20 March this year was the first anniversary of my blog. And Shakespeare is missing to be 450. My first anniversary was celebrated by searching the web to find new subjects to write about. I’ve found some, but there’s something more important right now. It was Shakespeare’s 449 birthday on 23 April. I would like to wish him a HAPPY BIRTHDAY, even though I’m late. Gdansk, as always, held a celebration of his birthday. This time, it was a concert of a jazz musician Caroll Vanwelden and it took place at the St. John’s centre in Gdansk. But what does music have to do with Shakespeare? As it turns out, these two things ca be smoothly combined, and Shakespeare can be sung. Caroll wrote wonderful, light and delicate melodies to match Shakespeare’s sonnets. All of these melodies are on her CD “Caroll Vanwelden sings Shakespeare Sonnets”. Caroll was accompanied by fantastic musicians: Thomas Siffling, Mini Schulz i Meinhard Helmut Jenne.
I am not really a great fan of jazz and, going to the concert, I thought: ok, I’ll go, listen to it, maybe I’ll be convinced by this music. And I was convinced. From the very beginning, Caroll knocked us off our feet with her authenticity and charm.
– Good evening, dobranoc – she welcomed the audience. (“Good evening, good night”)
Before each song, she’d tell us an anecdote related to it: this sonnet makes her think about her laughing children, that one resembles ticking of the clock, some other is about what she and Shakespeare have in common: troubles with sleeping. Her stories were captivating, and so was her music. Even I enjoyed the subtle melodies, and I’m really not that fond of jazz… But still, I listened to the songs carefully, trying to recognize the words, looking at the colourful lights and the shadow of Caroll’s fingers gently touching the piao keyboard reflecting on the ceiling. Some of the listeners were dancing. And after the concert, when prof. Limon started to cut the cake, a huge queue formed in front of the desk where Caroll’s CDs were sold. And there a was an equally huge line to the desk were Caroll was signing the CDs. I took a place at the end of the queue and waited patiently to talk to Caroll for a while. Finally I got there.
Kaja: How did the project start? How did you start to sing Shakespeare?
Caroll: I worked together with an Iranian composer 13 years ago and he had the idea to put Shakespeare to some classical music. But we didn’t really finish the project and so 3 years ago I thought “why don’t I try myself?”. I like challenging projects, I know Shakespeare is very difficult. I think when you put music and Shakespeare together, you can remember the text better. I just tried and then I recorded it and 2 months later I listened to it and I thought “oh, well, it sounds quite ok, maybe I can really make it”. I started writing the songs. They were very quickly written because he inspires me, reading the sonnets, they inspired me with the sounds, the melodies.
K: How did you choose these particular sonnets for the songs?
C:Very intuitively. I have a little book at home with all the sonnets and when I found it, I just went through the sonnets by the piano and stopped when I found a beginning that I found interesting or I had a melody in my head. The words inspired me: when I read the first line, I was inspired. When I started writing, the melodies were coming to my head, it’s not really something I do methodically. Sometimes when the sonnet is too difficult or the words are different I don’t see it, and then I read some other line and it’s like the melody comes to my head.
K: I was wondering why you chose to combine Shakespeare’s sonnets with modern Jazz music and not some more classical genre.
C: I’m a jazz musician and a jazz singer. Normally I don’t accompany myself at the piano, but for this project I accompanied myself because I wrote all the songs. I wanted to mix my roots, which are more in jazz, with Shakespeare.
K: Why did you use the original English texts and not some translations which could be easier?
C: I think if you do Shakespeare, you need to do the original. I’m Flemish, I speak Flemish and French, because I was educated in French, both of these languages are my native ones, I also speak English, German and Spanish… Which language do I have to choose then? So I chose the original. I think you cannot translate Shakespeare really. I mean you can, but it’s there, his original words are so beautiful. I used translations for myself, however, when I was doing my research.
K: Did you find something deeper in the sonnets while doing your research, something that you had not discovered before?
C: It’s very strange but I always get the impression that every time I read the sonnets, I discover something new. I don’t know if everybody feels it like that, but I do. It’s really interesting because I did a lot of research on some texts and then I re-read them and think: that’s something new. There are so many different meanings and so many different opinions and then I wonder: what do I think? I read the sonnets and I understand them and then I’m like: oh, I never thought about it like that. There’s another meaning to that. That’s something really extraordinary for me.