Helen Porter on her new show: ‘Constant As The World’

Next month singer Helen Porter visits Endelienta with her new show ‘Constant As The World‘. We sat down with Helen to chat about her inspiration, career and what we can expect to hear in her latest performance.

You’ve had a distinguished career as a musician, both singing and composing, where did it all start for you and how did you get to where you are today?

It started from a very early age. My mum taught me to read music and play the piano before I was even at school. I was born a musician, and always loved the creative arts (I was hopeless at sciences) although singing didn’t come until much later. I went to a liberal and creative school with a specialist music department, where I studied piano and clarinet. But to be a singer, you must be confident, or at least, to produce your voice confidently. I lacked that in my early twenties. My path took me instead to a career as a musical director and theatre composer. The world of theatre was opened up for me at Bristol University, where I studied music and drama, and wrote music for the plays performed in the department. On graduating I was part of a theatre company in Bristol founded by students until I moved to the Netherlands in the early 1990’s, where I set up my own music theatre company. I lean naturally towards story-telling and drama in song-writing, which I suppose comes from my innate love of theatre.

It is only now that I am embarking on a solo mission, which says a lot about how confidence comes with age. Without doubt, one of the most important aspects of my development has been my teaching. Over the years I have taught singers both amateur and professional, choirs and vocal groups, as well as coaching for Helen Chadwick’s Song Theatre and the National Theatre. Through teaching and observation of other singers, and working with other voice professionals, I have learned a great deal about the art of performance. It’s only now that I have felt ready to join all the dots together – singing, playing piano, composing, writing lyrics and performing – and am loving every moment of it.

 

As well as playing some classics in your latest show, you also play your own songs, how do you approach song writing? And could you please tell us a little about the process behind it?

The best way to learn about song-writing is from the great song-writers and lyricists of the twentieth century. Over the last fifteen or so years I’ve become very familiar with the jazz standards repertoire. I love the harmonies and rhythms of jazz songs, the great melodies, the simplicity of form, which makes the songs so immediate – they draw in the listener. In my own song-writing, however, I don’t want to be restricted by the theme. Almost all jazz standards (certainly all pop songs) are about love in all its guises. I want to write about things going on in the world, subjects that matter to me (the environment, political unrest, every day realities), and therefore, hopefully, to the listening public.

‘Constant As The World’ began with a project I called ‘Thirty Songs in Thirty Days’. I made myself chose a subject – a newspaper headline, a recent event, a conversation – and then write something everything day – unfinished, sketchy pieces of work – which I allowed to be ‘rubbish’. At the end of the month, I had about thirty sketches, of which I thought five or so could be developed in to something more substantial. From then on, it’s all about discipline! I was guided by a quote from the great song-writer Jimmy Webb, speaking on Master tapes: “If I’m not sitting at my piano, nothing will happen.” I consider it to be like sculpture – you are confronted with a huge lump of stone, unformed, but within it there is something aching to get out. You just have to have the right tools to do it, a lot of patience and persistence.

 

As well as being a singer you’re an accomplished pianist, could you tell us about the relationship between singing and playing?

When I sing without accompanying myself at the piano – i.e. performing with the quartet Misbehavin’ – I am more self-conscious on stage. Playing the piano while singing allows me to immerse myself in the performance – to shape the song exactly as I want it, to phrase it, control it. People often say to singer-instrumentalists ‘How do you manage do two things at once?’ I think that’s the point – you’re not. The two come together as one and are inseparable. As a solo performer I am fully in control of the process. If something unexpected occurs while performing, I can ‘manage’ that in an instant. Sometimes it can make the song all the more interesting for it!

 

Your upcoming show won’t be your first time at Endelienta, as many regulars will know, what is it that makes you want to come back and perform here again?

All musicians love to perform in the church with it’s wonderful acoustic, of course. The welcome at St.Endellion is always so warm and friendly, from all the Endelienta volunteer staff as well as the audience. I always appreciate the audience, many of whom must travel from some distance to hear live music. The contact is always professional and thorough, and artists are respected and treated well. This matters a great deal to performers. Not all venues offer the level of hospitality and consideration towards artists that Endelienta does.

 

And finally, once this tour’s done, what’s next? Can we expect another visit soon?

I like to ring the changes, embarking on new projects and ideas as much as possible. The solo venture is very new to me, and I’m not done with it yet. However, it will take me a year or more to write a new set of songs, so ‘soon’ might not be possible. Hopefully in a couple of year’s time, if I’m invited!

Helen Porter performs ‘Constant As The World’ at Endelienta on March 2nd 2019, tickets are available here: https://endelienta.org.uk/product/saturday-2-march-helen-porter/   

Reflective Days at Endelienta

As well as our world class concerts, here at Endelienta we also run a series of reflective days aimed at exploring spirituality in modern day life, led by eminent thinkers in their fields. This season we have some real treats in store, here’s a quick rundown:

Behold the Handmaid of the Lord, 9th February   

In the first of our spring reflective days David Seymour explores how people experience calls to faith through exploring depictions of the Annunciation by renaissance masters Lippi and Crivelli (pictured below).

2018 at Endelienta

With 2018 soon to be behind us, we though we’d have a look back at some of the highlights from the year:

Spring Season – 

An amazing opening season saw the brilliant London based jazz trio Malija (pictured) visit us in February to help launch their second album. Hot on their heels, the Truro Cathedral Choir arrived to entrance audiences with sacred music from across the centuries. In March one of the greats of Flamenco guitar, Juan Martin, visited and captivated audiences.

March also saw the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, come to Endelienta as part of the reflective day series to deliver an insightful day on the Welsh poet Henry Vaughan.

Our community outreach work with the Story box culminated in the Spring season, with five schools and two community groups being helped by four artists to delve into local history resulting in the creation of some wonderful pieces of art. More of which can be seen here: https://endelienta.org.uk/school-projects/story-box/

Summer Season –

In Summer we hosted the multi award winning Dante Quartet (above), one of the UK’s finest ensembles. The quartet amazed us with renditions of Tchaikovsky no. 1 in D, Shostakovich no. 4 and Beethoven op 135. Later in the season the Endelienta Ensemble returned to treat audiences to a programme of Prokofiev and Mendelssohn.

Autumn Season –

The autumn season was packed full of treats. In September, Mark Padmore (above) delivered a moving series of music and readings commemorating the end of first world war to a sold out church. In November, Afro-Celtic dance band, Baka Beyond (below) had audiences dancing in the aisles long into the night as they came to St. Endellion as part of their 25th anniversary tour.

Our 2018 artists residency welcomed, film maker Lynn Denison, poet Olivia Lowry and composer Jordan Hirst to the Stone Barn for a week. They were inspired by the beautiful Cornish countryside to create outstanding pieces of work, which were shared at St. Endellion in September.

It was another outstanding year for the annual North Cornwall Book Festival. Visitors from across the county, and further, enjoyed talks, readings and workshops by our own acclaimed novelist (and NCBF Artistic Director) Patrick Gale (pictured) as well as Anne Enright, Jill Murphy, Phillip Hoare, Joanna Trollope, Nina Stibbe (pictured), Natalie Haynes & many more.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped 2018 year be so successful! We look forward to being able to continue to bring outstanding events to North Cornwall in 2019. You can see what’s on during our Spring season now.

Grassroots Opera come to St.Endellion

Next month we welcome Opera company Grassroots Opera to Endelienta. To find out a little bit more about them and what we can expect from their latest show ‘Orfeo ed Euridice’ we had a chat with company founders Anna Marie McLachlan and Chloe Stratta about all things operatic.

Tell us a little bit about Grassroots Opera and what made you decide to start the company?

Anna: Grassroots Opera was founded at the beginning of 2018 by soprano, Chloe Stratta, and mezzo-soprano, Anna Marie McLachlan. We had worked together on previous projects and wanted to bring a small company of young, professional singers together to present opera in an innovative and accessible way to rural locations. We hoped to perform opera, in its original language, in intimate settings to audiences who might not otherwise attend the big opera houses.

What’s the story of Orpheus and Euridice and what’s inspired this production?

Orfeo ed Euridice focuses upon the grief of Orfeo at the loss of his wife Euridice, and his journey into the underworld when given by Amore (the personification of love) one last chance to retrieve her from eternal bliss.

For our initial production, we wanted to find an opera with a small cast and an easily recognisable story. Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, with its plot originating in Greek mythology, fits this perfectly. In our production, we managed to adapt the opera so that Amore takes on different guises, including the chorus line, therefore we did not need a chorus.

You work in the original language of the operas, does this ever present any difficulties?

We wanted to present the opera in its original language to keep the authenticity and beauty of the work. In order to make this accessible to our audience we provide a clear and detailed synopsis in our programme notes. The deep emotions are so poignant in the original text. However, we are aware that to convey them, to greatest effect, our gestures and characterisations have to be clear.

Finally, what drives you to produce work for rural locations and what are the biggest challenges and rewards?

We love bringing our production to communities which would not otherwise readily have access to opera. I have family roots in Somerset and Chloe lives in Devon so we both have an affinity with the West Country. The challenges are publicising to more scattered communities and choosing suitable, affordable venues. However, the rewards have been immense. It has been wonderful performing to audiences of all generations and receiving such positive feedback from regular opera goers and those who have attended an opera for the first time.

Orfeo ed Euridice is on at Endelienta on the 12th January 2019, tickets are £10 and free for accompanied under 16’s. For tickets and more information, please see: https://endelienta.org.uk/product/saturday-12-january-igrassroots-opera/