Archive for the ‘artist residency’ Tag

‘Culture Jam’ – Music and Mandarin

In just a couple of weeks I’ll be starting my artist residency at Elsternwick Primary School (EPS), a state primary school in the inner southern suburbs of Melbourne. EPS has very well-established music program and a strong performance tradition; they also take languages very seriously and have a full-time teacher of Mandarin (the school has almost no students of non-English speaking backgrounds).

The aim of the residency is to explore ways that voice and speech can be embedded and integrated into music compositions. I’ll be working with just 15 grade 4 students across terms 2, 3 and 4 to create an original music outcome that has Mandarin language in it (in all sorts of ways) and that could be used as a tool to help other students in the school improve their Mandarin.

Our creative music efforts will be focused around a number of field trips and visits to Mandarin-speaking people. The first visit is to my other students at the English Language School – after playing some music games and ice-breakers together, the EPS children and the Language School children will engage in conversations about culture and knowledge from their countries of origin. The EPS children will speak in Mandarin for the conversations with the Chinese children (they’ll speak in English with the children from other countries), and record their conversations on small voice recorders.

Rules for harmonious living: Found near the entrance to a communal living area, Shanghai, 2010.

In Term 3, they will visit China Town in Melbourne CBD, where they will record themselves buying things from the shops in Chinese, ordering food in a dumpling restaurant, and talking with the Chinese people they meet (elderly people, working people, and quite possibly some university students), and recording all of these conversations too. Lastly, they will meet with a Chinese musician who lives very near the school – he will play his traditional instruments for the children and answer their questions. All this will be recorded too.

Meanwhile, we’ll be exploring different ways of using voice and speech in music compositions – anything from songs, to speech melody, to electronic music, to iPad apps (this means I have to buy an iPad – yes!) to compositions with a mix of live and recorded sounds… Excerpts from the field recordings will find their way into the children’s creations (or at least, that’s our intention at the outset). I’m gathering examples of music to listen to and discuss, and we’ll also do a lot of group-composing workshops to get the composition ideas flowing.

The project is called Culture Jamming, and I’ll be sharing its progress (and its challenges) with you over the coming months. What do you think of the project idea? What music would you play to your students to get them inspired with a project like this? Have you explored using recorded speech in any student composition work or music technology? Please share your ideas and experiences!

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.

It’s only Monday….

…but my brain already feels a bit mushy. Today and tomorrow I am at the Orchestra. No projects to lead this week so time to be in the office and catch up on administrative tasks – designing content and structure for forthcoming projects.

K (the magnificent new Education Manager) and I feel a bit like we are capsizing in white water – strong swimmers both, doing our best to keep our heads above water, but struggling against the strength of the currents that are pulling us in all directions. What would the Taoists say? Go with the flow of the current, don’t fight it, let it take you where it will. I am not sure how this wisdom applies to our overworked environment just now…!

We certainly have some interesting work coming up. Soon we will start workshops for our residency project, at a primary school in the Western suburbs. This is a pilot project for the State Government’s arts funding body, and there is a focus on improved education and school outcomes, rather than just on making the arts happen in the school.

We had a meeting there today. I have identified five strands of work that aim to respond to the information we are getting about the school, its community, and its current priorities:

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