End-of-residency performance ideas

Thursday, day 78

Would you look at that! I’ve been here eleven weeks now, and have just three weeks to go before the end of my residency. I need to make some decisions about what I will do in those three weeks.

I have sadly had to give up on the idea of learning any traditional instruments. I hope I will still be able to learn some more traditional songs and chants but I fear that without a ‘culture person’ fighting in my corner, the kakalo’uta and other local traditional instruments will be out of bounds for me to even get the smallest experience of.

From my first arrival in Lospalos, I had the idea of creating a community performance, working with a number of different groups to create items for a one-off performance event. This was the project that the local representative from the ministry of culture had offered to help with, by way of finding children, and providing a space for us to use for workshops.

I feel like I need to rethink this somewhat. Firstly, I know that there is no shortage of children, so I don’t particularly need their help in recruiting participants. So far, during this school holiday period, we haven’t had any difficulty attracting children to come and make music with us. It could get more difficult once school goes back on 10 January, but hopefully we will be able to trade on the relationships we have already established with local kids to get them coming along outside of school hours.

We don’t have a workshop venue. Perhaps the Many Hands coordinator will be able to find one, perhaps not. However, I know that the sisters at ADM would be delighted to host more music projects from me, and they have a venue. We wouldn’t be able to invite children from other areas to these workshops because the ADM site is too far out of town for anyone to get to without a car. We would only be able to involve their students, and the local children that we worked with last Sunday.

What I’d thought we might do:

In my original idea, I had imagined establishing 3-4 groups, each of different ages, and creating short music pieces that responded in different ways to the local Lospalos environment. This might have included musical re-tellings of local myths and legends, recreations of bird songs like the olohoto song, performance of local traditional songs, and original songs and music describing some aspects of Lospalos life.

I imagined we would work on a schedule of workshops that would see each group coming together 4 or more times to create their piece. By around January 20th, we would be ready to bring all the groups together and fashion their material into a seamless, site-specific performance event. How I’d still love to do this! However…

Some of my concerns:

I feel a bit worried that we are incredibly behind the eight-ball in putting together a project like this. We don’t really have any support from local authorities. We don’t have a proper workshop space to create these pieces in (and I know that the workshop environment plays an incredibly important role in helping groups to develop original work). We don’t have any established groups to work with (apart from, potentially, the ADM group). At the time that I return to Lospalos next week, there will be only ten days before visitors from Australia arrive to participate in the final events. That’s not much time to get something like this off the ground in the best and most enthusiastic of situations (and my experience thus far in Lospalos suggests I am perhaps not in the best and most enthusiastic of situations).

I also feel a bit worried that one of the reasons my energy levels are still so low is actually because the Chikungunyah is still in my system, and I would be unwise to throw myself into some intense workshop schedule as it could bring on a full relapse. That would be awful – to build up expectations among participants and then not deliver because of illness… and to get sick again, right before I have to return to Australia and a full year of work there.

Another idea:

I’ve noticed that one of the things I’ve been developing here, that is not a usual way for me to work back in Australia, is with one-off, self-contained workshops with different groups of kids. The Verandah Jams fit this category, as did the workshop at ADM. The Baucau project, however, had more in common with the kind of extended, multiple-day creative projects that I usually lead in Australia.

Perhaps I should continue this one-off workshop model in Lospalos with the Academy music students? I can stay with my ‘stories and secrets of Lospalos’ theme and run a series of workshops with different groups of children, of different ages. The difference would be that we don’t aim to culminate in a larger-scale performance event. Perhaps instead we could invite all the groups to be part of a large-scale Jam on the Saturday afternoon.

The more I think about this idea, the more I like it. It builds on the work I’ve been able to do so far – short-term workshops with small groups of enthusiastic, self-selecting kids. It still indulges my personal interest to learn more about the stories, secrets and legends of this district, and to build musical responses to them. But it takes away the pressure of having to weave them all into a larger work, and to coordinate that (even if I have helpers to work with).

Sometimes I feel like three weeks is nothing, and that it will go very quickly! I’m sure it will go quickly, but it is also a reasonably substantial amount of time for music projects. My Tetun will continue to improve during this time, because I’ll continue to study my grammar books over bearkfast, and I’ll continue to talk to people.

Also, a nice development in the last week in Lospalos has been the way that people have begun to wave to us and call out greetings as we sit on our verandah. This is on their initiative. I don’t remember it happening nearly this much in earlier weeks. I like to think it is because I am more of a familiar presence here now. I have worked with people’s children, and they know who I am and what I am doing here now. That familiarity could yield new developments in the next three weeks that I’m not yet aware of.

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently, a Timorese man who lives near me. He was grumbling about the number of foreigners who “come here to help the Timorese people”. We are sick of all that help, this person said. Everyone always thinks we need their help or that they are the right ones to help.

“Well, I didn’t come here to help,” I told him. “I’m here to learn – learn new things, meet new people and hopefully engage in some kind of exchange. Of course, if Timorese people want my help, I’m happy to share it. But that’s not why I’m here.”

I think he was a bit taken aback. And I wish I had clarified this distinction for myself earlier in my residency – I think it’s an important one to be able to offer people in helping them make sense of what it is I’m doing here.


1 comment so far

  1. victoria Ryle on

    Hi Gillian, I think your reasoning is sound. Informal jams sound good. Definitely do not exacerbate the chickengunya with more stress…
    Kim is on her way with 45 each of the wee books Di’ak ka Lae? and Hira? – an extended proof run as there are a few rough edges and the translation needs to be tested. But I love them. I’ve got enough for a colours book too so if you did perchance want to create a very small song book – or some other outcome from your workshops -i could do them as a second pair… Let me know and we’ll talk about it.
    Meanwhile a happy new year xxx vic

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