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 (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.