Archive for the ‘children’s songs’ Tag

What I did on my holidays

I got to do a bit of travelling over the January break (summer holidays here in Australia). Our stay on the quiet, peaceful island of Siboya, in Southern Thailand, coincided with Children’s Day, an annual Thai Festival when all the children are given presents (the younger ones tend to cry if they don’t like the one they’re given) and spend the day playing games, having races, and doing other special activities. Tony and I led a short music workshop for the children in the village of Klong Tor. It felt a lot like the old, Timor times.

I have definitely got some good value out of Funge Alafia this last year!

Siboya was just what we needed after the frantic right-up-til-Christmas unrelenting pace of 2011. They have electricity on the island (as of 2009), but at the Siboya Bungalows resort there was no background music being played, no TVs in the corner of the room, no need to see a screen at all. We had a total digital detox – bliss!

Work plans in Lospalos

Monday, day 29

The little I’ve heard about the local music traditions has made me even more determined to learn what I can of the songs, instruments and traditions. The other night on local TV (I was in a restaurant and saw it there) there was a televised concert of traditional music and dance groups from all the different Timorese districts. One of the groups from this district played a very interesting suspended log drum. The playing of it was vigorous, and almost like a dance. The instrument seemed to provoke lots of commentary on the TV program, as the host went over to it and examined for the camera after the performance, and the camera kept returning to shots of it during later discussions and commentary. I’d love to find out more about it, and learn to play it.

Also there are many, many traditional songs. Some of these are work songs. Deb sang one to me the other day, a chant that is sung while people are removing the kernels from the corn. The work songs and chants might be sung throughout the work, and give the people energy to continue. Fataluku language seems very percussive – at least from the few words I’ve learned. For example, the word for ‘head’ in Tetun is ‘ulun’, but in Fataluku it is ‘chautapun’ (I’m writing phonetically). ‘Shoulders’ is another cool word – ‘chichika’. These words came up because I was translating ‘Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes’ into Tetun and then Fataluku. The Fataluku version will probably need a completely new melody as each of the words has so many syllables.

Here are my two favourite Fataluku words so far:

Aniamichanana = sole (of the foot)

Tanamichanana = palm (of the hand)

And here is “heads, Shoulders, knees and toes’ in Fataluku:

Chautapun, chichika

Ania-imire, lafukar

Ina narun, valikassar

O, miini.

In the town centre there is an old gymnasium – the Evergreen Gymnasium. The building is from Portuguese times. It doesn’t have any doors or windows, so essentially just a shell of a building. But it has walls and a floor and a stage, a balcony reached by a spiral stairway, and a foyer, and extra room off to the side. As a performance space it has heaps of potential. I’ve started to think about it as a site of an installation performance, where the audience could gather in the middle, and the performers appear in different parts of the space, gradually moving closer to the audience. Singing? The acoustic would be great for voices. However, that means that any noise from the audience would be similarly amplified.

As we drove out to Tutuala and Jaco Island yesterday, we drove through a number of small villages and one of these had a community centre. It caught our attention because it had a large painting on its side of a crocodile smiling and sitting on the beach in front of a sea and an island, which seemed a little ominous for us, on our way to the beach and the island. But I digress… I asked if many of the villages had community centres like this, and apparently many have them. The process for visiting and doing a workshop or project with the local children is not necessarily an easy thing to arrange – you certainly can’t just show up! Lots of consultation is required with the chief of the village and other senior people.

Seeing the community centre, I started thinking that an interesting thing to do would be to take a workshop project to different villages during the children’s school holidays in December. We could make instruments and play some music, taking ideas from the Ping! website. But the process for setting up these relationships is not a quick one – it requires great patience and plenty of time. Apparently foreigners don’t always know to allow enough time for these conversations, and this can cause a lot of confusion about the project and frustration for local people. Following their conventions and processes is about respect, and being ready to listen.

The Pied Piper of Comoro

I’ve fallen into a pleasant daily routine here in Dili. I go to language school in the morning until 12:30, then cycle into town to have lunch and do my homework, and when I get home in the afternoon I play my clarinet or flute on the front porch and watch the world go by.

Generally I find that the world also watches me as it goes by, and the young children in particular stop and listen. When they stop by the gate I wave, and if they wave back I tend to strike up a (halting, broken) conversation with them in Tetun. It’s great practice for me, and in return for my music they sometimes share their own music with me.

Today – Saturday – there were more kids around than usual, some older ones that I had met earlier in the week (and interviewed for my Tetun servisu uma (=homework) so I knew their names), and some younger ones that I knew by sight. One of them mimed that he wanted to have a try of the clarinet. I now have enough Tetun to explain that sadly, he can’t, that only I can play this clarinet.

Do you know any songs? I asked them. One or two shyly admitted they did. Mana Dina, who lives on the same block as the house I’m staying in, wandered over to our group, and she explained to me that some of the children go to school but others – she patted them on the head in turn to show me which ones she meant – were not yet at school.

Mana Dina encouraged the school children to sing a song from school for me. They sang a song with actions that I copied. Then the rain started up so we moved over to the patio. Mana Dina instructed all the pre-school children to sit on the tiled floor in a huddle. The older children commandeered the seats. Now that they were warmed up and in place on the patio, they began to sing with great enthusiasm, with an older boy calling out names of new songs to sing every time one finished.

The pre-schoolers looked mostly lost or overawed. It was interesting to see how the school-goers were completely au fait with systems of learning and getting organised, but the younger children looked like it was all going by way too quickly.

I taught them to sing Ram Sam Sam. It’s a good song to start with because it has very few words and they are nonsense words, easy to remember, with actions. I taught it phrase by phrase, using the word ‘prononsia’ that the teachers in my Tetun class say when they want us to repeat a new word after them.

We sang it through a couple of times, and they did very well. So then I got ambitious, and divided them into three groups. I grabbed the words hamriik (stand up) and tuur (sit down) from my memory and told them in my pidgin Tetun to stand up on certain words and sit down on others. This turns Ram Sam Sam into a kind of game, with each team aiming to make sure they only stand up on their words and not on someone else’s.

“Lalais!” (faster) I suggested after each time, and we sang it again faster. Then the children also starting calling for it to go “lalais”. At this stage it was still raining heavily and some older children had turned up with huge golf umbrellas – presumably to fetch their younger siblings and bring them home for tea. Suddenly the group ran off, slipping into their flip-flops and racing away through the downpour. As they ran back home I could hear them singing Ram Sam Sam at the top of their voices.

Sharing songs

I am nearly on my way to East Timor. Just a couple of days to go, but my suitcase is packed, my flat is sublet, and I am in the final throes of preparation.

One of the things I am working on is the best way to take songs with me to Timor. Of course, most of them are in my head, but the chords aren’t always! Also, what sometimes happens is that some songs just don’t come to mind as quickly as others. I know so many fantastic, catchy, beautiful songs from all around the world, but I find that the same old favourites are the ones that come to mind most frequently, and they aren’t always the right songs for the groups I am with. Therefore, I don’t want to rely just on my memory.

Packing to go to a developing country means taking things that you wouldn’t normally need to take when travelling or working away from home. Bed sheets, for example. Bed sheets over there tend to have quite high percentage of polyester in the fabric, and they may not have been washed since they were last used (in fact, they may not have been washed in a very long time, due to water shortages and perhaps lower priority placed on bedding… I don’t know why, actually). Also things like surge protectors. Books to read. This means that luggage weight is an issue so bringing hard copies of song pages isn’t a great option.

I thought about scanning them and saving them in my computer as pdfs or jpgs. This could be quite good as it makes it easier to share. But I don’t have a scanner at home so it isn’t a very practical option for me.

At this stage, I’ve decided to record myself singing the songs, and I’ll also call the chord names out as I go. I’ll record into Garageband and then send the tracks over to iTunes, and then I’ll be able to listen on my iPod. So tonight or tomorrow night, I have a charming night ahead of me, where I will sing my way through my various song collections (aided perhaps by some nice wine). Perhaps I can persuade some friends to join me? One jolly little singalong before I head off?

Timor projects – field recordings and songs

I’m thinking a lot about what musical outcomes I’d like for this Timor residency.

Field recordings

This week I’ve been thinking about some of the people I am likely to meet and music they may be able to share with me. I imagine I’ll be recording a lot of things – songs, conversations, sounds. How might I use this recorded footage? In the past I’ve created soundscapes and recorded textural pieces that weave together field recordings of people and environmental sounds as a backdrop to onstage performance. For this project I’m thinking about using instrumental solos as a foreground over this kind of background.

Tiny will be joining me in Timor from December. He has his own musical priorities for this visit, but he will be bringing his sax with him, and is keen to build his own interactions with local musicians. One thing I am imagining is that Tiny could improvise over the field recording ‘ sound beds’ and that this could become a further performance and/or recorded outcome.

Children’s songs

Something I keen to get stuck into in my first weeks there is building up a collection of children’s songs in the local languages. These can be a mix of songs that I learn from people there, and transcribe/record, and songs that I bring with me that are in English or other languages that can be translated into Tetun and Fataluku. Songs formed a major background of the children’s music projects I worked on in Bosnia in the 1990s. Songs were a way of drawing children together, and introducing them through lyrics to people and places in far-off countries, and to concepts that were supportive of their well-being and happiness. Nigel Osborne is the musician and humanitarian who established the project in Mostar that I was involved with, and I remember him explaining to me:

We started with songs from the local area, as a way of saying to them, Yes! You have a culture and it is a rich musical culture, worthy of celebrating! The River Neretva runs through Mostar, so then we followed the river out to the Mediterranean and introduced songs from countries that have a Mediterranean coast – Dalmatia in Croatia, Italy, Greece, Albania, Tunisia… and many others. The Mediterranean led us to other oceans, and with each new ocean we learned more songs from those countries the ocean touched, until we found ourselves back in Mostar again.

This song project had been running for at least two years by the time I joined the program. When they ran out of oceans, they started with themes, such as Animals. In this way, all the school workshops had a shared focus for activity, and the musicians and teachers could use the songs and the general theme they supported, as a jumping off point for more creative work.

Therefore there is huge currency in songs. My contacts tell me that there is only a very limited range of children’s songs that are sung in Tetun language (and even fewer in Fataluku) so a detailed song resource is something that many people could make use of. It feels like a solid starting point for my residency, and is a project that can be ticking over, a little at a time, throughout the 12 weeks I am there. I also hope to expand outwards from songs into clapping games/songs and dance. I hope that the children there can teach me the games and songs they already know, and that we can enter into an exchange. Earlier this year at the Language School I asked the students to teach me some of the clapping games, songs and rhymes from their country. I filmed their demonstrations, then taught some of them to student teachers at Melbourne University. Those students (who are all younger than me) then taught me clapping games that they remembered from childhood. These kinds of exchanges can stretch very far, very quickly!

First day back at Language School

Both my schools wanted to delay the start of music lessons until Week 4 of term – this week. Today I was at Language School and I had a great day – I was reminded of how much love teaching there!

The school is divided into three classes, with 13 children in each – lower primary, middle primary, and upper primary.

With the Lower Primary class, we had a hit on our hands with the song Mobakomeenofway. (I have not idea if this is how you write the words, but that is how they are pronounced!) It is a call-and-response song, with a chorus that we all sing together. The rough translation is:

Teacher – “Hey everyone, do you want to come out and play?” (Oh wenne makolay, mobakomeenofway)

Everyone – “yeah, yeah, we want to come and play!” (Yeah, yeah, mobakomeenofway)

The chorus repeats mobakomeenofway four times. It’s a catchy tune, and I’ve added quite vigorous actions to it. I’ll try and record it next week so that I can add a sound file here. It is a winner of a song for that age group.

With Middle Primary, we are going to be exploring songs from their countries. I started things off with a Somali song (roughly a quarter of each class is Somali this term). It is the song that my friend Duncan Foster collected and transcribed from students and parents in another Melbourne school, Heybaad Waxaad. It is apparently quite a well-known song, lots of the Somali students recognise it.

I’ve chosen this song for several reasons:

  • It’s a fun and catchy song and I love singing it
  • It gives the Somali children a little bit of additional ‘status’ or pride in themselves and their culture, within the classroom. This was something the class teacher commented on today. She felt that it gave them confidence… there are also sometimes problems with other children rejecting or isolating the African children, and their teacher felt that celebrating a song from Africa was an important way of demonstrating that there is no tolerance at the school for that kind of exclusion.
  • It acted as a useful demonstration of the kind of song they could introduce as being from their country. It let me say, this is a song from Somalia. Who can remember a song that they learned in their country?

This suggestion led to two children (two Somali boys, as it happened) demonstrating clapping games and chants from their country, which they taught all of us. We’ll continue to gather clapping games and other children’s songs next week. I think they left our music lesson on a high.

In Upper Primary, we did some work with instruments. I passed various hand percussion around the circle one at a time, asking the students to demonstrate a sound or rhythm on it – either a rhythm they already knew, or one they improvised on the spot. One boy played a rhythm that reminded me of the opening riff of Dicholo by Ayub Ogada (which I first heard on the soundtrack to the film The Constant Gardener). We developed a four-bar phrase based on his riff, and played in on a range of different instruments, building some different sounds and techniques into the playing. We then finished the lesson by listening to Dicholo, and their eyes widened as they heard the opening riff and recognised its similarity to their own.

Something interesting – the students tend to giggle as soon as the vocals start – I think they hear all unfamiliar languages as sounding quite silly or funny. They all collapsed into giggles and started to roll around on the floor. Well, it was the end of the lesson – they were probably also tired. They only giggle like this the first and second time they hear the vocals. They usually calm down by the third time.

Halfway through the term

I realised today that there are only four more weeks left of this first term. That means that in three weeks time we will have our end-of-term concert, as I am away in the last week of term, so we can’t have it then. Fortunately the three composition projects are taking shape, with some adjustments to my original plans. Here’s the rundown:

Lower Primary

What a gorgeous class this is! So little, and so bright. The teacher and I have been working closely to develop our unit of work, focused around the theme of The Beach. We’ve brainstormed words in music class based on worksheets she has done with the students, so they have lots of vocabulary to contribute, and she is following up any songwriting we do in class too. All of which means we have loads of cool material, that the students feel familiar with.

We’ve got a happy, chirpy chorus that states

We go, we go, we go, we go, we go to the beach

We then have a jaunty verse, describing the things they bring with them to the beach

I’ve got my bucket, I’ve got my spade.

I’ve got my sunhat, I’ve got my sunscreen.

The last line is quite hard for them to say.

Today we added a cautionary middle 8:

Swim between the flags

Swim with the big people

Look out for the board riders

And if you need help, shout

“HELP, help, help. HELP, help, help!”

Which leads back into the chorus. They’ll accompany themselves on the big bass xylophone, and really, we are all having a ball with this song.

Middle Primary

MP have focused most of their work on developing an alphabet dance – a sequence of moves that has a specific movement or gesture for each letter of the alphabet. Today we completed the remaining letters of the alphabet and started to spell out words that they know (which are mostly different types of fruit. Fruit is a big vocab focus this term, it seems).

In addition to the dance, we are doing instrument work. They would probably mutinee if we didn’t – they do love the instruments above all other things we do in music. Every 2 minutes, someone will thrust a hand in the air, wave it at me frantically, saying, “Excuse me! Excuse me!” regardless of what I am saying to the class or in the middle of doing. When I ask them what they want to say, they point to one of the drums (it’s always a drum) and say, sweetly, “Can I play that?” It’s amusing, but definitely annoying after a while.

So… we are making Name Rhythms, where we string four names from the class together and play the rhythm of the syllables on instruments. This composing technique works very well, although it can be a bit limiting in a class with lots of Chinese and African children as they invariably have names of 2 syllables only.  Fortunately this term we have a Thai girl (4 syllables), the class teacher (4 syllables), an Iranian boy (3 syllables) and a Burmese boy (1 syllable) to spice things up.

Upper Primary

There are a lot of new students in UP this term, and most have very little English to work with. My original idea was to bounce off their Food and Cooking theme and do some composing around recipes, but I have decided to shelve that idea, as they simply don’t have the language yet, and the majority wouldn’t understand.

Instead, we will work on some foundations of ensemble music (playing in time, keeping tempo, listening to multiple contrasting lines, starting points for inventing rhythms and melodies) via a fantastic song called Brixton Market.

I taught them this song in the first lesson of the day, and had it in my head for the rest of the day. I bet they did too – it is very catchy. (I just googled the singer and the song and came up with nothing – if anyone reading can provide a link to more info about this excellent song for children, please post it in the comments section). It mentions lots of different foods for sale in the market, so we will probably write a new verse (for one of the Melbourne markets – Preston or Victoria probably, as these are the ones near where the students live).

Taming the Lower Primary class with a song

I had my first productive lesson with Lower Primary students all term yesterday. The odds were stacked against us – it wasn’t my usual day, they weren’t with their usual teacher, and I worked with them straight after lunch rather than first thing in the morning. However, the lesson went very well! So what did we do this week that so captured them?

The focus of this week’s class was on writing a song together, on the theme of ‘names’. Regular readers of this blog will know that the children in this class have spent the whole term using rhythms derived from the syllables of their names to compose instrumental pieces, both melodic and purely rhythmic. I wanted a song to tie all of these sections together.

We started with a quick warm-up. I got straight into it, with no preamble or explanation. I started a clapping pattern and they followed. Then we said our names 1 x 1 around the circle. We did a big stretch to get the oxygen flowing, and then we sat down on the floor and I asked them all to face the white board.

We brainstormed sentences with the word ‘name’ in them. What is your name? That is my name. Why do we have names? I asked, hoping to get some more unusual sentences. But that was a difficult question for them to answer. I didn’t push it, but kept things moving.

Brainstorming words like this can be tricky for those children with less English, or who struggle with reading. I didn’t want to spend too long on this task. Very rapidly I scanned our list of words and sentences and started to pull some out that I felt had strong musical qualities. I asked Ally (our music intern student from Melbourne University) to play a simple ostinato on the notes C and G on the violin. I invented the first line, and said it to them, and asked volunteers to sing it back to me, looking for a possible melody. We then, together, chose another 2 lines, devised melodies for them, and our song was complete.

After this, we passed untuned percussion instruments out among the class. Some played djembes and drums, the others a variety of small hand-held instruments (cabassa, guiro, tambourine, wood block). In two groups, we played the name-rhythms we had invented in previous weeks. We then practiced alternativing singing the song with playing the rhythms. This took us up to the end of the lesson.

In all I had their full and focused attention for an hour. Given that in last week’s lesson there was defiance, tears and uncontrolled giggling, I felt very relieved! Here is the song we wrote, which I personally think is quite delightful!

Tell me, tell me, tell me, what’s your name, what’s your name?

Tell me, tell me, tell me, what’s your name, what’s your name?

What is a name? A name is what we call you.

What is a name? A name is what we call you.

This is my name. What is your name?

This is my name. What is your name?