Here, Fiona describes the songs, explaining where some of the sounds and ideas came from and pointing to the ways in which the songs have been conceived as a piece of musical theatre. Each one is accompanied by Aderyn‘s artwork, inspired by the song’s theme.
1. OK, here you go.
The story begins with the mother’s reaction as her daughter opens her A-level results. Yep, she’s definitely got her place at University. It’s real, she’s going. She feels pride and excitement at the new life ahead for her daughter, but mixed in is a slow realisation that this means her daughter will now leave. She’s about to face the Empty Nest.
2. You’ve been a whirlwind
This song follows on directly from the excitement of the A-level results and confirmation of her daughter leaving. It’s as if the whirling energy of that moment starts to settle down leaving the mum standing alone, and starting to process what’s happening for herself. It’s a journey of looking back. The daughter has brought a whirlwind of activity and fun to the mother’s life, and that swirling and energy is going to stop. She wonders what will be there in its place. This is the first look she takes at her own looming new identity, without her daughter living at home with her. It captures a sense of the pain felt by parents at this transitional moment in their own lives.
The next seven songs are flashbacks of her years as a mother leading up to this point.
3. When will it be my turn?
As the mother starts to process her own feelings about the last 18 years, her thoughts go back to the very beginning. It had been hard to conceive in the first place. The pregnancy was a long-awaited, longed-for event. Her friends all around her were becoming pregnant.
I imagine the mum singing this song having just heard her friend has become pregnant, on the phone, then, after the phone-call (she shows pretend delight), sinking to her knees to express her real reaction. The agony of the wait. At the end of the song, she quietly reminds herself of God’s promises of comfort and support from the Bible, and I imagine a mime artist (who represents ‘her experience of the presence of God’) entering the room and being near her.
4. Brand new life
I imagine this song taking place just after she first learns she is pregnant. She is holding a pregnancy test in her hand, it’s positive. She starts to think about the child within, the future, the miracle of what’s happening to her. She dances, rejoicing, and the mime artist dances with her.
There is a sense that she has joined a group of women who have all gone before her, bringing life. It contains the line: “Wow! Look at women! Aren’t we great?”
Having said that, this is the song my son, Dan, plays the drums on. He is the only male taking part in the album and project, but perhaps that doesn’t count against it being an all-female production, because I made him?!
5. Hello, little bird
She is pregnant, and nesting. She sees a bird building a nest outside and feels connected to nature’s process of preparing a home in which to raise young.
Musically, this one is about exploring my love of birdsong and experimenting with birdsong audio. I used recordings of a hermit thrush, nightingale, and anhingas to create some of the effects, mostly by manipulating speeds and chopping things up a bit. Birdsong makes up many of the rhythms, melodies, drones and pulses.
Here’s the hermit thrush…
and how it is slowed down (half speed):
And made into a musical phrase:
And then I took some nightingale song (particularly these clicks at 2 seconds)
…to create the percussive sounds that begin ten seconds into this clip:
I just love birdsong! Check out my blog where I have several posts about it!
6. Night feed
The baby has arrived, the mother is sitting in the dark, in silence, feeding her child. One line in particular comes from a thought that occurred to me in the night when I was feeding my own baby, many years ago. I had a sense that I couldn’t breathe, because the new responsibility was so overwhelming. But then suddenly it was as if I was underwater and could breathe, and the underwater world was as beautiful as seeing a coral reef. Special, private, secret, unseen.
The long piano solo that finishes this song is a moment in which the mother senses the presence of God in the room. Her child is now back to sleep, in the cot. But the mother lingers, and experiences herself tenderly held and moved by this presence, the character I’m calling ‘her experience of the presence of God’. The mime artist would stand behind the mother and move her gently, without touching her, and she would gently rock to these movements, without turning round and seeing him.
7. Spinning plates
The child now attends school and life has become a whirl of activity and busyness for the mother, as she runs a home and also holds down work. Within the humour (yes, I have actually had broccoli in my hair), she wonders if, when this is all over, she may well be old and grey. This would work well visually with the mime artist keeping invisible plates spinning.
8. Good enough
Still processing her thoughts, we remain in the flashback of the past few years of mothering. This is about the guilt mothers can feel worrying if they’re getting it right with their children with all the external activities, but perhaps missing the important point of whether the child knows they are loved. It’s somewhat inspired by the idea of the ‘good enough mother’ (a phrase coined by the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott), a releasing term suggesting that maternal perfection is not required for the child to feel loved and secure.
9. The fear song
On the surface, this seems to be about genuine concern for her daughter’s safety. But it turns out her daughter is now growing up and is more independent. The fierce and age-appropriate maternal desire to watch over her daughter and keep her safe must now give way to a painful process of letting her go in order to give her the chance to gain true independence. A desperately hard process to do, fraught with actual safety issues as well as identity and control issues for the mother.
10. OK, here I go (reprise)
We are back in the present. The mother is coming to terms with the changes ahead and is feeling stronger about facing them. Her own sense of identity is beginning to return and she is feeling less tentative and more confident about her future.
A powerful picture of the mother having come to terms with the child leaving home and becoming an adult. She is sending the child off with a blessing for her daughter’s life to be fruitful and happy. It feels like finally cutting the umbilical cord when you wish your child joyful independence from yourself and desire for them to have a happy future, as an independent adult, with fulfilling goals and relationships, in which they no longer need you or include you. She pronounces this blessing prayerfully.
12. Empty bedroom
Perhaps the strongest symbol of the empty nest is the child’s empty bedroom. They’ve moved on, and left their childhood objects behind. The mother is standing in this room looking around, remembering the joys and heartaches, and allowing the beauty and privilege of having completed this stage of motherhood to inform the new person she is emerging as. She realises she can rejoice in her choices to have been there for her child. She wouldn’t have missed this for the world.
The backing track for this song was made by improvising at the piano while watching a video of a leaf blowing in the wind. I wanted a sense of the rhythmic freedom that we see in nature.
You can read my website blog to see the original story behind ‘Scoring a dancing leaf video‘. Original video posted by Guy Carpenter.