Sue Fink and Rebecca Jasso brought “Suddenly Hope” to life, together. You can see it here: Suddenly Hope.
You can see the Haiku Milieu show that it is part of here: 7.16.20 Haiku Milieu Director's Cut.
Sue Fink and I known each other for years and years. I have had the honor of singing on a number of her songs in the studio, we have shared the stage many times, and I have watched her offer project after project– albums, musical partnerships, and shows – built around her original, utterly charming, carefully crafted songs. We are friends. I am her fan.
When I hatched the idea to host concerts where artists play songs inspired by a Haiku Milieu photo and haiku in 2018, the first person I thought of was Sue Fink. “I would love to hear what she comes up with,” I thought.
Full of exuberance for the idea, and a tiny bit of terror at the notion that what I was asking might just be too much, I asked her. Before I finished the sentence, she said, “Jenny, YES! What a great idea!” And the rest is history.
For these shows, I ask people to consider collaborating with others. When Sue wondered aloud to me who she might work with, I mentioned Rebecca.
Rebecca is a wonderful singer songwriter. Her finger style guitar work is entrancing, and she has also contributed songs to Haiku Milieu shows. She is also a producer, who puts together the Lost Species show as part of the Remembrance of Lost Species Day. Lesser known, but true fact: she is a wonderful visual artist. What can I say? We are friends. I am her fan.
And most of all, I am a fan of what they created, together. Enjoy their thoughts below.
"Suddenly Hope" is my second song inspired by Jenny's haikus. Jenny amazes me with her evocative, poignant, 17-syllable musings, and how she manages to find simple, real-life objects that perfectly illustrate her words. Her images and thoughts free my mind to ponder the world's complexities, and inspire words and melodies of my own.
Every Sunday, I receive a new Jenny-haiku in my inbox. I was struck immediately by this one:
A key in the lock/ A creaking of old hinges/ and suddenly, hope
The creative seed was now planted; my next step is to contemplate, freely, until an idea presents itself. Once I realized that an old woman had moved into my heart (after a particularly stressful year), I knew I had my song!
This process all happened during the pandemic; soon we realized that this time, Jenny's Haiku Milieu show would not be happening live, in a venue. Jenny requested videos, and collaboration if possible. I'd already written my song... but could I collaborate with someone else's vision, regarding the video?
I asked Jenny for ideas, and she suggested our mutual friend Rebecca Jasso, who is not only a talented singer/songwriter, but also an artist. Of course! Rebecca and I had worked together before, so I already trusted her artistic skills and instincts. She and I had were scheduled to meet for a socially-distanced walk along the river; I decided to present my request then.
As we sat on the picnic blanket, Sue handed me some typed-out lyrics. She found a pitch and began singing her song to me. "There is an old woman, resides in my heart." I don't know if I'd ever before collaborated in such a way, creating visual art to go with a song, but sitting there and listening to Sue singing, it was easy to come up with ideas. "Suddenly Hope" had so much concrete imagery in its words that I immediately had an idea.
When Rebecca asked if I had particular art in mind, I said, "I've already said what I wanted to through my lyrics, and I don't want to quash any ideas you might come up with; I think we're on the same page, so go with your instincts!"
Her waltz-y rhythm and her lilting melody produced in me a sort of rocking feeling. The idea of this alter-ego living inside her heart, as if her heart were a little house with rooms and windows and creaking doors, brought to mind the image of a sort of attic tucked away with worn wallpaper on the walls. Then I saw the wallpaper moving, or rather the "camera" panning, across an endless wall covered in this same, repeating-patterned wallpaper. I don't know why, but in my head it felt like just the thing -- that we'd see these images she's describing, moving across the screen from right to left. Having been given carte blanche, I decided to go for it.
I was excited but had no idea how to pull this off. I use video editing software, and am a little more than basically familiar with it. But I had never used it for graphics, nor had I ever done a project putting illustration to video. I just figured there had to be a way.
Once I got over the first hurdle, more ideas developed from there. I love cardboard and decided to make the images look like they were cut out of cardboard. I would do one whole scene (verse) before I would move to the next.
As I went along, I was having so much fun, and I realized this was turning into something way more than I intended. I thought, could this be a REAL "Music Video" for Sue's song?
Rebecca sent me a snippet of what she was working on, and I was excited to see how my words were coming to life through her art! She supplied minute, quirky details, all forming the story. I realized that my rough audio wouldn't be up to par for the images Rebecca was creating. Time to up my game!
When I record professionally, I do it with Bruce Roper, who managed to squeeze me in when I explained time was of the essence. He suggested I add our mutual talented friends Bob Long on piano and John Abbey on bass. "I'd love to," I said, "but I don't have much time before I need to get this to Rebecca, so she can finalize the video." (Nothing like a deadline, folks, to make things happen!)
With two very quick calls, Bruce arranged for Bob to come in the next day, and John to send his bass part to us. This all happened seamlessly, in a socially-distanced kind of way, without me even being there. I trusted that Bob and John would understand what was needed, and they created the perfect parts for my song! One last quick masked meeting with Bruce for mixing, and my song was now a SONG. Then I sent the sound file to Rebecca so she could make her video a VIDEO!
As I worked, I built on the ideas and had constant inspiration from Sue's lyrics and just lovely song. Looking back, I think I approached the artwork the same way I approach songwriting. I just start with the seed of an idea and watch it grow, moving this here and that there, and finding the process to inspire the buildup and final resolution.
The chorus was tricky because, well, it's the chorus! It's the biggest part of the song and I thought it should develop a bit, visually, not simply repeating the same exact images each go around. With a little brainstorming and bouncing ideas off of my husband, I came up with the little twist of the old lady at the door in the 3rd chorus. It felt like this one little change was all I needed to visually drive the chorus home.
(BTW, like Rebecca, I love a chorus that grows in meaning each time you hear it, and that's exactly what her artwork presented!)
When Rebecca presented me with her final video, I watched with delight as the wallpaper scrolled on, the little old woman, the quirkily labeled moving boxes... and in the bridge, where lyrics mention "shadows of birds," she'd used an illustration of my long-time (and long-gone) bird, Greenpeace Birdie, which she'd created in 2018 for my CD Release show... a surprise to me then, and even more so now! It was an unexpected gift for my heart. I loved this, and all the fine details that Rebecca created.
Jenny, how DO you say so much in only 17 syllables? Before this becomes a novella, I'll conclude: Collaboration done right is a loving process, where you feel heard and seen in the deepest way. Trust is imperative. Jenny trusted her friends to take her own work and use it in any way that inspired; I trusted Bruce, Bob, and John to understand and enhance my song musically; and Rebecca and I trusted that we'd be inspired by each other's art, and by doing so, we took our art to a higher level than we'd even anticipated. If this is what collaboration is: I want more!