Archive for the ‘music workshops’ Tag

Time and Space

I’ve spent the last 5 days working on a single project. That’s right – five full days on a composition project (the sort of project I normally do in two days) with a group of 24 young musicians, five music students from the conservatorium, 4 professional musicians, the project leader and myself. And the project isn’t even finished yet – there is another full day, then a final rehearsal call, and then the actual performance.

It’s been wonderful to enjoy the space that so much time brings to the creative process. There is time to get to know each other and build rapport in an easy, unpressured way; time to laugh, have fun, and be playful without each of those tasks needing to link to a specific creative outcome; time to explore ideas – including some we might not end up using, but that capture our imaginations at the time; time to refine our ideas and learn to play them well; time to hone, to memorise and to develop performance finesse. We were in the hands of Fraser Trainer, a highly skilled and inspiring musical leader from the UK.

Most of the projects I lead for orchestras run for only two days. While we certainly fit a lot into those two days, and create very detailed, original music, I’ve often felt that the pace that we set means that the young participants barely have time to process all the new things they are doing, before the project has ended. They have an intense, immersed experience, but only one night’s sleep before it is all over. How – and when – do they begin to digest the experience, reflect on what they have learned, and how the experience has added to their perception of their musical selves?

It is a common curse in both arts and education (maybe elsewhere too) that there is a far greater capacity to ‘pull out all the stops’ for a visitor, in terms of resources and time. For example, I know that when I go into a school as a visiting artist, I am given more space in the timetable – a full day, for example, with the students missing other classes in order to do the music project – as well as the support of a teacher in the room with me. These are luxuries that the regular music teacher does not enjoy in their week-to-week practice.  But these efforts can hopefully bring changes to the local environment after the visitor has gone.

This 5-day project offered a powerful demonstration of what can be achieved when more time is allowed. “How’s it going?” a senior manager of the orchestra asked me at lunchtime on Tuesday (day 2). “I mean, usually, by this time on the second day, you are getting ready to perform, aren’t you?” So, that significant difference is noted. I think it was an eye-opener for everyone. Perhaps in the future we’ll be able to conceive of projects that have more expansive timeframes, or a range of timeframes. Hopefully too, this project will mean that there will already be an understanding of how much difference the length of a project can make to the young people’s experience, and to the overall depth of the work.

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Music moves my world

It’s the midpoint of the school year – the middle of the mid-school-year holidays in fact, but ‘on holidays’ is the last thing I feel! Lots of projects on the go, lots of projects finishing and others starting. My mind is whirling with music and ideas most of the time, and in some ways I want to keep up the pace, just to get everything out and realised. But it is also a good time to take stock and reflect on the range of things I’ve been doing, what I’ve been learning and what I’ve been inspired and moved by.

My last posts were about my first visit to the immigration detention centre two Saturdays ago. Illness (my own – last weekend) and public protests (at the detention centre, leading to a lockdown – today) have meant I have not been able to progress the projects any further as yet. However, I’ve spent quite a bit of time developing ideas in response to the participants’ requests for songs and instruments on my first visit. I’ve been learning two of the songs they suggested and I’ve also sourced a harmonium, in response to a request from one of the participants. I hope he knows how to play this – my own attempts this afternoon were unconvincing! I’ve also lined up a volunteer who will join me at the centre for the workshops each week. We’ll have a repertoire of four songs initially, each which we can extend with improvisation if we choose – two songs from Afghanistan, Lambada (why not? They all knew it and obviously liked it! It is an international anthem these days), and a song from Australia (again, as requested by the participants) with a link to indigenous Australia.

The last week of term 2 was a week of project endings. At the Language School we presented each of the three class’ compositions at the end-of-term performance, and it was another memorable and moving concert. Memorable because of the quality of the children’s performances and the learning journeys taken by some of the students in particular, and moving because of the ‘farewell’ element, saying good-bye to those students who are now ready to make the move to mainstream school. Sixteen students (out of 39) received certificates.

Lower Primary sparkled as they sang their song inspired by prepositions and directional language (“Hey you, where’s my shoe?”). Middle Primary gave us lumps in our throats with their song about friendship and feeling ‘happy on the inside’, and Upper Primary drew us all into the fun and energy of their rap/dance/song “It’s all about love”, which included audience participation of singing and clapping off-beats, stadium-rock style.

At Pelican Primary School, the stand-out class was the Grade 4/5, who played through their class rendition of California Dreamin’ not just once but four times! They sang in two parts, and maintained the accompaniment on the xylophones and tambourine. This level of musical independence and confidence was fantastic as it allowed me to concentrate on my guitar part, which is still at that fragile stage of needing my full attention. “Well done to us!” I told them at the end. “We just performed the whole song all by ourselves, without any help from the CD. That’s a big achievement!” Their teacher nodded in agreement. They left the music room very pleased with themselves, and singing all the leaves are brown (all the leaves are brown) at the top of their voices.

I never got to finish my project at Darling Secondary College. The residency is not going to be continued next term and the teacher decided to end it in the second-last week of term. I felt sad for the students – we didn’t get to complete the projects we’d been developing, or perform them to anyone else, and they’d done so much up to that point! It was disappointing not to be able to say good-bye.

Sound Journey – ‘the Camel Caravan’

On Friday morning my colleague Jen and I presented the first two workshops in this series of four. The Sound Journey is a project I’ve been working with one of the directors of Pocketfool Productions, who create beautiful, detailed arts experiences for children aged 2-5 years. Jen invited me to develop a music project with her that would focus on young children making very deliberate decisions about when and what they would play. So often for this age group, Jen lamented, it is just about giving the children instruments and having a bit of a playing free-for-all. The intention with this project was to encourage the children to listen, and to play with care, deliberation, and new ears.

We designed it as a journey, with the open space and natural light of ArtPlay in mind, and suggested to the children that they would be travelling as a group of camels, joined by a long length of bells (the traditional kini-kini, or bana bells that I bought in East Timor). Holding these bells, the children moved through a range of different landscapes, including a market place where they could buy sounds of all sizes and impressions (icy sounds, shiny sounds, big sounds, bony sounds), and a sea journey where they placed their hands on the rim of the ocean drum and moved its tiny silver balls en masse around the drum’s interior, making circles and waves. The journey culminated with a little village of three cardboard houses, large enough for the children to enter, and each with an instrument inside. The children took it in turns to enter a house, and play the instrument inside, while the other children and their parents listened. This point in the journey captivated the children, and encouraged very attentive listening to the range of sounds, and excellent turn-taking.

It was gorgeous! Lots of beautiful music-making, and experiences of how this age group works best that are giving me lots of ideas for the other early-years workshops I have taking place later this year. We have two more of these workshops in a fortnight’s time.

Doorways in

Renowned music educator Jackie Wiggins (author of Teaching for Musical Understanding) talks about ‘doorways in’ in creative music work – the initial points of entry for young people that get them engaging and connecting with musical ideas.

Usually, when I build a project on a piece of orchestral repertoire, I select fragments or quotes from the score – melodies, rhythms, accompanying figures, chord progressions, structural characteristics – to act as ‘doorways in’. The groups take inspiration from these, and also aim to incorporate them in some way in their own pieces. They act as a creative starting point, but also give the children a kind of listening pathway, when they later hear the orchestral work in performance.

In planning this week’s workshop on Beggars and Angels, I decided to try two new ‘doorways in’. Rather than quotes from the musical material, I selected 28 performance directions from the score. Brett Dean is an Australian composer, so he writes his performance directions in English. Many of them are quite detailed. Each child in the group had one direction.

They divided into working groups of seven. “Think of your music as depicting a journey of some kind,” I asked them. “Dean’s music has been described by some as being like a journey. Consider all your performance directions, and decide the order they should be in, to best depict the kind of journey you are taking us on. Then create a piece with sections of music for each”

Things like:

Lively, insistent

Slightly slower, becoming increasingly vague and distant… slowing further, as if losing consciousness

Uncoordinated with other instruments

Restless, but very quiet.

The material that eventually developed was truly interesting, and quite beautiful in many places – evocative, somewhat timeless, and free, and with great use of chromaticism in the melodic and harmonic writing. The performance directions meant that they thought about their compositions in terms of sections, and this meant that later, we were able to juxtapose sections from different groups, in order to create some of the huge sudden contrasts of texture, dynamics, and tempi that so characterise the Beggars and Angels score.

Three-course musical feast

I finished the term at the Language School with a concert on Thursday afternoon – all three classes performed their ‘food-inspired’ compositions to each other and to their parents and teachers, and sang two learned songs with excellent blending of their voices.

The food theme felt a little stodgy and uninspired early on in the term, but it eventually resulted in some highly original concoctions. Lower Primary worked on their percussion skills (in particularly playing accurately, all together, without speeding up, and watching me for their unison cues). We embedded these skills in their song ‘These are all good everyday foods’, which listed sensible ‘everyday’ things to eat for breakfast and to bring to school for lunch.

Middle Primary made a ‘fruit salad’ song in 5/4, listing various fruits, playing the rhythms from these fruity lists on glockenpiels and xylophones, and singing a happy, light-hearted chorus ‘Big fat fruit – one piece to eat in your lunchbox’.

Upper Primary wrote a song with three verses and a chorus that warned of the dangers of additives, and too much oil, fat, salt, sugar and MSG. The irony was that at the end-of-term party, held that morning at 10am, each of those ingredients frighteningly well-represented! Oh well. They all felt sick for the rest of the day… it is all learning!

We opened and closed the concert with two massed singing items. There was a strong sense of lightness and joy through the whole event – many people commented. This was my first term back since June last year, and two of the class teachers were first-timers, so it was a suitably celebratory end to a term of new beginnings.

Jam on the great classics

This week I’m hunting for Great Classical Riffs.

What are the pieces of classical music you’ve always wanted to jam along with? What are the riffs, melodies, rhythms and chord progressions that you’ve always wanted to pull out of an orchestral piece to turn into loops for improvising over?

I’m creating a Jam on three great classics for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra on the 19th April. I’m still choosing the ‘moments’ of music to use. One definite is the Romance from Lietenant Kije, by Prokofiev. You probably know the tune – Sting borrowed it for the song ‘Russians’. It’s a lovely, solemn Russian melody in Aeloian mode.

Other ‘moments’ I’m thinking of including is the driving, rhythmic opening of the Dances of the Young Girls from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring… but I’ve done a whole jam on The Rite of Spring before, so it’s not a new idea. There are some funky syncopated rhythms from The Soldier’s Tale (also by Stravinsky) that could work well…

A friend suggested the 6-8/3-4 rhythm of ‘America’ from West Side Story. I like the idea of this very much. A quote that is purely rhythmic could be teamed with a harmonic or melodic idea from another piece.

Music for jamming needs to be in a key that can be played on open strings by beginner string players… and also be in a key signature that doesn’t transpose into a tricky multiple-sharps key signature for the Bb instruments! It needs to be simple enough to be memorised quickly, and have sufficient interest to be looped so that people can solo and riff over the top of it.

What favourite musical ‘moments’ do other people have, from the classical music world?

 

City beats, different drums

This week I led the first two days of a bi-monthly project for primary school students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s a music composing and performing project for primary school students, and four schools are taking part in 2011.

The aim is to give the students a rich, intensive music-making experience. They will play percussion instruments, invent their own music, and develop performance and ensemble skills in an inclusive, encouraging, collaborative environment. The program acts as a pathway to bring new young people from diverse backgrounds toward other programs for young musicians at ArtPlay and with the MSO. In general, the MSO/ArtPlay programs attract a fairly middle-class, educated cohort of participants (a generalisation I know, but not an unreasonable claim). We wanted to ensure that talented and enthusiastic young musicians from less well-resourced backgrounds could also access the program and so the City Beats program was developed.

This week’s projects were focused on musical story-telling. We asked each of the groups to invent a story, which was then retold in music. I found it fascinating the way that the stories they created were so reflective of their environments.

School A is a school from a bushfire-affected area – survivors of the devastating firestorms that swept through parts of Victoria in February 2009. Lots of post-trauma responses are playing out in the school at the moment. These children were a serious, subdued group, and very gentle with each other and with themselves. They were careful in the warm-up games, only gradually letting down their guards and increasing their eye contact, or offering more extrovert gestures into the circle games. They invented a story characterised by tentative expectations. A group of children were heading to a city venue to perform in a competition, but they got lost. Passers-by offered a series of convoluted directions ut there were no lucky breaks –  the group of students had to construct their own ‘map’ that combined all these directions, and they found the venue just in time. They went on stage to perform, reminding themselves not to get their hopes up, that “winning isn’t everything”. However,  it turned out that they “ended up winning a great big prize!”

School B is from the outer south-eastern suburbs, with high level ESL student numbers. The school is noted for its bold approach to curriculum, and its architecturally-designed open-plan school. Apparently the prep classroom has a giant dinasaur in it. These children wrote an extraordinarily imaginative story, taking musical notions like ‘beats’ and turning them into characters. There were the BeatBusters, the Fun Police, and at the heart of it a young musician who just wanted to play a solo. At every turn in the story, they made something unexpected happen. I loved their unfettered, confident approach to imaginative story-telling.

Another school arrived at the workshop with a detailed list of all the different sounds they had heard on their bus journey into town. We teased these out to make a rhythmic, driving depiction of their trip from the outer western suburbs, over the Westgate Bridge and into the city. This group was perhaps the most innately musical of the 2 days (or perhaps by then we adults were remembering to get out of their way and just let them play!) – they grooved together with confidence and great listening. One boy in my group wanted to count everyone in at the start of our piece, and he took on board every piece of advice that was offered – ‘make sure everyone is looking at you and is ready, before you count in.’ ‘Count in at the speed you want us to play.’ When our group performed I saw the other MSO musicians smile in delight at the self-assured way he performed this role.

Four stories, four groups, and lots of musical ideas – we will meet the groups again in two months time and develop their pieces further.

Mobakomeenofway

One song I have mentioned many times in my Timor blog posts is Mobakomeenofway. Some weeks ago a reader asked me for the words to this song, and I have added them in a reply to her comment; however, the words on their own have limited use if you don’t know the melody. I’ve been mulling over ways to share the melody with you too.

I learned this song years ago, when I was a student in London at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I think Sean Gregory taught it to our group, and there was a little dance step that went with it. I have kept the dance step the same over all these years – I love it! It is easy to demonstrate and teach, and throws a few coordination challenges out there for the students, and it is kooky enough that no-one looks better than anyone else when they are doing it. A great leveller, in all sorts of ways.

I think Sean said it was Ghanaian. But I could be wrong. I recall that the words mean something like:

Leader: Will you come out and play? (O wene maka lay, mobako meenofway?)

Everyone: Yeah, yeah, we’ll come out and play (Yeah, yeah, mobako meenofway!)

You repeat these lines again (bars 2-9 in the score below), then everyone sings the chorus while doing the dance. The chorus is repeated twice.

Everyone: Mobako meeno fway, Mobako meeno fway,

Mobako meeno fway, Mobako meeno fway,

Aim for a nice swoop downwards on the slur in bars 12 and 16, it gives it a full-throated appeal. The dance requires you to stand side on, so that one foot is pointing toward the centre of the circle (I forgot to say that this is a song that works well in a circle, and that is how I always teach it) and the other foot on the outside of the circle. Your stance is only about hip width – or a little wider – apart, though. No gargantuan side-splits required. Stamp the inside foot, and clap your hands in that direction at the same time, on the word Mobako. Stamp the outside foot, and clap your hands in that direction at the same time (twisting at the waist), on the word meeno, then stamp/clap with the inside foot again on the word fway. You see? Not so hard, but takes a bit of a try-out for the first go.

Try the words out with the Noteflight score I’ve made, here. I’m supposed to be able to embed the score into this blog post but it’s not working so well. Here is a link to the score – let me know if it doesn’t work. I’ve just discovered Noteflight, late on this Sunday night. I think I need a bit more time with it to get properly acquainted.

 

Bamboo, buckets and stones

Sunday, day 75 (Boxing Day)

Lospalos has a much-loved community of nuns living in its midst. Known by the initials ADM, it is an Indonesian Catholic order that provides a home for young people from the villages who are in Lospalos in rder to attend school. It also runs residential vocational training for twenty young women who have had to leave school early, for numerous reasons. In amongst all of this good work, the sisters have a well-established garden that includes many medicinal plants. They make some natural remedies, one of which was given to my mother while she was visiting, when she had a nasty bite (or what looked like a bite) on her arm.

I first met the sisters and their volunteer helper Brigitte (from Germany) by chance. We were in Com at the beach, and got chatting to the sisters while chilling out beside the water. Later that afternoon our car broke down on the raod home. A replacement car needed to be sent from Dili, our driver needed to wait for it, and my friends and I decided to see if we could flag down a ride home. It was the nuns and their party of young people who stopped for us. That’s how we got talking about why I was in Lospalos, and of course once we realised the similarity of our missions, I offered to come and do a workshop with their young students and the neighbouring children.

On Sunday Tony and I went to ADM to lead that workshop. We weren’t sure who we would be working with. We understood there was still a small group of teenagers living at the residence – many others had already gone home for the holidays. But Sunday afternoons are well-established among the local children as a time when activities are on offer, so there was a chance that some of those youngsters would also come along.

We took some of our favourite instruments with us – the black buckets to use as drums, and the pieces of bamboo we’d cut the other day. In order to draw the youngsters before us I played a bit of clarinet on the verandah outside the workshop room. This caught their curiosity, and eventually drew them inside, and into a circle. We started our workshop with about 15 participants – a mix of children and teenagers – but it soon swelled to about 45, including several of the sisters. We began with a song – Mobako meeno fway, from Africa – which is now established as a firm favourite for me, as it has been such an engaging, well-received song in all my workshops here in Timor. It has a simple dance step that goes with the chorus, and the movement always inspires lots of giggles and gets people relaxed and less inhibited.

Then I tried passing a clap around the circle. By now our group numbers were starting to swell, and people were joining in with this game cold. It therefore took awhile to establish, but I explained in Tetun the importance of eye contact, and it was wonderful see little children who had at first been quite unsure what they were supposed to do, start to figure it out with each successive round of the circle. We built up speed and changed direction, but I didn’t add any further layers to this game.

From here we did some call-and-response rhythms. I clapped and tapped rhythms on different parts of my body for them to echo. I tried to  use a big variety of sounds – they particularly enjoyed the hollowed-cheek taps.

From here, I established two separate rhythms and divided the circle into two groups. I did this without any words at first, but in the end needed to clarify my intentions briefly in Tetun! Two rhythms, one clapped and syncopated, the other stomped and grounded on the beat. We repeated a few times, then switched parts.

Next I introduced a whole-ensemble stop. I showed them the countdown signal I do with my fingers – “1, 2, 3, 4, STOP!” – and we started to do this. This led to a counted-in start cue as well and before long they were creating some very slick starts and stops.

Now it was time to bring out the instruments. We started with drums, sticks and shakers, keeping to the same rhythms, and passing the instruments around the group so that everyone got to play something.

Then we called a short break, where we sent people outside to get a pair of bamboo sticks from Tony. Meanwhile, I got 3 of the older boys to help me arrange all the chairs in a large circle. When everyone came back in, they could select a seat with a bucket or shaker in front of it (organised into sections) or sit with their bamboo sticks in any of the other seats. We found we had more participants than instruments, so invented a new sound from two smooth flat stones being tapped together (these stones were plentiful in the garden immediately in front of the workshop room).

I explained to them that we wanted to create new music, and asked for their ideas for possible rhythms. This kind of question is always risky – there is the possibility that no-one will suggest anything, that they will either feel too shy, or won’t really understand what it is you are asking them to do, or how they should set about doing it. If everyone stays silent for too long, it can result in a tremendous loss of energy among the group. However, you only ever need one suggestion. You can seize upon it enthusiastically, and get the group playing it, and others will start to feel braver, and begin to offer forth their own ideas. So I always feel it is worth the risk, even if it is easier to just teach everyone rhythms that you make up yourself.

We did indeed get one suggestion – from one of the bucket players. We established it with the pulse and got the whole bucket section playing it in unison.

“There’s a bamboo player over here who’s come up with something,” Tony announced, gesturing towards a young girl sitting with her legs dangling from the chair, not reaching the floor. I crouched in front of her.

“Can you show me?” I asked her in Tetun encouragingly. At first I thought she was going to refuse, but then, without making eye contact, she began to tap out her idea. It fitted beautifully with the bucket rhythm and we taught it to all the other bamboo players in her section.

Things progressed quickly from this point. Soon we had a rhythmic groove happening with 4 different parts to it. We jammed on this for awhile, Tony and I playing clarinet and saxophone respectively, and adding pitch to some of the rhythms.

Next we decided to write a song, a short song that we could include as part of this piece we were creating. Again, I explained our intention in Tetun, as best I could:

“We want to write a song with you, a song that you can help us write. We want to learn new things in Timor Leste, so we are interested in your ideas. First let’s decide what our song should be about. What do you want to write a song about?”

“Timor-Leste!” someone suggested (I think it was one of the sisters).

“Diak los!” I enthused, and wrote ‘Timor Leste’ as a heading on a big sheet of paper.

“What can we say about Timor Leste? Its history? The land and environment? Things that are special to here?”

Everyone thought hard. Then one of the boys suggested,

“Rai Timor Lorosae”.

Delighted to have our first lyrics offered so freely, I wrote them down straight away. The boy continued:

“Rai ida bee hau moris….. hau hodomi deit… ho mesak doben… Rai Timor Lorosae”

I wrote them all down, then held up the page so that everyone could see. Tony strummed a pair of chords, one after the other.

The sister sitting beside me murmured to me, “Mana, will you now teach us the melody to this song?”

“Well,” I answered, in Tetun so that everyone could hear. “We are going to make the melody now, all together. I want this to be a song that everyone has helped to write. What we will do is, read the words together, but say them with a rhythm. And gradually, a melody will start to emerge.” (Actually, I didn’t say emerge – I don’t know that word. I said things like arrive or enter, and hoped that I was making enough sense. People kept nodding and smiling at me, so that was encouraging).

We read the words several times, accompanied by Tony on guitar. In truth, no melody emerged. So again, I spoke.

“Does anyone have an idea for a melody?” No-one spoke. I paused.

“Every time I sing by myself, I feel shy – really! It is difficult to sing by yourself. You need to have courage! But, it is the only way that we can share ideas with other people. When we share our ideas, we can inspire others too. So this time, Maun Tony will play, but I want everyone to sing the words together. We won’t be singing the same melody, but that’s okay. I will listen carefully and find the melody that you sing.”

I find this is a very successful approach for me, but whenever I introduce it to a group, I know they feel doubtful. The important thing is to try it straight away. So I cued Tony, and asked him to play “Very strongly!” to give us courage.

Finally, a melody of our own began to emerge. I played it on the clarinet line by line to clarify it (and also to memorise it for myself). Then we sang it several times in a row, to lock the phrasing and pitches into everyone’s memories.

And so we reached the final part of our workshop. We structured the music so that we went from playing the rhythms to singing the song, back to playing the rhythms, back to the song – in a ‘looped’ binary form, essentially. We added some expressive dynamics, building up to a bar of suspension and silence, and used our by now well-established whole-ensemble stopping and starting skills to great effect. We filmed the final performance of the full piece.

We ended the workshop back in a circle, with the song Mo bako meeno fway. The sisters loved it, and made me repeat several times more than I’d planned! Later, one of them said, “When you come back, please bring us more songs from Africa! They have such great rhythm and energy – like the songs from Papua!” I promised I would bring more. Certainly, after a such a warm reception from the sisters, ADM is a place I definitely plan to bring more workshops.

Post-script: Further to my ongoing Timor theme of Things never being quite what they seem, I learned at the end of this workshop that the words offered up for our song actually already exist as a different song. No wonder they were created so swiftly and painlessly by their volunteer! No wonder this group of Fataluku-speaking, barely-at-school children learned them so quickly! Oh well… it wasn’t quite what I’d intended but it was a catchy song just the same.

Musical magpies

The main reason I returned to Melbourne in November was to lead the last two Jams at Federation Square for the year. Both were well-attended (around 50-70 in each, I’d say) – I’ve been gratified this year to see our numbers of teenage and adult instrumentalist participants increasing. When they are in large number, they balance out the under-5s that are also enthusiastic attendees, and so the musical outcome is much stronger for all involved.

I’m a bit of a ‘music collector’, I’ve realised. I love uncovering new musical ideas, and finding ways to apply them to the musical environments that I inhabit. This is a strong motivation for collecting original and unusual pieces of musical material from around the world. Unlike an ethnomusicologist, who is fascinated by what the music reveals about the community that performs it, and thus tries to keep that music as pure and unsullied as possible, I am more of a magpie. I collect musical ideas – melodies, songs, rhythms, riffs – and find ways to apply them to my own world. They change straight away, the moment I take them and try them out on my clarinet.

The Jam I led for the MSO this month contained two musical ideas I have ‘collected’ this year. One was a riff that I heard Mulatu Astatke (Ethiopian vibes player and his band) play in his Melbourne International Jazz Festival gig this year. I took the 5-note Lydian mode that formed the backbone of the piece, adapted a riff from it, shifted the key up so that it would be playable by young players, and made this the starting point for the Jam.

Halfway through, I introduced the Fataluku work chant that I learned just a few weeks ago in Lospalos – the corn-kernelling chant with the words cele cuku cele cuku lao ta ta te. We used the rhythm of this chant as an initial idea, but then all the Jam participants invented their own ‘work chant’. I asked them to think of a task or job they ften have to do, and invent a word riff that they could say to make this task less onerous, less boring. One of the ideas that emerged was:

Wash the dishes

Dry the Dishes

Turn the dishes

Over.

We invented word chants, isolated and memorised the rhythms formed by the syllables, then set these rhythms to music using the 5-note Lydian scale.

By the end of the Jam everyone had at least three original riffs to play, and could change from one to the next quite freely. The next step on from this would be to improvise on the 5-note mode, creating solos; from there things could get even freer in terms of pitches and harmony.

I felt happy too, to be sharing something I had learned so very recently with all the participants. It’s great to have a forum in which to explore something that is a completely new idea even for you.

Jams will be different in 2011. I am only leading one set of Jams at Federation Square; there will also be Family Jams AND Under-5s Jams at the Melbourne Town Hall as part of the MSO’s Beethoven Festival.