Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

Preparing to Culture Jam again

This Friday I return to Elsternwick Primary School for the second stage in our Culture Jamming project, part of this year’s Artists in Schools program. Culture Jamming is all about using music to develop skills in another language and to explore different cultures – at Elsternwick the language of choice is Mandarin. During the four-week first stage last term, we prepared a performance of a Chinese folk song that I’d learned in 2010 in Hangzhou (see video footage below of this lesson in singing the Love Song of Kangding), learned to use Audacity‘s recording features, and made a field trip to the ‘Melbourne English Language School’ (where I teach on a different day) to do a music workshop with the students there and record interviews and conversations with the Chinese students.

It felt like a rather rushed beginning as we had a number of challenges to contend with, but the 15 grade 4 students who are working with me are bright, fun, curious and thoughtful, and we’ll have more time this term to stretch out into our project.

Our overarching question is, how can music help us and other students improve our Mandarin language skills? We are going to use our field recordings (from the language school interviews and another planned field trip to a restaurant in China Town) in compositions. The plan is for each child to make at least 2 individual projects and for us to collaborate on a third project that will use classroom instruments rather than computers.The children have access to NetBooks and iPads at school, though some also own iPod Touches, iPhones and other technology at home.

Project 1: Introductions

Our first task this term is to go through all the Chinese interviews from the language school and make short clips of phrases like, “what is your name?”, “my name is…”, “how old are you?”, “I am ten years old”, etc. We’ll then create tracks (using loop-based software) that repeat one of these phrases, with as many different speakers as we have recordings of, setting the phrases to a beat. That’s one project – each child can make one (or more) Introduction pieces. Continue reading

Arts partnerships in contemporary education

I’ve been thinking this week about arts partnerships in schools, and the current state/status of this work in Melbourne. It was inspired by my conversations with Arnie Aprill from CAPE [Chicago Arts Partnership in Education) on Sunday and Monday. Arnie has been in town this week, talking ideas and possibilities and being generally inspiring. He held a forum at ArtPlay on Monday night for artists, arts organisations, teachers and school leaders, and a group of about 30 of us gathered to discuss the territory in which we work.

Monday’s discussion began with questions, including:

“How do we talk to people about the work that we do, and communicate its importance, without getting angry and pushing people away when we come up against resistance – because there is often resistance and misunderstanding?”

“How do we communicate in this way internally, within arts organisations, where engagement with education sites and communities is not the main focus of the organisation’s existence?”

“And what is the impact on the artist of working in a resistant, or non-receptive environment?”

“How can I ignite my fellow teachers’ creativity?”

AA: In partnerships, we need to remember that the delivery model (where an individual or organisation comes in to deliver you something – a product or package or experience that they have already determined that you need, that is not necessarily tailored to your specific environment) doesn’t work. CAPE projects are in fact in partnership with teachers. The visiting artist is not just there to liberate the students, they are there to liberate themselves and the teachers and to build respectful relationships with each other.

Arts partnerships in education are not so much about “access to the arts” (which positions the artist or arts organisation as somewhat power-endowed and benevolent in sharing their arts-knowledge-power), as much as they are about Active Democratic Participation through longterm partnerships and relationships.

“How will I know what the kids have learned through the project?”

Arnie talked at length about the importance of documenting projects, of documenting the process and seeing this as an important product or outcome of the project (along with the ‘official’ outcome itself). In other words, rather than thinking about process vs. product, lets re-frame the issue by recognising that process IS product! Interview the children on camera, he suggested. Ask them to tell you what they’ve learned. It is a powerful confirmation of the growth and development that takes place in their minds through a creative, arts-based engagement with a subject, any subject. Continue reading

Post-colonial tensions in music-making and learning

A second theme that wove its way through both the Community Music Activity commission seminar and the main ISME conference in Greece this year was that of the (musical) tensions that continue to play out in post-colonial contexts between the former colonisers and the colonised, and the value of indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing alongside Western knowledge. It is a big theme and a complex one, but when I reflected on the two weeks’ presentations it was interesting to see how often it emerged, even if the post-colonial tag wasn’t part of the paper’s title or abstract. My reflections here consider specific projects in Brazil, South Africa, Timor-Leste, indigenous Australia, and Aotearoa/New Zealand.

On the first day at the CMA seminar, we heard about a project in Bahia, Brazil, to give wind players of the many community bands throughout the region some expert tuition in playing their instruments. Presenters Joel Luis Barbosa and Jacob Furtado Cantao explained that these ‘band courses’ are provided by the Brazilian government and involve teachers from the city conservatories and schools of music. However, the experts tend to come from a more formal, ‘concert music’ playing tradition – a legacy of the era of Portuguese colonialism, connected in style and approach to European/Western art music.

In contrast, the community band players are self-taught, or have learned the rudiments of their instrument from other players in the group. They haven’t studied music formally. (We watched some video footage of the bands playing and of individuals playing. The clarinet sound had a wonderful freedom to it – big, solid, bold colours with which they ripped up and down arpeggios, or crooned insouciant melodies). Continue reading