Interview: musician Joy Smith on performing with The Telling

The talented musician Joy Smith is a regular feature in The Telling's lineup. Take a read of her very interesting insight into being an integral part of the group...


How long have you been performing with The Telling?

Since it began!


How did it all begin?

With a phone call - as soon as Clare told me about her idea of a concert/play I was hooked.


What do you enjoy most about performing with The Telling?

There really isn’t just one thing. I love the creativity of working with words and music. Performing with actors who are not only telling a story but also sometimes expressing the music in words is a real privilege. I love having the opportunity to collaborate with these wonderful people. I perform in three of The Telling’s projects - each one is very different. One common point is that all of the repertoire is based on improvisation. This means that the music can be quite different each time we play it. If someone has had too little sleep or a particularly delicious breakfast the music will express this! They are a fabulous team to work with and Clare Norburn’s creativity and infectious enthusiasm are simply a joy.


How did you get into music?

I was given a recorder at school and couldn’t understand how I could just ‘magically’ play everything that was sung to me... I loved it. I was soon learning the flute and piano too and then was lucky enough to meet the harpist Lettice Watkins when she was nearly 100 years old and I was 6. I spent long Saturdays at her house, playing the harp, chatting and listening to her gramophone records. I was set on a path of sound exploration and although I had a classical musical education I would say it’s as much listening to (and jamming along with) my four brothers punk, rock, pop, heavy metal albums as much as my own classical and contemporary musical adventures which got me into music.


What is it about Early Music that took your interest?

The creative process of improvising - be that as a continuo instrument and using word painting in an opera, or in medieval music which can be almost entirely improvised.


You play a variety of instruments with The Telling. What instruments do you play? Do you have a favourite?

I have played medieval harp, Celtic harp and bray harp, as well as an array of percussion instruments including the cajon. To say I have a favourite would be like saying I have a favourite child! I love them all!


My two medieval harps were given to me - one while I was still a student and one more recently. I will always be grateful to those wonderful people and think of them every time I play.


My bray harp was made by Simon Capp and in my humble opinion, it makes the best donkey bray sound I have ever heard - excluding real donkeys of course! The soundboard is made of maple and my marvellous maker carved the sound holes in the shape of delicate maple leaves.


My Celtic harp was made by Andreas Niebisch - it is strung one octave lighter than most Celtic harps in order to sound like the wire-strung clarsach. It’s bell-like resonance never fails to move me - this is the harp I often choose to play by the fire at home.


Why should people come and see The Telling perform?

It’s a wonderful experience involving passionate performances from both actors and musicians. We hope to give an audience new insight into a period in history, historical figure, music from the time as well as a totally unique experience. Early instruments from harps, recorders, oud and bagpipes are seen and heard and a story is told through both words and music. Let’s face it, who doesn’t love being told a story?!

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