The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project: The Flow Sessions

This blog post is by Gillian Howell – written in September 2019 as part of The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project. This was the end of Phase 1 of a three-year program (2017-2019) supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, The Ian Potter Foundation, and the Rowley Foundation.


The Flow Sessions

Last Wednesday, Alan Pigram (of Pigram Brothers fame, a musician who has worked with the ‘who’s who’ of Australian music for several decades) came to Fitzroy Crossing to help us record an album of all the original songs and sound art works created during the residencies between 2017 and 2019. We set up a temporary studio for him in the ‘Chaplain’s Corner’ adjoining the school library. Every day, groups of students and teachers came to the studio to record their vocals. Over the 3 days of recording and 2.5 days of editing (over the weekend), we recorded 12 tracks featuring five different languages!

Here’s a rundown of what we recorded:

  1. My Mobile Heart: this is the country song I co-composed with Senior Students at FVDHS in 2017. For the forthcoming album we asked primary students to record their vocals for the chorus and the outro (‘please Telstra please, please Telstra please, please Telstra, keep my baby talking to me).
  2. Jandamarra: This song of 7 verses is in the style of a contemporary folk song and was co-composed with Year 5 & 6 students in May 2018. It has since gone on to be sung by students across the school and has wide recognition. The Deputy Principal told me that he was driving a group of Year Two students home from camp recently and they began to sing this song in the car. He hadn’t realised it was a song created during a Tura Residency, and written by students in the school. He thought it was just a song the kids happened to know.
  3. Ruwa Parlipa Yani: This is a hunting song in Walmajarri, composed by the Walmajarri teacher Irene and me at Bayulu School in May 2019. It’s a very rousing song. We recorded the vocals with the Walmajarri students at Bayulu School and Alan will add a rockin’ accompaniment to it in his studio in Broome.
  4. Shine: This song was composed by Dominique, a Year 3 student, in 2018. She brought it to me after school one day asking for help figuring out the chords and structure. It’s a lovely song with a very clever lyric that uses shining stars in the sky as a metaphor for someone who is fearful of the spotlight. During this last residency, I worked with Dominique and her class (she is now in Year 4) to compose a second verse. The Year 4 students then recorded the vocals for the song in the Chaplain’s Corner studio.
  5. Giriliyarndi (‘Trees’): the Gooniyandi language teachers composed this song with me during this residency; it describes the different medicinal and culinary uses of three different local trees. They will use it to support a unit of work around local trees that they have planned for Term 4. These ladies are great singers as well as songwriters, and they recorded their vocals on Monday evening.
  6. Ngaralu parla muupungana ngapawu: The lyrics for this song were written by the Walmajarri language teacher at FVDHS. They follow a question-and-answer sentence structure that asks which animals are looking for water at the waterhole. By singing the song, students learn the names of six different animals. As with the other language schools composed during the residencies, it has been created to be used as a teaching tool and resource, supporting students to use their Indigenous languages to talk about different features of the local environment.
  7. Yuana Balga Bayalara: This is a counting song in Bunuba language that teaches children to count up to three, while also introducing the names of three different local animals, and the verb that describes their action or movement. The title translates as ‘One barramundi swimming’. I learned that Bunuba only uses the numbers one to three. For amounts greater than three, they just have ‘lots’ or ‘biggest mob’.
  8. Don’t Stop the Flow: This is a rap song about the Fitzroy River and the cultural value it holds for young people in the Fitzroy Valley. The lyrics were written from ideas by Year 6 students from three different primary schools in the Fitzroy Valley, and they all came to Fitzroy Valley school to record their vocals. The backing track is the same set of Garageband loops as I used for our ‘Don’t Stop the Flow’ song in 2018.
  9. Camping Journey: This is a musical journey, told with narration in Kriol by local artist and early childhood educator Natalie, with musical accompaniment and sound effects created by me and Alan. It also has three original songs embedded in it, two by me and one by local singer-songwriter Bullen. This track will be played in early childhood centres and play groups, with the children and adults acting out the story, doing the actions described, and imagining themselves in the scene. It has a big emotional and dynamic range. The three of us (Natalie, Alan, and me) loved putting it together and can’t wait to share it more widely!
  10. Night Fishing: This is an instrumental piece depicting the sounds, sensations, and images of fishing at the river by moonlight. I created it with students in Years 4, 5 and 6, and we performed it several times during this residency. It was recorded live for this album.
  11. Jandamarra In The Cave: This is a recorded soundscape created with Year 5 students. It is based on a soundscape that was created and performed live as part of the Jandamarra project in 2018; for the album, we created it ‘in the studio’, pre-recording all the sounds that we wanted, downloading some evocative ‘cave ambience’ from freesound.com (a wonderful website) and organising them into a single sound-art work. All of the children’s voices are included in the narration of the story. It describes the time in Jandamarra’s life when he was injured in a shoot-out with police, and escapes into a deep cave where his ancestors come to him, heal his wounds, and endow him with magical powers to help him evade capture by police.
  12. Flow: This is the title track of the collection of songs, and was written for the Fitzroy River and performed to it by students in Year 6 and Pre-Primary in May 2019. In the recording sessions, we added the children’s voices to the sections of the song that are in Indigenous languages. Previously, we had only recorded the language teachers singing these choruses. We will add these new vocal tracks to the existing recording.

The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project: Songwriting with Indigenous Language Teachers

This blog post is by Gillian Howell – written in September 2019 as part of The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project. This was the end of Phase 1 of a three-year program (2017-2019) supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, The Ian Potter Foundation, and the Rowley Foundation.


Songwriting with Indigenous Language Teachers

A major focus of both my residencies in 2019 has been to co-write songs with language teachers that they can use as teaching resources. The songs they have composed feature key vocabulary and sentence structures that they are teaching in their classes. Last residency, I worked closely with Irene, Walmajarri teacher at Bayulu School, and she and I wrote two songs together. One tells the story of her people, the Ngurrara people, coming out of the desert to work on the cattle stations, many of them settling in the towns and communities of the Fitzroy River. The other, Ruwa Parlipa Yani, is about hunting, and tells of going hunting for bush turkey (‘pinkirrjarti’), catching it, and bringing it back home to share with all the family.

My second 2019 residency saw me adding a further two verses to Ruwa Parlipa Yani with the Walmajarri teacher at Fitzroy Valley School (with Irene’s blessing). The Fitzroy Valley teacher and I went on to create another new song, also describing different animals, but this time using the teacher’s existing resource, a question-and-answer sentence structure asking ‘which animal is looking for water?’ In each of the answers, a local animal is mentioned, reinforcing that vocabulary and the grammar.

In these songwriting projects, the language teachers develop the words. I listen closely, in order to get a clear sense of the rhythmic phrasing of the words and how they run together, and with a particular alertness for any hints of melodic shape or phrasing that their repetition of the words might reveal. Even the slightest or most subtle hints of pitch variation can help the melody for the song emerge. I want them to trust their instincts, so I aim to amplify their early ideas with my own voice, accompanied by the ukulele. Any lingering shyness or cautiousness around their own songwriting capacities tends to diminish as they hear the musicality of the ideas emerge. Sometimes I intervene in the lyric-writing, asking if it would make sense for a certain word to be repeated, or if there is any way to reduce the syllable count of a particular line. Songs are much easier to learn when the rhythmic phrases flow with a degree of relative balance or consistent shape, and I try to help shape the songs in these ways, while making sure I honour the teachers’ priorities about the vocabulary that needs to be included, or the feel they are looking to create.

In this residency, I also held a songwriting workshop with the three Gooniyandi teachers who work at Fitzroy Valley and Bayulu schools. They share resources and follow similar teaching programs, but they don’t necessarily get to meet up regularly to develop new materials collaboratively. One of the teachers suggested that ‘Our Precious Trees’ could be a good topic for a song, as they were planning to use local trees as their language focus for the coming term’s lessons. The song flowed from that starting point.

We decided that three verses, with one tree per verse, would be enough material for the children to learn. They chose three trees to describe: the first, gooroo, has medicinal properties. You can chew its leaves and bark (I think that’s right) and then spit the paste onto a sore or bite on your skin. The first verse says in Gooniyandi:

If you get poked by the catfish,

Go looking for the gooyoo tree.

Chew its leaves, then put the paste on your sore.

The second verse tells of the birlindi tree, which bears edible fruit (‘If you are hungry, go looking for the birlindi tree to find a snack’). The third verse describes the paper-bark tree: the bark of this tree is used to wrap fish in, in order to cook it in the fire (‘if you catch a fish, go looking for the paper-bark of the goorromba tree, wrap the fish in the bark, and cook it in the ground oven’).

As the song took shape, the women began to joke and nudge each other, imagining the song being heard by others and shared more widely. ‘Hey, we can put this on the radio!’, said one. ‘People will hear it, they’ll be learning it. We’ll be famous!’ The idea of them singing on the radio was clearly an appealing one, as they mentioned it 3 or 4 more times during the songwriting workshop. I reckon this song – Yarrangi Joornanygarra GIriliyarndi – will get airplay too. It’s very catchy!

FVDHS language teachers Robyn and Brenda worked with the Bayulu language team on songwriting project.

The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project: Morning Singing

This blog post is by Gillian Howell – written in September 2019 as part of The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project. This was the end of Phase 1 of a three-year program (2017-2019) supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, The Ian Potter Foundation, and the Rowley Foundation.


Morning Singing

For the last few residencies, I have instituted a daily singing practice with the primary school students. They begin each day with sports – physical exercise that gets them moving and playing energetic games. Following this, they sit down and do the Breathe Blow Cough routine, a series of activities for young kids to teach them to blow their noses fully and cough into elbows in support of good respiratory and ear health. Breathe Blow Cough is a regular feature in primary schools across the Kimberley.

I’ve been taking advantage of having the whole primary school sitting together every morning to get them singing. Certainly, singing supports the goals of Breathe Blow Cough and daily exercise, encouraging deeper breathing and expansive lung action. But it also can promote other benefits, such as feelings of social bonding and connection, and the release of beneficial endorphins and neurotransmitters like oxytocin, improving mood. It also engages the brain and the memory, with the opportunity to sing words rhythmically helping to reinforce language familiarity and fluency. And it is fun. A short, five-minute burst of singing at the start of the day doesn’t really have any downsides.

When I first began the Morning Singing, the children sang very quietly. It seemed like there might not be many opportunities for singing during a regular school day, so that no-one was really practised at singing in a big group, or that there was self-consciousness attached to it. But last residency I observed something else – that when the children felt confident with the song we were singing they would sing out in big strong voices. When it was a new song, they were more subdued. This might seem obvious, but it isn’t necessarily a consistent pattern in other schools I’ve worked in around the world. I’ve found that every social group has cultural norms around singing (who sings, when, how loud or enthusiastically, how others respond and in what contexts, etc) and it can take some time for the layers that make up those norms and tendencies to reveal themselves.

With that knowledge in mind, I’ve focused this residency’s Morning Singing sessions on introducing new material in the context of familiar songs. I’ve focused on leading/teaching songs that have been composed during the residency (like Jandamarra and Flow and My Mobile Heart) as these already find interest among the students, and they already know them a bit. The fact that these come from this community, that is, they have been composed by students in this school provides an added motivation for singing them.

And in response, I’ve heard some really BIG, enthusiastic singing most mornings! Jandamarra remains the most popular across all the classes, but My Mobile Heart also inspired some big confident voices, and Flow – which the children hear every morning as it is the school’s ‘start of the day’ bell music – is familiar to all of them as well. I’ve been seeing much less self-consciousness in the singing, and far more confidence and self-assuredness. Individuals will sing out even if their neighbours on either side aren’t really joining in. And over time, the Morning Singing has enabled me to build friendly, familiar relationships across all the year levels.

The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project: Flowing sounds all the way to Mangkaja Arts Centre

This blog post is by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.


As part of the Flow theme, The Year 6 students and I created instrumental music where our creative goal was connect and flowed and moved with ease. We performed this for the river too. We used two sets of chime bars, a Tibetan singing bowl, and a rainstick, and performed it in a circle. We explored textural, melodic, and harmonic ideas, and combined them in a graphic score.

Following the performance at the Old Crossing of the Fitzroy River, we went to Mangkaja Arts Centre where the Pre-Primary students joined us, and we performed our song ‘Flow’ and our instrumental piece for the artists there, surrounded by the amazing art works on the walls (I gave a camera to the students for them to document the day, and it was moving to see how many photos they took of the artworks on the walls. After selfies and photos of each other pulling faces, the next most photographed subject was the artwork). We capped off the morning with a lovely morning tea of fresh fruit and juice, and then we all piled back into the bus and returned to school in time for lunch.

Year 6 Fitzroy Valley District High School students perform in a circle at Fitzroy River.

Fitzroy Valley District High School students performing at Mangkaja Arts Centre.


 

The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project: Singing for and to the Fitzroy River

This blog post is by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.


The theme for this residency is ‘flow’. This word came to the fore in last year’s project with Year 8 students, when they created a song about caring for country and keeping the river healthy and free from plastic and other rubbish and titled it “Don’t Stop the Flow”. The concept of ‘flow’ is multilayered in local Indigenous worldview, applied to aspects of health and wellbeing for people, the river, and their interdependence, and it seemed there was a lot more to explore creatively with that as a central theme or creative point of departure.

Working this time with Year 6 students, we brainstormed ideas about what flow means, and what they feel the Fitzroy River brings to their lives. The students’ responses were rich in their detail. Some of them drew pictures of their favourite river places, and described the environment and all the things they could do there in great detail. Two girls described the spring at Yirrmalai (a nearby location, a couple of hours drive away, they thought), sharing stories of its cold, clear water, the healing powers of the water, and of a rope swing over the main waterhole.

Another boy talked about how going to the river helped him relax and feel good. It calmed down his head, and he loved to go there for swim and fishing with his mum and other family members.

Then I visited the Pre-Primary students and asked them about their river experiences. They described long drives, catching fish – with a net you could catch ‘big mob – and looking out for crocodiles. As we talked, their teacher wrote down their answers and descriptions, taking care to use their exact words.

We organised all these different ideas into a song, with the Pre-Primary students’ words making up the first verse, and the Year 6 words making up the Chorus and the second and third verses.

We rehearsed the song over the next week, and then in the third week of the residency, the Year 6 students, their teachers and I went to sing it to the river. A few people came to hear us sing, but that wasn’t the main purpose – the main purpose was to sing it to the river, to offer it as a gift, to let the river know how important it is. The song became one of the ways for these children to enact their responsibilities of care for the river, embodying the Act – Belong – Commit message of Healthway, sponsors of the Fitzroy Crossing residency.

I’ve never heard them sing as proudly and beautifully as they did when they sang to the river. During the singing, a flock of cockatoos flew over and perched in the tree branches closest to where we were singing. They squawked and chattered throughout the song. This seemed like an endorsement – or at least an impact!

As we walked back to the bus, one of the students said that she thought the river would be proud of them for their song and their singing, and their commitment to country.

Year 6 Fitzroy Valley District High School students singing to the river.


The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project: Songwriting at Bayulu Remote Community School

This blog post is by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.


Last time I was up in the Fitzroy Valley I spent a morning out at Bayulu Remote Community School, a primary school that is situated on Gogo Station, just a short drive off the Great Northern Highway. I ran some introductory music workshops with each of the classes and met the teachers, planting seeds for a more extensive engagement on my next visit.

One of the first requests made during that reconnaissance visit was from the Indigenous Language Teachers. “We’d love to do some songwriting in language,” they told me. As a result, on this residency (my fourth with Tura in the ‘Music in Community’ twice-yearly, 3-year residency) I’ve been spending each Friday in Bayulu School, and songwriting with the Language Teachers has been a real highlight.

I’ve been working with Irene, the Walmajarri teacher. Irene is wonderful to collaborate with. She comes in with ideas, she suggests words and melodic shapes, and thinks in song shapes. Our track record is a song a week. The first song is very quiet and contemplative. It tells the story of the Ngurrara people (her people) coming out of the desert and going to work on the stations. It explains why the Walmajarri-speaking mob spread out so far from each other, and how their shared language kept them connected over the distance. So far we have two verses, in English with some key words in Walmajarri. Hopefully this week – our third – we will create a third verse that tells the story of the Ngurrara people returning to their homelands.

Ngurrara people coming out of the desert

Climbing over jilji, passing by jilas and jumus.

Travelling northway, onto the station

Working for kartiya but carrying the traditional ways.

            They never knew they’d be gone so long

            But they never forgot the way back home.

            They knew the track

            To take them back

            To their homeland Ngurrara country.

            To their homeland Ngurrara country.

Another song is in the Walmajarri language entirely. It is a song about hunting and fishing. I learned some of the words in the process of writing it (reinforced by participating in one of Irene’s language classes with Year 2 students, where we played ‘Bingo’ with pictures and matching words. I did not win).

We will record the songs together before this residency ends, and we hope that students in the school can also learn to sing them.

Gillian Howell and Irene at Bayulu Remote Community School


 

The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project #3 Week 3

This blog post of week 3 is written by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.


Week 3: Songwriting as voice

For this second 2018 residency in Fitzroy Crossing I’ve had an underpinning theme of ‘voice’. I wanted to explore the idea of voice both literally (developing students’ singing voices, encouraging them to explore, enjoy, and celebrate the sound of their voices) and metaphorically, where finding one’s voice, raising it, using it to claim rights, tell truths, or express something meaningful is a source of power. The theme was occasionally a prompt for discussions, but more often it was an underpinning principle.

Voice also supports the Act-Belong-Commit message embedded throughout this residency. Songwriting – whether undertaken individually, in small groups, or as a class – is a creative experience and journey. It embraces personal motivation and impetus (‘act’), focus for collaboration (‘belong’) and is a powerful vehicle for expressing your ideas or concerns and raising your voice about something that matters to you and therefore is meaningful (‘commit’).

Given this theme and associated messages, it was particularly satisfying to witness an increasing interest in songwriting among the students over the course of the residency. Pairs of students began to approach me, asking for my help with songs they had started to write. We would meet at recess or after school. I helped them organise their ideas into verse and chorus structures, to think about syllable counts in order to make their words and messages fit within the established phrase lengths, and to improvise melodic shapes. Some of the songwriters had very clear ideas, with lyrics mostly written and a strong sense of the musical phrasing and likely accompaniment. Others were still figuring some of this out but knew what they wanted their song to be about.

One Grade 3 girl wrote a song encouraging an unnamed other to acknowledge her/his strengths and ability to shine:

In the night you’re very bright

In the daylight you’re quite shy

I think you should face your fear

And we’ll give out a great big cheer.

You shine too, you shine too, you shine too.

Shine with me and I will shine with you.

Another Grade 3 girl came to me with a desire to write about clouds and their journeys and ‘graceful dancing in the sky’. She confided that when she is very stressed, she likes to lie on her back and watch the clouds. This song was more dreamy in feel, and switched between talking to the clouds and talking about clouds and her life.

Two Year 7 girls approached me with a song they had started to write as part of a ‘personal project’. (FVDHS is a Big Picture Learning school, and students spend time each day on nominated personal projects, which can be research- or creative-based, or both). The song was angry and direct, called “Stop That” and directed towards adults in their community that they were telling to stop drinking, smoking, and fighting. The first day we met, I gave them some ideas about how they could organise all their different ideas for lyrics into themes or topics, with each one becoming a possible verse.

The next day, they came to me with four printed copies of their lyrics (“one for each of us, one for you, and a spare” – they are very organised). We worked on developing some musical accompaniment for it and tightening some of the musical phrasing (reducing the syllable count in some lines, and finding more economic ways to give the same message). These students hadn’t yet heard of my ‘voice’ theme because I hadn’t been working directly with their classes, but nevertheless included lines like this:

You should hear my voice, I changed everything.

If you can hear my voice, you can make the right choice.

When combined with the songs that have been written in previous residencies, we are fast developing a ‘Fitzroy Valley Songbook’ as one of the outcomes of this three-year residency.

Week 3: Don’t stop the flow

During this second residency for 2018, I spent a lot of time with the Year 8 class. Initially, I thought we might create a song-and-soundscape project about the power of collective voices, using the 1946 Pilbara Walk-Off and Strike as a thematic starting point. However, conversations with the class shifted the focus to their concerns about the environment, and issues concerning plastic waste and rubbish disposal more specifically.

Don’t Stop the Flow brainstorm board

We brainstormed lyrics on the whiteboard, and individuals then used these ideas to write verses and a chorus. As the song emerged, it was clear that the verses were going to be a rap, but the chorus would be sung. One girl wrote a set of lines that were a perfect sung chorus:

Don’t stop the flow

Pick up your rubbish

Don’t stop the flow

Chuck it in the bin

Don’t stop the flow

It’s bad for the environment

Don’t stop the flow

Stop the rubbish.

According to researchers I met with from the Australian Rivers Institute, currently undertaking a cultural value study of the Fitzroy River, the concept of ‘flow’ is particularly salient. Flow can refer to the movement of water through the river system, where it is an indicator of the river’s health. But it is also a concept relating to human wellbeing and health. In the local languages, the word that translates into ‘flow’ with regard to the river is the same word that is used to describe particular states of wellbeing. Because of this, the researchers were excited that ‘flow’ had been such a central theme in our songwriting. It captured a concept of high local cultural value that communicates concern for more than the river itself.

I set up a backing track using GarageBand, and the students and I spent a couple of days recording all the vocals. The young songwriters selected which lines they wanted to sing/rap, sometimes changing the lyrics to words that suited them better, a sign of the collective ownership that they felt over the song.

The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project #3 Week 2

This blog post of week 2 is written by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.


Week 2: Songs that stick

Sometimes, a song is written in a residency and it is loved and enjoyed, but ephemeral, casting a bright light just within the project boundaries. Other times, the song lives on… and on. During my previous residency (May-June 2018) the two Year 4-5-6 classes and I composed a song about Jandamarra, a Bunuba hero-warrior who led a resistance against the white pastoralists and their appropriation of the country from the traditional owners. On this return visit it has been gratifying to see how strongly that song continues to resonate. The songwriters themselves are clearly very proud of it. They were excited to perform it with Tura’s Narli Ensemble at Mangkaja Art Gallery back in June.

Several of the songwriters joined me on the Music Mat at the FASD Awareness Community Day on 9 September, and were eager to sing it over and again, sharing their song with younger children and their carers. The Jandamarra song also attracted attention from community members who hadn’t yet interacted with my residency. They were intrigued to hear this new original song about one of the local heroes, and – I hope – to see these often very shy children singing it with such freedom and enjoyment and pride.

Celebrating FASD Day in Fitzroy Crossing

Posted by Marra Worra Worra on Monday, 17 September 2018

 

The Jandamarra song is clearly going to be a song that sticks, eclipsing the song I wrote with senior class students in my 2017 FX residency (‘My Mobile Heart’ – or, as some of the students call it, “that Telstra song”). My Mobile Heart is still popular, with students continuing to request it in song workshops, but I have a feeling our Jandamarra song is the one with real staying power.

Given this success with songs-that-stick, a next focus is to work with the culture and language teachers here and in some of the feeder primary schools in surrounding small communities, to co-create some songs and other musical material with local language embedded throughout. Increasing kids’ language knowledge and keeping culture alive through using local languages in daily learning is a priority.

On the Music Mat at the FASD Awareness Community Day on 9 September 2018

The Fitzroy Valley New Music Project #3 Week 1

This blog post of week 1 is written by Gillian Howell – Tura’s current Musician in Residence in Fitzroy Crossing, Kimberley, WA. This is part of a three year program supported by Healthway, promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, and The Ian Potter Foundation.


Week 1: On moustaches and magic

Magic Man Made a Moustache

With the Marulu class at Fitzroy Valley District School, where kids with particular learning and developmental needs work together, creativity is pretty unfettered. I only needed to suggest we might write a song together and the boys had begun to suggest lines (they are all boys in this class at the moment). ‘Magic Man made a moustache’ is the first one. It’s quite a catchy opener (not something you might immediately expect from the word ‘moustache’). In our first two sessions we had two songs written, in the third, we added a second verse to the first one, and set up some fine accompanying percussion grooves that the boys were performing very solidly.

In Week 3, we taught the song to the whole of the primary school. The boys were excited to share it – lots of cheeky, conspiratorial, and delighted grins between them. Their teacher later told me that they were a little critical of their peers’ efforts to sing their song in one short, five-minute session: “They didn’t sing all the words!”

Marulu class also wrote a second song in Week 1, about stars. They experimented with sounds on a range of metal instruments and with making bird calls with their voices, and then recorded a soundscape to go with their Stars song.

Stars Song

Week 1: Raising the voices of Fitzroy Valley kids

Throughout this second 2018 residency I’ve been exploring ideas around ‘voice’: raising voices, claiming space for new or quieter voices, helping individuals to find their voice, and developing individual voices’ creative expression.

One of the strategies has been to help encourage some whole-school singing to happen on a regular basis. The primary school children have a 20-minute morning routine each day from 8am that includes physical activity (usually a chasing game, lots of laughter and unpredictability) and a short sequence of breath-based activities designed to clear air passages and reduce incidence of ear infections that can arise from build-up of mucous in the passageways between the nose and the ears (known as Breathe-Blow-Cough, or BBC, and used in schools throughout the Kimberley). During my residency we’ve added a daily song to this routine. Each day I’ve taught a short song to the group, encouraging them to breathe deeply and exercise their voices, but also to have the experience of social connection, cooperation, and togetherness that singing together can bring.

Learning a new song each day is no small task. I included songs in a range of languages (from South Africa, Cameroon, Ghana, Israel as well as the USA, Torres Strait Islands, and Australia). One of the songs had been written by the Marulu group the previous week, and it was so catchy and appealing we knew we wanted to give every primary school child the chance to learn it. The singing took place in a large undercover area, and I encouraged the children to tilt their heads slightly towards the metal roof, in order to experience their voices within its amplifying effects.

The Wild Violins at Warmun’s Ngalangangpum School

Hollis Taylor with Jon Rose are Tura’s Musicians in Residence at Warmun, East Kimberley as part of Tura’s ongoing Regional and Remote residency Program. Hollis Taylor writes of their third week there.

Strange as this may sound, The Wild Violins of Warmun is actually a product of the rise of China. Jon has been to the factory on the outskirts of Beijing where these instruments are mass-produced. It used to be that cheap Chinese violins from the time of Mao were a bit of a joke, but these days they are quite playable. So, by way of total contradiction, this project is actually only possible now, because for $40 you can get a violin, a bow, a case, spare strings, rosin—including postage from China, when typically, you could not buy any one of those (except rosin) for $40 in the West. This has allowed Tura, through its funders and donors, to bring 22 violins to a remote Aboriginal town for an investment of less than $1,000.

Our focus in Week 3 was two performances we took part in. The first was an all-school event in the Music/Drama Room. The youngest in the audience sat on carpets in the front, while family and community members as well as older students were seated in the back. It was a full house. Eight students from years 1 – 6 joined five high school students to make a full resonant sound that demanded to be heard—and the audience agreed that these students had really made remarkable progress in such a short time.

Ngalangangpum class photo | Image by Mark Jones

The following day, Tura’s 2018 Narli Tour, performed in the outdoor amphitheatre. Guitarist, singer/songwriter, and didgeridoo legend Mark Atkins was joined by cellist Judith Hamann, percussionist Joe Talia, and flautist Tos Mahoney in a school concert. A number of students joined the percussion section of the band. The band’s musical celebration continued at the Warmun Arts Centre that night. It began indoors, featuring The Wild Violins of Warmun joined by Mark and Judith (as well as Jon Rose, Jean-Michel Maujean, and me on violins). We concluded by winding our way through the gallery in a long line. Students from the school who had only participated in the first two workshops joined us for this final number. It seems playing violin is contagious!

Tura’s 2018 Narli Tour | Image by Mark Jones

The celebration at Warmun Arts Centre was concluded with a Wanga by the Gija Dancers, an uplifting and fitting end to our Residency at Warmun.


The 2018 Regional Residency Program is supported by Healthway promoting the Act-Belong-Commit message, The Ian Potter Foundation and the Rowley Foundation.