Traveling with a wolf
In the autumn of 2020, the project Rapitative took place in Kaarela. Riika J. Virtanen joined the group of performers. The project was a part of FiBO's At the Roots and the National Theater’s At the Arch -projects, which carry out regional work in accordance with the Helsinki model, where residents of the area can experience and make culture in a new way. This autumn, the residents of Kaarela can participate in the event called Encounters in the Baroque Market.
Traveling with a wolf: Experiences of participating in the Rapitative project
I heard about Rapitative and the nature of the project from the viola artist Laura Kajander when she performed at Kuparitupa together with performance and circus artist Vesa Purokuru in the summer of 2020. I was excited to sign up and last fall I had the opportunity to participate in this fascinating project which combined poetry and music. I love writing and have long dreamed of finding more time in my daily life to write my own creative texts such as poems and stories. Rapitative gave me temporary “permission” to spend a lot of time on my own texts and especially the opportunity to try what it feels like to combine texts with music.
Even several of my poems, or parts of them, were eventually included in the Rapitative performance. In the performances, I found myself especially waiting for the performance of the work "Wolf" together with the National Theater actor Anni Pellika and the musicians. Maybe I was most pleased with the end result of presenting this piece of work, since the piece was created together through a truly creative and interactive process between musicians and actors. I got to tweak my text all by my self without outside editors and the musicians – Laura Kajander, Eero Palviainen and Petri Ainali from FiBO and Joel Bonsdorff from the National Theater - created their very own world of sound around the text, taking into account the content of my text and listening to my wishes.
How, then, did the interaction and collaboration work in practice? During the initial inspiration session, I had heard Laura Kajander and Mirjami Heikkinen, from the regional project of the National Theater, demo how speech and music could be combined into a dialogue with Telemann's Pimpinone recitations. Laura instructed me to write the words for the viola as well, which I found challenging. At home, I listened to the recitals by the baroque composer on Spotify and thought that the text should be created so that it would sound good both when fully read and “half” spoken and “half” played. I also reflected on the themes that arose in the inspiration session, sleep, journey, longing, and escapism, I went through my old poems, various draft texts, and notes. Inspired by these themes, I was reminded of shamanic trips (and also a drum relaxation session) that I have been able to experience a few of under the direction of shaman Roy Rolamo, which I had also reflected about in text. I began to create a text that contained elements of both my own experiences of these journeys and my own life and the topics that preoccupied me.
A crucial part of the text editing process was the different versions of it that emerged after I had been able to test the functionality of the text together with the Rapitative team. When we tested the first text version at Huopalahti station with Laura, the text seemed too long and Laura suggested that I try to shorten it. So a new version of the text was born ("Wolf II - Conversation with a Wolf"), which I was able to test with the entire team. One of the musicians, double bassist Petri Ainali, came up with the idea that the text would work better when fully spoken and this led us to try to read the dialogue with Anni. After shortening, editing, and rehearsing the text several times, the work took shape, and, at the suggestion of the team, the piece began with silence and the music then gradually became involved as the world of sounds became more colorful towards the wonderful “melody bath” of the end. Even though I had started writing the poetry dialogue with the recitations of Telemann in my head, the final music was quite different: the musicians literally conjured up music around my words and Joel’s drumming with a cajon drum created a special shaman-like vibe to the work. Central to the work is the presentation of how music brings comfort in the midst of anxiety. I got to experience a wonderful musical experience while attending a three-orchestra concert at the Music Hall, where FiBO performed Max Richter’s “Four Seasons Recomposed”. I enjoyed listening to the work and could really feel the comforting power of music in my body. I think this concert experience also helped me edit an abbreviated version of my own poem. While working on the lyrics, I also listened on Spotify to Wychazel’s music and the album “Shaman - The Healing Drum,” which I found from the “Shamanic Drumming” playlist.
The process of creating the text "Wolf" was the most multi-stage of my texts during the project and also the most challenging in terms of both the issues related to its topic and the stages of editing the text. Although I hesitated for a long time, whether such a dialogue could work on stage and as a performance, it gradually began to feel that this poem was especially close to me from all the texts I wrote during the project. The editing processes of the texts differed a lot for the different works, and in some of the parts of the Rapitative project the directors edited the texts taking into account the requirements of the music. A poem I wrote in India when I was younger ("Reflections IV: Rainbows") was suitable to be performed as such with Händel's music in Joel Bonsdorff's "Great Hike", which began with Merja Tiivola's hiking poem and continued with my own text and ending with electric guitar sounds.
I prepared for the performances as advised by Mirjami Heikkinen with individual exercises: we did various exercises related to the use of sound and articulation, which helped in the practice of pronouncing texts before the performances. One particular moment will stay in my mind from those exercises: how during the individual exercise I repeated the first line of the poem "Wolf", staring into Mirre's eyes, imagining looking into a wolf's eyes. The nerves during the performances were eased by the idea of staring into the wolf's eyes - so I could focus on communicating the dialogue instead of the performance situation. Presenting the text also felt like a somewhat unifying experience: as we performed on stage and in front of an audience, I could really sense the comforting power and immense beauty of the music. A warm thank you to Laura, the entire Rapitative team and other participants for this awesome project and for making art together! I now realize afterwards that our joint rehearsals and performances (which fortunately did not have to be canceled) brought much-needed color and encounters to the midst of this otherwise gloomy covid period.
Riika J. Virtanen