Music for The Homeless: ‘The Key’ from The Department of Distractions

Update 6th March 2018:  ‘The Key’ raised a grand total of £61 for Crisis and Emmaus charities for homeless people. The track is still available to download, but if you want to donate directly to these or any other homelessness charities, please do!

The Department of Distractions was joyous fun to work on; the walks between digs and the theatre were quite saddening.

There’s a man sleeping rough in an underpass on the way, so for a week I passed him twice a day. He sleeps on concrete slabs, next to a busy dual carriageway, sandwiched between two concrete pillars and surrounded by pigeon droppings.

This track is called ‘The Key‘. All profits from its sale will go to charities Crisis and Emmaus who help homeless people in Newcastle (the city where I was working) and Sheffield (where I live), respectively.

The Key from 'The Department of Distractions' by Heather FenoughtyThe Department of Distractions is about a secretive organisation who ply the public with (secret’s in the name) distractions. Why do they do this? To keep us happy (and, possibly, well-behaved), of course.

Working from home, and being a big old highly sensitive introvert, I’m less out-and-about in the world. Especially in the winter when it is cold (people from Yorkshire and further afield describe this fear of the cold as ‘nesh‘. That’s me to a tee). Like a lot of us, my distractions are online and onscreen and in print.

However, when I venture out into a real environment I’m often struck (and still surprised, distracted as I am by said media) by the increase in homeless people and people begging on the streets in recent years, and how incredibly impotent I feel when considering what I can do to help.

So maybe this is something I can do:

  • Pay what you like for the track, minimum £1; it’s a toe-tappingly good tune and features all of the musical themes heard in the play.
  • Give money to worthwhile charities, both with awesomely excellent and effective track records in helping people in dire circumstances.
  • Get a feel-good rush of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin as well! 
  • read more

    #MeToo: Some Sexism This Way Came

    black and white image of vintage condenser microphone for voice

    Inspired by Emma Bright's article about her experiences of sexism - Girl On The Platform Smile - and in the spirit of solidarity, here are a few of my experiences with sexism that some may consider easily walked away from, ignored; as unimportant. Not worth making a fuss about. Sometimes I did make a fuss; sometimes I didn't.

    How This Introvert Learned to Love Being In A Live Performance – 15 Minutes Live 2016

    15 Minutes Live 2016 Rehearsal15 Minutes Live by Slung Low, which played this year at The Holbeck (previously Holbeck Working Men’s Club), Leeds, was an awful lot of fun. More than I was expecting! I’m trying to pick apart why, and here are my thoughts. Is it just that I’m older and wiser, I’m working with friends, I’m far less caffeinated than I used to be? Maybe all these reasons and more…

    The first 15 Minutes Live was performed in 2011 and since then (5 years ago) it’s become a streamlined operation. Originally we took a week to rehearse; now we’re at two days, including time for rehearsing the band and the dress rehearsal.

    15 Minutes Live is a live radio play experience – radio plays presented as theatre, performed with scripts in hand and recorded for archive and posterity. There are five plays, each around the 15 Minute mark, and I think this time we had 11 performers over all the shows. It’s really rather a lovely and laid-back way to spend a few hours on a Sunday afternoon.

    There is live foley, the sound design art that gives us a popped balloon if a gun is fired and all the other background sounds called for in a script. There’s a five-piece band, some of whom double or triple up performing different instruments (drums/percussion/glockenspiel, clarinet/saxophone, violin, cello and piano/french horn/melodica), MD’ed by me. If we cock up the recording, say, an actor fluffs a line, or kicks over a mic, or we in the band mess up a cue, we keep performing the play ’til its end and then go back and record that little bit again.

    15 Minutes Live 2016 Rehearsals

    In previous years, I’ve always found the live part of this job, for me, particularly taxing. I’m elated at the end of it, the relief that I’ve got through it in one piece. I LOVE being behind the scenes; I’m even ok with calling some of the live elements in a show (like the choir in some of Converging Paths), but I’ve never been overly comfortable in front of an audience. Even as a violinist, I was plenty content in the trio playing for weddings and other functions – we were glorified background music for the most part. I never got used to solo performances. I have nightmares about them occasionally, even now, and I can count the number of times I’ve picked up that poor, neglected instrument in the last few years on three fingers (that’s three, btw).

    Something changed in this last show though. Maybe I’m just getting older and more mellow. My hair’s certainly getting greyer. Whilst there was still a frisson of nervous energy, somehow I’d managed to reframe the experience as exciting rather than rabbit-pinned-in-the-headlights petrifying. It was no longer just a valuable, challenging experience, something that was character-building; I was actually reeeeally looking forward to it.

    I spent what felt like a long time composing the music for this – three weeks is unnecessary long for the number of minutes of score. But it was way more enjoyable, and my work days were short, I had most of my weekends free, and I was always fresh and ready to sit down and really work on the music, seeing obvious ways in which previous work should progress, change or be edited, then ready to stop and spend the rest of the day on recharging pursuits (biking, baking, the usual) rather than slogging away hour after hour always with a deadline becoming the primary motivation. The latter is not the reason I went into this business in the first place, after all (even though, on occasion, that deadline becomes an essential tool to forcing the decision-making process).

    The music got sent off to the band (for any feedback they might have, like whether or not it was actually playable) a whole week before the show, a first for me to be that early. During that next week, I mentally rehearsed the score a few times daily before the first rehearsal. Conducting does not come naturally to me and there are times that my head is counting in 3 and the baton counts in 4… However, I imagined it going well; and also envisaged where it might go wrong, and how I might have contingencies for mistakes.

    The band’s rehearsal didn’t take nearly as long as I thought it would. These people are all pros – always employ people who are better than you; it makes life so much easier. Also, most of these guys have been with me since the second show, one since the first. They all know the drill well enough by now, they know my easy(!) film-musical stylings and I know their proclivities: who’s happy with improvisation, who likes a challenge.

    Quick conversations leading up to the show with some of these chaps over Facebook messenger or email about options and possibilites for instrumentation and orchestration were easy, and the fun of writing for the group always came to the forefront of my experience – the pianist/french hornist even bought a new instrument (a melodica) in time for the show. Now that’s commitment.

    15 Minutes Live 2016 Rehearsals

    Between the last 15 Minutes show I worked on in 2013 and this most recent one, I somehow stopped drinking caffeinated drinks – its not a moral thing or anything and I certainly wouldn’t consider it a vice. It just makes me act and feel just a bit weird, jittery, scattered – I’m very sensitive to it, as I’ve heard is pretty common for introverts. I don’t need it to stay awake, and in fact I’m more awake, focussed and, crucially, function better later in the day without it. I don’t get such extreme highs and lows and life feels loads calmer since I kicked it.

    I definitely had more consistent energy resources available to me through the whole on-site rehearsal process than I’ve had in previous years… (except for after I’d had seconds of Hansa’s takeaway curry just before the dress rehearsal. Possibly a mistake. A very tasty mistake. But I got a second wind after a couple of hours, yay! and phew!). It was most noticeable during the performance – at no point did my energy wane and the 2-and-a-half-hour show just flew by. In previous years I’d blame excessive fatigue down to being around people for too long. Just didn’t happen on this occasion (’til the Monday after, but that’s post-show elation come-down for you!).

    There’s a rough and ready feel to the show, appropriate to this working men’s club environment. We’ll make mistakes, but it’s ok, we can got back and re-record those bits, and the audience is in on the magic – it’s actually exciting that rather than a polished sleight-of-hand we all get to see behind the scenes!

    There’s a contentedness I feel with this particular group and format that isn’t surprising though – I’ve worked with the producing team and some of the cast for over a decade now, others for almost as long. It is bloody lovely to make shows with your mates, you know? Is it purely the familiarity creating an air of security, a safe place to take more risks? There’s also feeling that we’re all in this together, and we’re including the audience in our gang.

    Honestly… I just don’t know. All I know is that I didn’t feel nervous, I felt excited and behind that was a strange calm that knew it would all be ok on a deep, visceral level (not the usual intellectual ‘of course it’ll all be fine… f**&&*^^%k!’). We were all looking out for each other – we’d all bring our A-game and if one of us happened to stumble the rest would be there to pick us up.

    tl;dr? I got old, I worked smart, I rehearsed, I quit caffeine, I work with excellent and lovely people. Can these be the reasons I enjoyed actually performing this particular show…?

    Maybe. Though I do sometimes wish I’d stop over-analysing these things and learn to appreciate them for the joy that they are. Plus it was pretty sunny over most of the weekend and that usually does it for me. So it was probably that. Glad I got that sorted, then.

    All photographs Copyright =&0=&H. Fenoughty 2016

    The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up… Your Life

    Cluttered bookshop in Venice, Italy

    I decluttered from April to July, following Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (which IS effing life-changing, though I won’t go into that so much here).

    I liked her approach perhaps as I’ve already been sort of doing it in other areas of life, with interesting effects on work. If I’m completely honest, that’s why I do most things – this work-life synergy or symbiosis fascinates me, how one feeds the other and back again, and how to improve the experience and balance of both – because it just makes life more worth living (it’s completely selfish!).

    At heart, to ‘Konmari’ is to go through everything you own, keep what ‘sparks joy’ and discard the rest. Find that which remains a permanent home. That is IT. Everything else about the process is just trimmings. It’s like minimalism, but goes beyond form, function, utility and aesthetics. It’s purely a response to how an object makes you feel. And as a composer I am all about the feels.

    Thinking about the last 10 years (I’ve no deadlines at the mo so I’ve been doing a LOT of reflection, perhaps a little bit too much, but what the hell, here goes), I’ve done a fair bit of clearing out of things that don’t ‘spark joy’ or that have lost that spark for me somewhere along the line. I quite working 7 days a week – I take a day off a week when I’m really busy, no negotiating, and I have 2 or 3 days off a week when I’m not up against a deadline, like now. I quit teaching and took a step back from violin performance, which left me with a whole lot more time for composition. That in itself was a momentous event in my work, but also meant I had a fair bit more time for other interests, more creative outlets that weren’t anything to do with earning money. I don’t need to go into any more detail than that. You can imagine, it was pretty chuffing brilliant.

    But there are other, smaller changes I’ve made, other areas I’ve ‘decluttered’ because there was no ‘joy-sparking’ to be had, that have had quite large impacts on work and life and everything in between…

    I quit caffeine in February 2014.

    It was making me anxious and the addiction left me with a headache if I couldn’t find a fix first thing in the morning. There was some joy to be had with that first sip of coffee but it was more habit than an intentional act. Plus I didn’t like being addicted, controlled by an outside force. It felt inconvenient.

    However it’s way more interesting what quitting the caffeine did to the tunes I write, at least in those first few months after. I wrote longer melodies – it’s like my attention-span and focus got a little longer and more specific. Not by much, but enough to notice.

    I stopped drinking alcohol in January this year.

    I was getting some DREADFUL hangovers that really weren’t doing any joy-sparking at all. It feels like I’ve loads more time now, especially on Sundays, and just generally have a bit more energy. Again, not a massive amount, but enough to notice. It’s nice to be able to go out of a Saturday evening and not mentally write off the next morning to fatigue, headaches, nausea and a snotty nose. That time now belongs to me again – some outside force doesn’t have dibs on it (just like the caffeine).

    It’s a bit awkward at social events for the first hour or so, but once others get a little tipsy it’s actually quite easy to go along with it, and if I get bored with really drunk people, I’ve the wherewithal to get myself home safely. I can also drive if I want (which might sound a bit sad, but it really is an incredible relief at the end of a night out – definitely more than just a ‘spark’ of joy there. My introversion really does skew my view of what’s fun or not compared with society’s dictats…).

    Having more free time to do whatever I want really does impact the work – I sit down to work feeling more refreshed, with a better perspective on the piece which means I work faster, which then frees up even more time to either spend experimenting with sound, finessing the piece or finishing work early. Either way is win-win.

    (I’m not saying no to ever drinking booze again mind – I’ve had a few glasses of deliciously old champagne very recently and I think my new rule is probably ‘no to all booze EXCEPT delicious old fancy-schmancy stuff. Makes sense to me anyhow.)

    I’ve just quit dyeing my hair!

    I’m going grey as a 36-year-old lady might, and I’m bored of colouring it every six weeks if I want to keep the silvers at bay. But what if I look old? Good grief. What if – who cares?

    Society wants its ladies to be preoccupied with looking forever youthful, but why? So that we can be more sexually attractive? Who gives a crap? I realised, not me. Will this have any impact on my work? Will this mean that prospective film or theatre clients will overlook me and give the job to a younger model? I realised again, it’s unlikely but possible.

    It’s also possible that I’ll look a little older and wiser and said client might trust me with a bigger budget. Who knows?

    The point to all this ‘quitting’ and ‘giving up’ is to say no to something in order to have more of the good stuff: more time, more focus, more perspective, more freedom, more joy, not less. It’s not about giving up for the sake of it, it’s not martyrdom or moralistic or even that awful term ‘living clean’ (I think I sick a little bit in my mouth a little every time I see the phrase). It’s about making life just a little bit more bearable (and leaving more room for the potential for awesome).

    PS. I’m giving up ‘added’ sugar for November as the autumnal weather has given me an urge to hibernate and EAT ALL THE SUGARY THINGS. Fruit is fine though (‘cos quitting fruit is bananas. Unless you’re allergic, obvs. Which I’m not.).

    Photo by Darwin Vegher on Unsplash

    Pause for Thought

    A bench by a tree in autumn

    Work is quiet at the moment.

    This would have filled 27-year-old me with dread. She would find the not knowing quite when the next paycheque will come in daunting.

    36-year-old me is different. She’s relieved. It’s been a busy few years since I had an appreciable gap in the schedule like this one, and I’m due a break. I’ve started sleeping longer hours. Mornings are sedate affairs; afternoon naps de rigeur. Work gets done in its own sweet time without the tyranny of the clock. There’s a little bit of ‘cushion’ money in the bank, and royalty cheques appear now and again to tide me over. I even caught a cold! A sure sign of an imminent holiday if ever there was one in our time-poor, workaholic, ambition-driven business*.

    It’s interesting to me how work patterns re-align themselves when I’m not uber-scheduled and hyper-focussed on delivery. It’s a relief that I still want to write music; there have been times before when burn-out put composition at the very end of the list of things I would voluntarily spend my time doing. So tracks get written, I submit to production music libraries, they get accepted or not. I’m still hustling for potential projects here and there. Work still gets done but it’s no longer something that requires a concerted effort to keep going.

    21-year-old me would be pretty disgusted that I’d need to put in any effort, never mind ‘concerted’, to get the music written. ‘I mean, for crying out loud, it’s your dream job!’ I hear her proclaim, with a certain youthful exhuberance. However, 15 years in the ‘biz’ (in one way or another), does turn an obsessive hobby into a 9-5 by necessity; it’s naïve to think that there’s no willpower involved in sitting down week after to week to invent, from scratch, new ways of putting the same 12 notes in different orders at different times to make an audience feel something, feel anything…

    It’s still a dream job. I still pinch myself to check I’m awake, and that I really do get to do this for a living. That real, live people actually still pay me to organise sound in time, package it up and present it to them before a certain date. It’s odd to read that particular description of my occupation, but there it is. I still pinch myself.

    For now, in this quiet time, as autumn takes hold and the nights draw in, I’m relinquishing that tight grip on my daily diary and, instead, I go with the flow. I ride my bike, I bake, I take photos, I do yoga, I see friends I’ve not seen in years, I go to vegan pop-up restaurants, watch shows, write little ditties, upgrade and update operating systems and software, file accounts, take stock, think about the future and put my ducks in order**. It feels busy when I write it all down like that as a list, but it’s not. I’m revelling in the not-busy. In the spaces in between to just be and observe and non-judge, to just sit; to feel creative juices begin to coalesce and condense and fill up that mental well ready for the next time it’s needed; that’s where I am.

    78-year-old me will look back on this time and smile***.

    *which the masochistic in me still loves 🙂
    **knowing full well they won’t stay in order for long. Ducks have minds of their own, after all.
    *** I hope. Rather that than say, ‘get off your ass and find some effing work you lazy piece of s***.’ I’ll probably be pretty cantankerous at that age, let’s be honest.

    Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

    Yesterday’s Snack and How I Feel Today

    Days 13 and 14 of #wpad

    Yesterday we went to the Northern Vegan Festival in Manchester.  SOOO MUCH FOOD. Just about made it back home to Sheff before slipping into a sugar coma. But, my, it was good.

    John’s hotdog was prettier in picture than the giant spanokopita type pasty I had (was scrummy though):


    Then we had spring rolls from the lovely lady, Lisa Tse, who also made this sauce…

    Sweet Mandarin Chili Sauce

    … runs Sweet Mandarin Restaurant in Manchester with her twin sister, and got the funding on Dragon’s Den for these sauces. Their BBQ sauce was also sooo moreish she’d already sold out by the time we got to her at 11.30am-ish.

    Then came a Ms Cupcake Ferrero Rocher SO GOOD (John’s cupcake in the background was also delish):

    Ferrero Rocher Cupcake

    Here’s the ginormous Ms Cupcake Choc Chip Cookie Sandwich we nommed on the train back:


    And the tastiest little morsels of raw chocolatey goodness for dessert in the evening (and two for breakfast this morning heheheheh):

    Raw Chocolate from Happy Herbi

    All of this, the popularity of the festival yesterday (the queue to get in was snaking down the street from when we got there at 11am, and still doing so when we left at 3pm), sampling loads of yummy foods and drinks, talking to lots of compassionate, passionate, friendly people who are actively trying to make the world a better place for all its inhabitants, and the general atmosphere of generosity and enthusiasm…

    Well, it’s left me feeling pretty good today.

    Read John’s take on the festival here.

    How I Chill

    Headphones on a yellow background

    #wpad Day 12

    Yoga Gear

    For an hour and 15 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week, yoga keeps me sane(r).

    A YogaToday subscription, an EcoYoga natural rubber and jute mat, two cork blocks, an organic cotton strap and blanket. Yes I was definitely attempting to ‘tread lightly’ with all of these acoutrements to make up for the electricity I’m burning through by streaming these videos through a modestly large LED TV and amped speakers. The irony is not lost on me.

    Eventually I hope to be able to just freestyle it without the aid of the video guides but I’m not sure that’s happening any time soon. Not quite confident enough to just make it up. Plus the production values on the videos are AWESOME – crane shots and the Teton mountains in the background, so they’re just lovely to watch too. (The sound is sometimes a bit ropey but they’ve definitely upped their game in the last couple of years. And the subscription is so bargainous – works out at around £60 for the year, so I can forgive them!)

    Then there’s always a good book or two on the go, and the next episode of Supernatural or American Horror Story or a film from LoveFilm to chill out to. But nothing quite compares to the savasana at the end of one of Adi’s vinyasa videos. Aaaaaah…