immediately after?

J.R. I remember feeling incredibly deflated after the opera. My mother died. Lontano were not able to quickly pick up the score and do it again, which is what I wanted of course. I actually hit a deep depression after that. I was bereft.

P.W. For how long?

J.R. Two years.

P.W. Really.

J.R. It was a hard time.

P.W. And what were you doing musically in that time?

J.R. The opera was in June 1992, my mother died July 1992. I started Voice Movement Therapy training September 1992. I finished VMT summer 1993.

P.W. And qualified as Voice Movement Therapist.

J.R. I probably used that training to process quite a lot of grief, from the ‘loss’ of the opera and of course, my mother’s departure.

Parts, 2,3 and 4  to follow in due course.

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