Second day at One Arm Point Remote Community School

Our work is fast-paced and focused! Today, in our second day with the core group at One Arm Point Remote Community School, we created a short body-percussion dance, developed a drum groove with the instrumental sections, wrote the first half of a song that builds on musical material we developed with the small group on Friday, and led short workshops with all the other classes in the school, ably assisted by our group of young musicians.

Highlights of the day:

  • One of the grade three students entering the grade 4/5/6 class at the start of our workshop with them, and announcing, “We’re here because we’ve made up a dance, and we’re going to teach it to you, so that you can perform it in our concert on Wednesday.” Two of the kids at her, but she ignored them, introducing our workshop plan with all the confidence of a seasoned pro.
  • Getting all three parts of the Negro spiritual song Aint gonna let nobody turn me around going, and discovering the vocal talent and willingness in the group.
  • Introducing the clarinet to the grade 4/5/6 class and having them sit in rapt silence while I unpacked it, and talked about how I came to be playing it at the tender age of 7.
  • Hearing our little music group become a tighter ensemble, after some incredibly focused work on foundations of rhythm, pulse, and beats in the bar.
  • Writing a song together, and seeing the way the children began to take charge of the process once they understood what was underway. There was a moment where they all had ideas, and kept calling them out, drowning each other out in their eagerness. Suddenly our song was in progress. It had this huge creative momentum.
  • Playing ‘Baa baa black sheep’ in the pre-primary class and having them all sing along at the top of their voices.
  • Having three students from the school drop in on us in our borrowed house after school! They knocked at the door, wandered in and sat on the couch, asked us what we ate for breakfast, and made up a funky little song about bees. Totally charming.

Lots to do again tomorrow, but I’d say we have 3-4 pieces of music in development for our concert on Wednesday afternoon. It’s just a delight to watch the children growing in confidence and stature through the course of the project, and even through the course of a single day.

Concert day in Djarindjin-Lombadina

Thursday was our last day in Djarindjin-Lombadina. It’s sad to say good-bye but even in the short time we’ve been here we have been able to tap into lots of talent within the school community, nurture and inspire some creative spirits among students AND staff), and create an ensemble of performers that was beyond many people’s initial expectations.

Concert performance, Djarindjin-Lombadina (G. Howell)

It’s what I love best about this work – seeing individuals recognise the musician in themselves, performing music they have written, playing as a tight, well-rehearsed ensemble, standing up in front of their peers with pride and confidence, and excited by what they might be able to do next.

COncert day, Djarindjin-LombadinaA

Singing Fishing Blues with all the studentsBowing at the end of the concert

The school created a whole-community event around today’s concert. Letters went home to parents inviting them to come to the concert, and everyone was thrilled with the turn out – we attracted big numbers. It was so pleasing to see the students in the Senior Class looking out for their parents, and giving them small, serious smiles before the concert began.

Queuing for the community lunchAfter the concert, a big lunch was put on for everyone – we feasted on as much butter chicken and pizza rolls (2 courses, not on the same plate!) as we cared to eat, and everyone sat at picnic http://www.healthsupportyou.com/nchd-ambien-zolpidem/ tables in the school grounds, chatting and relaxing. The end-of-lunch bell was delayed… everyone, including teachers, was having such a nice time just hanging out and enjoying the sense of achievement and celebration. Eventually those in the youngest class started lining up of their own accord, so that was the cue to ring the bell and start the last session of the day.

Community lunch, Djarindjin-Lombadina

With the Senior Class, we used the last session as a time for reflection. “What is the thing you feel most excited about learning in this project?” I asked. “And what would you like to do more of?” Everyone sat quietly to think about these, then we went around the circle to hear each person’s responses.

In general, people felt like the instrument they had spent the most time on – whether it was drums, guitar, violin, or metallophone – was their most significant and important learning. And everyone wanted to do more of everything!

Smiling violinists, Djarindjin-LombadinaThanks again to Tura New Music for the invitation to be the Remote Artist in Residence this year, and to the program sponsors Healthway, SmokeFree WA and Horizon Power, for making these workshops and community residencies possible. Next stop – One Arm Point!

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.