End of term performances

Last week was the last week of term 2, and also Refugee Week. I took all the Language School students to Federation Square to perform in a special children’s concert for Refugee Week.

The Lower Primary children sang their Germs Song. We dressed them up in white men’s shirts (to look like lab coats), and bought face masks and toy stethoscopes from the local Two Dollar Shop. They marched onstage with the face masks on, then on my cue pushed them down so that they could sing. They performed their actions with aplomb (such as pointing vigorously one finger into the palm of the other hand, while singing “Germs can make you sick. Germs can be anywhere. You have to put soap on your hands and the germs will go away. Yeah!”

Upper Primary performed very well. They had two instrumental pieces related to stories of leaving countries and making a new home here. I was particularly proud of them – their music was quite complicated, with lots of structures and riffs to be memorised. They did very well.

Middle Primary had the most complex instrumental piece of all to perform. They have been ready for performance for a while now – I wondered in fact if we had peaked too early and had been trying not to over-rehearse the piece, which was a series of riffs and melodies gleaned from a Somali pop song that one of the students brought into class.

At Federation Square that week, we had a bit of a moment, and it all started to fall apart. The moment occurred when I went to cue the drummer children who were sitting in the back row. They weren’t looking at me (they were looking out the window in fact! Federation Square is right by the river and the view is admittedly very appealing…). One of the drummers saw just the end of my cue, and panicked and started playing (if she hadn’t seen me, I could have waited to get their attention and do the cue again). So the drums started, then the clave dancers started and unfortunately they all started in the wrong place, in their panic. This got the glockenspiel players in the next row all confused, although they valiantly kept going. The panic meant that nobody was looking at me anymore, so I couldn’t have stopped them (in order to just start again, nice and calmly) even if I’d wanted to – not without making it a very messy stop.

However, what I found really interesting about this whole experience for them was their reaction. It seems odd to say it, but they knew they were out, knew that they had lost the beat and were no longer playing in time with the others. There was a time, earlier this term, where each section would quite happily get the cue to start playing, and put their heads down and play as loudly and quickly as possible, with no clue about how their part needed to fit into the bigger texture. This musical shambles we found ourselves in the middle of, was wonderfully revealing in showing how much they had come to understand the music, even if they weren’t quite ready yet to find their way back when something went wrong.

As we left the stage, the drummer girl who had caught the end of my cue came over to me and said, with great concern in her voice, “We weren’t looking. So we didn’t…do… good.” I was impressed by this firstly for the determination she had to speak to me about the performance, despite having very little English, and being a very shy, quiet girl, and secondly because she knew exactly what had happened.This child has only been in the country about 8 weeks. She arrived at the Language School halfway through the term when much of the music had already been learned. It’s quite full-on to come into a creative music environment with no language, expecially when you are quiet and kind of anxious by nature. She worked incredibly hard in music.

Incidentally, her mother came to that performance at Federation Square and we spoke afterwards. “Selina has done so well,” I told her. “She has worked so hard to learn that drumming part, and she does it very, very well.”

Her mother said, “You know, in Chile she was always so shy, so very quiet. And now, to see her hear on the stage, playing the drum, and after such a short time… it’s incredible. I was crying, I had tears in my eyes watching her. So thank you.”

The following day they performed the same piece again, to a different audience. This time, it came together beautifully. I was very proud of them, and very happy for them.

That was my last day at the Language School, at least for a while. I’m not teaching there these next two terms as I am away too much (China, then Sydney, then East Timor… more on those plans later). I’ve been there five years. Very happy years. It’s strange to think I won’t be there next term, and strange to think they won’t feature in this blog. As I write these words that is only just occurring to me. I started this blog to write about the Language School. I will miss it in many ways, I expect. I’ve been privileged to work there.

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