Archive for July, 2008|Monthly archive page

Karadzic goes down…

… and Serbia gets a good boost to its bid for EU membership, and a shift in political momentum, I suspect. About time, we all chorus! Now hand over Mladic.

And let’s not pretend this capture couldn’t have been made years ago. The political will to make it happen has been a long time coming.

Karadzic perpetrated and incited great evil. Srebrenica. Sarajevo. Gorazde (and other ‘safe havens’). I can’t even list them all. I am only just hearing this news today, not having seen a newspaper (in Italian or in English) for the last couple of days. Sorry to interrupt my commentary on the ISME conference – but this is too significant an event to let pass without comment.

Here is an image of the cemetery at Alifakovac in Sarajevo, that I took in December last year. Of course, this cemetery filled up within weeks during the siege of Sarajevo – the sight of football field turned into a graveyard is one of the more stark images that we in Australia saw.

Purity and authenticity in music of other cultures

This conference has been pretty stimulating so far, and I have been to some presentations that have felt very relevant to my work. I am finding that certain themes seem to resonate each day, so I will focus on these in each of my posts.

On Monday I went to a paper given by Carolyn Burns who has completed a study on children’s responses to learning African-American slave children’s songs. The project was particularly interesting in that she taught the songs to Xhosa children in a small school in South Africa. She did a pilot study first, teaching the same songs to American (non African-American) children in her own school in Montana.

Burns talked about how she sourced the songs that she taught – they were from the Georgia Sea Islands (off the coast of Georgia, USA) and she was able to access sources (people, as well as early research) that ensured she learned the songs in a ‘pure’ form. They were ‘authentic’.

I was interested in this emphasis. Firstly, I wondered what difference this ‘purity’ made to the children to whom she taught the songs. Possibly none, as she spoke of how they went on to make small changes and variations on the song anyway – including into their own language.

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I am in Bologna…

…for the International Society of Music Educators (ISME) conference. It is sunny, beautiful, and filled with charm, and now that my responsibilities towards the running of last week’s Policy Commission meeting have been somewhat discharged, I am looking forward to sitting back and letting all the interesting conference events wash over me.

Last week’s Policy Commission was interesting. It isn’t the kind of Commission I would automatically expect to be part of, as so much of my work is more concerned with hands-on, practical making of music and projects, rather than big-picture policy. However, there was much to chew on. The Commission theme was on local and indigenous musics in music education policy, and it was fascinating to start to build a comparison of what takes place in different parts of the world.

I also celebrated my birthday last week, walking over an hour to get to a recommended osteria that turned out to be closed for the summer. Never mind, you can’t have a bad meal in Bologna and we chose somewhere else instead.

Then, the next day, I flew to London for a job interview. This was something that ended up coinciding with my time in Italy, quite by luck and chance. How did it go? Well, it was certainly a valuable learning experience. I’m not sure it was particularly enjoyable. It was interesting to do the second interview in person, as the first one had been on the phone. I didn’t get offered the job. So I am still looking for new directions, and hopefully this conference will offer some opportunities to pick the brains of others older and wiser than me, and maybe also build up my networks in different countries. Maybe I should be looking to the States, rather than the UK?

Lots of think about, and what an inspiring environment to do that in! Here are some photos:

A streetscape in the centre of Bologna. I keep photographing this street – its width and gradient, and the buildings that line it, give it a tremendous sense of grand scale.

This is the cafe where Pip and I had a drink to celebrate my birthday.

This is from the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna (about an hour and half by trin from Bologna). Ravenna is such a delight – its churches filled with breathtaking mosaics of the most awe-inspiring detail and artistry.

Big events

I am writing this in Bologna, where I shall be for the next two weeks. More or less.

Prior to getting here, I finished a big project for the Orchestra. It was on Wednesday, a Leadership Training workshop for senior managers from the (apparently) 3rd largest organisations in the world. Corporate development projects have alwasy seemed to be me to be something that could utilise the skills musicians develop in the Community Outreach program well, that could also generate significant income for the program, and for the Orchestra. But this is the first time I have been given the opportunity to demonstrate this.

I shall be a bit cryptic here, for the sake of anonymity. But essentially, the project I devised involved a scaled-down version of one of the most loved orchestral classics, played by an ensemble of 16 players. One hundred and twenty-seven corporate senior managers were involved. They each had an instrument – piece of percussion, including a lot of tuned percussion, and a big range of serious drums. This was no Toy Symphony – it needed to sound good.

The corporates divided up into break-out groups to develop a short section of music using their percussion instruments, with one of the Orchestra musicians assigned to lead and support each group. When all the break-out groups came back together, they learned that all of their small-group pieces had actually been designed to be played together, they were all to become small cogs in part of a far bigger machine. They hadn’t been told this when they were composing their pieces.

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Completing the ‘Aranea’ project

Students in Upper Primary also completed their composition project this term, performing a sequence of four compositions that told the story of ‘Aranea’ (by Jenny Wagner) in music and words.

This project ended up being fairly complex. We had to cut it down for the Refugee Week performances at Federation Square, unfortunately, but performed it in full at the school concert the following week.

We divided the story into four main sections: Aranea safe and happy, building her web; the Terrible Storm, that destroys her home and forces her to flee; her first place of safety, in the White Room, where she still feels that she could be in danger; and her eventual Return to the Garden, and rebuilding her life and her home.

The book is not (as far as I am aware) written as a metaphor for a refugee experience, but I like it for this. WE never made the parallels explicit for the students. However, throughout the term in their classroom work, the Upper Primary students were already exploring ways of telling their own journey stories, and so the music project provided a further backdrop to this.

The opening and final pieces were songs. The first had the class divided into two groups, playing contrasting instruments. The instrument groups alternated between verse and chorus. We wrote the words for the song in part by summing up the first part of the book, in our own words, and in part by quoting directly from the text.

Aranea, spinning and spinning. Living in the curl of a leaf in the tree.

She is safe and happy. She makes a spider’s web.

First the crosspiece, then the frame. Around in a spiral and back again.

The Storm music grew from our work the previous term. It created interesting rhythmic layers by working with chants and phrases drawn from the text in the book. It is a technique I use a lot, and I find it very effective with ESL students.

The White Room was my favourite piece of music – one of the most interesting and dramatic pieces of music I think I have ever written with a group of students. We wanted to depict the fear the spider was feeling in an unfamiliar and hostle space – even though in theory, she was now ‘safe’, in that she was sheltered from the storm.

We created an eerie soundworld using high pitched violin harmonic, long and constant, and harsh. Several students dragged a metal triangle stick around the rim of a cymbal. Another student played a triangle, but gripped it very tightly so as to thoroughly dampen its resonance, and jiggled her stick at high speed in one of the lower corners of the triangle. It sounded like teeth chattering.

The remaining students stood in formation, heads bowed, and hands gripped into frightened fists. On a cue they began a slow stamp, in unison. Then cried out the following:

Scared.

Nervous.

Lonely.

Outside.

Her heart is running very fast.

[The rhythm of the phrase echoed by drums, shockingly loud, like gunfire]

She can’t hide anywhere. PEOPLE COULD COME AND KILL HER!

[The syncopated, uneven rhythm of this last phrase is then played by all the metal instruments, struck hard, with full damping]

The music for The White Room had extraordinary emotional impact. It was intense. The children performed it with utter conviction. I am not sure I have made anything like it before. It lasted only about a minute and half.

We closed with a song, more upbeat, but still with a slight dark edge to it. It included chanted sections, sung sections, and a body percussion accompaniment.

She goes outside, she finds her leaf, and remembers what happened.

She is so tired! But when she sleeps, she dreams about the storm.

Now she makes her web. Now she catches food. Everything is better now.

She has a new life, safe and happy, she has a new life, safe and happy.

The storm is gone, the sun is coming out,

And she will live in her leaf in the tree.

Remember they wrote these words. I prompted them with questions (such as, “how is the spider feeling?”), but the song is made up of their responses. I find the observation that ‘when she sleeps, she dreams about the storm’, very poignant.

It was a long term (literally – 12 weeks, instead of 10), and while I never intended this project and the others to get quite so complex, they did become very involved. But there was a huge satisfaction for all of us, I think, in realising these projects, to start with just an idea, and a book, and each week to develop new material. At the time of creating the new material, I suspect many students don’t really know what is going on. What I hope, however, is that by the end of term, when they perform their music, they will remember how it cam to be, and remember that they were all involved in making it, step by step.

Next term – no plans as yet! But hopefully something a little more low-key!

Final compositions – depicting refugee journeys in music

The term ended at the Language School with the usual performances of the children’s compositions, and with a special event for Refugee Week at Federation Square. I say ‘usual’, but don’t want to downplay it – as always, there is something quite extraordinarily moving about these children singing to their peers about their experiences, in a language they are only just getting to grips with. It is incredibly moving.

Two classes performed at the Refugee Week event. Middle Primary had a set of pieces in three parts, that was a kind of musical time capsule, describing key events in their journeys from their countries of origin to Australia.

You can listen to it here:

Their opening song was jaunty and upbeat:

From Afghanistan to Islamabad, From Afghanistan to Islamabad.

Car to Grandma, car to plane. Leipzig to Frankfurt and Singapore

We waited… 2 hours, We waited… 4 hours! We waited… 8 hours! WE WAITED 16 HOURS!!

So sleepy my dad had to carry me.

This last line was sung in 2-part harmony and as it faded away the children began to whisper to the audience the amount of time their own journey to Australia had taken – from between 11 hours and many days’ travel!

They then segued straight into a 2-part chant, depicting their first day at Language School, when they are surrounded by information and questions, all coming at them in a language they don’t understand. The chorus was accompanied by unison, universal gestures of frustration:

WHAT should I do now? WHERE should I go now?

My head is going CRAZY on the first day!

They then moved to percussion instruments, and played an instrumental piece that was composed using some of the pitch exercises I had introduced them to at the start of term. The instrumental music served as an introduction to a song about The Things They Miss. Every time they sang the chorus, I would get a lump in my throat. They sang with such open hearts, and such sincerity, and such a strong sense of ownership of their music.

Now I miss the rain. Now I miss the snow. Now I miss the warm. The hot, hot, hot, hot days.

German bread and sausages. My friends and next door neighbours.

I came here from a village. I came here from the city.

(Chorus)

Two dogs, three cats and Grandma, My house, my garden, Grandpa.

Uncles, cousins, friends from school, I miss them all,

I miss – them – all.

Back in the blogging saddle

It has been some time since I last blogged. Life has been insanely busy. Sometimes I have felt like I was going insane. In this last month I have learned what happens when all one’s various employers suddenly need extra time from you. I am used to it happening with just one at a time. But for the last 6 weeks (more, where the Orchestra is concerned) every part-time job has been spreading way beyond its boundaries, and I have been suffering under the strain. Because where is the only place that extra time can come from? From my down time, which means I haven’t had much for many weeks now.

However, here I am to tell the tale. And like all workplace stress tales, it doesn’t need much detail in the end. Suffice to say, I have just had to put my head down and get through it, and happily, now I can smile and breathe out, and feel like it is almost over.

Apologies to regular readers who have missed my posts (are there any regular readers? It is hard to tell). Fingers crossed it was just a temporary time out. We all need that sometimes. 🙂