Archive for the ‘ANAM’ Tag

Back in Melbourne, back to school

Ah… home from four months in East Timor. I’m back in my flat, and back at work, reconnecting with friends, family, colleagues and workplaces, and putting plans for the year in place.

The day after getting home I did two days of workshops at ArtPlay, as part of the MSO ArtPlay Ensemble year-long program of activities. These workshops were focused on “express composing”, where a group of children creates a new piece of music in an hour, and performs it to their parents at the end of that hour.

We had so much fun! We asked each group to invent a story of some kind – a tale that had a beginning, a middle and an ending. We divided into three groups and everyone went away to create music for their assigned section. At the end of the hour we performed the music in order, from the beginning section, to the middle section, to the end section.

Some of the stories were wildly inventive:

Beginning: People are in a shopping mall, wandering around, doing their shopping. Suddenly an alarm sounds. Panic ensues. It is a cyclone warning.

Middle: People stampede the exits. The cyclone approaches [this story was written in the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi in northern Australia]. Suddenly a gigantic platypus lands on the roof of the shopping mall. [Be truthful. None of us saw that offer coming, did we?]

Ending: It’s Bob, the Gargantuan Platypus, here to save the day. He picks himself up from the roof of the shopping mall and flings himself at the cyclone, squashing it completely.

The following week I started a new year at the Melbourne English Language School, my fifth year as an artist-in-residence there. The idea is to create music projects with each class that support their English language and literacy development in some way. (More info about this school here).

Planning with the class teachers is an essential part of this. First, I met with the three primary teachers, in order to discuss the kinds of themes and project work they had planned for their classes this term. We also talked about different students in their class – who has been there a few terms and is preparing to make the transition to mainstream school; who is new or recently arrived; what languages are spoken in the class; and how the class works together as a group.

All three primary classes have the broad theme of “food” this term. They will be talking about healthy eating, and doing some cooking in the classroom. In Lower Primary, I liked the teacher’s description of the categories of food they are learning – ‘every day’ food, ‘sometimes’ food and ‘never at school’ food. I can imagine building a simple, repetitive song out of these phrases, with different foods being promoted as belonging to one category or another.

The teacher of the Middle Primary class is keen for them to build up their oral language skills. I find a good way to do this is to develop rhythmic phrases from the syllables of words and sentences, and get the children to repeat these over and over, as a way of memorising and internalising the rhythms. We started with this idea in our first class and developed two lists of five food words each (pushing our rhythmic phrases into 5/4, which I love). We developed body percussion patterns for these phrases in our first lesson; in time, we will transfer the rhythms to instruments and develop melodic lines for them on tuned percussion.

In Upper Primary the students have also started their unit of work by discussing ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods. On the day that I was there, ‘pizza’ was under discussion. Is pizza healthy or unhealthy? I have a feeling that with this class, they will start to categorise their foods in more sophisticated ways, considering how the food is grown or prepared. I can imagine our composing work growing from these discussions. Perhaps we will develop different modes (in ‘dark’ or ‘light’ moods) for each category of food, and develop songs and instrumental music around these ideas?

Other projects that are in the planning pipeline are with Pelican Primary School (my pet name for a school I teach in regularly). Pelican’s school renovations have only just finished and it will be a few more weeks before instruments will be out of storage and the music room will be ready.

I’ll also be working with the Australian National Academy of Music again this year, and met this week with the senior artistic team to start fleshing out the kinds of projects we want to offer the students this year. After their much-talked-about participation in my work in East Timor in January, hopefully similar work in other challenging environments can be part of the 2011 program.

Meanwhile, my chikungunya virus is still kicking around in my system and giving me all sorts of joint stiffness and pain, so I’m also making the rounds of doctors and other health professionals. It’s a very exotic souvenir from Timor Leste to bring home with me, but on the bad days, it’s pretty painful and I hope to find if not a cure then a reliable way to manage it.

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.

Watch out for these names…

I have just come back from a wonderful concert of Schubert Lieder at the Australian National Academy of Music. The big sensation of the afternoon was a set of three songs performed by tenor Christopher Saunders accompanied by Berta Brozgul, a pianist at the Academy.

Oh. My. God. It was stunning. It was one of those moments in a concert where suddenly you realise that something really special is taking place and you are compelled to hang on to every word, every note. (I used to work at the Wigmore Hall in London, where every great artist performs, so I heard a lot of concerts. I quickly realised that great performances have something that sets them apart, so that the air in the hall shifts suddenly, and every single person is held in the moment. They aren’t all like that. It is rare, and incredibly powerful).

Christopher Saunders is a young tenor. They are both young. Afterwards the audience buzzed around, and theirs were the names on everyone’s lips.

How wonderful, to be so in agreement with everyone! How wonderful to go to a concert and find yourself truly transported by it! These are sad days for me, in general – lots of difficult things happening that I have to get through –  but this afternoon nothing mattered except the beauty of this music, and the magical, inhabited way it was performed. Bravi to the duo. I’m so glad I went.