Saturday, October 27, 2012

Intercultural Dialogue 2 | Reflections on mixed music classes

Lately, deriving inspiration from my professional activities on (Music) Education, i am very much influenced of a very special book (a Foundation's research product) coming from a country with much experience on multiculturalism.
The book is entitled  "The view of the Yeti: Bringing up children in the spirit of self-awareness and kindreship", and the Foundation is Bernard van Leer, Belgium.
The author in his Introduction, explains his main idea, that the children of 21st century, cannot avoid of living consciously together with many "othernesses", and moreover, he hopes that his grandchildren will be reading him after years, commenting him like "Come on! Still not taken this stuff for granted"?
Unfortunately, no, we still have much path to walk, and not only because even at the moment, many countries haven't signed the "Convention on the Rights of the Child".
I would just put some personal experiences straight from my last years' classes (2011-2012, 2010-2011)

Case A. The weak otherness.

The bell has rung and i walk in the sunshining school´s aula, with children around. At some moment Vasilis and Stefanos, two A graders come to me, both crying. I ask them what happened.
-Mrs, you know,Stefanos called me "an Albanian", complained honesty the child!
-Just because you pushed me while we were playing, answered bothered the other one.

Both the two boys have a very good attitude in the class, i am reflecting. Especially Vasilis, is very careful and collaborative in my music lessons. He is the first kid to his family. Stefanos, too, but a little bit more "sensitive". It seems that he grows up like "the smaller", because sometimes his sister (D grade) comes to ask if everything is alright. I am lowering my legs to come closer, focusing firstly on Stefano, while Vasilis is hearing.
-Stefane,you know, Albania is the country where Vasilis comes from. Do you know this country?
-Well,  this is very important for him, so if you call him "Albanian" because you got hurted, he doesn't like it. It sounds like something bad for him. You understand me?
-... (shaking positively his head).
- Are you friends with him?
-Yes, we already are friends, mrs Sofia!...
-Vasili, do you agree? You are friends with Stefano?
-Yes! We play together!
-Ok, that's it! If you continue being friends, then one day he will invite you to see his country. Would you like  this to happen, Stefane?
-Do you have any special origin like Vasili?
- We are from a village in Peloponneso!
-Do you love your village?
-Yes, much!
-You see? Vasilis, too, loves his country. Like you! It's the same! Do you feel happy now?
-Vasili, are you ok, too?
-Then now go play again like before! Ok? See you next Monday in class!

The boys left to continue their games much satisfied. They both felt recognised, they both felt respectable. Creating and providing for them this approving atmosphere, i also utilized the moment for giving them some intercultural food for thought.

 In this age, most of the kids don't understand this "ethnicity" use as a bad characterization. It is the adults' world that interfere into their emotional cosmos. So, i guessed right. Nothing serious had happened, just a small power test between them, into their way of exploring themselves socially.

But i was much worried about Vasilis, and other kids like him, too. Already at his 6, he had the experience of feeling "different", or that "something goes wrong" with him.  In what extent this will remain? How much is it possible to be a forgotten incident for him? This depends on his personality, on his family´s attitude, the cultural surrounding, and the teachers' responsibility, of course.

Case B. We are all trans-immigrants, now.

At the same school, there is a beautiful boy with black hair , shining eyes, and clever mind, Nicolas. You cannot teach in this B Grade class, without notice this unique creature. He always moves around, helping the others, always smiling and showing willingness, always feeling "present to the present of the class". His general teacher really admires him, telling me always some stories of him, especially his achievements on Mathematics.

One day while playing at the class some music games, Nicolas looked around him and said "I am leaving for Australia!". And me, immediately reacting on impulse i answered " Wow! This is a real destination! Great!". Nicolas smiled, but in his face i could see his doubts and insecurity.

Later his teacher told me that actually he is from Iraq, and that it's true. In general they are thinking to change country. Nicolas grows up in a big family, where all of them work or search for job, while he is the smaller one. So, this is a real conversation that he must have heard back home. We can all imagine similar situations among economical immigrants.

Until the end of the school year, he had said his announcement a couple of times, like he wanted to check the others' reaction, like he wanted to check himself, too. All the times i showed supportiveness, although i could read his heart: Deeply he felt like no need to change, like he had found his "balance". This year, i really can´t know what happened to Nicolas. But the interesting thing is that it´s me who changed country. And this was a rare child that taught and reminded me so many things.

Case C. The view of the "other".

Three years ago i was researching on "musical improvisation as an educational tool" in multicultural environments.For this purpose i was visiting a mulitultural school of Athens, mostly with pupils from Asia and Africa, as a participant observator at the music classes. Many wonderful moments i experienced at this school, moments having mainly to do with the exploration of ethnic diversities.

This was a very happy school. Children were enjoying each moment of the day, they were trying hard with their bilingual and bicultural life, and also they had developed naturally a curiosity for the otherness. No Greek pupils were studying there at that time.

One day i was talking with a very sensitive teacher on intercultural education issues, Katerina. I was participant observator at her classes music lessons, too, very much interested at her B grade children. She told me about a unique experience with one of her Philippines pupils.
Christmas vacations were coming, and they were discussing all together about their leisure time. All the children were ready to departure for foreign, distant countries, most of them for the first time in their life. Then the boy asked:
-You, Mrs Katerina, where are you going for Christmas?
-Me? Nowhere. My home is here, i stay in Athens
-Ohhh...poor Greek people. Won't go anywhere, said the boy.

For those who think immigrants are the less benefited this boy turned the reality, showing the alternative side. Katerina got surprised positively, and took an important lesson. I answered to her story with mine, from her class too, adding to her message.

One other day we were playing a game with a music train, that was travelling around the world, and each child had to make a stop at his origin's country. There was a small girl from Seychelles, "Miracle". It obviously took me and their music teacher more time than her, to find her island at the classes' world map. Miracle was shouting "there, there", while we were still searching.Those children, learn to orient themselves inside the whole world´s map already since they are born!

I reflect sometimes, how many different paths i have experienced so far now, and how different my professional life as a music teacher is, sometimes, if i take my musicology studies as the starting point. But of course, when working with children, and young people, music is sometimes the subject and some other times the occasion of doing things together.
We are not machines that produce musicology knowledge, and this is not the point. What happens inside the classes is and should be much more interactive, and most of all a unique experience of reconstructing knowledge - any type of knowledge- together with them, or because of them. Each school year for me, is a different journey around music practices (like composing, arranging, improvisating, singing),  music philosophies behind them, arts, inspiration...  because the starting point is different, the closing point, also, and the process much more.
Now think all this with new kids and classes every time. Some colleagues are quite nervous "what i do with this class", "what i do now with the other one etc", but this is not the meaning for me. There is not only the "what i do", but also the "how i do". And it is not even "I", but also "we". We should try more this "we", that many colleagues even are being afraid of, because they don't know how to do it. After all, children are not white boards that one has to fill them with theoretic material. They are persons with (music) thoughts, (music) feeling and taste,(music) ideas, and this is something we must work more on. My favourite quotation, for example, on how we can start music improvisation with them is the one that follows:

"The best method of make them improvise, is much likely to the swimming pool class. You throw them to the deep, and then you work on this"!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Orchestrating Nature: Notes on an artistic and scientific shift from music to soundscape

(photo: a detail of Edinburgh as walking up to Arthur's Seat )

Annea Lockwood is a composer born in New Zealand, studied in Europe, currently living in USA.
Having been attentant of the famous Darmstadt summer courses on modern music, and flirting naturally with the avant-garde artists of the 60's in USA: sound poets, visual artists, choreographers, composers like Philip Glass, builded her own music world by leading her imagination- and the world that followed her- to new paths of music creation. Or we could better say, sound creation?

There was a period for the avant-garde composers, where they searched for new sources of inspiration, questioning about the future of the post-war western art music. Some of them thought it's going to be the end of west music. Some others were shifting gradually from music to sound. Urban and natural sounds proved to be their new field for experimentation, their new material for compositions. Lockwood´s one of them. Among her most adventurous and charmy works, are her implement of the "river projects". The Soundmap of Hudson River (1982), The Soundmap of the Danube (2005), and, lately, a Soundmap of the Housatonic River (2010), remain at the top of my listening experiences. Focusing on the "River" cases, Lockwood used as much as she could from the "oral culture" of a river and what can surround it: She records everything: birds and animals, water on the surface, under the surface, close to a waterfall. Later, those recordings become embodied to compositions, or can stand as independent sound installations, located to specific museums.

At her programme note on her last "Soundmap of the Housatonic River" we read: "A Soundmap of the Housatonic River is a four-channel sound installation, it is an aural tracing of the river from its sources to Berkshires, Massachusetts, to Long Island Sound, Connecticut. Each recorded site is located on a wall map with a number. Beside the map is the corresponding number, followed by the time at which that site can be heard, the place name, and where the recording was made. The installation was commissioned by the Housatonic River Museum, a project in development in Berkshire County, Massachusetts"Moreover, the composer also is getting interested in life narratives, of persons whose life is connected with the rivers in various ways. At her "Soundmap of the Danube", among the tracks to the available disc pack, we listen to farmers, boat captains, pansion owners, fishermen etc, each of them having a unique story to confess from his\her life experiences with the river.*

What sounds even more interesting, is this parallel evolution of science. In terms of researching on music creation, Anthoropology, too, has turned its interest to the ethnography of sound. Sound, is for the ethnographer a connecting material of social relationships, and functions as a field where socially constructed emotions are being articulated. Sounds do make sense, as they are not simply tonal structures of music, but also participate to the building of natural and social systems. Additionally, an explosion of interest around Acoustic Ecology has lead to an increasement of related meetings, conferences and experience exchange among the ones who wish to get engaged musically with urban and nature soundscapes.

Following this latest scientific tensions, but in a more "everyday life" sense, composers, friends of nature, educators, acoustic ecologists and many others organize "soundwalkings" where one can participate. During a soundwalk one focuses on sounds or noises, while walking silent. One of the pioneers of those aural actions  is the composer Hildegard Westerkamp. Anyway Westerkamp is a huge interesting subject by her own, but so far, you can read some description of the experience from her
you can just take an (aural) impression of one of her soundwalk projects
or listen how she uses the recorded material to her compositions

*more info about Annea Lockwood

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Travels of Tirant Lo Blanch: Music and Chivalrous Splendor in Medieval Spain

(image: the front page of the book-CD edition on Diverdi, www.diverdi.Com)

It is always a beautiful surprise, a unique emotion to discover new music. This world has so many treasures around for us musicologists!
My arrival in Spain was followed very soon by the discovery of a very nice new CD project under the title "The travels of Tirant lo Blanch". I listened to it very carefully, admired the sounds coming from the past, got fascinated with the mythic and historic mediaval connections. I guess mostly because in Greece we don´t have this kind of music as our tradition. This project seems to follow the strong Early Music Movement, which means a constantly faithful interpretation of music of the past by using the old instruments, reading the old manuscripts.  But, how old? If the instruments are constructed as baroque copies, is it still enough?
Responsible for the release of this album (already from 22/10/2010) is the Capella de Ministrers and the Conductor Carles Magraner. In fact it is a collection of medieval pieces, wonderfully interwoven with the concept to follow the route and path of a historic person in a symbolic way.
Tirant lo Blanch (The White Knight) is a novel written by a Valencian knight named Joanot Martorell, and was published firstly in 1490. Being quite autobiographic, the epic novel presents a knight from Brittany who travels around Europe, taking part at knight contests. Until one day he is accepted from the Byzantine Emperor as a captain of the army, and consequently helps the Empire against the invasions of the Ottoman Turks. The novel, being written so close to the times of Instanbul fall (1493), gives many evidences about real historical facts. Miguel de Cervantes became inspired by the novel on writing his Don Quixote, and cites the book as the most important piece of  literature. Today it is regarded as one of the most important medieval literature works of the Spanish speaking world.
One can find the authentic catalan text here

Back to the music, now, the whole edition is consisted of two CDs, totally forty-six different music pieces. Carefully chosen from the music gardens of the Medieval, one can enjoy exquisite European songs to exotic sounds of Ottoman Empire and North Africa. Composers like Guillaume Dufay, John Dunstable, Pere Oriola, Matthiew Johannes, Fletxa Cornago, coexist delightfully with Andalusian, Greek and Ottoman traditional songs. Apart from the songs there are instrumental parts, too, and the whole work flows peacefully to the ears, awakening memories from a distant past that one could never had! And this is exactly the beauty of Early Music!..
Above one can visit the Capella de Ministrers YouTube Channel,  where can watch moments of preparation and rehearsals of the whole project,
as well as abstracts from the recording process,

When i just clicked on the links, i had a second surprise waiting for me. One of the videos opened with the lyra de Pontos sound, played by a Greek musician, Spyros Caniaris! (This is an instrument of the Lyra Family,coming from the Greeks of the Black Sea, and Spyros Caniaris is a fusion musician  from Athens, living in Valencia).

One can listen to the work, too, by buying it, or, just have some more listening experiences thanks to this gentle YouTube user:

Living in a speedy modern world, with so many acoustic options around us, and where one can hardly hear the other, suggesting some qualitative music in low volumes always makes the difference!...



Pilar Esteban, mezzosoprano
Marta Infante, alto
Jordi Ricard, baritono

David Antich, flautas
Carles Magraner, viola d' arc
Renée Bosch, viola d´arc
Jordi Comellas, viola d´arc
Paco Rubio, cornetto
Catharina Bauml, Chirimia
Simeón Galduf, sacabuche
Jordi Giménez, sacabuche
Ignasi Jordá, exaquier y órgano
Jesús Sánchez, viola da mano
Pau Ballester, percusión

Con la colaboración de:

Magdalena Padilla, soprano
Mario Cecchetti, tenor
Mara Aranda, voz
Juan M. Rubio, arpa / 'ud
Silvia Musso, arpa
Aziz, Samsaoui, qanun
Spyros Kaniaris, lira

Carles Magraner, director

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Intercultural Dialogue 1 | Fusing your (musical) life

Opening this new path for "music and culture" expression, the chosen timing brings me to
what happened to me last night, being in a nice cafe  in Valencia for a music concert under the title "Mediterranean musics"
Although arrived almost at the end, found a position at the second table in front of the small scene.
I know that the specific musician I was going to listen to, loves Greece and greek songs, my origin's music culture, so i was relaxed, talking and drinking and laughing as usual, while listening... His main corpus of his concert, is made from old songs the previous generation in my country was listening to, a mixture of quite familiar sounds, even old-fasioned i would say.
Then some Spanish people just behind us, made to us this "shhh" gesture means "quiet".
This is a cultural difference. A normal misunderstanding. It is never like these in a Greek "glenti" (fiesta). I should have talked to them about it, but i showed respect to their, hopefully, reason of being there, which should be, the need to listen to kind of "different musics". But they miss the cultural context, on the other hand.
Gathering around at a nice "taverna", with some friends, good plates and drinks, always brings us to what is named as "tsakir kefi" (tsakir keyif in Turkish). After a while, the most common and natural to happen, is standing up and start dancing. And it is what exactly it happened, too, there. After some seconds i was watching shaking bodies trying to cope with the rythms (non greek bodies), and some other very confident (few greek ones), looking each other, laughing, and mixing their arms as they were dancing. In a minute i was up, too, to dance.
Not that  there are no strict cultural contexts in Greek traditional music culture. Even during some dancing events. But this music 'for' entertainment is never heard like you were at a concert hall. 
Today, recalling the fact and discussing it with a friend that actually wasn't there, remembered an entire different situation, not in Spain, but in Greece, this time. 
Going back to 2008, in a Cretan village, i was happy to experience a traditional village 15th August celebration of Holy Mary. The whole square was full of long table arrows, and in a central point, a small stage for musicians. The "glenti" started, and after eating, each family should stand up and dance in a specific prearranged order. The name of the family was being announced by a microphone. No other one had the right to dance. So all the visitors, as expected, we were waiting the time to pass, until the "pista" (dancing space) would be available for us. 
When our turn came,we started walking among the tables, together with other people, to reach the stage. Suddenly i see one young cretan guy, in front of my "path", having extend his legs like saying "you won't pass, i won't take my legs". He was wearing the traditional cretan custom. And it seems he felt qute unfamiliar with some visitors at the "borders" of this fiesta. Finally found a different side to reach the dancing place. 
On stage, together with the old masters with the moustache, you could hear the amazing lyra playing of a young woman, revolutionary for a society almost (!) traditional. (with men dominated orchestras).

This is a changing world. According to my opinion,  this guy during his effort of showing social "power", showed no respect or flexibility,too, while i think i had shown, at least more, being inside his own culture.
But this is maybe an interpretation of me. Like the interpretation of this Spanish musician, of how the "Greek music" can be played, and the one of this spanish woman, of how the "greek music" can be listened to. Is this a real intercultural dialogue? Or not? Cultures maybe co-exist, but other times ignore each other, other times misinterpret each other, and some other times, melting themselves into something new. Having an eye for cultural relativism, too, is a good point of departure if we really want to have a deeper look on who is living next to us.