Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Summary of the week that was

I’m not sure when I’ll get to write in detail about all the music events of the last week since the ANAM students arrived – we did heaps together! So here is a quick rundown of The Week That Was, a week of one-off, self-contained workshops in a big array of environments:


I’ve already written about the workshop at the convent I think – we had about 100 children gathered in the space who cheered as I entered (a big contrast to the silence and shyness that greeted Tony and I the first time round). We created the sounds of a rainstorm using body percussion, sung two African songs and one Timorese song, and created music to tell the story of Lake Ira-Lalaru, and the village submerged beneath it.


We had a big jam on our verandah, introducing the ANAM students to all the children that Tony and I have been working with these last few weeks from our local area. We played Forever Young, as lots of the children now know the chord accompaniment on the chime bars (they learn from each other. One plays, and the others watch and memorise and wait for their turn). We also played with the new kakalo collection, all made at Saturday’s working bee. Maun Tony was still in Dili, taking his daughter’s to the airport. That evening, everyone ate at our place.


We organised a song-writing workshop at the Esperanca Lorosa’e English class. Their teacher had gathered a group of students from across all of his classes. We started with a name song, each person singing their name in turn, then some rhythmic work with words, then invention of verses, choruses and melodies. A fantastic, catchy groove emerged.


One student grabbed the opportunity to go to Iliomar for the day. Tony and I worked through the aftermath of being burgled. Sarah learned she had cerebral malaria. We performed live on community radio, an experience not without its initial challenges in setting up, but a huge experience for everyone involved and one that was incredibly affirming for our work here. This was the day of a full moon, and while it certainly exerted a strange and strained atmosphere over much of the day, we ended on a real high, and walked home bathed in its bright moonlight.


The students had a day off and went to Tutuala, hosted by a group of UNPOL guys. Tony and I went to Esperanca Lorosa’e, this time to do a workshop for the kindergarten. There were probably 50 children there, plus lots of parents. Some of the local boys from our verandah jams came with us to the kinder, lending us a wheelbarrow for the instruments that we were bringing, and making a bit of an early-morning procession. “Where are you going?” many people called out to us. “To the kindergarten,” we called back. Smiles all round.

At the kinder, we sang songs, did some movement and actions, created a body percussion rainstorm with the thunder-makers, and did some rhythmic ensemble music-making with everyone playing an instrument and learning to stop and start on cue. It is a wonderful kinder program I think. The teachers are very professional, and very gentle and warm in their work with the children. They told Kim that they loved the workshop we did – they’d never seen anything like it before and wished that they could do some professional development training with me. It’s a shame the program has been on summer holidays for most of my time here.

Thursday afternoon the community again converged on our house, and this led to further Frisbee games on the front lawn. “It’s like a park,” said Sarah in wonder (emerged from her sick bed to watch the activities). One interesting thing that we observed was that, for the first time, the landlord’s two older children joined in with all the other children. Usually, when this crowd of noisy, boisterous boys with their dirty clothes and high energy levels come over to our house, these two children disappear back to their own house. But now they were joining in, with no apparent qualms. This was a shift.

Games were followed by an impromptu Reading Club. Tony got out all the books that I’d bought at the Alola Foundation (probably the only books currently available for children in Tetun) and the children sat together on the verandah reading them together. We also had copies of the books that Victoria from Kidsown Publishing had made and sent over for us, and these passed around eagerly, with children touching the photos of the children they knew in the books and saying their names, as well as reading the text aloud to each other.


On Friday we took the ANAM students to the nearby village of Cacavei. A friend we had made through the English classes, Tomas, lives in Cacavei and he offered to host our visit, and organise a group of children and a space for us to do a workshop. More than 100 children and adults gathered around the large mat we placed on the ground. We sang our old favourite, Mobakomeeenofway, to get things started, and then passed out the instruments and did some rhythmic work. We started in unison, but then divided the group into sections and set up some rhythmic grooves. Later we created words to go with a simple pentatonic melody I taught. “It’s a song about feeling happy,” I told them. Vaci ica rau rau kanta vaihoho [Today we’re feeling good singing together]. Sing together, then play together, sing together, play together. On cue from me. Ensemble. Fantastic.

At the end of the workshop, Tony, Lina and Rachel all performed for the crowd. Me? I was knackered from leading! Happy to be in the audience! They each played solo then improvised together. They ended with the most beautiful improvised performance of the song we learned at the kindergarten, Ikan hotu nani iha bee [All the fish are swimming in the water]. It was simple and beautiful and in fact quite moving.

Then Tomas took us walking in the nearby jungle, where we made our way through thick hanging vines, spiky leaves and branches, and soft piles of leaves and found the site of the ancient King of Cacavei’s castle. It sounds like a fairytale, doesn’t it? It was a natural fort site, part made of huge boulders already in place thanks to nature, and dry stone walls made by people.


This was the day of the Toka Boot [The Big Play] and that deserves a whole separate post. One of the biggest jams I’ve ever led. One of the most fun.

Next week?

Today (Sunday) we are packing up the house, and working out who to give all the different things we’ve accumulated here, such as the set of kakalos. Tomorrow we go to Dili. Tuesday I am presenting part of the Professional Development session about community arts for local Ministry of Culture people and NGOs. Wednesay I hope to be able to make a visit back to the house I used to live in when I first arrived in Dili and do some music with the chidlren I met there, all those weeks ago. I know they missed me when I left. Then Thursday…. we leave.

Lost and found

Sunday, day 102

This has been a very full week, and an intense one. It’s my last week in Lospalos and we have done one or more workshops or jams every day this week.

However, in the middle of the week a series of events transpired in the space of about 14 hours, that shifted everything for us. That’s what this post is about. It’s a long story but a significant one in the context of my whole residency.

On Tuesday night (or early Wednesday morning), Tony and I woke up suddenly to find someone in our room. A burglar. Tony gave a yell, I started to scream, and the burglar neatly jumped out the window. Tony got himself out of the mosquito net and over to the window in time to see a small, light-footed young child running up the driveway to the road, turning right and continuing to run.

At first we thought we’d surprised him as soon as he’d arrived in the room, and that he hadn’t had time to steal anything. Then we remembered that earlier that day I’d taken the saxophone out of the cupboard and placed it in it gig bag on the floor at the base of the window. It was now gone.

Continue reading


Lospalos, Tuesday, day 96

Today we finalised plans for the end-of-residency event – a Big Play, for anyone who wants to come. The venue is the Lospalos Old Market, which is in the centre of town. It’s no longer used as a market; it is a building that has a roof and floor, but is open at the sides. People will be able to hear us, and join in that way. But we are also planning to do a live performance on community radio tomorrow night as a way of promoting the event, spreading the word, and raising interest. I’m hoping we might be able to perform our verson of Forever Young – it has been coming together over the last few days with a small band of singers and instrumentalists playing guitars, chime bars and kakalos. It’s a shame the radio gig wasn’t confirmed at the time we did the songwriting workshop at the English class – we could have arranged for them to come to the radio studio too, to perform their new song.


Saturday 22 January

3pm Instrument-making

4pm Play

Songwriting with the English learners

Lospalos, Tuesday, day 96

For the last couple of weeks, Tony, Sarah and I have been making fairly regular visits to the local English language classes that are on everyday after school. I suggested to the teacher that we could come in one day as a group and do a songwriting project with everyone. That’s what we did today.

We were a group of 6 – Tony, Sarah and I, and the three ANAM students. About 30 students took part in the workshop. We started with a name song which goes around the circle with each person singing their name, and it being repeated in unison by the rest of the group.

Then, as a rhythmic warm-up, we created word-strings, and clapped these. First I asked each person in the circle to volunteer one English word that they liked. Then as a group we invented three strings of four or more words each. We said these out loud, exaggerating the rhythm of the syllables, and then clapping the rhythms in unison, and then in three separate groups. I conducted groups in and out of the texture to create some variations in the layers, and then cued a tight stop.

Now that we were warmed-up (we taught them the word ‘warm-up), we discussed ideas for a song. Each group discussed their preferences, then we shared these and looked for common threads between the three groups. There were several themes that emerged:

  • A sad song, expressing sad feelings
  • A happy song, thinking about things that make you happy
  • A love song

From here, we chose a narrative arc for the song, with verse one describing a broken-hearted, lost love situation. The chorus needed to emphasise a determination to move on in life. The second verse continued the story into one of new happiness, with the narrator finding a new love and all being well again.

I am sad, but I’m not broken

I am strong

I’m okay with you

Broken heart – no way

Broken heart – away

Tony and Lina worked with the chorus group and once their words were locked in, I sent them outside with the guitar to develop a way to sing their chorus with a good hook or catchy melody. They delivered with a very funky chorus. Meanwhile, the other two groups were developing the narrative focus of the verses.

I love someone but they love another

I cry all day and can’t sleep at night

I try to forget but when I close my eyes

I always see your face.

With the harmony for the chorus, it didn’t take long to find the melody for the verses. A bit of tempo adjustment was needed as initially the lyrics suggested quite a different feel.

I’m happy again because I’ve found another love

We met at the market, buying some bananas

My new love is smart, and has a good heart.

The love of my life!

Excellent lyrics for English language students who have only been learning English (in a remote part of East Timor) for three or six months, don’t you think? We set ourselves up to do a full performance of the song and record it. The performance was great! But in all the excitement we forgot to press ‘Record’ on the recording machine, so have no record of our great song, other than in our memories.

Still, we hope to revise it for this Saturday’s TOKA BOOT so we may be able to get a recording of it there.

The instrument maker

Lospalos, day 96

We have discovered that our next door neighbour is a culture man, someone with knowledge about traditional instruments and how to make them. Timorese instruments are intricately connected with both the local environment and local rituals. For example, the kakalos we made on the weekend (following his design) were used by children in the fields, with the job of scaring away birds that might try and eat the crops. The hooters that he makes by twisting long coconut palm fronds into circular pyramids, with a folded piece of leaf making a double reed in the mouthpiece, also probably had a use originally as a ‘scarer’. Other instruments and music are connected with the rituals of every day life – such as the stone griding songs (I haven’t found any of these), and others are connected with more sacred rituals and celebrations.

He looked at my clarinet in detail one day, examining the way the silverwork keys allow you to close and open holes that are too far away for your fingers to reach. He liked this design – I understood him explaining it to someone else, “Look, see how this key here is augmenting the instrument”.

When he makes instruments – the small hooters, the kakalo, or a flute from narrow pieces of bamboo, his many children and other family members also gather round. We got the impression they might not have known that their father could make these things. Or perhaps our presence next door, with all our blowing instruments, have reminded him of all the things he knows how to make.

Certainly, in the time I’ve been here, quite a number of ‘blowing’ instruments have appeared in the street. We’ve seen kids blowing pieces of tubing, or on bottles, and even a plastic recorder has made an appearance, passed from person to person.

He made a comment about the complexity of the clarinet compared with his bamboo flute. If my Tetun had been up to it, I’d have liked to be able to talk more about this with him – about how the instruments we play were developed for their own specific environment and set of rituals, as well as the way that they denoted power and status to those who could employ them. The Timorese instruments have also developed in response to their environment and the rituals in which they were used. What I like in traditional or indigenous music settings like Timor is the way that music performance is so often participatory, and linked to key community events. Western art music, on the other hand, has developed along a presentational model, and this – along with a perceived ‘higher status’ – is one of the things that can make it so excluding or remote for the general population.

Second workshop at the Convent

Lospalos, Tuesday, day 96

On Sunday afternoon we went back to the ADM convent to lead another workshop with the local children. This time, when I walked in the room, I was greeted with cheers from the 100 or so children assembled there (a big contrast to the shy, uncertain children I met the first time I went there).

It was a huge group, in a boomy room, with lots of teenage boys hanging around the windows calling things out, and rain pouring outside – so pretty noisy to start with! But we had 100% engagement for everything we did.

I started with a group song – Mobakomeenofway, because I knew lots of them would know it. After the first sing-through, I taught it line by line for those in the room who hadn’t been at the previous workshop, then we all sang it again.

We moved from this into some body percussion. I started with patsching (hands tapping thighs), then clicking fingers, then clapping hands, then on a signal from  me, a unison jump up. I was moving them gradually towards creating a rainstorm.

Next we brought out the thunder-makers (or thunder-boxes, as I like to call them), and two children volunteered to play them. We performed our rainstorm again, this time with thunder accompaniment, and no spoken cues.

In this workshop, my aim was to offer a workshop that was a self-contained experience (ie. complete within itself, requiring no follow-on) and that somehow utilised some of the musical material that I’d learned over the last few weeks here in Lospalos. I wanted to recreate the story of the lake (told in this earlier post), illustrating some of the key moments in the story with music.

Therefore, our next task was to gather together in a huddle on the floor (all 100 of us) to listen to the story. I told it in English and Mana Holly translated it. Then I explained that we were going to retell the story with music, in the following sections:

  • The village, where people are busy husking corn (music: cele cuku rhythms on the kakalos, chanting by the other children)
  • The arrival of the 7-headed snake (music: oboe solo, with atmospheric accompaniment from the flute and viola)
  • The chopping off of the snake’s heads (music: 7 strikes from the whole ensemble, after which the oboe stops abruptly)
  • The flooding of the village (music: body percussion rainstorm with thunder-boxes)
  • The memory of the village, submerged under the lake (music: cele cuku rhythms incredibly quietly, accompanied by thunder-boxes)

We set up the music as we approached each section. The group was too big and too excited to be able to go over each section more than once, so we performed as we went. This video shows some footage from the workshop. No electricity during the day and a rainstorm outside means the visuals are quite dark – hopefully you get a sense of how it worked though.

This also meant we went through the workshop more swiftly than I’d have liked, but the restrictions of the space necessitated this. Anyway, it was a bit of an experiment for me, and I felt it went really well. With a smaller group, in a more controlled space, I’d love to bring even more music in that I have learned since I’ve been here – such as some of the music I’ve transcribed from the recordings I made at the Dili Cultural Festival.

Most productive day of the residency so far!

Lospalos, day 94

Yesterday (Saturday) was probably the most productive day of the residency! Earlier in the week, some of the students we’d befriended in the English classes dropped by our house just to hang out and chat. We showed them the kakalo that our neighbour had made for us the previous weekend. “Oh yes, we know this instrument,” they told us. “Do you know how to make it?” Tony asked them. “Yes, we do,” they replied.

So we cooked up a plan for a Saturday Working Bee, focused on making instruments.

That morning, the three boys came to our house after they’d finished morning school. We went to visit our neighbour to tell him of our plan, and to see if he’d like to join us for any or part of the day. He was immediately interested. He came around to see the pieces of bamboo we’d been given from the nuns at ADM, and told us we still needed a much narrower piece if we wanted to make bamboo flutes. Then he went home and found a long piece with the right diameter for us, which we bought for $2 (it turned out it was his fishing rod, but he knew where he could get another rod-lengthed piece of bamboo so was happy to sell it to us). Before he left, he lent us some of his tools.

Tony and the boys got to work sawing the thick lengths of bamboo into shorter pieces for kakalos. I’d been called down the street to collect something from a friend. I was only gone 20 minutes, but by the time I’d returned there was a group of about 25 kids on the verandah. Some were working on the instrument making, but others were just hanging out, looking for things to play.

“Maybe go down on the grass,” Tony suggested to me. We took our set of three mats down to the recently-mown grass and got everyone to sit down. We had pieces of bamboo clapping sticks, plastic bottles pumped with air and turned into bells, upturned buckets to play as drums, chime bars (one per child) and short plastic bottles and storage containers filled with rice to use as shakers. More children kept arriving – at one point we had well over 40, many of whom I’d never seen before, and lots of girls. I taught them to sing Ah Ya Zahn, a song from Lebanon with a rhythmic response in the chorus. We spliced this with different rhythmic patterns, once for each group of instruments.

In this group it was gratifying to see that those children who’d been coming to our house regularly for verandah jams (many of them “naughty boys”, as Oswalda tended to refer to them) were the ones who helped hold the ensemble together. They knew all about looking for cues, and stopping on the stop signal, being ready for sections to change, and sticking to the pulse rather than speeding up or slowing down. I was proud of them! They were the leaders among this group of new kids.

The group itself had a chaotic feeling – often, standing in front of it, it was hard to see who was actually listening to what I said! But they must all have been listening, because they learned the rhythmic response in the chorus (which is irregular so needs to be memorised) incredibly quickly, and similarly the Arabic words of the song.

Eventually some mothers arrived to take their children home to lunch (we realised they’d stopped at our place on their way home from school), so our group numbers reduced and we eventually stopped. Some boys continued to hang around (I don’t think they had lunch to go home to, on reflection), so we brought out some bananas, then told them we needed to have a rest, and that they could come back in the afternoon to play some more music.

By the end of that afternoon we had made 8 kakalos, with a set of neatly-smoothed bamboo sticks to play them with. Tony had also started experimenting with some bamboo flute designs, finding a way to bore holds into the bamboo tunes, and to create a more user-friendly mouthpiece.

Also that afternoon we began to sing through the Fataluku version of Forever Young, one of Timor’s current summer radio anthems, and a much-loved song among the teenage population of Lospalos. Valda invited some friends over, and the three working bee boys also stayed. We tested out the multi-syllabic Fataluku words, figuring out how to make them fit with the melody of the song.

The afternoon also included an excursion to a nearby pond system, where apparently many crocodiles lived. They weren’t revealing themselves that day though.

In the evening, we welcomed the ANAM students and the Many Hands directors to our house. Valda cooked up a storm for everyone, and then we jammed into the evening. Lina and Tony did some improvised flute duets, Doug played guitar, all of us played the kakalos, working with the cele cuku rhythms, and Lina taught everyone Macedonian folk dancing.

So it was a late night for Lospalos (hitting the beds by about 11pm), but definitely the most productive day of the residence. We were well due our rest by then.

Excursion to Lore

Lospalos, day 93

We did another excursion on Thursday, this time to the coastal town of Lore. We’d been told it would take 3 hours to get there, but it turned out to be a journey of about 1 hour and a quarter only. The dirt road was slow-going but there were no big pot-holes or drops away at the edges, so I would call it a pretty reasonable road for Timor!

We stopped in one of the towns we passed through. All the local school children were on their morning break and as we got out of the car they crowded round us, staring, not talking, but sticking close to us just the same. We wandered around for a while with this entourage, then I asked them if they’d like to sing a song with us. “We’d like to”, they answered, so we taught a short song with nonsense syllables, and then got some rhythm games started. Then the bell rang for them to go back to class so they went to line up and we got back in the car.

The beach at Lore was rocky, and had some of the biggest waves I’ve seen on this island so far. It’s a wide, long spread of beach, with horses grazing down on the rocks at the water’s edge, and palm trees lining the edge of the furthest-back sand dunes. The children from the nearby village followed our car as we drove up and sat on a log in a row, watching us intently. If any of us got too close, however, they shuffled along, or jumped and ran to the other end of the log. We made this into a game after awhile.

No fish for sale because of the rough seas, so we ate the food we’d brought with us – freshly made rice packages wrapped in banana leaves, bread rolls with vegemite, packets of tuna, bananas and biscuits, and cups of apple tea. We tried swimming but got dashed against the rocks pretty quickly so we settled for beach cricket (with a piece of bamboo as a bat, and a tennis ball) and soccer, and shell hunting instead. The local children never joined in, they just stayed sitting on or near that log.

English classes and local villages

Day 93, Saturday

Saturday is market day, so a good day for a big grocery shop. I also love the energy of the big local market – there are hundreds of people there, buying and selling. It’s right on the outskirts of town, so you can get a mikrolet (if we have a hire car we drive) but most people walk there and back.

This has been a full and eventful week. It’s been shaped quite strongly by our regular attendance at the local English classes. We started this the previous week, thinking it could be a good way for Tony’s daughters to meet some English-speaking people their own age, and continued going all of this week too, as it was bringing us in contact with such a range of people, all keen to share their experiences and ideas with us in the spirit of an exchange.

On Monday afternoon, we asked the class to talk about what interesting and special things there were to do, see and experience in Lospalos. We discussed the idea of ‘special and interesting things’ all together first, to gather ideas and put the question in the context of visitors coming to Lospalos. Then the class gathered into pairs and presented one idea to the rest of the class in English.

One boy said, I would show the visitors the Lake Ira-Lalaru, because it is very beautiful. It is the largest lake in Timor, fed by seven springs, and it is close to here. It also has an interesting story and I would tell them the story:

Long ago, there was a village where the lake is now. One day, a snake with seven heads came to that village. This snake bit the daughter of the village chief. In his anger, he called for people to kill the snake in revenge.

However, the snake turned out to be a king of snakes. So nature then took its revenge. Water began to pour from each of the seven heads of the snake. Rain poured down from the sky. The ground cracked open and water came bubbling up. Soon the village was submerged, and the lake is still there today.

That’s one version of the lake story – I’ve heard two other versions since then, but that is unsurprising as it is passed down through an oral tradition. I like the idea of it changing, like a game of Chinese Whispers.

On Tuesday, Tony led what sounded like a superb conversation lesson. He wrote a list of questions on the white board, asking the students to imagine that they had met him, a visitor, by chance in the street, and were having a conversation with him.

  • Which village or town do you come from?
  • What is interesting to see or do in your village?
  • Is it far from here?
  • How do I get there on local transport?
  • How much does it cost?
  • Can I there and back in one day?

He arranged the group into two concentric circles, facing each other in pairs, and they each had to ask these questions to their partner and give the answers in English. The inner circle then moved one place to the left and had the same conversation with the next person.

Tony explained that he wanted them all to have the conversations at the same time – “Like at a party!” Everyone laughed and the energy lifted, and it sounded like they had a very dynamic, engaged lesson together.

The lesson revealed information that we had been looking for – where could w get to in a day using the local mikrolet and truck transport options. Tony’s daughters were particularly keen to go somewhere in a truck.

The conversation class led to invitations being issued by different students to come with them to their village, and the following day (Wednesday) Tony and the girls travelled with two of the students to the village of Kakavei on the back of a truck. Kakavei is high in the mountains. The student showed them around – they met local children and did some music games with them, they met a local song-women who performed for them, they visited their host’s house, and his wife had prepared local food for them – sweet potatoes mashed and wrapped in banana leaves, and a drink made from crushed corn – watched tais being woven and got to try some on.

They got home around 5pm, very happy with their adventure. I was envious – I had opted to spend the day working, but Wednesday had turned out to one of the ‘backwards steps’ of the Lospalos shuffle and I hadn’t had the productive, energised day I’d hoped for. Never mind. It all balances out.

All the fish are swimming in the sea

Lospalos, Sunday, day 87

Another little project I’ve been rolling out this week is an art project. One of the first songs I learned here was a children’s song, taught to me at great volume by 4-year old Donna, who lives in the house behind me. There are three verses:

All the fish are swimming in the sea…

The goats are running in the countryside…

Birds are flying up high…

The book-making project we did back in December got me thinking about other ways of bringing children’s artwork into their spaces in a more ongoing way, and as a way to encourage them to read and connect with words and images. One idea was through posters of their artwork.

So, using the roll of paper that Simon and Victoria brought over for me, Tony’s daughters and I have prepared three backdrops – one of the sea, one of the countryside and mountains, and one of the sky, treetops, etc. When kids come over for the jams, or just to hang out, I’ve invited them to draw fish for me, or goats, or birds. Of course I am getting quite a large number of dolls, houses and monkeys on leashes (these are popular things for children to draw here) but no matter.

The children are also invited to add more colour and ideas to the backdrops. Once a backdrop is ready, we stick the relevant drawn animals on it. Once the collages are complete, I’ll type out the words to the song and stick them on the pages. Then we’ll try and get each one laminated and offer them as a gift to the kindergarten where Donna learned her song.