Archive for the ‘Dampier Peninsula’ Tag

Musicians in the community

We have been made very welcome here in Djarindjin-Lombadina, a small and remote Aboriginal community on the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia. It’s a beautiful part of the world, quite remote as it is only connected to Broome by 200km of unsealed, sandy road. There are two little shops, selling a small range of groceries and fishing gear. There is lots of green grass and many handsome trees.

On Saturday evening we took part in a community jam in the school hall with a couple of musicians from the Aboriginal community, three of the teachers (a pianist, a percussionist, and a singer-guitarist), and a crowd of kids. We jammed on various popular hits (Doobie Brothers, Van Morrison, Michael Jackson – those universal classics). We also played around with a 12-bar blues, inventing lyrics, getting the kids to sing, taking turns with the microphone.

The jam group

Saturday night Jam, Djarindjin-Lombadina (Gillian Howell)

It was a magic evening. I gave my camera to the children and they took photo after photo of themselves, doing hip poses and pulling silly faces. Lots of photos!

Posing for the camera, Djarindjin-LombadinaLittle boy Djarindjin-Lombadina

Where's the drummer gone?I asked one little girl to take a photo of the drummer for me. She came back with this photo, showing it to me on the screen at the back of the camera. “But where’s Willie?” I asked, showing her the photo. And she looked at it again and started giggling. I think Willie must have decided to duck down when she took the photo. She would have been standing in front of him for a while, taking care to set up her photo. Such a teaser! Yep. It was a fun night.

Apparently, this is the first time that this kind of music-making has taken place between the teacher community and the indigenous community, and the teachers were so, so pleased. I don’t know that we can take credit for it happening, due to our presence or influence – I have the impression that the local elders were already planning to have a bit of a jam around now, because they have a gig coming up next week. I think we were just very lucky that it happened on our first weekend. It was a wonderful way to get to know some of the children and just hang out. Music provides the meeting ground. We build rapport and some shared experiences, and hopefully we’ll be able to extend these when our project starts in earnest next week.

In any case, being musicians in a community isn’t just about working with the kids. It’s about contributing wherever we can or wherever it is wanted. We went along to Mass this morning (the school is a Catholic school, and the mission is an old Catholic mission, so those traditions are still maintained in the community) and played music for the start of the service. Neither of us are regular mass-goers, but it is an authentic and appreciated way for us to contribute to community life. It’s a very beautiful church, by the way. It has a roof thatch made from paperbark – one of the only remaining examples of this style – and it is 100 years old.

Lombadina paperbark church (Gillian Howell)

We have also talked with the teachers about their musical interests, and there are ways that we may be able to support the music projects that are part of their non-teaching lives here in Lombadina. At this stage, it is looking like the 12-bar blues could feature strongly in our end-of-residency concert, with solos for each teacher and a song created by the kids.

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Residencies in the far north-west

I would be the first to say I have an enviable life in music. I work with new ideas in every workshop, alongside some fabulous musicians and inspiring first-timers, and spend lots of my days immersed in the buzz and intensity of creating new compositions. Occasionally I’m invited to lead this work in some pretty extraordinary parts of the world, a privilege I am always both thrilled and humbled to accept.

Camels heading home, Broome June 2013So please don’t hate me too much when I confess that I am writing this post to the hum of a ceiling fan, with an accompaniment of crickets, in a beautifully-appointed room in the Cable Beach Club Resort in Broome, in the far north-west of Australia. Earlier this evening I watched the sun set over beautiful Cable Beach, while a train of camels made its way up the road from the beach to wherever they bunk down for the night. Broome is almost the diagonal opposite point on the Australian continent from Melbourne, a world away in climate, environment, ambience and culture. I’m getting ready for workshops as part of Tura New Music’s 2013 Remote Residency project.

We kicked off today at St Mary’s College in Broome. I’m up here with Tony Hicks, versatile musician extraordinaire (Tony is regular collaborator – we’ve worked together on projects for the Australian Art Orchestra and also in Timor-Leste. He is my life partner so we tend to look out for opportunities to work together). I’ll write about this one-day workshop in more detail in my next post. We worked with the primary school choir, writing a song together. In the afternoon the year 10 rock band joined us and by the end of the day we’d created a new composition that the choir and band can perform together for Naidoc festivities in a few weeks time.

On Thursday (tomorrow) we head a bit further north and west to the Dampier Peninsula, where we will visit two remote communities and schools. The communities are a couple of hours away from Broome (and 30-60 minutes away from each other), along an unsealed road that was closed last week because of many days of unseasonal heavy rain. It’s been dry the last few days, and is expected to be fine for Thursday. We’ll spend a week in each community.

Gillian and Tony at ABC Kimberley, June 2013Yesterday was a day of media calls – I did a phone interview with a local commercial radio breakfast show, and then Tony and I did an interview and short live performance for local ABC radio (a clarinet and soprano saxophone improvisation). We emphasised the open-ended nature of these residencies. “It’s a collaboration”, I said in each interview. “We’re going to make the work together. Tony and I will guide it, and set a process in place that encourages forth the young people’s ideas and contributions, but we don’t know any more than that about what the final outcome will be, or sound like”.

I like the element of risk and possibility that is inherent in this way of working. In an authentic collaboration, it has to be this way, I think. How can you pre-determine things if you don’t even know the people you are going to be working with? How can you know it will be a good fit? I’ve never been to this part of the world before. I don’t want to make assumptions about people, I want us to meet and find our common ground, so that the music grows from that, without being contained or restricted by any pre-determined outcomes. I like to be taken by surprise.