Issue 139, INTERVIEW with Fiona Joy Hawkins

One result of doing this magazine for so long is that I can (usually) “land” an interview with artists who have submitted here… in the case of Ms. Hawkins (pictured below), I am extremely pleased to present the thoughtful and insightful answers she provided for our readers… this is one artist you’ll think about over & over after you read her words here!!!


Zzaj:  I noticed in one of your online bio sketches that you are also a painter… please give my readers some insight into how a painter incorporates music into their paintings and vice versa.  Please start as early as you can remember in your artist mind and move all the way forward to now.

Fiona: Art and music work together – its like synchronicity, you see something one way and then you translate it as a piece of music – or vice versa.  For example, I can look at a bright abstract painting, make an interpretation of what it may be saying and translate it as a piece of music.  Or I can hear a piece of music and translate that energy into the painting.  Sometimes I would start with something quite classical like Prokofiev  so I can get the structure of a work, and then finish with something completely out there like The Pet Shop Boys to find the finishing touches and colours that will highlight my painting.  Weird I know, but that’s how my brain works!

I started writing at 8 years of age and straight away music was the same as putting pen to paper to write out thoughts , feelings and emotions – except I did it on the piano.  With art its more about the essence of the music, I use colour and texture as I’m mostly an abstract painter.

Zzaj:  How much did your classical training emphasize the need to “connect” through your music with your listener?  If it didn’t do that, how do you achieve that as an artist?  & on that note – how imporant IS the listener to whether (or not) you can create (what you consider to be) a “good” piece of music?

Fiona: MMM, this is a hard question!  In the process of writing I don’t think about the listener at all.  When I have the end product I hope that I have given the listener something to make them contemplate – a way to touch them somehow, but I think my writing may be a little more selfish than that because its totally driven by my own thoughts and not what the listener may think.  That I can sit down at the piano and write down my life’s emotions and have someone take anything positive from that is just a bonus!

In terms of training, for me the years of classical training were only ever a way to be able to play what I write.  I knew from a young age that I needed to learn and practice because I would only ever be able to work to the level I understood.      I’m probably sounding even more selfish now, but writing music is a solo pursuit and something that takes me deep into my self in a way that requires me to have silence, alone time and deep reflection to write music of any value.  The classical training is always something I draw on because its a point of reference and music is a movement so just as we are moving forward, we have come from somewhere.  My roots are Baroque, Classical and the Romantic period.  I didn’t have much jazz training and that’s something I would like to explore in the future.  I think the more influences I have, the broader appeal my music will have and ultimately, the more people it will reach.

Zzaj:  Please tell our readers how you “incorporate” your music into your paintings?  I’ve read that you actually write some of the music right into a painting. If you have an example of a painting that does that, please provide us with a link, so we can link it in here.

Fiona:  I always had a dilemma about how to use music and art in the same career and had thought I would need to choose between them.  I woke up one morning at 3am after an epiphany and realized I could use both if I put the manuscript on the canvas and made a recording of the music so that at in an exhibition I could bring my work into the third dimension.  Then you would be able to hear the music and see the music – it would fill the room in every way.  That exhibition was the turning point for my career and from there my paintings became truly musical, my exhibitions highlighted music and it gave my first recording a reason to exist.  From there music took over as it was clearly far more successful than my art.  It was like a dream come true for me that so many people wanted to buy the three track CD I had done, a record label wanted me to write a full length album and one thing lead to another – before I knew it my art had become the stepping stone for my music.  I fully intend to reverse it as I get older and my fingers get stiffer,.  I will always feature musical elements in my art and always find a way to use both these elements.  You can see my musical paintings at Prelude to a Landscape and Hartley Sky are two of my favourites.

Zzaj:  Your “600 Years In A Moment” album squeezes a lot more than “just piano” in; please give our readers some insight into the vocal and other instruments that you wove into this excellent CD.

Fiona:  When writing 600 Years in a Moment, I wanted to explore the question of Globalization in a musical sense.  So I recorded a contemporary hand made Australian piano with ancient instruments from around the world to bring the village into a modern setting and create a sense of time, distance and history

I have some incredible instruments on the album and some players I feel privileged to have worked with.  You will find the Paraguayn harp, Turkish Oud, a 275 year old violin, Didgeridoo, Tiple, Mongolian Morin Khuur, Chinese Bawu, Irish Whistle, and the list goes on…..  Its important to remember that the voice is the oldest instrument we have!

The piano is a Stuart and Son’s 102 key piano from my home town of Newcastle.

Zzaj:  One of the tracks I listened to for review (on THE GATHERING) included didgeridoo; will you be doing more like that?  Who played the didgeridoo on the piece (or did you)?  I ask because I loved the result you got on that particular tune, “Feeling Sunshine”.

Fiona:  thanks, I’m pleased you like that instrument – its one of my favourites to work with.  The artist was Michael Jackson (the Aussie one!).  He is an expert on Aboriginal artifacts and a world class palyer of the didge (that’s the common Aussie abreiviation).   I have used it now in three tracks including Feeling Sunshine, Running on Joy, and Jingle Bells.  I have also used it in a way you may not quite recognize on Somewhere, which was the final track on Blue Dream.  I wanted to use it as an orchestral instrument.  I have a wonderful video I would like to share of a practice session with myself and Michael and in one of the songs he uses the digebone (has a slider for note changing) as if it were a horn (the middle piece).  Its fascinating and still one of my favourite videos.

Zzaj:  Do you think growing up in Australia had any distinct influence on the kind/type of music you play?  For instance, if you had grown up in California, do you think you would have been playing different music?  Is that just a “ridiminous” question?

Fiona:  No influence I believe.   I grew up in rural Australia with only my classical training and my Dad’s record collection.  My writing is very much an internal thing, I didn’t listen to all the popular music that was on the radio, I was very much a loner as a kid and buried my head in the speakers listening to Prokofiev and Andrew Lloyd Webber.  If the modern day music were around me I would just lock myself away from it so the Beach Boys would never have entered my world.  I was an odd kid in a way and totally on my own journey.  If the teacher had said to the class that we were all drawing pictures of houses today I would draw pictures of the sun, or frogs, or maybe not even turn up to class at all.  I really had my own direction going.  It was a magical moment when at 19 years of age I arrived in San Francisco and heard George Winston for the first time – I discovered where my music belonged, that I actually fitted neatly in the New Age genre as if I had grown with it – but I hadn’t at all.

Zzaj:  Since you already believe that music can be inspirational, do you also believe that it may have the power to reform the ills of this world?  Or, will we have to wait for the next world to realize that?

Fiona:  If we all stopped listening to heavy metal and repetitive pop music with meaningless lyrics and started listening to music that is more positive then we may have a chance.  I do believe music has the power to make huge change.  One of the things I support whole heartedly is Musicians for World Harmony – when you see a child who has suffered trauma beyond belief and has little hope in life given a musical instrument and watch the smile on their face you realize the power of music goes way deeper than anything on the surface.

When I get emails from people telling me how my music has helped them through divorce, death, marriage or childbirth it makes me smile.  I can’t think of a better reason to be on this planet.  Its really all I have to give and its something I really do believe in.

I have often written about this subject and the power of music is very undervalued when you look at what we allow our children to listen to and the formats we allow them to destroy their ears with – like the i-tunes default compression rate at mp3 128 .

Music can only help those who’s journey in life allows them to discover it, those who truly open up their hearts to the possibilities.  There is good and bad in everything and we all make our own choices.  I wish that as parents we could make better choices more often for our children as early intervention is the way forward to creating a better world.

Zzaj:  I am personally a big fan of spoken-word/vocal work in or with music… please tell us how you generated the spoken/vocal beauty I hear in the title track for your “600 Years” release… was that you doing the spoken word/vocal, or did you have help with that?

Fiona:  That’s my vocal.  I remember sitting in the studio and Will Ackerman asked me to explain the concept of my album in really simple terms.  So I started thinking poetically and said all those lines.  Will escorted me straight into the studio and said “now I want you to say exactly what you just said’ and he pressed the record button.  That’s exactly how it came about.  At the time he said he had never done anything quite like that – but it worked so well and helped to define the album.

Zzaj:  It looks like you’ve toured quite a bit… will you be on the road again anytime soon? If so, when and where?

Fiona:  Yes.  I have several Australian concerts in NSW and Victoria as well as another tour of the US in November.  I list all my concerts on the front page of my website .  Touring is something I LOVE doing.  Initially I had an aversion to playing live – it was a nerve thing.  But I had a good ‘talking to’ from my Mother who said ‘Fiona, get over yourself, nobody is interested in you, they just want to hear the music and if you can’t share this gift then you have wasted your whole life’……  Those words were very powerful at that time and now before I go onstage they become part of my preparation mantra “God, you gave me this gift, please help me to share it with the audience the best way I can”.  It takes the focus off me and gives me a way to make it about sharing the music.  Its  a great way to get rid of stage fright!  LOL

Zzaj:  For those in our readership who are aspiring artists themselves, please give any “words of wisdom” (pro OR con) you may have to offer up for them.

Fiona:  Don’t listen to the nay–sayers, they are always there lurking in the background waiting to bring you down.  Believe in yourself, believe in what you do and only listen to a small chosen few that you surround yourself with and don’t take advice from ANYONE else.  Ultimately all your decisions come back to you.  Drive your own career.  Listen to your heart and keep it about the what is real…… the music!