Archive for the ‘music project’ Tag

A stumbling block a day…

Wednesday, day 70

I am now getting used to the small stumbling blocks that my project and best-laid plans come up against on a regular basis. The first of the week was on Monday, when we went to meet with a local representative of the Ministry of Culture who, the first time I met him, smiled constantly and happily agreed to work with us in creating a music project for children here. He would gather the children for us, make the Ministry of Culture workshop venue available to us, and yes, he was even happy for me to participate in his traditional music group that meets three times a week, to indulge my interest in Timorese traditional music. The second time we met with him, he told m sadly that I would need to write a letter of permission to his boss if I wanted to learn any Timorese traditional music. I did this, and I know that he got a reply from his boss giving him the go-ahead. When I met with him this week, he told me I couldn’t learn any traditional music because I wasn’t here for long enough, and it wasn’t worth it. And he didn’t think he could gather any children because, didn’t I know it was school holidays? (a fact which he’d thought would make it easier to gather them, the first time we met). Lastly, he didn’t think we could use his venue. Well, we could, but we’d have to pay for it. “But Senor,” said N, the person assisting us. “You have already promised Mana Gillian she can use the venue at no cost!”  Ah yes, well, that was then. The situation is different now.

At that stage, there seemed little point in continuing. In anyone’s culture, this person had zero interest in seeing this project come together through any help of his.

“Don’t worry,” N reassured us as we walked away, incredulous. “He is not the only culture person in Lospalos. We can talk to other people about all these things.”

“He’s just a public servant,” said Tony. “He doesn’t want to do anything more than he needs to do. It’s the week before Christmas, he gets paid regardless, there’s nothing in it for him, he just wants a quiet week sitting behind his desk, looking important.”

The second stumbling block came in the form of a text message for me first thing this morning from the woman who has had the role of assisting me in this project from the beginning. She was invaluable in Baucau, translating, kid-wrangling, keeping everything running smoothly, and having umpteen ideas about how she’d like to do it differently in Lospalos in January. Her text message today told me that she would no longer be working with me because she has taken a job somewhere else. But not to worry, because she has replaced me with her sister, who speaks English “even better than me” and who is “just the same as me”. She just hasn’t got the benefit of all those earlier experiences. I’m not saying the swap won’t work out – it may. But it is certainly quite a surprise.

My third stumbling block has been developing an unexpected allergy to fish. This came up last week, and I thought it was part of the Chikungunya virus symptoms. But when I ate fish from a stall on the way to Lospalos from Dili last Friday, I came out in a horrible rash (worse than the Chikungunya rash of the week before), all over my limbs, and accompanied by itchy, swollen hands and feet. It’s taken all the protein out of my diet – I was eating fish nearly every day here before this allergy decided to emerge! So today I asked Valda if she could find me a chicken. “Sure,” she said. “You can buy a chicken.” (There are certainly plenty running around). “But do you know how to prepare it?” I asked her. (Because I certainly don’t!) She just laughed reassuringly. Sure enough, she came home this afternoon carrying a chicken, still alive. But not for long. We had barbecued chicken for dinner, rubbed in a marinade made with onions, fresh turmeric, ginger, and limes. I’m happy to have had a protein hit in my diet tonight. Apologies to all the vegetarians who would prefer I stay on my music education topic.

The Right to Education – our second day of workshops

Today at 8am Tony and I rocked up to the workshop venue and found that the team had everything ready. The banners were already up, most of the children had already arrived (I think they are mostly from one school in particular which is in the local area of the arts centre, so they can all be collected on the way to the workshp venue), and the instruments were out and unpacked.

Yesterday we focused on the idea that from the moment a person is born they have the same human rights as every other person. We made a piece of music that started from the idea of the first breath. Today, the plan was to complete that piece of music with the children, and then move onto another right – the Right to Education (our focus topics were chosen in response to our initial discussions with the children about what they knew about human rights).

So first to Moris, the piece of music we’d created with blown bamboo pieces, chime bars, guitar, djembe and singing. We had all the material created, but this morning we needed to put the structure together and ensure everyone knew what to do.

We divided the children into two groups, both including bamboo blowers and chime bars. Group 1 had the notes related to C major, and we rehearsed them so that they repeated their patterns 4 times. Group 2 had the notes related to D, and they also practised repeating four times in a row. We put the two groups together and they tag-teamed in and out. One of the Afalyca team is a great guitarist, so we got him to start the piece with a guitar solo of the song melody. From this we launched into the instrumental music, and from that into the song. At the end of the song we go back into the instrumental music and gradually get quieter to finish.

It’s so important in these initial workshops for the children to see how all these ideas can get put together into a piece. I know that for many of them, there were no apparent links between all the different things they were being asked to do. By the end of the first day we had the instrumental music finished, but only the words to the song, not the melody. Putting it all together today was for some of them the first tangible example they had of how this group-composing process could work, and what the results were like.

From this important experience of understanding and success, we went on to consider a how to depict the Right To Education. Again we started with a discussion – “Why is education important?” The children suggested things like, “Because you can learn languages/you can learn to do maths”. But why is that important? we asked. We divided them into groups and asked each group to write one sentence in answer to the question, “Why is education important?” Tony reminded them that education and learning can also happen outside of school, and lots of them seized upon this idea with enthusiasm. It was a good process, and the outcomes were interesting… after a time we started to approach concepts rather than purely concrete things. They suggested the importance of things like providing an inspiration and motivation for otherssharing the fruits of your knowledge with others, developing your talent by extending your technique and skills, and even learning religious doctrine in order to find salvation!

From this process we developed 5 or 6 sentences. We then established a pulse to see what potential rhythms were suggested by the words. The rhythms started to fall into melodies (as they are wont to do) and Tony started up a guitar accompaniment, which gave all of us a huge lift of energy, and suddenly we found we had another song.

During one of the breaks, a drumming improvisation had broken out. We now decided to build on those skills and ideas, and created a song structure that had sung verses interspersed with percussion and playing. We devised a call-and-response introduction (one of Tony’s ‘signature’ strategies, and always very effective), and had all the kids playing instruments – either bamboo sticks played as claves, or djembes. We sang the song through several times, giving everyone the chance to make sense of the structure.

We all felt very satisfied at the end of this day. We’d achieved a lot with the children, but also with each other. It felt today like we’d been a very strong workshop team. It enabled us to laugh together about an out-of-the-blue request from the UN that somewhere in the middle of our Right To Play concert on Sunday, we include a quiz about Human Rights where we give away t-shirts to the people with the right answers. Why can’t we just give the t-shirts to the children to wear? I asked Marqy? That would just as effective a public education strategy, and they would look great. This wasn’t in our proposal! We’re still undecided as to how we are going to approach this request.

Music idea – olohoto

This is a post I wrote a few weeks ago, and I have only just realised it never got posted. It’s just a little story, but describes one of my first ideas for the Lospalos music performance. Now, at time of writing (23 November) there are many more ideas. But this one was one of the first.

Thursday, day 32 (4 November 2010)

There is a bird that I keep hearing here in Lospalos. Its song is beguiling – it sings a row of eight (sometimes seven) descending tones – sme quarter-tones, some semi-tones. I’ve asked a few people about the bird and have learned it is called an olohoto in the local language (Fataluku). It doesn’t have a name in Tetun, apart from manu fuik, which according to my little dictionary just means ‘wild bird’, as opposed to manu, which means chicken.

Mana Er told me this morning that there is also a song about this bird. I’m going to get her to teach it to me later this afternoon.

In my daily playing I’ve started to play around with quarter-tones, imitating this little olohoto. I am still hoping to create a site-specific performance piece with the local children and musicians at the end of January, in the old Evergreen Gymnasium, and I have a feeling the olohoto birdsong will feature. Maybe we can surround the audience with whistling musicians and children, overlapping multiple versions of this quarter-tone scale. I might experiment with this idea in GarageBand this afternoon.

Last day in Baucau

Wednesday, day 24

I met Marqy early this morning and we visited each of the three schools we want to work with for The Right To Play music project. We didn’t make appointments – we just arrived at each school and made our way to the office where we were warmly greeted by the principal and any teachers who happened to be around. Each principal agreed to nominate ten children to take part in the project, and will have the list of names ready for Marqy by the middle of next week.  One school asked if we could arrange for the children to have certificates for their participation, and of course we agreed to do this. I’d forgotten about certificates and how important they are to child participants!

We felt pleased with ourselves as we headed back to the Arte Moris Afalyca building. In the last couple of days we have planned a project and developed a strategy for making it happen. Next week Marqy goes to China until the end of November and I will of course be in Lospalos from tomorrow, so these were the only days we had available to set the project up.

Sadly, I don’t think we are going to be able to track down any of Jon Madin’s marimbas. Everyone we spoke to said with great confidence that they were at School No. 1. However, the teachers at School No. 1 said they no longer had them. I think the story was that they had got damaged, and when the school changed location temporarily, the marimbas were not brought. This may or may not be true or accurate. I’m not even 100% I understood the answer. I have one more person I can follow up with, so I am stil holding out hope.

A photo I like – a puppet project was taking place at Arte Moris Afalyca while I was there. Here is a photo of one of the participants and her puppet:

Making puppets, Arte Moris Afalyca

Piazzolla, syncopation – and a program finishes for the year

It’s school holidays, which for me means ArtPlay projects (ArtPlay being the fantastic children’s arts space in the heart of the city that Melbourne is so lucky to have). In the April and September school holidays I lead two separate ensemble projects at ArtPlay – the MSO ArtPlay Ensemble, and City Beats (you can read about the April projects here). It makes for a full-on week straight after the full-on term finishes, but I love these groups. We make some fantastic music together.

The MSO ArtPlay Ensemble always takes inspiration from a piece of music they will hear the MSO perform shortly after completing their workshop days. This project however, had a newly-commissioned piece by Elena Kats-Chernin as its focus, so we decided to work with the same starting points or brief that Elena had been given by the MSO (music of Piazzolla) and take some short pieces of musical material from the score of her piece as well.

Piazzolla’s music is characterised by many things, but one that Elena focused on was his “strange harmonic twists”. Typically in our MSO ArtPlay projects we build pieces around modes, but this time I decided to get the group to work with chord progressions, and to practice adjusting their riffs and melodies to fit across a progression of chords. It wasn’t easy (the group is made up of children aged 8 – 13, and while some are very skilled on their instruments, others are only just getting started), but we took it slowly, chord by chord, and eventually we got the progression (and its accompanying riffs as invented by the group) sorted.

We also focused on syncopated rhythms, which has proved quite a theme for the whole year. In small groups, I asked them to invent a rhythm in 4/4 by establishing a clapped cycle of 8 beats (quavers, or eighth notes), and choosing 1-3 numbers to leave out (ie. not clap). This gave us 4 rhythms, all of which had syncoptated elements.I got them to perform these rhythms on their instruments, not with notes, but with percussive sounds they could make – slapping a cupped hand on the mouthpieces, swiftly dragging a resin-ed cloth over violin strings, tapping keys, etc. Sounded cool!

We also familiarised ourselves with the rhythm you get if you clap just numbers 1, 4 and 7 – the typical tango rhythm. We listened to some different Piazzolla examples – originals with him performing, and arrangements by other composers/orchestras – and the children could recognise this tango rhythm, and also tried counting out cycles of 8 under their breath to try and identify which numbers had been left out in other rhythms they could hear.

This was our last project together for the year, so it was an opportunity to cast my eye arond the group and note the kinds of developments and changes I’d seen over the year:

  • The clarinetist who took on an improvised solo each project, but in this third project was now really listening to what he was playing, slowing down enough to hear the music and have time to hear his ideas in his head before playing them. No more guessing and hoping for the best!
  • The serious young violinist who took part in three try-outs (in previous years) before being offered a place in this year’s ensemble. She is so quiet – one of those students you fear will get overlooked… but in the small groups she always had contributions to make, was always engaged, and locked the music into her memory as it evolved. She played a solo with her small group in this September project – a melodic line that she created herself and played with considerable assurance.
  • The young trumpeter with his somewhat unstable playing (in the tradition of young trumpeters everywhere) whose playing had just soared this project! I commented on it to his mother and she explained that he’d just been given a new trumpet, and was practising all the time. Such a difference a decent instrument makes to young players!
  • The very shy clarinetist whose contributions in the warm-up games became gradually more extrovert as the year went on. She remained quiet, but upon closer attention revealed many original ideas.
  • The flautist who is the youngest member of our group and who I suspect was occassionally a bit overwhelmed by all the boisterous big kids, but who is a lovely player. In this project, a brief explanation I gave her group about sequences in music, and how you can use them to build an improvisation, led to her performing a confident and musical improvised solo with her group, making rich use of sequential material
  • The cellist who plays beautifully but who struggled to make eye contact with any of us at the start of the year, still struggles to make eye contact with any of us! And still plays beautifully.
  • Another young trumpeter who grooved away during our syncopated rhythmic taps, and embellished our whole-ensemble choruses with extra notes, a few more each time. He was having a ball!

We will hopefully see many of these young players again, because now that they have finished their year in the MSO Artplay Ensemble, they become what we call Graduates, who can take part in a big range of creative projects throughout the year. The whole program between MSO and ArtPlay is into its 5th year now, and I am getting the privilege of seeing these young musicians grow and develop into their teenage years. That’s unusual for someone like me who usually works in schools or with groups for finite periods of time – unlike teachers in schools.