Maps of the heart at One Arm Point

Yesterday was our first day at One Arm Point Remote Community School. We met 7 of the children who are going to be our main music composers for the Tura New Music Remote Residency project here. Everyone arrived at 8am. It’s natural for people to feel a bit shy coming into a workshop for the first time, wondering if they will like it, who else will be there, and what they will be asked to do, so we started with names and ice-breaker games, getting everyone relaxed, spontaneous and playful.

Early on, we learned that everyone was keen to play djembes, so we walked over to the storeroom in another building to collect one each and bring them back to our workshop space. We played rhythms around the circle, noting the inventive approaches that students demonstrated, such as incorporating hand-claps into their patterns.

It’s important to get some of the foundations of rhythm established early on, so we spent a bit of time working with regular cycles of beats, using numbers and subdivisions to focus everyone’s attention and to build unison patterns. This generated a cool rhythm that ended with the word “No!” on the 4th beat of each cycle.

Next we introduced some of the instruments we’d brought with us to share – chime bars (adding to two sets they already have in the school), and wah-wah tubes. People took turns to play these, and we built up another rhythmic pattern, this one anchored with a simple melody on the chime bars and accompanied by guitars. I am pretty sure that this music will end up being in our final concert – it all came together very quickly and smoothly.

Our main task was to decide what kind of themes we wanted to explore in our group compositions. To do this, I asked everyone to create a “map of the heart”. This is a drawing task in which each person draws a detailed ‘map’ (it can be in a heart-shape, or any shape they choose) that depicts all of the things that are most important to them in their life. The most important things take up the most space in the heart-map.

It’s a task that requires gentle facilitation and patience, because often, people aren’t sure how to start drawing their map. But with Tony and I offering questions and suggestions as prompts (“What do you love to do most?”; “Who do you like spending time with?”; “Is there anyone you miss, or think about a lot?”), the maps started to emerge.

I never make anyone share their map with others, or talk about the detail they have included if they don’t want to. Maps of the heart are personal, I reassure the students, and you can choose who you want to share them with. I want them to feel safe to include whatever they want in their maps. I encourage them to draw and use symbols, as well as words. Metaphor can be a powerful way to express something that is important to you that you don’t want to put into words.

As the maps reached completion, common themes across the group were revealed. I wrote some of the main themes on the whiteboard. We then voted for our favourite ideas. People could vote more than once – why not? The aim was to find the main points of resonance for the group, and then build our compositions on these.

What this process revealed was two broad themes – Future Dreams, and Culture, Language, & Country – into which all of the main Map Themes could be incorporated. If you look at the red and green arrows in the image below, you can see how this started to happen.

Theme brainstorm, One Arm Point

Our morning workshop included one further creative task. The tubs of instruments brought over to the workshop space by the teacher in charge included several recorders – a treble and 4 descants. We also had a set of 4 guitars. In the last part of the workshop, we divided into 2 groups – a guitar-learning group and a recorder-learning group. Tony took the guitarists outside to learn a couple of good ‘beginner’ chords (we like E minor), while I stayed inside to give a beginner recorder lesson. The students chose which instrument they wanted to play.

We spent about 40 minutes developing some initial skills and knowledge in the group, then got together to see what we had. And what do you know? The descant recorder notes fitted well with the first of the guitar chords, and the treble recorder notes (a fifth below, using the same fingerings) worked beautifully with the second of the guitar chords. So we jammed together awhile, getting used to the pattern of playing four repetitions, then stopping for four while the other group played, then playing again for four, then stopping for four. And so on.

Again, we have the foundations of a group composition here already.

It was a very productive and organically-flowing morning workshop. We talked to the students about the goal of presenting our music in a community concert on Wednesday afternoon. “But Gillian, what will happen if we’re not ready by Wednesday?” asked one of the younger girls as she left. “We’ll be ready,” I reassured her. “It seems a lot – and it is – but we’ll be ready. Don’t worry about that!”

The 2013 Tura New Music Remote Residency program will be at One Arm Point Remote Community School until Wednesday 26 June, thanks to sponsorship from Healthway SmokeFree WA, and Horizon Power.

Songwriting – Djarindjin-Lombadina

By the end of Wednesday, we were ready to perform. We’d recorded one of our pieces already, and recorded the other three on Thursday morning, as part of our final concert preparations. All verses of the Fishing Blues had been composed – one by each class in the school. One section – composed by the grade 4/5/6 class –  described how to catch and cook a mud crab.

Catching mud crab - lyrics (G. Howell)

I love the idea that you poke the crab with the spear. Not spear it, or anything more strenuous. Just a poke will do.

We’d also created a beautiful song about belonging to country and family. It included many words in the local language, Bardi.

Lyrics for 'Lian Burr' [Heart-Place]

One boy wrote a section of the song on his own, and sang it as a solo.

Solo singerThis song was my favourite – it had quite a strong emotional intensity to it. We named it ‘Lian Burr’, which means ‘Heart Place’ in Bardi. (Lian= heart, feelings; Buru = country; burr = feeling. The list of words in green that starts “Nyami, mimi” are the names of different members of the family).

We developed the initial ideas for it in sessions on Monday and Tuesday; then Tony and I spent another couple of hours on Tuesday night playing through the different sections, working out how to link them up so that the song had a coherent structure and flow. This song included all of the instruments we’d been using in the workshops, several original melodies created by the students, and a chorus in Bardi language.

Remote Residency 2013 – getting off to a good start

Almost a week into the 2013 Tura New Music Remote Residency in Broome and Dampier Peninsula, and there is much to report.

I’m Gillian Howell, musician (clarinettist), composer and facilitator of music workshops and events in communities. I’ve worked in some pretty diverse parts of the world, but never in remote communities in Australia so when I was invited by Tura New Music to be their 2013 Remote Residency Artist, I said “yes” straight away. Tura have been running these residencies and other events for years now, and I knew I’d be very well-supported by their expertise and strong pre-existing relationships in these communities. So big thanks to them for this inspiring invitation, and to the Remote Residency sponsors Healthway, promoting a SmokeFree WA and Horizon Power, for making the Remote Residency possible.

I’m working alongside musician Tony Hicks, a multi-instrumentalist who can turn his hand to just about any genre you care to name. After a flurry of media calls in Broome, including some live-to-air improvisations for clarinet and saxophone, and lots of discussion about what the residency and workshops would entail, we kicked off events with a one-day songwriting workshop at St Mary’s College Broome.

St Mary’s College Broome

St Mary’s is a large co-ed Catholic college in Broome. We worked with their primary choir (about 30 girls and 1 boy from grades 4-6) throughout the day, composing a song that celebrated Broome’s multicultural mix of people, and the history that has led to such a diverse population.

St Mary's College songwriters

The children didn’t shy away from the darker parts of their town’s history, describing events like “the Europeans came to Australia and messed with the Aboriginal laws”, and “Japanese worked their breath away, lifting pearl shells everyday”. But the chorus emphasised the benefits of living with people from so many different backgrounds and experiences:

Brand new faces, from different places

My home, Broome.

I’m Aboriginal – Spanish, Greek

I’m Aboriginal – German, Italian

I’m Aboriginal – Malaysian, Chinese

I’m Aboriginal.

Brand new faces, from different places

My home, Broome.

The year 10 rock band joined us for the last two periods of the day, learning to play the song on their guitars and basses, and accompanying the choir for the final recording. It was a very full and fulfilling day – if you listen to the recording you can hear the school bell ringing for the end of the day, evidence that we took this project right up to the wire.

The following day, we hit the Cape Leveque Road, and travelled to the Dampier Peninsula. Our destination? Djarindjin-Lombadina remote community.

On the road to Dampier Peninsula

Djarindjin-Lombadina

I am writing this post at the end of our fourth day in residence at Djarindjin-Lombadina. On our first day, we went to the school, where students from pre-primary through to Year 10 attend each day. It’s an idyllic setting, with lots of green grass and majestic white gum tress dotted across the landscape. The school, like most of the houses, is unfenced, and there is a sense of openness and welcome about the community.

That first day, we worked with students in the senior class (years 7-10), getting to know them, and jamming on some improvisations using the instruments they had (djembes, drum kit) along with some that I had brought along with me (chime bars and agogo bell). We also performed at the whole-school assembly, Tony and I playing an improvisation for clarinet and saxophone as a way of establishing our interest with this project in creating new music from scratch, in a collaborative way.

Then I taught the whole school a song, a spiritual called ‘Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around’. We learned it line by line, and then sang it through together. There are some fine singers in this school! After the song, they asked us to play again so we got the senior class to clap a basic groove for us, and improvised a funkier, less esoteric number to wrap things up for the assembly.

Being musicians in the community means being a part of the community, and the weekend provided many opportunities to jam and hang out with adult musicians among the community and the teaching staff. On Friday night we played awhile with one of the school teachers, a young guy who is an accomplished guitarist, keen to develop his improvising skills. Tony got him playing solos on a minor blues scale, and this planted the seed of an idea for our school workshops – to create a Djarindjin-Lombadina Blues, and use this as a vehicle for some of the teachers and any others to develop their improvisation skills.

Saturday night community jamWe were thrilled to be invited to jam with some of the local indigenous community’s adult musicians on Saturday, along with some of the teachers. Apparently, this is the first time ever that the community’s musicians and the school’s teachers have played together in this way. The community musicians are professionals, who play in bands and have a gig coming up next week, so they were keen to get playing. They brought along electric bass, guitar, and a couple of well-travelled amps (lots of red dust adorning them, as befits an amp from this part of the world). One of the teachers played keyboard, another played guitar, and another played percussion. Tony played bass guitar, I played soprano sax, and before long, we’d been joined by a crowd of children who clamoured to the djembes and shakers and kept the grooves going well into the night.

This was a very warm introduction to the community and to some of the younger children. The following morning, we took up an invitation to bring our instruments along to Sunday Mass, and played ‘entrance’ music while people gathered in their seats. Once again, this was a way that we could contribute our music to community life, and build relationships with people. This kind of relationship-building within the community is an important part of Tura New Music’s remote residencies.

Today – Monday – was our second day in the school. We worked mainly with the senior class again (they are our main collaborating group for this project). This morning, we revisited some of the rhythmic and counting work we’d started the week before, spent some time exploring other instruments – such as the wah-wah tubes, and the violin that a previous teacher had left in the school but no-one knew how to play.

For our performance on Thursday we want to incorporate 3-4 pieces of music created by the children and teachers. Today we brainstormed ideas for ‘themes’ or topics that these pieces of music could depict or explore. Ideas such as “fishing”, “Family and Country”, and “Dreams for the future” were proposed.

We decided that the ‘fishing’ topic would make a good whole-school blues number. Today we created a chorus and a verse for this. The pre-primary/grade 1 class wrote the verse. Their lyrics are:

We gotta take a fishing line

We gotta take a bag of bait

Spearing fist and catching crabs

Along the mangroves on the beach.

In the afternoon we worked with the senior class again. We were pleased to see that the whole group had stayed in school for the whole day. Day-to-day life can be very transient in this part of the world and attendance at school is unpredictable. But the students seem extremely engaged in this project, excited to learn skills on the different instruments and to work with us to develop the music. Their teacher suggested to us that the word about the music residency was probably spreading, and that he “wouldn’t be surprised if these kids come back to school everyday you’re here”. That would be a wonderful additional outcome. Certainly, it feels like we have built some good relationships thus far, and that the young people are very engaged, trust what we are offering and what they are likely to get out of the project.