When Interviews Illuminate

I just read a press feature about this weekend’s show at Flagpole Radio Cafe in Newtown, CT, which came from an interview last week.  Reading it, I marveled at how the writer, Susan Dunne of the Hartford Courant, was able to shape a 30-minute, wide-ranging conversation into an article that gave me insight into myself, my work and why I do what I do the way I do it!

Deborah Henson-Conant plays CAMAC "DHC Light" Electric Harp at the Center for Arts in Natick / PHOTO: ©2012 Robert W. Stegmaier

Deborah Henson-Conant / PHOTO: ©2012 Robert W. Stegmaier

I’ve experienced this before, but each time I marvel again.

For the past few decades, as a performer, talking to journalists has been one of my favorite parts, and not just famous journalists like Scott Simon, Studs Terkel and Charlie Rose — but almost all journalists.

And this is not to diss others in the music business, but I noticed early-on that journalists seem to be truly curious, deeply interested people – the kind of people I love to talk to — not just in the business for the hype, the swag or the money (are journalists out there laughing at the very idea??).

In live interviews, I started noticing how the interviewers interact with me.  I remember one jazz announcer would always look away and fiddle with equipment after he’d ask me a question.  (“Should I stop answering his question and ask if he needs help?”) but others – notably Eric Jackson at WGBH in Boston, would look right in my eyes — and we’d have a conversation — a conversation that I’d come out of knowing more about my own work than I’d known going in.

My interview with Susan Stamberg, one of the original NPR “All Things Considered” journalists, was another revelation.  I’d always been suspicious of Susan’s giggle when I heard her on the air  – (“Is that an authentic giggle?”) but when I was finally in the recording booth with her, I saw immediately why it happened — and how she was able to get such incredible interviews from people, and my suspicion dissolved into … well, she completely charmed me.

She was totally animated, focused on me, and actively guiding me in the interview, almost like the conductor of an orchestra – beginning with the questions she’d ask, but then with great animation of her face and her body.

Not only did I fall in love with her as an interviewer, but immediately began to admire her as an “interview sculptor,” someone who could guide the interview subject (me!) to tell their own story in a way that comes alive in a particular medium – radio, in Susan’s case.

No simple task.

So when I read this week’s feature by Susan Dunne in the Hartford Courant, I added it to my collection of great, insightful interview experiences.  The chance to talk to someone who intuitively asks the right questions, and then sculpts my rambling answers into a tight story that illuminates — for me (!) as well as ‘real readers’ — both the outward characteristics of what I do – but also the inner motivations for them…

Wow!  That’s an incredible art.

So enjoy this wonderful feature, and if you can make it to this weekend’s show at Flagpole Radio Cafe in Newtown, CT I look forward to hearing YOUR stories about it!

[And by the way, the photo, that accompanies this article is by Robert W. Stegmaier, a photographer who captured yet another aspect of me … but that’s for another blog.]

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9 Responses to When Interviews Illuminate

  1. KellyAnn says:

    Deborah–
    So glad to hear you’ve mutually enjoyed the company of these journalists!! I’ve been a fan of yours for a couple of years now, and I am also a student journalist at my university, so to read your experience with my body of work brought a real grin to my face.
    I have never so much as touched a harp but hopefully I will soon (especially considering I live in a fairly harp-friendly community, Santa Cruz). I really really really hope I will be able to see you perform live someday; that would be suuuuuch a treat.
    Keep up your amazing craft!

    KellyAnn K

  2. Cece Lakin says:

    Love the blog post, well written, and love to listen to NPR (and you!) Always good to get a new perspective on yourself – step outside the box. But then you you are an outside the box kind of person! One of the many reasons I enjoy your music and your thoughts.
    I wish could have heard the interview with Susan, she’s one of my favorites! Is it archived anywhere?
    And great pic! Next time I go to one of your shows I’m going to bring my Nikon. Kicking myself for not bringing it to the Altamont!

  3. Cheryl S. says:

    Deborah, great blog. The sculpting of a great interview, what a perfect description of a good conversation as well. This is a key to being a good conversationalist, being able to ask good questions that result in a story of the other person. How awesome!
    I had the privilege of hearing you in Gulfport, MS. what a wonderful experience. We all left with a gift from you of joy! Thanks.
    Cheryl

  4. Margie Gage says:

    Wonderful blog post. AND fabulous photo – I think it might become my favorite. It captures you at what appears to be a moment when pure delight erupts into out-loud joy.

    You’re amazing, girlfriend!
    Margie

    • HipHarp says:

      “…when pure delight erupts into out-loud joy.” I LOVE that! But as an alp-hornist, you know all about that moment, don’t you?

  5. Doc Togden says:

    I’ve always like the sound of the string-harp – but have almost always been disappointed with the music played on them. I’m also not wild about endless glissandos. When I was told there was a Blues string-harp player I was intrigued – but when I actually heard you I was totally blown away. You were far—far—more than I expected and I’m going to be buying albums. I rarely buy albums these days – so this is a rare departure for me. Thank you very much indeed for you music. Doc Togden – once vocalist/ 2nd bass / harp (harmonica) player with Savage Cabbage Blues Band (1968—1970)

  6. Freth says:

    It was fun to read those articles and your blog.
    Your need to be out front, to change the role of the orchestral harp, and re-invent the harp as an instrument today. Instead of simply a lady’s instrument played in back rooms (or backs of orchestras), there are now male and female harpist rockstars courtesy of the DHC Light. And, as a composer, the Baroque Flamenco is the flashy showpiece of the harp world. Interesting accomplishments for someone who was just trying to resolve issues in her own life … to her satisfaction. :-)

  7. Arlene says:

    Deborah,

    Your joy and freedom as an artist is so inspiring.

    The diversity in all your music makes me look forward to all your future songs. My favorites are The Nightingale and Land of You…WOW! The emotions these songs bring out in me…thank you…

    :)

  8. Trista Hill says:

    I loved the journalist’s article! “Captured the essence” in many ways, plus highlighted clarity of artistic vision — great work, both of you!

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