Danish Poul Høxbro is one of the storytelling musicians I mentioned in chapter 2 (libretto). I asked him a few questions to see if I had been on the right track. Høxbro’s specialty is medieval stories combined with music, and he switches between speech and music. I wanted to know how he prepares: how he finds his own voice, and how the speed of shift effects him. Text in parentheses are reflections of my own.
Elisabeth: Do you go between different roles when you first play (the musician) and then tell stories (the storyteller)?
Poul: Definitely. For my personal part, there is a big difference between musical vs. verbal communication. But let me also point out that my primary role in a performance situation is always the musician. I never stand in a situation where the narratives have to carry my entire performance; they are always supportive of the music.
No matter how expressive, virtuoso and outgoing I interpret a piece of music, it requires me to turn most of my concentration inward. It may not look like that on stage, but the more I can mentally shut out, the stronger the communication of the music becomes. As through a small but very concentrated beam. Quite the opposite with my verbal communication. Here I must be open to all channels, transform my communication from the concentrated, almost introverted, to an embracing extrovert.
The story is found inside me as in a single point and must come out almost like an explosion, where the music is found around me and is conveyed just as strongly (hopefully) in an artist's implosion.
(The big difference for me, is of course that I present the music and the story simultaneously. I changed the roles within the story, but stayed the same actor-singer-storyteller-musician the whole time. Feeling the beam and the explosion of the story and the implosion of the music. Or the opposite?)
(I’ve constantly changed roles in this project - not only the ones in L’Orfeo, but also between singer, musician, artistic researcher, administrative secretary etc- and I am trying to find ways of enrich them, instead of fighting them.)
P. It requires both practice and a strong mental condition to go from one role to the other in a performance without losing the magic. In the middle of the two roles is the concentration and contact formed by the meeting of the audience. It must be constant, and it is this that guides me almost unconsciously or improvisational and makes the music and the words balance in each performance.
E. I am a singer and musician exploring new ground as a storyteller. The story and the words are already in the music so I could just sing the words and the notes that are written there, but I wish to convey them in the role of the Storyteller. The words and the music are, in my case, entwined.
What do you, as a musician (who I mainly know you as) get out of the stories?
P. They give me a sense of security in my dissemination of that which is musically abstract. This is to be understood in the way that I often play and convey music that is unknown and foreign to most audiences. The stories help to create images that not only support the tones, but almost set in motion a personal mini-opera inside each individual listener. It thus creates an expanded understanding without me having to turn off, or on, the poetic stream through a performance by having to make tedious factual breaks.
(personal mini-opera, poetic stream, creating images, expansion… yes. I understand this.)
E. Do you act when you tell stories?
P. Like most storytellers, I use first and foremost what I want to define as ”my own voice”. That is, my voice without major distortions. After all, this is my main instrument when I narrate, and just like with my other instruments, I make use of the whole spectrum of my voice, sonorous as well as dynamic and with pitch tempo. Some rare and carefully selected times I can then introduce a "different" voice to break the pattern or for extra attention, but it must be done very sparingly, as I do not act, but tell my story.
(Do I tell MY story? I shouldn’t, but of course I do. The storyteller remembers, and, again, the actor is the one who remembers…FN Even though I didn't intend to, the story of Orpheus/Orfeo/Orfevs did become mine.)
(Monteverdi helps me a little bit by adding so much of himself into the story. His interpretation is the constant…fragrance/taste/colour. And that helps me to go away from my own self and what I perceive as my story.)
E. As you know, I have the music by Monteverdi and some basic instructions written in the score, such as Caronte’s very heavy bassline and his low and insisting vocal line, or Proserpina’s gliding, seductive melody over the jazz-like bass. These ”instruction”s invite certain ways of using my voice and I have also experimented with standing in different ways (leaning on one foot, slouching, almost throwing myself on the ground etc) and felt my voice changing with my movements.
Do your voices come as a consequence of how you stand when you tell them, or do they come from the story? Characters?
P. Yes and yes. I have stood in a room with 6-800 listeners and had to tell a story in Danish, Swedish, English or German. In such cases, the situation will provide very special conditions for the rear listeners to be able to understand every word without the ones in the front being blown over. My nuance possibilities are narrowed, but within the new boundaries I must then be able to differentiate so that the magic is kept throughout the story anyway. An intimate cafe concert of course offers completely different possibilities and challenges.
But the story can also set the tone for your voice. Is it a sad story? A beautiful poet? A bizarre and comic story? I will always use my voice to create an instant mood for the upcoming narrative. But I can also choose to cheat the audience and break a mood…