Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Words & Music Part II

Two weeks ago I blogged about the interesting new program in which I had been invited to participate as an author in St. Thomas, Ontario. It combined all the toe-tapping entertainment of a jazz concert with the enchantment of storytelling. THE WHISPER OF LEGENDS, set to music. The event was sponsored by the St. Thomas Public Library and although it was a completely new concept for me, the library and the jazz group Martin Traynor and the Rainbow Quartet had been hosting a similar evening for eight years. Band manager Ric Giorgi had read my book and I had told him the parts I would be reading so that he could select songs and instrumental pieces to complement the readings and help weave the story together.

 I am always eager to try something new. Over the years I have done dozens of readings, some alone and some with other writers, and I know that it's hard to draw a crowd. If you read a segment longer than five minutes, no matter how breath-taking your story is, you had better be a first-class performer or you risk putting the audience to sleep. On the other side, a musical band can play a solid thirty to forty-five minute set and still have the audience clapping wildly for more. It seemed to me that teaming up with musicians could bring life and entertainment to the rather quiet, private sharing of a story.

Photo courtesy of Don Durkee
So when I stepped on stage beneath the bright spotlights of the Princess Avenue Playhouse to begin the evening, I was excited and intrigued. What would Ric and the band make of my book? How would the music tie in with the story? How would we keep the packed audience enthralled for ninety minutes? I need not have worried. Ric opened the evening with a couple of lively songs that captured some of the images of the wild Nahanni River, where THE WHISPER OF LEGENDS is set. I could hear the river rapids in the trills and runs of the saxophone, the hiss of the river silt in the snare drums, and the grunting of bears in the thump of the double bass. Ric kept commentary to a minimum, allowing my words to speak for themselves, but explained his choice of songs to match each theme. 'Stand by Me' to reflect Green's devotion and commitment to finding his missing daughter, 'Fly me to the moon' to capture the scenes of float planes dancing in the wilderness skies. Songs about gold fever, love, passion... Some of the music was fast and upbeat, some melancholy, some as sexy as only jazz can be.

I found myself nodding my head and tapping my toe along with the audience, and the hall was dark and hushed with anticipation during the times when I read. The ninety minutes flew by, and at the end of it all the band members and myself were exhilarated. To my, the experiment was a huge success, and I think authors and musicians should team up more often, not just in St. Thomas but all across the land. It takes a committed and perceptive band leader with an appreciation of stories as well as a wide repertoire of music, who is willing to read the author's work and give careful selection to the proper music. It takes an author willing to work with the band leader ahead of time and become part of the performance on stage. It takes a library, bookstore, or other sponsoring organization willing to find the venue and take the risk of putting on the show. In the case of St. Thomas, the local Coles store sold my books, there was a cash bar bringing in revenue and tickets were by donation only. it seemed to me that attendees were being most generous in filling up the donation jar.

A huge thank you to Ric, the Rainbow Quartet, the library and the town of St. Thomas for an evening I won't forget. If anyone has participated in a similar fusion of music and words, I'd love to hear about it!


Donis Casey said...

Fabulous idea

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