Archive for the ‘planning’ Tag

Hang-out time

This post is about labels in the world of music work, and about the importance of hanging out in projects. It is inspired by some ‘hang-out time’ I got to enjoy with a new colleague last Friday evening. We had one of those marvellously unrestrained, freewheeling, fast-talking conversations that two like minds meeting for the first time can have.

'Hang out time' (G. Howell)

Lucy B is a music therapist, but more than that, she is a music worker. This was one of our topics of conversation – how the labels that get applied to different roles in a musical life that a leader or facilitator may play aren’t always the right fit. In Lucy’s musical world (and in her PhD research), her work fits into the Community Music Therapy category, but at the same time, she says, it’s not always a very useful term. She works with groups, building collaborations and getting music happening within groups and for individuals. It’s not necessarily therapy, even though there may be strong therapeutic outcomes. She likes the more encompassing term Music Worker (which I like because it fits with the name of my blog :-)), likening it to a case worker who might employ a wide range of approaches in their work with a client, with the needs of the client being the primary decider, rather than the therapeutic label that needs to be applied.

Labels can be frustrating to navigate, especially when your work sits on the boundaries between other more established disciplines. When I was a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the 1990s, I asked one of my tutors in the Performance and Communication Skills course how he described his work to other people. I loved his answer, and I’ve used it for myself ever since. He said,

I just call myself a musician. You know, musicians do a lot of different things – some days they will be playing and performing. Some days they will be teaching, passing on specific musical and technical knowledge to other learners. Some days they will writing and composing new material, and recording it. They will be collaborating and interacting with other musicians during all of these tasks. And that’s what I do, and some of my interactions are with young people, in schools and communities. But we are collaborating… composing… performing… It is the same set of tasks, just differentiated by degree. Other interactions will be with my musical peers. Other times again, I may be positioned as the learner. That’s what we musicians do, that’s what being engaged in the art of music everyday involves.

Back to my conversation with Lucy B. We talked about her PhD research, which I was interested in because it is partly set in a developing country, so some of the questions she is asking about music projects in that context are similar to the questions I am asking about music initiatives in post-conflict countries. Lucy’s primary interest is in collaboration, and in developing a clearer epistemology of what collaboration entails in some of the complex environments in which she is working. One of the ideas that has crystallised for her is the importance of what she calls ‘hang-out time’. This is the time that you spend just hanging out with a group, getting to know them, observing how they interact and what they respond to with each other, what they might need from a new person, before you go in and get started with your workshop or therapy program.

The idea of building ‘hang-out time’ into a project appeals to me immensely. But I wondered aloud, who (as in, which organisations or host organisations) would be prepared to pay for this? I am used to my employers wanting all the time they pay me for to be workshop time. The more days a project runs for, the more expensive it is, so there is a general enthusiasm for getting workshops started on the first day of contact. Lucy suggested that the idea of something like ‘hang-out time’ first needs to get established and understood as valuable. Having a name for this stage in a collaboration, and being able to assert its importance in meeting the aims of the project, is the first step. She said, “It’s like planning time. It’s not that long ago that no-one ever wanted to pay for planning time. Ditto with travel time. But now those things are accepted and understood to be necessary and important parts of the work. So let’s create the language, and then the understanding and acceptance will follow.”

Lucy’s at the writing-up stage of her PhD, submitting very soon. Hopefully there’ll soon be many opportunities to read more of her ideas in other publications. And here’s to more hang-out time for all of us (in projects and in life).


Planning, scoping, sequencing

Last week I presented a Teaching Artist professional learning seminar on planning, scoping and sequencing a new music project. Teaching artists frequently work in partnership with a classroom or specialist teacher, so planning tends to be collaborative. However, teachers and artists often approach project planning in different ways. I drew upon my own experiences and talked about:

The importance of learning as much as you can about the class

This includes what are they working on in class, but also some of the additional goals of the classroom. At the Melbourne English Language School (where I’ve worked as a teaching artist since 2005), these goals often include things like social skills, rules of personal hygiene or some of the cultural practices of school in Australia (like being able to line up before entering the classroom). These non-arts, non-music goals and themes can often provide fertile ground for a music or creative arts project.

The many ways to your intended goal

The more input students have in a creative project, the more ownership they will feel towards it and the more engaged they will be by the process. I encouraged my colleagues to listen out for offers and suggestions that could take the project off into a new or unexpected direction. Sometimes these offers are made in jest, or with great sarcasm – this is often a protection on the part of the child and it’s important to look beyond it to the idea being expressed. Sometimes, suggestions will be unconscious, occurring when the child is daydreaming, or retreating into their own head for a moment, but with an instrument in their hands. Tapping fingers can provide insights into a child’s previous musical experiences, knowledge and culture. It’s important to leave space in the classroom environment for these offers to slip into, as well as space in the evolving creative work.

Communicating with your teaching partner

There are often points in a creative project where work is emerging but you, the artist, are not clear exactly where it is going to go, or how it will all fit together. This happens to me in many projects and I’ve learned that it is part of my process, so it doesn’t worry me. However, teachers have very different planning and reporting obligations to teaching artists, and work that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere specific can create concern for teachers who want to know there is a sequence and plan underpinning everything.

I think that each one of us – teachers and teaching artists alike – has a different tolerance of ‘risk’ or unknowns in a creative project. It’s therefore important to keep lines of communication open. Teaching artists may need to talk through those parts of their process that are more open-ended, or where you have simply opened up an experience to the students in order to see what material emerges in their response, but you are confident that it will yield something important for the project outcome.

What does this look like in practice?

In tandem with my consideration of these different points in the planning and sequencing process, I described a 10-week project that I’d led in 2008 (I chose it because I’d documented it particularly thoroughly). I shared my notebook from that project with my teaching artist colleagues (complete with all my random musings, sketches, shorthand music notations, and margin doodles) pointing out those days where material had been developed and locked in, those days where things went off in a different direction, and when I’d developed material without knowing how it would ultimately be used in the performance. We ended by watching a video of the project’s final performance, so that we could see what had resulted from the lessons that were detailed in the notebook.

When I was first asked to lead this session, I was a bit hesitant. I often think my approach is quite freeform, and trying to anticipate exactly what will happen throughout the term feels very counter-intuitive. But once I started to dig into it, I could see there were key steps that I take in developing each project, and a number of golden, guiding values that inform all the choices I make. When you start to write these down, a plan and a sequence definitely emerges!

Artists inviting possibility

I am often approached by young musicians who want to develop workshop skills and get some more experience working with groups of children. This year, I’ve got a formal mentoring relationship set up. Ryan, a young recorder soloist and highly creative individual (based on our conversations thus far!), approached me at the end of last year to see if I could work with him to develop a workshop program for children that he could deliver as part of a broader touring and performance program.

Good on him! So far, we’ve mapped out a plan of action that includes developing a 2-hour workshop for primary school children that gets them to create their own music and embed it within a larger, contemporary solo work for recorder. Ryan is also going to spend some time in other workshops with me throughout the year, shadowing me and developing a repertoire of approaches and strategies for developing compositions with children.

At our first meeting, we focused on WHAT  – what is Ryan’s main aim? Is it a workshop that lasts a day? A few hours? Is it a longer residency? Is it a tailored approach, or an ‘off-the-shelf’ framework that he can adapt as he goes? Is it something that can link to his performance skills and concert-giving?

Ryan emphasised the importance of ‘being able to leave something behind’. He was well-aware of the weaknesses of the ‘parachute’ model (where the glamorous, charismatic visiting artist parachutes in, does their arts project, then leaves just as swiftly, with little of substance left in their wake). At the same time, I countered, a visiting artist has to be realistic about what is possible. You are a visitor. You are only there for a short time – a matter of hours, usually. Anything sustainable is going to require the buy-in and efforts of the class teacher. You have no control over what they do or don’t do in the classroom with relation to your visit, no matter how valuable such input might be.

Perhaps therefore, the artist’s visit is about inviting possibility for individual participants, with tangible skills and tools being part of the outcomes for the participants, but also the intangibles of inspiration, example and possibility. The next steps that individuals may take after a workshop experience – such as re-producing and re-experiencing their workshop outcome with you without your guidance, or furthering their skills and concepts through independent research, or simply the motivation to seek out further opportunities – are essential to a sustained ‘legacy’ from a workshop, given that music itself doesn’t result in any kind of physical artefact. How to plant the strongest, most potent and robust seeds, then, is the next big challenge for the artist! We’ll start looking at content in our next meeting together; meanwhile, Ryan is going to get busy reading Keith Johnstone, Graeme Leak and others on inspiring creative outcomes in groups.


Timor plan – part 2 of residency

Monday, day 39

So now I am back. Mana Shona and Maun Craig have returned to Australia, Sarah our UN intern is house-sitting on the other side of the city; thus the house in Comoro where my Timor experience began is no more. Now I am staying a week at a hotel on the Dili beach road, where is there is a balcony that overlooks the sea. I am here with my mother, Mana Sheila.

What are the plans for these days in Dili? I am staying here the week rather than travelling straight to Lospalos because there will be a series of traditional music concerts and workshops in the lead-up to Independence Day celebrations on November 28th. But there is lots to do:

Baucau project

  • There are some further Ministry of Education representatives that I hope to speak with this week (I am hoping they may be present for some of the music festival). These are people that I hope may be able to point me towards instruments that are available for use in Baucau.
  • While in Melbourne I downloaded a large number of documents on human rights, and children’s rights in particular. I need to start reading through these as preliminary research for my project. I need to find an angle from which to launch the music composing with the children.
  • While I was in Lospalos an idea was floated about some possible sources of funding support for this project. I want to follow up some of those ideas this week, see if I can find out who the people to speak to are, and go and speak to them.

Lospalos project

  • There is a possibility that some instruments have been donated to Many Hands that can be used by my music project. There is a chance they may be here already in Dili. I need to suss this out.

Lospalos house

  • There are a few things I would like to buy to take back to the Lospalos house, things I either forgot to buy in Melbourne, or didn’t want to try and pack in my suitcase from Melbourne and hoped to buy here. Things like a new toilet seat – not essential, but if I can find a cheap plastic one I think I’ll enjoy using it for the remaining months I am in the house in Lospalos. A toilet without a seat feels a bit like a toilet in a prison, or a public toilet, I think. And the rest of the house is so lovely!
  • Other things include finding a dispenser for the big gallons of water I bought to use in Lospalos. I have no idea where I will find one of these, so some investigation is definitely needed.

Other Lospalos things

Can I go to some of the rehearsals with the traditional music and dance group next week? I hope so… And can I start some initial meetings with children who will be involved in the music projects? I’d love to start tossing ideas around about possible ‘Lospalos secrets’. ‘Secrets’ is the theme/starting point for my Lospalos project. I am just realising that I haven’t written about that yet. A more detailed post of those ideas will follow.

Getting to know Dili

  • There are lots of things I haven’t yet had the chance to do in Dili. For example, Madre Kitty, the fun and spunky nun in my tetun classes at DIT is based with an order here that runs an early learning centre, and a hostel for young girls here in Dili. She has invited me to visit and see their work. I’d really like to do this.
  • There is a Truth and Reconciliation Museum that I have heard wonderful things about. I would like to visit this.
  • The best markets in town are apparently at Hali Laran. That is on my list of things to check out.
  • I haven’t been to ANY Dili beaches! This is a dreadful state of affairs. People rave about ‘Jesus’s backside beach’ for example (the back beach below the statue of Jesus that lives out on the promontory, known here as Christo Rei).

Musicircus planning

This Friday (two days after the Hunger season finishes) the MSO ArtPlay Ensemble will perform a new piece in the Melbourne Festival’s Musicircus. We will meet at 3pm at ArtPlay, and perform that evening, not long after the event begins at sunset. (Performances will continue throughout the night – until sunrise!)

I have a group of 30:

  • 12 who are currently members of the Main Ensemble (with whom I last worked in September)
  • 8 who are members of the Graduate Ensemble (with whom I worked on the Note To Self puppet project)
  • 2 siblings who play instruments
  • 8 family members who are not bringing an instrument
  • 1 professional violinist who will be assisting me (Mel, who works with me at the Language School).

Things I would like to happen during the performance:

  • Something tonal and memorable that everyone takes part in (singing if no instrument)
  • A section based on the ‘Walking, standing, sitting’ score that I used in September and with the AYO people, using set pitches.
  • Something that involves chance or random processes on the day, that might involve the newspapers or mobile phones I have asked participants to bring with them.
  • I might use the idea of unpacking and packing up of instruments ( also used in September, that worked beautifully).

Ideas for the mobile phones, newspapers, and notebooks and pen:

  • I could ask each of the adults to set their alarms to ring at key intervals; each time one rings, the next section of music starts.
  • The newspapers could be read aloud, starting very quietly, then getting louder. This could happen with the whole ensemble, away from instruments. Perhaps the rule could be that they must be newspapers from that day.
  • Notebooks being written in could be a cue for a solo during  the ‘Walking, Standing’ score.
  • We could have a chorus of mobile phone rings.
  • Members of the ensemble could call each other, and have a conversation. “I can’t talk now – I’m just in the middle of something.”
  • The newspapers being read, or held in different ways, could be what the musicians respond to in the “Walking, standing” score – for example, turning a page means a change of pitch. Standing up to read is a different pitch or musical gesture, as is folding the newspaper and tapping it into your hand.

I’ll add to this during the week. I don’t expect I’ll finalise the plan until Thursday or maybe even Friday morning. A main concern will be the use of time on the day – I don’t want to exhaust the group, but I do want us to create something that could last for 15 minutes. When we perform in the space there won’t be any other groups close by us, which is good – we’ll have a lot of sound-space to work within.