Archive for the ‘lyrics’ 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.

Three strategies for songwriting

Songwriting is a regular feature in my workshops and projects. Creating their own songs gives participants a very tangible, share-able outcome of their musical creativity, is an experience that offers infinite creative choice and highlights participants’ voices, and can be a vehicle for exploring themes of particular relevance or importance to the group. In this post I share three ways into songwriting – creating initial melodies and lyrics that establish the feel and sentiment of the song –  – that I have used in some recent projects. Continue reading

Forever Young in Fataluku

Here is another video from my four months in East Timor. One of the enduring songs during my time in Lospalos was the pop song Forever Young. Initially I decided to translate the song in the local Fataluku language (with the help of local people of course) as a gift for the teenage girl who cooked all my meals for me, because she liked the song so much and wanted to know what the words meant. Later, the song took hold with the group of young people who used to gather on the veranda each afternoon for a jam session.

I created a simple accompaniment on the chime bars for the song, and a teenage boy volunteered to be our Chief Guitarist. We ended up performing our version of this song live on local radio one evening.

This video shows the progression towards that performance:

Brainstorm for new song

Last week I started a songwriting project with Middle Primary at the Language School. We have been working all term on some instrumental music, but have recently been invited to perform in Refugee Week celebrations at the end of term, so I decided to add a song to our composition.

We brainstormed together, and I wrote their words on the whiteboard. Orienting questions included:

  • Is it easy or difficult when you come to a new country. [Everyone said ‘difficult’]. What sorts of things are difficult?
  • How do you feel? How did you feel when you first arrived?
  • What do you miss from your old country?

Below are some of the results of this brainstorm. Some of their words are very poignant, such as the reference to ‘suffering’, and the sadness of saying goodbye to friends and a country you would like to be able to stay in. In the end, we only used a few key phrases in our song – we’ve written a song that will be ideal for audience participation, as it has a ‘response’ that repeats constantly throughout the song.

Music lesson 0006

Music lesson 0004

Music lesson 0005

More ESL composing

When I finished school today I got called off to a couple of meetings, and I forgot to go back to the music room to copy and notate from the white board all the composing we did today. So here is a quick summary:

Upper Primary finished another section of their Aranea music, for Refugee Week. Today we made a piece called The White Room, depicting the time when Aranea has escaped the brutality of the storm, only to find herself in a bright white room, with no dark corners in which to hide. She still feels scared and vulnerable, bu is also thankful that the storm is outside, and she is now inside.

Our music is very atmospheric and eerie. Not a tune or melody in earshot!

It starts with a high, thin harmonic on the violin, long and unrelenting. Next, the sound of a hand-held cymbal with a metal stick being dragged slowly around its rim. Then the triangle, held in such a way as to deaden the sound, and played with a stick jiggled tightly in one of the corners of the triangle (sorry for the word ‘jiggled’. What does one call this movement?) In any case, it is very effective, sounding like teeth chattering, or thin bones trembling. Then, 2 more cymbals, this time being brushed with a metal stick in a fast, outward ‘whisk’ movement, every 5 seconds or so.

The rest of the class are dancers and singers, with 2 further children on drums, and one on cabassa. They stand in two rows, in a frightened stance, with their shoulders hunched and a hand in a small fist near the mouth.

They walk their feet quietly in unison. 1, 2, 3, 4. They say the following words every four beats, continuing their stamps:

Scared. (2, 3, 4) Nervous. (2, 3, 4)

Lonely. (2, 3, 4) Outside. (2, 3, 4).

Her heart is running very fast! (The stamping stops on this phrase, and the instrumental group also stops playing. The rhythm of this phrase is then echoed on the two drums).

She can’t hide anywhere. Someone could come and kill her! (The rhythm phrase is echoed on the cabassa and violin, and all the cymbals and triangle, held so as to deaden the sound).

The sound then stops dead and everybody freezes. End of section.

We have one more section to compose. I think it will be a song, a quiet, tired song, when Aranea makes it to a more sheltered place and can finally collect herself.

We will then recap the opening song and music.

Middle Primary continued their musical time-capsule. They keep amazing me with their gifts for melody and part-singing. Today we looked at Journey words, and my aim was to gather a list of types of transportation the children in the class had used to get to Australia.

Some of the stories and memories were very poignant. Some of the phrases that emerged were immediately sing-able. It quickly became a song, made up of vocal ostinati, in two parts:

Car and plane and bus, then train. Car and plane and bus, then train. Car and plane and bus, then train. Car and plane and bus, then train.

From Afghanistan to Islamabad! From Afghanistan to Islamabad!

Car to grandma, car to plane. Leipzig to Frankfurt and Singapore.

We waited… 2 hours. We waited … 4 hours. We waited… 8 hours. We waited 16 hours!

So sleepy, my dad had to carry me. So sleepy, my dad had to carry me

It ends very quietly, with each of the children whispering the length of time their own journey took to get here: “It took 3 days…” “It took 24 hours…” “It took 8 hours…” The whispering continues but gradually gets quieter and quieter, until, on my cue, it stops.

You can listen to it here:

No more composing needed for Middle Primary. Now we need to rehearse and memorise our four sections of music.

Lower Primary today were a bit unsettled. No, in fact, very unsettled. My plan this week was to set their Name Rhythms to specific pitches (that they would choose), to build up three layers, or two call-and-response patterns. By the end of the lesson, we had kind of succeeded in working out the latter, but I have no idea how much of the whole task and process the children were comprehending. It was one of those days for them, I feel.