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Byron Shire
April 21, 2021

Interview with Janet Swain

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Janet Swain Sunday at the Brunswick Picture House at 4pm

Up up and away with her beautiful bassoon!

Janet Swain is 14. She’s in love with the tragic and brilliant cellist Jacquleine DuPré. But one day her mother arrives home with a bassoon.

Janet, tell me… why the bassoon? How did playing it at age 14 affect your social life?

A bassoon was the daggiest thing in the world. Only compliant music nerds even knew what it was called. So, not exactly cool. I played it because, for some unfathomable reason, my mum came home one day from a railway auction with a bassoon someone had left on a train, and told me I was going to learn to play it.

Did you fall in love with your instrument?

Nope. But I have made my peace with it.

How do girls who play bassoons differ from girls who play, say, the cello?

Where do I start? Girls who play the cello are sexy and passionate; there’s nothing like the delicacy of a cello between your thighs. Girls who play the bassoon get tucked away in the third row of the orchestra behind the flutes – forgotten and invisible.

How do you explore the mother/daughter relationship in your show?

Both my mother and my grandmother are characters in the show, with their own songs and points of view. My grandmother wanted to paint and write and sing, but she was thwarted by her era and life as a farmer in rural Victoria where a creative life was seen as an indulgence. In turn, she ‘strongly encouraged’ my mother to become a musician, and so she did. We each experience our parents’ expectations of us, and then have expectations of our own children in turn.

You have a creative mother, and you are the mother to a creative daughter… is it a struggle to manage this in a world that tells you to be sensible and get a ‘real’ job?

Yes, it is actually a struggle! We don’t have a great history in this country of supporting artists and performers and deeply valuing their work and contribution to society. Creative work is a process of dreaming, inventing, and imagining, and because of that I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to avoid getting a ‘real job’. I’m lucky enough to work one day a week in a school where I am treated as an artist more than as a conventional teacher. 

I also teach singing and songwriting to large groups of locals, so my idea of a ‘real job’ has its perks. 

How did you work up this show? Tell me a little about your process…

Originally I wrote a ten-minute play for the Drill Hall Short and Sweet competition, but it didn’t get accepted – which didn’t deter me because I knew that a play about a bassoon was a great idea for a show! Having said that, it has taken about three years to develop – in between all the other things I do: teaching, performing with The Loveys, organising events, and taking care of family… it was really the continuing belief and support of close friends, combined with the nagging of my mother – who kept asking me about it – that kept me going. It was a project that refused to leave me alone!

You wrote nine original songs and created five characters! Tell me how they came into being; who they are? And what songs do they sing?

Oh Mandy! How do I answer that? Spoiler alert: one of the characters is a bassoon. I ordered a bassoon costume on-line, but for some reason it hasn’t arrived. 

All the songs are originals, and I’ve been influenced very much by the classic show songs genre – songs that fit into a musical are a bit different from normal pop songs – it’s been great fun.

What should people expect from Delphi Goes Bassooning: A Tiny Musical in 13 Chapters?

People can expect a show that is funny, ridiculous, and a bit heartbreaking. I reveal a few of the family jewels, and the bonus is that you will be able to wow all your friends over dinner with your knowledge of the bassoon.

Sunday at the Brunswick Picture House at 4pm. Tickets on brunswickpicturehouse.com

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