Arts & Entertainment, Writing
Playing With Song and Poetry
Lesson time 17:19 min
Joy shares a story from her childhood and the reason she learned to play the saxophone at age 40. In this bonus lesson, Joy takes us on a journey with her musical partner Larry Mitchell to turn a poem into a song.
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Topics include: Playing With Song and Poetry * Find the Song in Your Writing * Singing Shifts the Phrasing * Sing Your Way Through * Somewhere Performance
[MUSIC PLAYING] JOY HARJO: I could always hear singing with poetry. [MUSIC PLAYING] I could even hear it sung. [MUSIC PLAYING] It took me a while to start to pull that together. When I was 14, I walked away from music. [MUSIC PLAYING] We had a stepfather who silenced my mother, my mother's singing. And my stepfather would come home about 4:00 in the afternoon. And all the music in the house would stop. Like a lot of teenagers, I would go into the room, shut the door, and put albums on my record player. And one day, I forgot what time it was. And I was singing away. And my stepfather throws open the door and says, "You are not allowed to sing in this house." So I didn't sing in the house anymore. And around that time, in-band, I was playing clarinet in band, the band teacher says, "We need some saxophone players." And I raised my hand. And he says, girls can't play saxophone. So I turned my back and walked away from music. [MUSIC PLAYING] It wasn't until I was almost 40 that I started learning to play saxophone. [MUSIC PLAYING] [PLAYING SAXOPHONE] And I came to realize that music and poetry are always right next to each other. [PLAYING SAXOPHONE] I find when I'm digging through to find a poem for a song to fit some music I've been writing, I will usually go towards a more lyrical poem like "Equinox," which, in the first stanza, is "I must keep from breaking into the story by force. For if I do, I will find myself with a war club in my hand and the smoke of grief staggering toward the sun, your nation dead beside you." It makes sense to sing it. (SINGING) "I must keep from breaking into the story by force." [MUSIC PLAYING] (SINGING) --by force. If I do, I will find a war club in my hand and the smoke of grief. I have another poem that I turned into a song. Something in it was compelling me. This is about a woman hanging from the 13th floor window in East Chicago. Of course, there's usually no 13th floor in a hotel and-- because it's considered bad luck. And there's no East Chicago. It's the oce-- it's the riv-- the lake. "She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor window. Her hands are pressed white against the concrete molding of the tenement building." Well, you've got rhythm going there. "She hangs in the 13th floor window in the east in East Chicago with a swirl of birds over her head. They could be a halo or a storm of glass waiting to crush her. (SINGING) "She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor. Her hands are pressed against the tenement building. She hangs from the 13th floor, where the swirl of birds, they could be a halo or a storm of glass waiting to crush her." [MUSIC PLAYING] (SINGING) And we hear her crying. Set me free, Set me free, Set me free, Set me free. And it goes from there. And in the song version, you don't hear the word Chicago at all. And it shifts. You know, that's where a play ...
About the Instructor
As the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo has written poetry that explores her personal experiences, the history of her ancestors, and social change. Now she’s teaching you how to find the language to express yourself and approach your art with deeper motivation. Explore rhythm in art, navigate the world of revisions, and unlock your innate creativity to help you express your unique stories.
Featured Masterclass Instructor
Joy Harjo, the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate, teaches you how to find the language to express yourself and approach your art with deeper meaning.Explore the Class