A short piece called ‘Eastwind’

Background to the East Wind song:
Librettist:  G. F. Phillips.
Music:  Michael Szpakowski.

Extract from an interview with Michael Szpakowski by Nathaneil Stern, March 2006, Rhizome Net Art News.

NS: I hadn’t seen your “Five Operas” Shockwave works (5 Operas ) , and they kind of blew  me away. When were these made? Can you talk a bit about the  collaborative process? The combination of Kurt Weill-like music with Brechtian themes, a bit of fluxus style- …
Can you tell me about your choices for visual representation  of the sound?

MS: This project was a coming together of two lives: a personal project & a massive collaboration, which included arts outreach work. The end product is online, the original material & collaborators were  gathered & recruited online, but lots of stuff happened in the real  world in between.

I issued a call for opera libretti exactly 100  words in length & received a large number of submissions. Heartbreaking choosing, but I narrowed it down to five that I thought  were unequivocally great. I set them to music & found singers–a  chorus from a local Primary School & soloists from a Further  Education (16-19 yrs) college.

It was a long series of rehearsals–  the music is difficult and demanding to sing. We did a performance of  the pieces one night for the kids’ parents and friends & recorded  everything the next day. Then I created the visuals. A lot of these  consist of found or appropriated stuff – my drawing skills are  rudimentary, but I can cut & paste with the best of them…


(From East Wind, a tempera panel by Harry Wilson, one of the Pitman Painters of Ashington, 1935.)

‘In the panel, disposed around a street corner that represents all the essentials of a two-point perspective, saplings whip in the wind, figures are tugged, a newsboy blows on his fingers and, to leeward, three becalmed shoppers look at a shoe display.’

William Feaver, Art Critic of the Sunday Observer

(Everyone is dressed in heavy clothes for winter).

Stage left, emerging from a CHORUS of children, a NEWSBOY is pushed forward, carrying a heavy bag of newspapers.  He stops, putting his heavy bag down beside him and blows on his fingers, feeling the cold.  The CHORUS OF CHILDREN push him forward again.  Eventually he is left to move forward on his own.  He stops, looks behind him, stands stage left.  He looks towards stage right.

Stage right, TWO WOMEN SHOPPERS, one rubbing her gloved hands together, the other shopper, wearing no gloves, puts her arms inside her coat, trying to keep warm.

Then stage left, the NEWSBOY, watches a WOMAN BYSTANDER move her way past him, clasping her gloved hands around her coat.

Meanwhile, the NEWSBOY picks up his heavy bag, pulls a newspaper out, before moving slowly near to her.  He sings:

Get your papers!
Get your papers!

The WOMAN BYSTANDER turns to look at him.

Huh!  Them papers!
They make us or break us,
Whatever way they want us t’ be
They just talk doon t’ ye an’ me.

The NEWSBOY goes to hand the WOMAN BYSTANDER a folded newspaper.  She rummages deep into her coat pocket, taking her time to find some coins to give to him.

Ta, bonny lad.

The WOMAN BYSTANDER folds the newspaper into the opposite coat pocket from which she produced her coins.

Aw!  Me pins are feelin’ bad
While ye stand cold an’ snivellin’
I’m gannin’ hyem a –shiverin’

In that East wind
Branches bend west,
Breakin’ what’s old,
Leavin’ what’s best.

The NEWBOY moves back to shelter in front of the CHORUS OF CHILDREN stage left, putting his heavy bag down, blowing on his fingers again.

Stage right, TWO WOMEN SHOPPERS wave the WOMAN BYSTANDER over to join them.  She goes to shelter with them.

But we’ve had t’ find shelter
Round this shoe shop corner.

Lookin’ at shoes.

Just for something t’ do.

ALL move forward toward centre stage, the NEWSBOY pushed forward again by the CHORUS OF CHILDREN, with his heavy bag of newspapers dragging along the ground.

For that East wind
It gives us trouble;
But let’s not forget
It’s the same for us all.

G. F. Phillips

One of 5 Operas, East Wind was first performed in Epping, Essex at 7 pm on Friday 17th June 2003 with a group of singing students from Epping Forest College as principals and a chorus of year 5 students from Chipping Ongar Primary School.  It appeared online on 27th June, 2003.


Extra recit. and verse:

The damn wind gans where I gan;
I gan where the damn wind gans.

TWO SHOPPERS (recit.):
So yous still complain.
Yous still complain.

Oh, how this East wind,
Bitter an’ raw,
Strengthenin’ now,
Gusts more an’ more.


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