Archive for the ‘writing’ Tag

Lots of writing, not much blogging

It’s that time of year again.

For many people it is a crazy time, filled with competing work and family demands. For me, there is some of that craziness, but mostly I am feeling the satisfaction of having got through a long period of competing deadlines relatively unscathed.

Over the last three months I’ve completed three book chapters, several conference abstracts, an article for The Conversation, and got to grips with two new software packages that (hopefully, in time) will yield tremendous productivity gains in this PhD adventure! Needless to say, it’s been a lot of screen time. Hence the silence on the blogging front.

I’ve been working on my Bosnia case study. Here’s a bit of a run-down:

For one of the book chapters, I explored an idea that I called “life-space” – the real and imagined boundaries of a quotidian lived experience, and the expansion/contraction of these. The war in Mostar contracted the life-space of many of its young citizens very dramatically. The way they described their experiences of playing and learning music at the Pavarotti Music Centre suggested that it had resulted in expansions of their life-space in a number of dimensions – physical/geographical, personal/emotional, and social. It was an interesting way to analyse the participants’ descriptions of their experiences.

I’ve also developed a framework for understanding the goals and intentions of many music interventions in conflict-affected settings. These kinds of projects are initiated in response to particular needs, such as the need to create dialogue towards conflict resolution or peacebuilding, the need for psychosocial healing, the need for positive and productive activities for young people to supplement limited education and employment opportunities, the need to ensure music education opportunities (either within formal schooling or in addition to it), or the need to address the destruction of cultural knowledge, taking strategic steps to nurture and regenerate it.

The other two chapters laid out this framework, explaining the contexts that lead to these areas becoming priorities, and the ways that music interventions can offer meaningful and purposeful responses. One of the chapters used the Pavarotti Music Centre as a case study, to see how these different goals and intentions are realised through community-based cultural action.

Relevant to my research, although somewhat peripheral, are discussions surrounding the next set of development goals, and so I’ve been following these fairy closely. The Millennium Development Goals have set the global development agenda since 2000, but they expire at the end of 2014, and a new set of what are called Sustainable Development Goals will be adopted by the United Nations Member States in September 2015. There is a lot of discussion and debate about what the SDGs should be (they will basically set the agenda for the next 15 years, and I added my voice to the argument for the inclusion of culture in an article for the online daily, The Conversation. You can read it here.

I was then invited to update the article for publication in the Media Asia Journal, and that print publication will come out in January, I believe.

This week, with the last of the book chapters at the final stages of editing (trying to get the word count down), I’m happily able to return my attention to my raw data. It feels like ages since I’ve been able ‘hang out’ in the transcripts, thinking and exploring, and following lines of thought that arise as I read and make links with the literature that I’m constantly exploring. What a luxury! I am a pig in s**t these days, as the saying goes.

So, lots of writing going on. Not as much playing and singing and just thinking in music as I’d like, so that is a balance I’d like redress next year. But coming up is my annual Christmas carol-singing party, so in the spirit of that, please enjoy this Christmas classic! Not quite a carol, but a number we’ll definitely be including this year.

Not as much blogging going on either. Thanks for hanging in there, subscribers! Back in the saddle now.

My fifth anniversary

Today is the fifth anniversary of the Music Work blog. I started writing it in 2007 as part of my Master of Education  – the blog served as a reflective practice journal where I could start to unpack all the complexities of music making in the school for recently-arrived immigrants and refugees where I was a visiting artist and that was the site for my research. Here’s a link to my first ever post:

Update on the language school project

I soon found that putting my thoughts and ideas into writing was somewhat addictive. I loved the great sense of satisfaction and calm I often felt after writing a post – as if I’d taken a messy, tangled set of thoughts and organised them into more orderly strands of ideas. Working out how to express my thoughts in writing – especially about my music-making process in the classroom which was something I’d developed through many years of experience, rather than learned directly from another – preoccupied me a lot in that first year.

These days, I love the way my blog has connected me with other writers, researchers, musicians and teachers around the world. It’s still a hugely satisfying outlet for ideas and reflections.

My most popular posts:

This one describing the stick-passing game, which includes some additional information contributed by my dear friend and colleague Eugene Skeef (who taught me the game in the first place)

This one, the “workshop plan for finding bright, sparky kids” that I use to kick off the MSO ArtPlay Ensemble program at the start of each year

This one, about the Australian tenor, Christopher Saunders (be sure to read through the comments – I am not the only person who has heard him sing and was blown away)

This post, showing some of my photos from Sarajevo in December 2007 always get regular visits. If I’d known how much interest it would attract, I’d have posted many more photos – it was hard to choose just a few! Sarajevo in winter is very photogenic.

Midway through my time with WordPress, they began offering the option to add tags to posts. Prior to that, the only way to add keywords to your posts was to create categories or link the post to existing categories. That’s the reason I have so many categories! However, the categories are still the easiest way to track back through the progress of different projects and ideas over the years.

Thanks to everyone who reads, and especially to those who subscribe and those who leave comments. Your interest and thoughtful responses inspire me to keep sharing these reflections. I’m very privileged to be able to earn a living doing work that I love, and feel lucky to be able to get input into it from other practitioners the world over. Here’s to the next five years!

Music and Health

A couple of years ago I presented to a group of teaching artists from the Festival for Healthy Living program, discussing the inherent ‘healthy’ qualities of music-making, with particular regard for mental health. It was an interesting idea to work on, and a lovely group of very committed, engaged artists to present to and spend the day with. That presentation has now been turned into an article for the Creating for Wellbeing website, and I stumbled upon it recently. You can read the article here.

While visiting the site, you might also be interested to read some of the other artists’ reflections on art-making and wellbeing.There is a wealth of information and ideas within the site. Browse through the ‘Themes’ tab to get an idea of the range of topics.

I’m very focused on writing at the moment – articles and more articles about my East Timor residency, including descriptive writing for newsletters and magazines and more serious, scholarly papers for journals and conferences. On some days the words flow, and on others, they really struggle to get out!

Current writing and thinking

I’ve been writing papers this week – one that I’m submitting to the next ISME conference in Beijing (ISME being the International Society for Music Education) and one for the CDIME (Cultural Diversity in Music Education) conference, taking place in Sydney in January 2010. Both papers are drawn from my Masters research and thesis.

For ISME, I’ve written about the pedagogical approach I have developed for work with children who understand very little English. I have drawn a lot on my blog posts over the years in writing about my approach – this blog is often the place where I first start to try and describe things that I am trying, or revelations I am having. In the paper I describe the kind of teaching language I use (very pared-back and minimal), the importance of visual cues and other environmental scaffolds, and the way the project-based approach supports student learning and understanding.

For CDIME my paper looks at some of the methodological issues that arise when doing research with children from non-English-speaking backgrounds. It was quite a surprise to me that there was so little published guidance on conducting interviews with children via interpreters, for example. First there are the issues in the way the interpreters understand the research, and the questions you are asking. For example, I wanted some of my questions to be fairly ambiguous in the language they used, in order to elicit ‘pure’ or uncontaminated responses from the children. How easy were these ambiguous questions to translate? How easy is it to talk about music if you are not used to talking about music? (I think musicians learn to talk about music over many years. This is not a debate about music-specific terminology, rather, a discussion about the intangible nature ofmusic that means we can’t point towards things that are difficult to label).

Other things arose too, such as the additional interpretive layers that arose through the additional voices; also, questions about social and cultural conditioning were present. Interactions between adults and children vary between different cultures. How much were these expectations a source of confusion for the children being interviewed? In some cultures children would rarely be asked by an adult for their opinion. Was it therefore awkward for them to respond to my more personal or hypothetical questions?

And so on. Very interesting stuff for me. Anyway, I got both papers finished last night, in time for the deadline. I have one more to write, which will be more concerned with the children’s perceptions of what they are learning and doing in music lessons at the Language School. In particular, do they know they’re composing and inventing material? Who knows, if so? And for those that are still trying to make sense of the whole school environment, what do they think is going on?

That final paper is due at the end of October.

August planning frenzy

I have a lot of new projects approaching at the moment, in fact, some have already started. So this month is one of intensive planning. Here’s a bit of a rundown of what is percolating in my head at the moment:


For the MSO I am leading 3 Jams (and a further 2 at the start of September). ‘Jams’ are express music-making workshops on a large scale. They are geared towards all ages – families, really – and all levels of musical ability/experience. They’re a lot of fun to lead, because they are fast-paced and get a lot of people playing music together with very little preamble. I like to give the participants a brief page of musical ideas to work from, so that they have something to take home and revisit at their leisure, so I have been preparing these over the last two days. Tomorrow’s Jam is based around the standard penatonic scale – a Jam on 5 Notes.

String Quartet education project no. 2

At the end of August I am heading back up to the Shoalhaven area to work with the Silvan String Quartet, leading them in a composition project with a youth string orchestra in Picton. We’ll be basing the project on Charleston Noir by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin. This is the second composition project I have built around a Kats-Chernin work, and I’ll be doing another one in September for the MSO. I have to say, I am really enjoying getting to know her work. Her compositional language is proving a fabulous inspiration for these kinds of projects.

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Writing, writing, writing

I am making Thesis Progress. I sent a draft of my methodology chapter to my supervisor today. I am halfway through the Lit Review. I have written two of my three ‘findings and discussion’ chapters. So I am feeling pleased.

Can’t sleep though. My head is too full. I need something like Dumbledore’s Pensieve, to extract thoughts from my head and make room for new ones. Or just stop them crowding me when I need to rest.

Writing about writing isn’t very interesting – hence all the posts on non-work related things. Most of my time is taken up with the thesis (just as well I am unemployed pretty much, these days). And what will I do when the thesis is done? I’ll need to find a job. Where will that momentum come from? I hear from friends who have been through this process that there comes a point where you can’t really see or imagine anything beyond the thesis. You can pretend… but nothing seems real.

Certainly for me, with all that has happened over the last couple of years, the thesis is the last big commitment I have to see through. Once it is finished, my life and my days will be one big vaccuum, ready to suck in something new. I feel little rushes of excitement when I think about this. Trepidation too. It is scary to have everything become so open. But I have been restless in my life for a long time now, so any new direction will be welcome. I’m certainly open to considering everything. I figure the offers won’t start rolling in until I’m truly free, so for the time being, it is back to the writing, to getting the work done and submitted and finished.

Writing progress

Today I have been preparing a paper for the ASME conference (Australian Society of Music Educators), which has to be submitted on Monday at 5pm. With my working title of How do newly arrived and refugee children perceive music learning? A summary of three children’s descriptions I have written around 6000 words. That might sound like an achievement but…. the maximum is 4000 words. And I haven’t even written my conclusion yet.

Still, it is a useful exercise. I was particularly happy with the way I shaped my introduction, or background comments. That felt like it had quite a nice flow. Anyway… a-chopping I shall go!

It is a little strange to be writing a paper when I haven’t even finished the darn thesis! But I do know where I am going with it all. It is now (hopefully) just a matter of working through it all systematically. Working on papers might even help me do that. Help me clarify my thoughts on the essential messages and narrative.

I am sheltering from Melbourne’s heat-wave (multiple days over 40 degrees… we are beside ourselves in shock, our water stores are emptying and the electricity grid keeps conking out) in my parents’ home in Brighton. It’s nice to spend a bit of extra time with them. And their home is air-conditioned. And the beach is a short drive away. So that’s been nice. This morning I swam around 9am before it got too hot (although it was pretty hot already, by that time). The water was still and clear and I did a ‘hand meditation’, focusing on my hands as they breaststroked their way through the water. Very relaxing focused way to start the day, hippy that I am. Tomorrow I am back in the city, leading workshops at ArtPlay.

Here is a photo of me meditating:


That’s all for now. Time to take a break and eat some dinner.

Language censorship, Harry Potter, and authors

Last night I went to an authors’ do – a get-together for writers of Young Adult fiction who do school workshops for the agency Booked Out. My sister invited me along (she who wrote Notes from the Teenage Underground).

It was a chance for the writers (who came from all over Australia – in Melbourne for Children’s Book Week) to get together and socialise as well as chat about their work, and exchange notes from the field, so to speak. Writing must be a pretty lonely profession sometimes. At one point the conversation turned to swearing in books for young adults – the kinds of words a writer might want to include, but that get knocked back by editors, and how strongly the writer might want to fight for a vernacular that others could take offense at. And constant deliberation about what is appropriate for the age-group, when you take into consideration schools and school libraries and other ‘gate-keepers’ who might keep young readers from your books if they deem them inappropriate.

Which brought me to thinking about the most recent Harry Potter book. I’m quite a Harry fan (even though I feel like my sense of the world I live in becomes a little warped and a little more tense whenever I get immersed in the HP books – I have to ration my reading somewhat, consequently). And I was surprised to find the word ‘bitch’ in the last big battle scene of the latest book.

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