Poetical words and musical notes come along with the colourful autumn leaves in Helsinki. Theatre director, writer and poet Joel Holmberg had a word with the Helsinki Times on this autumn’s Threats of Poetry & Jazz Issued.
Helsinki Times: What’s the story behind the theme?
Joel Holmberg: At our initial meeting, everything is read aloud for the first time. I, as the director, listen very carefully and choose the best things. I also time everything to see that it fits into a one hour programme. Then I, along with everyone else, try to see if there is a common theme – or at least something which can be nudged into the major theme. We sometimes come up with several suggestions, but often at least one of us, usually Zoë Chandler, hears a common theme. This time, Lives and Deaths came up after hearing everything.
HT: Are the poets/writers performing original pieces?
JH: An invitation is sent out via FinnBritPlayers for anyone who is interested in performing should come to that initial meeting. Original material is preferred, but also acceptable is material by other people with their specific consent, or works in the public domain. The latter usually means the author has been dead for at least 70 years.
HT: Tell us about the backstage of this already classic event.
JH: I began the series in 200l with 2 performances per year – spring and autumn. It was initially in Café Engel, but we have moved over to Arkadia International Bookshop. The performer is completely alone facing the audience on floor-level with no one to fill in any mistakes or blank moments. My job includes making sure people speak clearly and not too rapidly so that everyone can understand – this is very important since many of the audience are not native English language speakers. What is wonderful is the variety of poetry, stories or dialogues.
If a writer doesn’t have the confidence to perform, but would like his/her piece to be heard, then I must determine who would be willing to perform it. This time around there is a new person who has never performed, but has some lovely poems. Because she is a bright and positive person, I spent extra time coaching her performance.
HT: How does the clarinet music fit within the performances?
JH: The clarinettist, John Millar, has been a standby for many of the performances. He is a classically trained musician and excellent with improvisation. He creates the proper mood for each piece. His major job is to keep the flow of the program moving so that there are no blank spots. He also has a solo piece in the programme. A word about the word Jazz: It is an overall word encompassing many styles. For the most part it has not been the driving, heavily rhythmic type which is often associated with jazz. It is more like the music of one of my favourite jazz musicians, Errol Garner.
HT: How would you summarize the programme?
JH: All programmes have had a great deal of feeling, which can extend from gloomy to joyful and humorous. There are pieces which internalize and others which observe and experience that observation. The audience is always very attentive.
SUSAN FOURTANÉ – HELSINKI TIMES
Image – Susan Fourtané
First published in the Helsnki Times on September 24th