Archive for November, 2007|Monthly archive page

Wanna hear about my trip??

Here are my travel plans – about 12 months in the anticipating and now just a week away:

  • 2 weeks in Paris with old friend CP (ex Mozart Academy, Poland)
  • 8 days in Armenia, with CP, where we meet with 2 other old friends from Poland days. We will play some music together and do a concert. I’ll post a link to the details of that when one gets published.
  • 10 days or so in Bosnia, starting with Christmas in Sarajevo, then moving onto Mostar. I’m travelling with my friend KB who I met when I lived in Mostar for ten months in 1998, and who now ordinarily lives in Sydney, and for the moment lives in London. KB is one of my dearest friends and it will be a joy to spend Christmas with him and his family, and to revisit people and places that I haven’t seen since I left nine years ago.
  • Somewhere on the Croatian coast I’ll meet with another friend SB, who is making his way down the coast from Slovenia. We will head into Montenegro and explore the coastline there.
  • Travel by boat across to Bari (maybe from Dubrovnik, more likely from Bar in Montenegro. Bar to Bari – has a sense of poetry about it).
  • Explore southern Italy for a further ten days to two weeks, gradually making my way up to Rome, from where I shall fly back to Melbourne.

I have a full supply of thin, thermal layers. I have a gorgeous winter coat by Elkha. I suspect my winter boots might not be up to the kind of winter conditions I will meet in Armenia… (sigh)… guess that means I’ll have to buy some in Paris as Melbourne is now in the throes of summer – not a winter boot in sight here.  I’ll be blogging intermittently while I’m away. Travel is very off-topic for this blog, but I’ll be back on the regular themes by the end of January.

Summary as I get ready to leave

Coming up for air… things haven’t exactly slowed down. I leave for my overseas trip in a week. More about that later.

Last week I was back in Albury with the gorgeous Sartory String Quartet. We spent two days working with students from Burrumbuttock Primary School and surrounds. It was a great project, with some bright and sparky kids, incredibly welcoming teachers, a state-of-the-art environmental centre to work in (the pride of the town, and no wonder! It’s very impressive), and as ever some inspired and inspiring music. We did quite a complex body percussion routine, invented some beat-box inspired vocal percussion, and created short pieces in small groups, all on a theme of epic train travel.

Sartory (the quartet) are naturals at this kind of creative engagement with young people. They each have their own style of communicating and facilitating, and make very lovely connections with the young people. This time the project included another electric guitar and an accordion! as well as one of the flautists we worked in the first Albury project.

Burrumbuttock is a small town about 30kms out of Albury. The school invited students from all the surrounding schools to take part in the project, and really gave it the firm status of something unique and special – which indeed these projects always are. I think it is so valuable to get out to the smaller and more isolated townships – there is extraordinary talent out there, and a huge amount of goodwill, enthusiasm and appreciation.

These last two weeks have been particularly diffficult for some close friends of mine, who lost a family member in a terrible road accident recently. It’s been a reminder to me of how precious those we love are, and how much strength we may need to draw upon within ourselves at any time, whethre that be for ourselves or for others. I have been finding myself feeling overwhelmed somewhat, in the post-Hunger daze, and floundering in a sea of my own over-commitment to work. Spending time with my friends in their time of need in fact showed me that I had come out of the other side of my tricky time, and that I had lots to give someone else.

Tomorrow is my last day at the Language School before heading off overseas. I have prepared a hand-over document for each of the teachers, outlining where we are up to with our books&music projects, the ideas I have for the overall structure, and some suggestions of how to approach it if they want to continue the projects without me.

It’s not the hand-over I’d have liked – my time at the school has been so severely curtailed this term by my freelance work – and also, I feel like the projects have developed way beyond what I’d intended to do. Perhaps I will revisit the work when I return in the new year.

2nd last day at the Language School

I worked out today that I only have one day left to teach at the Language School this term, and that will be taken up with a performance at Federation Square with the Upper Primary students.

I’m finishing term early because of my overseas travel (less than three weeks to go – yay!) but it has been a patchy term anyway, due to the Hunger and Musicircus  performance week taking up so much time. Then, the week following that one, I called in sick, exhausted and with a cold gearing up to invade my head. The students have therefore only seen me three times (including today) this term.

Well, we had a great day. The projects based on books have been embraced by the students and teachers, and in my absence a lot of work has been done. Here’s a summary:

Middle Primary have memorised their ‘colours’ song. We made this through a very organic and literacy-focused process – in Week 1 we developed some chants by string students’ names together in combinations that made interesting rhythms. We practised saying the phrases rhythmically, then the rhythms evolved into simple melodic phrases. In Week 2, we listed all the different colours we could think of (using those in  Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? to get us started), and we compared the syllables counts of the colour words with the names. We then replaced all the names with colours of the same number of syllables, and that is the song the children have memorised.

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Albury workshops

I spent most of last week up in Albury (Victoria-New South Wales border) working with the Sartory String Quartet and 23 local children from grades five and six. The project was part of the quartet’s Young Concert Artists residency at the Murray Conservatorium, for the Australian Youth Orchestra.

I led a 2-day composition workshop for the children that took the 3rd movement from Shostakovich’s String Quartet no. 8 as source material; together we created a series of short pieces on the idea of ‘fear’ and things that make us frightened, linked in performance with extracts from the Shostakovich.

We had a wonderfully responsive, bright, switched-on group of young musicians to work with. A great mix of instruments too, including 4 young guys playing electric guitars who made fantastic contributions to the project, and brought a whole new palette of colour to the composition process.  The group worked very hard over the two days, and on the second day it was gratifying to see how much they rose to a very focussed, mature, communicative level of performance, with a strong sense of individual ownership and responsibility for the outcome.

Two particular things resonated for me as I drove back to Melbourne on Saturday. One was a reflection on the ideal timing for musical direction in a project. There is a point towards the end of a project where the group is feeling pretty comfortable with the material, and that is the point to bring in smaller details of finesse and refining that can make a huge difference to a performance. Asked for too early, these are the kinds of things that can stress a group out, give them too many things to think about, and make them feel anxious. But once they feel themselves to be on the ‘home stretch’, I find they are absolutely primed for information, they absorb it and digest it like sponges, and remember it without stress or anxiety.

I wonder if this is in fact a piece of knowledge familiar to all directors? It is not something I have been taught or told by someone, but a point that I realise I have been aware of for some time, and am only now able to articulate and identify it as a key point in a project or rehearsal timeline for myself.

The other issue that I pondered on my drive home came from one of the quartet members. During our post-project debrief she asked about behaviour management, in particular of those more rowdy or excitable children who probably get hemmed in a lot by the rules of an environment, and who get told ‘no’ a lot. There was one child in particular in our group that this applied to. The quartet member felt concerned that this kind of child gets told ‘no’ too much, and that “Those are the kinds of children I most want to connect with in a project like this.”

The kind of behaviour that was getting the ‘no’ treatment included picking up instruments belonging to others, playing these when the owner wasn’t around, having lots and lots of energy that translated into lots of noise, lots of the time.  Nothing terrible at all, but not always appropriate or well-judged on the part of the young person, and at those times he was given a clear, unjudging request to desist!

Obviously, we want our workshop environment to be a creative one, where there is scope for different kinds of personalities, working styles, and energy levels.  It also needs to be safe – for the children, and for the instruments. And I knew what she meant about the sadness of him being told ‘no’, or ‘stop’ so many times… perhaps the balance needs to be in offering him a choice, such  as, ‘ask the person the instrument belongs to for permission to play it, and only do so when they are in the room with you’. Or ensuring that positive feedback and encouragement is given whenever appropriate, that good work is noticed and encouraged.

Music is a discipline, that requires the ability to listen and wait, as well as to play. It can be hard to learn that aspect of it – but it is crucial, because no-one has fun for long if it is all chaotic and undisciplined in a room full of instruments. In projects like this, I want the participants to have a sense of the thrill of making music as one of a group, of connecting with others both in terms of ensemble, and expression. To achieve that, there do need to be some basic ground rules about how we will interact and work within the space. Hopefully I set up an environment that then inspires all the participants to work within those boundaries.