I’ve been out of town, leading the glamorous life of the freelance project leader… a couple of weeks ago Tony said, “But you’re always busy. What’s making you so much more stressed this time?” I pointed out that at that point I had (and proceeded to count on my fingers) seven different creative projects in my head that I was writing plans for, or thinking through. And that they would take place over the course of the next nine days. It felt a bit like lifting weights with my brain at times. Here’s the rundown of how things went:
AYO string quartet and Picton Junior Strings
Three days in NSW, about two hours south of Sydney. This project focused on Elena Kats-Chernin’s Charleston Noir for string quartet, and the Picton Junior Strings composed their own pieces (with the help of the AYO quartet) utilising the typical Charleston syncopated rhythm, inventing their own new rhythms (also syncopated), and building up some new playing techniques under the guidance of the older players. It was fun. Great group of young players, loads of ideas and enthusiasm. Just a total pleasure. And hopefully the quartet got lots out of the experience too.
Schools tour for MSO
I got back from NSW late on Sunday night. Spent Monday teaching the Alphabet Dance workshop to Bachelor of Education students at Melbourne Uni, then packed my bags, and walked into the city to collected the hired Tarago that would take me a a small team of MSO musicians to Geelong for four days of music projects in four different schools.
Four very different schools. At one, we were asked to focus on coaching members of the school’s orchestra and concert band. At another, we came in with a (fairly complex) riff in 7/8 (with 5 bars of 3/8 in the middle of it), which we taught them and helped them arrange parts for. Lots of enthusiasm, but also lots of challenges, for us and for the students. I remember the shining eyes and bright engaged faces of some of the quieter students, especially those who stayed with us the full day and came up to each of us at the end to thank us for coming to their school. This did not seem an easy school environment to work in or to learn in. I wonder how some survive.
At the next school we worked with a group of students from Years 10 and 11, many of whom came from refugee backgrounds. Here we wrote songs and composed pieces, on topics and themes that emerged through a drawing task I gave them at the start of the day: “Draw me a map of your heart. How much of your heart is for the people you love? How much is for the things you love to do? Is your heart whole? Has it been broken? Are there cracks? Gaps? scars or holes?” The students engaged very strongly with this task and it revealed four key themes that clearly resonated for all of them, which then generated the songs and music. Here’s an extract from a song I wrote with one tall young Sudanese man, clearly very proud, and very determined.
My path is clear. Tomorrow is a new day to me.
Hold my head high. Gonna look straight to the god I believe in.
Yesterday I was at war, today I’ve got a second chance.
It had a strong chorus that everyone sang:
Let the rain wash it away.
Until it’s all gone, and your path is clear.
At the fourth school we visited, we worked with a very bright group of musicians, including a bass player, keyboardist, guitarist, and mix of other instruments. Again, a very engaged group, and we created three pieces, two of which were combined as movements of a single, larger piece.
The whole tour was very successful, but also demanding in terms of our energy and creative ideas. I don’t really like to repeat projects in close succession, so I’d planned different projects for each day. Admittedly, this can put a different kind of strain on me and the musicians, particularly when you add four unfamiliar schools into the mix. But still. It was an excellent week. Lots of great outcomes, connections with talented students, shining eyes and happy, engaged, motivated faces. And being away on tour also creates a kind of space, in which you are limited in how many things from home you can access or worry about. I think we all enjoyed that. After a week in the sunshine, staying by the sea on Geelong’s waterfront, we drove back to Melbourne through the rain, and I rushed to get the hire car back to the drop-off point in the middle of city peak hour, and suddenly we were back into that other, non-tour world of competing demands.
Family Jams at Federation Square
Saturday, and the same team from Geelong assembled again in the city at Federation Square, along with a further three MSO players, to lead two jams for families. I’d finished the scores for these on Thursday night while in Geelong (probably part of the reason I was so tired in the school on Friday!); when I started the first Jam my brain still felt slightly woolly and I wondered where my capacity to make a decision about anything had gone to… but in that wonderful way that performance energy sometimes lifts us up and finds new reserves of strengths to call upon, the riffs that I’d written grabbed hold of me, and wham, there we were, playing music together, with about thirty participants of all ages. I found my energy again.
Each of the Jams goes for an hour. The first one was based on a syncopated riff in D minor (currently proving to be my favourite and most trusty key signature for workshops) that was invented by a group of students and musicians in a workshop back in 2005; the second Jam, held at 2pm, used a riff and chant that was invented by another group of students and musicians in a workshop just last year. Both riffs were incredibly catchy and engaging at the time of their invention, so I knew they had strong musical substance to work with. “That sounded lovely,” one of the MSO musicians beamed at the end of the first jam.
Sunday I enjoyed by not doing any work (apart from sending a few emails). Today I was back at work teaching the Music and Visual Art workshop (featuring the Mondrian painting Broadway Boogie-Woogie that is drawing so many people to this blog – what’s the fascination with Mondrian all about, people?) And then tomorrow I’m back at Language School, and the day after that at Pelican PS… so work continues as normal, but the space in my brain has returned, and I’m looking forward to a slightly more normal pace for the next couple of weeks, at least until the ArtPlay projects start up again.
And papers. I’m hoping to get not one, but three papers written in the next two months. Conferences coming up in 2010 that I’d like to be part of. I wonder if the paper I wrote for Musicworks journal (the similar name to this blog is purely coincidental) has been published yet?