Collaborating with Lenka Lichtenberg

Hey everyone!

Music truly has NO boundaries! I wanted to share a little project I was asked to be part of with the lovely Czech/Canadian singer/songwriter Lenka Lichtenberg (Click her name to check out her website). She approached me earlier in 2019 to collaborate on this really amazing project. She had come across poems from her late Grandmother that were written during her stay in a concentration camp!

Lenka approached various female musicians to take a poem and turn it into a song. I was one of the lucky few to be asked to take the lovely, heartbreaking, moving words and turn it into a song. This was such an honour for many reasons. This is history in my hands, and the trust from a person who I had never met face to face and had only known for a few weeks. Again, just to say what I said at the start, music has no boundaries… the fact that we didn’t know each other at all was not a concern when speaking music. I did question if I could do the beautiful poem justice! (Watch the video to hear the song to see how it turned out.)

This was one of the most difficult songs I have ever composed! (To clarify, not the lyrics.. but the music.)  First, I should point out that the poem is in Czech, which I have zero background in other than my maiden name Hovorka is Czech. Lenka sent me a recording of the lyrics so that I could hear how the words flowed naturally and a translation of the poem.

Once I knew how the words were pronounced, were the nuances and accents were in the words, I had to look at the meaning and get my head, heart and soul into the words and meaning. That was an amazing and heavy project as the words are very powerful but dark and sad.

I came up with a melody that fit the theme and ora of the poem, then created a melody that allowed the words to flow with the music in a way that made sense for the language pronunciation as well as a melody that spoke the message of the song along with the words. (I should point out here I told Lenka she could certainly change were word syllables fell incase I had it wrong, and truth be told, she did move accents of the words around a bit, but for the most part I was close.) This was such an amazing collaboration for me.

After the project was finished, the Covid-19 pandemic struck. It was eerie to me to hear how this poem truly fit this current situation… Sad really to think that this pandemic gives feelings that are somewhat comparable to concentration camps. (Obviously not nearly as severe or heartbreaking, but some links for sure.)

I asked Lenka if she would mind doing a Q & A with me to share with all of you, so you could get into the song and the heads of the artists a little more. Here are the questions I asked her and her responses.

Shy-Anne: What was it like to find your grandmothers poems?

Lenka: I found the booklets in my mom’s desk, after she passed away. 2 little tender booklets, a bit falling apart. Once I began reading, almost a shock. Disbelief. It was so good! Then I recalled my mom ONCE mentioned that grandma wrote some poems. But never gave them to me to read. Mom was a writer, among other things (teacher, etc), she must have known this was good, but … did nothing with it. Mom’s and grandma’s relationship was very complicated.

Shy-Anne: Was it difficult to allow other musicians to take these words and put their own touch on them? 
Lenka: No! It was an instant, intuitive decision. I run with those, they are always right (so far). I knew I ran a risk- what if I don’t like it? But I trusted the art process, the people i picked. And, mainly, I was seeking different musical sensibilities, different styles, possibilities. I am tired of my own! My music sounds too much… like me. Nothing surprising anymore (to me, so maybe to listeners, either) – too many albums, too many years writing songs. I wanted other women to dive into these powerful words, and see what comes up! It was totally exciting! There are a couple of pieces that came back to me that are really challenging, but that’s part of the excitement! It will be a challenge to sing in such divergent styles, but I welcome it as a chance to learn.
Shy-Anne: How did you decide who to ask? 
Lenka: Again, gut. I knew I wanted female composers, because the poetry embodies a woman’s perspective. I feel very fortunate to have in my life women musicians whom I highly respect and whose music I like a lot. One artist, Milli janatkova, I just met recently, and found her art very unusual and appealing. She was an easy choice as well. Shy-Anne- you are the only one whom I did not know at all. If you must know, I got intrigued first by you Czech last name. Then I listened to your music and read about your work, and I thought this would be amazing, to have you musically interpret my grandmother’s poetry. You reached much deeper with your insight into the words, than I ever imagined possible. I’m so happy I asked you!!!
Shy-Anne: Can I have a list of other musicians you asked? 
Below are the other artists she worked with on this project (Click on their names to view their websites):
Shy-Anne: Would you change anything?
Lenka: No
Shy-Anne: What good came out of this through the process.?
Lenka: Having to look at the poems through others’ eyes, I got a lot deeper into the text. And it brought me closer to all the people I’m working with, which I really like.
Shy-Anne: In light of covid, does this song have more meaning to you?
Lenka: Yes, it’s eery. The uncertainty of it, the ‘spring may come – or not’ sentiment ( right now, it feels like the ‘or not!), not knowing what’s coming, good or bad, the loss of hope for some, the death- but maybe most of all, the loss of the sense of time. She says that time has disappeared. Just waiting, waiting- maybe weeks, maybe centuries… I think that’s how much of the world feels these days.
Well, there you all go! I hope you have time to check out some of the links of the other artists, and of course Lenka’s page! I feel this entire project is an incredible testament to the power of women in music and the ability to “feel” each other through music. (Men too! But this project was women!)