When things may not be what they seem…

Thursday, day 63

The other day I asked Tony if he’d enjoyed the women’s singing at the Baucau concert. He’d been sitting on the far side of the stage with all the children while they performed – I’d been accompanying the women on the clarinet.

“Oh yeah,” he said immediately. “That was great! All the kids were singing along!”

“What, with the traditional songs, you mean? The ones they sang second and third?” I asked.

“No, with all the songs.”

I was puzzled. “But they can’t have sung along with the first song. That was the song the women wrote with me! No one else has heard it before.”

“Well,” he said, “They were definitely singing along. I don’t know if they were singing the same words” – Tony hasn’t had the chance to learn any Tetun yet – “but they definitely were singing along. Maybe some of the kids have a parent in the choir.”

“No-o-o-o, they all live in a different part of town,” I said.

I think I have to re-think things now! When I wrote the post Singing a Future about the songwriting workshop, I described how quickly the women wrote that song. Was that  because they weren’t inventing it, but remembering it?

At the time, I tried to ascertain this. “Is this a song you already know?” I asked. They said no. Later, I asked, “Where did the melody come from? Do you know it already, or is it coming from your heads?” From our heads, they told me.

This could be a confusion about language – “writing” a song could mean just writing it down. “From our heads” could mean coming from the memory. Perhaps the melody is familiar, and the words were new. Perhaps some of the words were new and invented that day, and others were already known. Perhaps the whole song was indeed created on the spot that day by the women, and the children were only singing along with the chorus as it was repeated (it is a very catchy chorus – you can listen to it here, by the way, on my website!). The Timorese are very musically-attuned – they pick up melodies, harmonies and words far more quickly than the children I teach in Australia would. Perhaps they only needed to hear a few lines of the melody to be able to jam along with the performance. Perhaps they were making up their own words, or superimposing the words to another song that they all knew, onto this song, in order to sing along.

I asked Lorraine (who knows the group well) for her thoughts on this confusion.

“No, they did write it,” she said, frowning. But she couldn’t explain how the children could sing along with them.

There are lots of possibilities! This is another cross-cultural challenge – the emphasis that I might place on the value or importance of original music is my own. It may not make any sense here. Or it may be immaterial to the Timorese – a nice enough concept, but not the most important thing in the scheme of things. And given the way that the same words can signify different things to different people, it is not necessarily something I’ll be able to get a clear single answer on (clear, single answers are perhaps another cultural value I am bringing here with me!).


1 comment so far

  1. Kamil on

    Hi Gillian, not sure how I could contact you by email, so I’ll just leave a comment here hoping you’ll read this! My name is Kamil from Melbourne, I’m traveling in Baucau at the moment and just stumbled upon your interesting blog. You seem to be doing something interesting here, and I was wondering if I could come and observe (or perhaps participate in?) some music making activities that you do? I went to Arte Moris in Dili several times, and may check out the one here. Unfortunately I won’t be here for long… so if you have the chance, would be great if you could call or text me at 7812916. Obrigado.

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