Fiona Joy Hawkins – composer, pianist and singer, calls beautiful Kendall home these days. Fiona describes her distinctive style and glorious voice as New Age and cites Bolero’s Ravel as one of her most powerful musical inspirations …
Whereabouts in this area do you call home?
I live in Kendall. I was born in the Hunter Valley, raised in Tamworth and I was living in Newcastle when I fell in love with a man from Kendall – and we’re getting married in April.
I really love living in Kendall. It has a lovely village feel, and it’s a wonderful place to write music, because it’s so peaceful.
Congratulations on your engagement! You obviously have a lot to keep you busy at the moment, as I understand you’re wrapping up your tour of Two Grand I’m Yours with fellow performer Trysette Loosemore …
Yes – we did our final concert at the Sydney Conservatorium, in the Verbrugghen Hall, and it went really well.
How was the overall response to the tour?
We’ve been invited back just about everywhere we played, and from the concert we did in the Verbrugghen Hall, I’ve been invited to play at some major music awards at the Opera House next year. One thing has just led to another!
Now, reverting right back to the beginning … I read that it was a fascination with Ravel’s Bolero that really inspired you musically?
I was about 8 years old, and my father had a lovely turntable. I used to put the record on and sit right in front of the speakers. What intrigued me about the piece – and still does – is how the music builds … how the instruments come in one at a time and how the piece changes intensity.
I would listen to it over and over again and try to work out how it was constructed. In essence, I guess I tried to deconstruct it. Still to this very day, I think back to Bolero and how it was constructed and use it in my own music. I was very influenced by it.
I’m guessing you managed to catch Torvill and Dean’s magic performance on the ice to that particular piece of music years later?
Oh yes … so many times I’ve watched that. It was stunning.
How old were you when you started your piano training?
My grandmother lived with us from the time I was 8 years old, and she had a beautiful, old German iron framed, upright piano. It was about 100 years old, with ivory keys. I just fell in love with it straight away. I asked my mother how to read music – and she showed me where Middle C was on the piano and how the staff and stave worked, and for me it was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. I worked out how to read music fairly quickly, and within 6 weeks I was playing the first page of Fur Elise. I asked for piano lessons – and I loved them!
I decided I didn’t want to be a concert pianist as an adult; I wanted to be a composer and play my own music. But I was always too scared to do it – it isn’t something you see on most people’s business cards, that they’re a composer. I didn’t think it was avery realistic thing to do, so I’d always put it on the back burner – even though it was the thing I wanted to do most.
It took me until I was 38 to get into the recording studio – that was 10 years ago now. It took me all that time to get there … it’s like when you have a wonderful dream in your head that you can always visit; it’s so tangible, but if you try to do it in reality, you risk failing – and you lose the dream.
When I did finally give it ago, it was because my mother gave me some words of wisdom – telling me that if I didn’t give it a go, I’d have wasted my life. So I tried it … doors kept opening, and it’s been a wonderful journey.
When did singing enter the equation? Did it start around the same time as the piano?
No. When I went to boarding school in Sydney, there was a guitar I used to play – and I’d sit and sing. I’ve always sung, but I didn’t really think of myself as a singer … particularly in the New Age genre, where the voice is used as an instrument and vocalising is used in layers. New Age is a very different approach to vocals.
Is that how you describe your own personal style? New Age?
Yes, I am New Age. In New Age, probably the mantra is there is no integrity greater than the intention of a single note. It is about music that comes from deep down; it’s music that’s conceptually derived from thoughts, images and emotions – it’s storytelling.
Obviously it’s been very successful for you. How many albums are you up to now?
In terms of original albums, I’ve done 5 and I have 2 coming out 2012/early into 2013 already recorded. I’ve done a number of compilations as well – I have 3 SACDs (Super Audio CDs) for the overseas audio market.
You’ve received a lot of accolades for music too – being an ARIA finalist and a MusicOz Award winner. Are these accolades a motivational force for you, or more of an icing on the cake?
The ARIA was for World Music and the MusicOz was for Classical Jazz, because that’s the crossover I have … where New Age crosses over into Jazz and World Music.
Sometimes these come as a complete surprise – particularly with the ARIA nomination, because the ABC entered me and I didn’t even know! These accolades are the icing on the cake for me … it’s not the be all and end all, but it is so lovely when you get one.
With albums already in the works, do you have any more live touring planned?
Two Grand I’m yours has now been picked up by a promoter in America, so we’re taking it to the US in July/August. And it’s been so successful here, we’ll probably come back and revisit a lot of venues later on next year.
So, among multiple album recording, wedding plans and touring, you’ve somehow managed to work a Christmas album, called Christmas Joy, into the mix as well – which is also doing exceptionally well!
I tried to do something that wasn’t cliched with the Christmas album. I did Walking in the Air in Gaelic, Still, Still, Still with a Paraguayan Harp and Jingle Bells with didgeridoo and an African Talking Drum. And it seems to be working, because it’s been getting some nice reviews!
It hardly seems possible that you’d have time to squeeze anything else into your schedule, but I know you also love to paint. What else do you love to do to help you relax and keep those creative juices flowing?
I like to go Tango dancing with my fiance. I love cooking, listening to Folk music, taking drives in the country and drinking coffee! I actually have quite a few paintings on display at Blue Poles Gallery in Byabarra.
Interview by Jo Atkins.