Archive for the ‘clarinet’ Tag

Desert Music in City Beats

In City Beats this week we created music about The Desert. Four groups from four schools came to ArtPlay over two days, and each group created four sections of music – a song, a melody, a soundscape and a rhythmic groove. At the end of the workshop we discussed how to structure and order the four sections of music, and finished with a recorded performance of the whole piece.

City Beats, ArtPlayThis was our first City Beats project for the year, so we will see the children and their teachers 3 more times across 2013. I see the first workshop as a time for all of us to get to know each other, and for the children and teachers to get a sense of what they will be doing each time they come to ArtPlay for City Beats.  We started the session with introductions, with the MSO musicians introducing ourselves and demonstrating our instruments. Then we did a quick rhythmic warm-up, including a name game in which everyone had to say their name in turn (thus demonstrating to the groups that their voices and contributions mattered), and a fast-clap-around-the-circle, which quickened the group’s responses and got them relaxed and laughing.

Then we brainstormed ideas about the desert (things you might see, hear or find there) and divided into smaller groups to start the composing process. I took charge on the songwriting groups.

Lyrics, Dandenong PS. City Beats 2013There were many memorable and special moments across the two days of workshops. I loved seeing the way the children I worked with took charge of things. In the first group, we made the mistake of setting the pitch of our song much too low for the children’s voices. I waited to see how they might solve the problem. One girl started to sing the song a fifth up – it sounded cool! – then said to me, “We need to change it because it doesn’t… feel -” she hesitated to find the words, so I said, “Because it’s too low? To  make it higher?” “Yes,” she said emphatically. “It needs to be higher.” I got her to sing it on her own, matched her chosen pitches on the clarinet, and we found we had a much more effective melody than the one we’d started with.

I asked a girl in one of my groups to hold my clarinet for me while I wrote lyrics on the whiteboard. “You just have to be careful of the very top of it,” I assured her. “That’s the only bit than can break easily.” She took it from me carefully. As I wrote I could hear the other children in the group whispering to her, “You’re so lucky you get to hold it!” “Can I have a turn?”  I imagined them leaning toward the clarinet to have a closer look. I wondered if the little girl would be warning them off, or examining it for herself. I didn’t turn around to look. When I’d finished writing, I turned to her and she passed the clarinet back to me, holding it at exactly the angle it had been at when I’d passed it to her. I felt truly touched at the care she’d taken. “Thank you for looking after my instrument so carefully and so beautifully,” I told her.

Some children sought out possible rhymes for their lyrics. A good rhyme can make a song catchier and easier to remember, but a forced rhyme can feel very cumbersome and awkward, so I don’t tend to put too much emphasis on rhyming in a fast-paced songwriting session. However, these children initiated the idea. In one song, we had the lyrics:

Rattle, rattle, rattle, the rattlesnake goes

Swish, swish swish the wind blows the palm trees.

One of the group said suddenly, “Can we cross out these words?”, pointing to “the palm trees”. “Sure,” I said, but then realised why – it was so that the line would end with “blows”, in order for it to rhyme with “goes” in the previous line. I hadn’t noticed that possibility. Once we had the shorter line, we realised it needed an extra word to make it scan properly. It was easy to add an adjective at that point.

Lyrics, Dandenong North PS, City Beats 2013

I love the set-up of the verses of the song above – I think the idea of having a ‘sound’ word repeated three times as a way of introducing a feature of the desert is a very 10-year-old approach – and therefore highly appropriate – to lyric-writing! They tried some others – “walk walk walk, the camel goes”, but they weren’t as convincing. If they’d said ‘spit’ or ‘bump’ I may have been persuaded :-).

One of the groups came from an English Language School (an intensive English language-focused school for children who are newly-arrived in Australia; students can spend 6-12 months at language school before transitioning to mainstream school). Their desert song was the only one that featured Australian desert animals like dingos and kangaroos.

Lyrics, NPELS, City Beats

The City Beats ‘Desert’ workshop structure felt very effective and time-efficient – I think I may use it as a template for the remaining City Beats workshops. Dividing into 4 small groups gives us a range of musical responses that can be ordered and combined, and it means that over the course of the year, the children will gain skills and confidence in different group-composing approaches.

The instrument maker

Lospalos, day 96

We have discovered that our next door neighbour is a culture man, someone with knowledge about traditional instruments and how to make them. Timorese instruments are intricately connected with both the local environment and local rituals. For example, the kakalos we made on the weekend (following his design) were used by children in the fields, with the job of scaring away birds that might try and eat the crops. The hooters that he makes by twisting long coconut palm fronds into circular pyramids, with a folded piece of leaf making a double reed in the mouthpiece, also probably had a use originally as a ‘scarer’. Other instruments and music are connected with the rituals of every day life – such as the stone griding songs (I haven’t found any of these), and others are connected with more sacred rituals and celebrations.

He looked at my clarinet in detail one day, examining the way the silverwork keys allow you to close and open holes that are too far away for your fingers to reach. He liked this design – I understood him explaining it to someone else, “Look, see how this key here is augmenting the instrument”.

When he makes instruments – the small hooters, the kakalo, or a flute from narrow pieces of bamboo, his many children and other family members also gather round. We got the impression they might not have known that their father could make these things. Or perhaps our presence next door, with all our blowing instruments, have reminded him of all the things he knows how to make.

Certainly, in the time I’ve been here, quite a number of ‘blowing’ instruments have appeared in the street. We’ve seen kids blowing pieces of tubing, or on bottles, and even a plastic recorder has made an appearance, passed from person to person.

He made a comment about the complexity of the clarinet compared with his bamboo flute. If my Tetun had been up to it, I’d have liked to be able to talk more about this with him – about how the instruments we play were developed for their own specific environment and set of rituals, as well as the way that they denoted power and status to those who could employ them. The Timorese instruments have also developed in response to their environment and the rituals in which they were used. What I like in traditional or indigenous music settings like Timor is the way that music performance is so often participatory, and linked to key community events. Western art music, on the other hand, has developed along a presentational model, and this – along with a perceived ‘higher status’ – is one of the things that can make it so excluding or remote for the general population.

Thoughts on concert-going

It’s occurred to me recently that going to a concert is no longer the huge attraction it once was. In the past, concerts were opportunities for connection with other performers, with friends and colleagues (both on the stage and in the audience), and to be moved or transfixed by the music.

Nowadays, I feel more reticent to head out. Perhaps this is a result of too many Melbourne Festival tickets bought for performances that failed to please. Perhaps it is a delayed reaction to the many, many orchestral concerts I went to, in the days that I worked for an orchestra. Mostly though, I have to confess that it is a response to the growing sense that I often have after going to a concert (or any other performance) of a kind of blankness, when I wake up the next day and have absolutely no reaction to it. It is simply…. nothing, really. An experience that hasn’t really impacted on me (in the true sense of the word) in any way. It isn’t about ‘like’ or ‘dislike’.

It seems a ridiculously tall order, but I want my performance-going to be life-changing. I want to come home and have it rolling over in my head, again and again. Questions, or issues, or ideas, or challenges, or puzzles to ponder. Or delights, or a remembered experience of connection with the music and the expression of the artists.

It has become a kind of assessment tool, in a way, prior to buying tickets. “Will it be worth it?” by which I mean the investment of effort and the time on my part, rather than the actual cost.

Last week I went to the Melbourne Recital Centre to hear the Melbourne Chamber Orchestra perform three works under the baton of Sir Neville Marriner. Andrew Marriner (his son) played the Mozart Clarinet Concerto.

How was this concert for me, given the above criteria? Well, I know that I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the company I was with, and I very much enjoyed the orchestra’s playing, as I haven’t heard them for quite a few years.

I loved Andrew Marriner’s performance of the clarinet concerto. It’s a piece I know very, very well, and it was truly a delight to hear such familiar lines being performed so well. There is a delightful fluency, or lightness, in the writing. (I know, it is silly to comment on the delicious craft of Mozart’s writing as we all know he was a genius… but truly, this is such a wonderful piece, and as I listened to it I was reminded of this again, and again, and again…). I enjoyed noticing some of the interpretive decisions Marriner made – his choices in articulation, or in cadenza. I know that he studied with the same teacher I studied with for a year, so I listened for ‘Hans-isms’ in his playing too.

But here is the life-changing bit: it made me want to go straight home and dig out my well-loved score of the concerto, and my Music Minus One CDs, and play it again! I think this is a fine concert experience to have. It reminded me of how I loved playing this piece, way back in my classical performing days, how much I love its phrases, harmonies and structures still, and that these are still there for me to return to, whenever I want.

I haven’t yet had time to get my clarinet out, but I shall, very soon. And I am looking forward to revisiting the Mozart Concerto when I do.

On another note, I realised that night that the traditional concert length no longer suits me. I would have been happy to go home after the Mozart, as there was so much to digest and process from the experience of the first half of the concert. This is absolutely not meant as a disparaging comment on what took place in the second half. The second half of the program was a new work by the Melbourne-based composer (and virtuoso organist) Calvin Bowman. He wrote a song cycle, English in tone and turn, with echoes of Finzi, Delius and even Michael Head and Warlock (to my ears) which was absolutely gorgeous, filled with light and shade and colour. We had the treat of hearing the songs performed by a lovely soprano, Jacqueline Porter… so really, it was all quite delightful.

However, as we walked to the car, I commented to John my companion that the first half of the concert now felt like a distant memory, our heads were so full of the most recent piece we had heard.

Thus, I find myself fully in favour of shorter concerts that allow patrons adequate time for reflection and digestion. Or perhaps concerts with a dinner break between the first and second halves.

This week’s flowers

Yellow roses… lovely! I love having flowers in the house. They are beautiful to focus on when I raise my gaze away from my qualitative data analysis books to think for a moment.

They were a gift. Lucky me…


What does this weekend hold? I went to my Italian class this morning – the first Saturday class I have been able to get to all term, and it was lots of fun. The teacher and I chatted about the Shonberg Ensemble’s concert, at which I glimpsed him, across the foyer. He loved the concert too.

Then home to do some clearing up – clearing the way for a weekend of study and data analysis (in case you hadn’t guessed… I don’t read those tomes for fun). But soon this afternoon I shall head off to the wonderful Mr Franzke’s Prahran studio to do some playing for him. He needs some clarinet tones, so I shall happily oblige. Nice to play… it’s for a film project I think.


Getting back into the swing of things here. I have a few projects in my head now:

  • Upcoming 2-day course for teachers that I am co-leading for the Song Room with Sarah Young, drama and story specialist, who is also an early years specialist. Two days of creative work and music.  Today we had a planning session and brainstorm, and left feeling very energised and buzzy about our ideas.
  • Prison project. In about a month, we will finally start the Orchestra’s composition project with prisoners in one of Melbourne’s prisons. This project has been in the planning for more than two years. It is a real ‘first’ for the Orchestra. At the moment I am putting together a CD of reference music for the musicians and I, to give some ideas about the kinds of things we might create. There is a whole range of stuff on it, from Topology (Brisbane-based ensemble, very interesting), Steve Reich, Jacques Brel, Komitas (Armenian composer). I am yet to start planning the workshop sessions, but building up a picture in my head.
  • Language School 08 – I am meeting with the teachers tomorrow to talk through ideas. One thought I have had is to continue with the project I started last year, building music pieces from text. But I am also keen to sit down with the teachers, look through the full range of previous projects, and get their thoughts on what the strongest ones were.
  • Performing – my performing ambitions are to the fore once more. I have some Brel songs I want to learn (in French), and some Bosnian sevdah (in Bosnian). There is also a song by the Modena City Ramblers (Irish music in style, but sung in Italian – crazy!) that I think will work well. I want to figure out accompaniments that I could play on the accordion. They will have to be easy, because I can’t really play accordion. But I want to sing the songs.
  • Plus, I am now in Masters-land again. Need to put my Ethics application in asap. Which means defining my research question and how I will approach it. More on that later, as a separate post.

So, finally, this blog is Back On-Topic. Thanks to all those who stayed with me through the travel.

Singing sevdah

Christmas in Sarajevo with K’s mother was particularly special and memorable. Firstly, she made a special cheese pie (sirnica) for our breakfast. Then, in the evening, I got my clarinet out and started playing some of the sevdah (traditional Bosnian songs) that I remembered. K’s mother and auntie were there, along with K and Kemo (his cousin) and it was an instant party. Everyone sang, and I mined my memory for different songs. K and his mother would also sing some to me, line by line, so that I could play them.

Then more relatives arrived. I assumed it was a planned gathering, but K told me later that his mother had got on the phone and called all her siblings, saying, “Come over, come over, Dzil is playing clarinet, we are singing sevdah.” Soon a crowd had gathered, and the songs and wine flowed fast.

 K also whispered to me that this is not something that they normally do, and it is very special for them to sing these old songs together, very positive. He said that it needed a catalyst, like me being there with my clarinet, to make it possible for everyone to relax together in this way. He also said they were very impressed by the way I could pick the songs up while they sang them! Good to know those years of solfege training prepare you so well for something like this!

Everyone sang, even Kemo who was only 11 years old when he left Bosnia for Norway. I asked him where he had learned the songs, wondering if his parents had sung them, if he remembered them from his childhood years in Bosnia, or if he had learned them later. (It is an ongoing curiousity for me, what happens to the musical culture of people who are displaced from their homelands). He said that he learned them mostly with his friends, other Bosnians living in Norway, during and after the war. When they got together at parties they would often sing the sevdah songs, so this is how he knows them.

There were frequent tears this night, as many of the songs are sad and very emotional. The first song that I played, right at the start  of the evening, was one that I had been told was partiuclarly special for people. However, later in the evening, K translated the words for me, and I was alarmed at how stark and unflinching the song is about the horrors of war and the possibility of young soldiers not returning. I had offered this as a song to play?? Such a responsibility I had assumed, so blithely!

Return of the Armenian Mafia

Our concert on Tuesday night in The Club was a great success, and a very emotional experience for us all. What a week this has been! We have seen so many beautiful things (I will write about these and add photos in the next few days, I hope) but it is the reconnection with old and dear friends that has been the most memorable and moving part of the trip.

We had a packed house at The Club. It is an atmospheric space, underground, with stone walls and a series of different rooms, separated by short stairways and curtains. During the days, and on non-concert evenings, it is a restaurant and cafe, but for concerts it is transformed into a performance venue, with rows of chairs, and bean bags on the floor at the front.

Anna introduced us to the audience as friends from the European Mozart Academy, where we were affectionately referred to as the ‘Armenian Mafia’ (there was also a Russian Mafia, Polish Mafia, French Mafia, American Mafia…) – so this was the name of our reunion concert. She is such a skilled and thoroughly engaging presenter, who charms the audience with great ease, and makes them laugh. Between pieces she told stories from our time at the Academy, including one of her own experiences of travelling with a small group to Budapest for a concert, and getting chucked off the train at the Slovakian border. She was new to the Academy and had no English at all. But on that night, she told the audience, she learned her first English word, ‘sh*t’, from the Academy Director who had got off the train with her. The audience roared.

Then she and Margarit performed songs and my! they are wonderful, beautiful performers! They are so good together! I am just in awe sometimes.

We performed European music in the first half of the programme – German Lieder, a Handel aria (Dignare) with violin solo, the Spohr songs with Clarinet and voice, two wonderful zarazuela songs, and we closed the first half with my arrangement of Piazzolla’s Oblivion, for the four of us.

The second half was Armenian music – a piano solo by Maragarit of Babajanyan’s Elegie, CP and Margarit performing Komitas, some traditional unaccompanied songs sung by Anna (joined by one of her students), and then the Khachaturian Trio. We offered an arrangement of Moon River, again for the four of us, as our ‘bis’ (encore), and while this music is light compared to much of the rest of the programme, it felt incredibly wistful and nostalgic as we performed it that night, and was a beautiful, poignant way to end the concert. Tears in our eyes, but smiling faces all round. Such a special thing to be able to do together and share with people.

The whole concert was filmed for broadcast on Armenian television, and the four of us were also interviewed separately. I was asked questions about how difficult it was (or wasn’t) to play Armenian music and make it sound Armenian, if I’d enjoyed my visit to Armenia, what did I like best, and what would I change. I’ll post links to this footage when it is available.

At the end of the concert I took a photo of the audience – how could I not?!


Armenian concert

Here is the listing to our concert in Armenia:It is at a venue called The Club. “Ten years on…. friends from the European Mozart Academy”. My name is mis-spelled, but that may be an issue of transliteration from the Armenian alphabet.

Exciting to see it in print…C and I are practising hard!

CP practises

Last days in Paris

It’s a bit alarming to realise that I’m leaving for Armenia the day after tomorrow. Thus I have been doing my best to be a better tourist and see a few more of the key sites.

I had an excellent walk through Belleville on Friday, and met S for lunch in Little India; I went to the Porte de Vanves flea market on Saturday morning, followed by a pleasurable wander through the local street market that was set up in Place de Breteuil, right at the base of the building of which the garret flat is at the top (I bought fresh roasted potatoes and some lasagne for my lunch); Saturday evening was interesting as we went to a Democrats fundraiser – but I’ll write about that separately.

Sunday I attempted to get to Bercy village but got a bit sidetracked along the Promenade Plante which is a gorgeous walking track along a disused viaduct that I thought might take me towards Bercy… but as it turned out I walked in totally the wrong direction, towards Bois de Vincennes, (Vincennes Woods) – which is almost off the Lonely Planet map. (Was a bit unimpressed with the Lonely Planet directions actually). Fortunately a passer-by helped me work out where I was. He was an interesting chap – he told me about a trip he’d made to Antarctica to set up a geo-tracking system at the French base there.

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Listening and making

Last week I presented a talk at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM), attended by students and staff of the Academy and members of the public. I spoke on The role of an elite musician in the community. It went pretty well, I felt, with some good discussion at the end that various members of the audience weighed into.

I’ll post my paper here very soon, but in the meantime some interesting points were raised that I felt required further discussion, in which two questioners made a distinction between music-making and music-listening. The first questioner suggested that these were two separate things (in particular when thinking about music education and the kinds of community-based roles elite musicians might play) . The second person, a student, made the comment that, while she loves to play, she doesn’t really like listening to music, and doesn’t enjoy going to concerts.

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