An Interview with Dawn Hort

Jan.s:  Dawn, you're not only a celebrated Australian children's author but an accomplished singer and songwriter. Can you share with us your love of Celtic music and singing...

Dawn:  Until I came to the mountains I didn't really have a favourite kind of music. I like jazz, swing, some metal, rock, country, bluegrass and popular stuff, but didn't really have a favourite. Where I live now, the arts are fostered so well, including the folk music scene and the art of writing.

I met people at a community college writing course and started talking about music. One woman was writing songs and performing them to the group. My musical background was rooted in church and I have a natural knack with harmonies, so writing songs was a tangent thing that came naturally. I started visiting folk music clubs and festival in the local area and it opened up this hidden world. Celtic music was like sparkling light on water for me. I drank it in. I felt the ground vibrate with the energy of it. 

A friend once remarked that my face came alive when I heard it. 

Even though my family emigrated to Australia from England when I was quite young, I still feel, very strongly, the UK is my real home. 

The windswept hills of Wales, the lush green dales, the castles, the Cornish coast. It calls me. 

I started researching Celtic mythology in order to do justice to the music I wanted to create. There are many songs I still haven't recorded, but the two albums I made with my friend Gary are a fantastic achievement, especially as his style is country rock! 

Together we wrote some beautiful songs, my forte being the melody and his being the lyrics, although we both do well in these areas individually. 

I was influenced by the early music of Clannad and I wanted to impart a sense of the mysterious, a fogginess into it, with myth and legend and that wonderful unity and closeness you get with Celtic music, especially when its performed live. It's such a personable style of music and in my experience, has encouraged the audience to sing a long and become part of the telling.

Jan.s:  Could you talk about how you work with the disparate and common meeting places between writing lyrics for music and storytelling!

Dawn: For me, lyrics are essentially story telling. I am a highly visual person, so I try to recreate what I see in the mind of the listener. There has to be a central emotion conveyed, whether its joy or the lingering sadness of loss, or the uncertainty of what lies ahead etc. You have to invest emotionally in a song. It's not just about the melody. With melody, I think it has to suit the lyrics, of course and a hugely important factor is the chorus - it must have that sing-along quality that sticks in your memory, so that you find yourself humming it throughout the day. I like a sense of drama at some point in the melody, a rise in emotion, a high point. This probably goes back to my church singing days. Hymns have that amazing quality to stir you. And that's what I aim for. I also think a sense of structure that is easy to follow is important. 

These elements are also important in story writing. You want the reader to invest in your characters, to be able to follow their development arc with satisfaction, curiosity and a sense of excitement. So you have to have dramatic bits where the emotion is heightened and a structure that is easy to follow. The characters should be consistently themselves, so that you get a clear picture of who is speaking/interacting and you start to get to know them. The freaky stage of writing, for me, is when the characters themselves start telling me what to do! This is always a good sign that I have shaped them properly. Where music and book writing differ is of course in the performance of them, however, as a recent trip to Canberra as part of my May Gibbs Fellowship, I found myself performing in front of school kids, who had so many questions about writing and books and my characters and where I live and what I thought about other writers and... Phew! It was a different kind of performing.

Writing is, for the most part, a solitary process, which I enjoy, however, you do have to get out there and mix with other writers in order to learn and grow and find opportunities. Writing music can involve other people and there is a necessary sense of trust between you, because you are sharing your soul. I put a lot of myself into my songs. Some of them are autobiographical, like 'England's Tears’, which describes the day we left England, leaving grandparents behind. When I was writing the soaring chorus I found myself crying and felt a little silly, but it shows there is true emotion in it when that happens. 

When you perform your own songs it's your way of sharing your stories, instead of having them published in book form. I found singing in public terrifying, but it taught me a lot.

Writing, whether its music or stories, is a compulsion and it should not be ignored. You find your true sense of yourself when you can express things that lie deep and unknown within you. The really wonderful thing is that someone will say, "I loved that! It said exactly what I was feeling/thinking!" and then you're glad you had the guts to share it. :)

Den Fenella: 'Den Fenella'  Dawn Meredith-Hort & Gary Stowe (c) 1999

Den Fenella'Journeys'  Vocals/recorders: Dawn Meredith-Hort, Vocals/guitar/bodhran: Gary Stowe and friends. (c) 2001

For a review of Dawn's Wobbly Wombat visit the url below:

All photos copyright of Dawn Hort 2010 


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