Friday, May 30, 2008

post script: workshops! workshops everywhere!

Apparently in the UK no one uses the words "scootch" or "smoosh."

This caused much hilarity when I tried to tell them to "scootch over here" or "smoosh together in the circle to make room for so-and-so. "

Nice to know I can expand these kids' vocabularies.

also, the spell check in blogger doesn't recognize scootch or smoosh. Incidentally, how would you spell those words?

Loads of Projects: Workshops! Workshops everywhere!

The current round of workshops are through something called THAMES which is uh. Tower Hamlets... something something. Music Education Service? or something? Anyhow, each of us first years are paired up and sent off to one of the school to lead a three week long project. But there are so many of these set up that if we have extra time we can get paid to do others. So I'm doing three including the one I'm doing for school.

The one for my degree is the only one that has actually started so far. I am paired up with Heather which I just realized that you already know because I wrote about it four posts ago. The other two THAMES workshop I'm working with Glynn who was one of the people that the Masters degree was tested on three years ago. That makes it sound like it was some sort of medical trial, but really what it means is that he was in the first class of people to get a MMus Leadership. Like, in the whole wide world. Which is pretty cool, really. I don't know what we're doing yet because I haven't talked to him. (On list of things to do: talk to Glynn!)

This weekend was a CPD weekend (Continuing Professional Development) which is where some of the tutors come in and lead a workshop for people who either A: are at another school and want to know how this whole 'workshop' thing works B: are at another school and want to know how the Professional Development's outreach arm CONNECT works or C: are auditioning for the masters program or want to take the masters program but can't for whatever reason like scheduling. This was a CPD+ weekend which meant that in addition to the weekend workshop (and workshop leading skills) we also got a bunch of kids on their half term break to come in and participate in a four day workshop that we got to practice our leading in that then culminated in a short performance of collaboratively written pieces on Thursday.

This weekend there were eight of us. I was there because it is always nice to get more experience, Katey and Carey were there from the Royal Welsh School of Music and Drama because they are the outreach dept. there, some other people were there for reasons that make my list of people too long because really I want to get to is: Paul was there because this school in America with a funny name wants to know what this CONNECT program and workshop thing is all about.

Paul Matthews was my theory teacher at Peabody my sophomore year and man-oh-man did it throw me for a loop walking into the Sundial Court music room and finding him there.

Name wise it got a bit confusing that weekend. The leaders/tutors were Paul and John. In the group we had another Paul and John and then a whole slew of C/K names including Carl, Chris, Carey, Katey and Casey. With British accents "Katey" and "Casey" are actually very similar names. The name confusion was not helped by the fact that Katey and I are about the same size, both wear glasses, and are both double bassists. She was cool.

One of the things that was really fun about the CPD+ weekend+ was the lunch time discussions. Lots of talk about how outreach differs from location to location and how schooling and education in general differ from location. I now have an invitation to come down to Cardiff to see what they are doing workshop wise there. (super exciting!) We were also of course talking about what we were learning each day and what we were working on in our own smaller groups sessions which meant that the vibe was quite a lot like university hallways right after a freshman class has let out during the first month of college.

I've obviously had a lot more of this specific type of training than anyone else in the group, but I was still learning buckets and really enjoying the fact that we got feedback immediately and all the time. In the mornings before the kids showed up we would talk about what we were planning to do that day, during lunch we would talk about how the morning sessions went, and in the afternoons we would talk about how the post lunch bits went and what we needed to think about and sort out for the next morning. Lots of really productive work and sketching done on the backs of envelopes in coffee shops.

The kids were also uniformly sweethearts. The age range was supposed to be something like 12-18, but a lot of younger siblings snuck in there so it was really something more like 10-16. They were so very giggly. And the height/developmental difference between 10 year olds and their 12/13 year old siblings?! Sheesh.

Loads of projects: MapMaking

MapMaking- the collaborative project with the Royal College of Art continues to be poorly scheduled. We tend to end up starting about an hour and a half late because A: people don't turn up on time and B: once we are there no one has a clear plan for what should happen and when (also where. Last week we made the room booking lady at the RCA tear a few hairs out because we were all over the building without having booked any of the rooms.) So I really want to get in the middle of all of this an reorganize so that things run more efficiently.

That being said work is finally getting done and I'm starting to get excited about the outcome. I am working solely in the Africa section (Quick recap: The theme is Climate Change as viewed through the lens of Equator Countries so we are divided up between the three equator continents [Indonesia, Africa, South America] to make pieces about how climate change is effecting them.) I am directly responsible for the music accompanying a piece by a Taiwanese girl named Kuku.

Kuku's work is simple and charming in what can be quite a hard hitting way. The piece that she showed at the beginning of this project to give us an idea of what her work is like was about growing up in a country that is sort of kind of, but really not, China. She works with pieces of clear plastic that she paints and then moves around either adding or taking away additional pieces according to what is happening in the narrative. The piece that we are working on for MapMaking involves a giraffe, a tree, some symbiotic insects, and humans- each of whom have their own little piece of clear plastic. Part of what happens in her film (Oh, did I say that part? These are films) is that the tree dies, she does this by dissolving the paint with paint remover on a Q-tip. You can see her hands while this is happening. It's a bit difficult to explain- but the point is that it is quirky and charming so I needed to make the music quirky and charming as well.

Thursday evening was creative ensemble. We didn't have CE last week because Nathan was mean to be leading it, but that Monday his wife Katja gave birth (congratulations!) so he was understandably not showing up. (Since Katja and Nathan are both tutors on the Leadership course this brings the full number of tutors with newborns up to 5.) But we were back again this week and I explored/composed with the group.

In order to keep the quirky/charming aspect and also in order to make the piece flexible enough to go with whatever the film ends up looking like-the narrative is going to change because currently it is not terribly clear. (The first time I watched it I thought she was trying to say that termites are killing giraffes. This is not the case nor the intent of the movie) I have assigned certain instruments certain characters/players in the movie. The tuba is the tree, the pair of cellos are the giraffe, the insects are the oboe, and the humans are silence. The graphics are very simple, so I wanted to keep the sound simple as well so the harmonies are all based on perfect intervals. The tuba line is moving the slowest. Jo has three notes to work with and the instruction to make the notes about one breath length. The cellos have an interval (perfect 5th) and parallel motion to work with. Their tempo is a bit faster- about one medium speed bow length. The oboe has three pairs of Major and minor seconds to work with. Her tempo is quite quick, she is an insect after all-she has to scurry. The effect is a little spooky and a little suspended.

At the RCA today we (I say "we" but you'll notice there isn't a bass part in this piece) played the rough draft that we worked out yesterday for the artists and the tutors. I worked with Emily (a composition fellow? tutor? I don't know- the important part is that her baby is due in August) in the afternoon and she gave me some good suggestions for a bit of harmonic movement so that it doesn't end up quite as static as it currently is- so I'm going to need to sit at a piano and play with that a bit before presenting it to the group next week at Creative Ensemble (also known as 9lives).

I think it is weird that I ended up writing (can I say writing? I feel like 'sculpting' is almost a better word...) a piece that is so harmonically driven considering that harmony is one of the area that I feel the weakest in musically. When I sat down with Emily this afternoon we wrote down in chordal form what I had asked people to play (the tonal center turns out to be sort of g minor-y) - but that isn't how I knew how think about it - I just knew what had been floating around in my head for the last couple of weeks and then tried to get them to play it.

Loads of Projects

The school year is winding up, kinda. Winding up in that I know what all of my projects are and I am working on them but not in the 'yay, everything will be finished soon!' sort of way. Stressed isn't really the right word for it, concerned maybe? Busy? That being said, I am very excited about pretty much everything that I am working on at the moment.

Each of us on the Leadership course have to do what is called an IPE (Independent Practice Enquiry) which is basically an opportunity to do whatever we want in relation to the course. It is exciting because there is such a wide variety of things that are possible and that people do. Some are focusing more on the workshop side of things, some on composition, some on collaboration, etc. The second years have to have a 30 minute performance piece for their project and the first years have to have 10 minutes.

Mine is about collaborative, cross-arts improvisation. (Look at all those buzz words!) 'What do you mean by that, Casey?' you might ask...'Well' I would reply (and I've been getting good at this because I'm trying to convince people that they want to work with me and spend a bunch of time on this) I'm putting together a group of people to explore improvisation in performing arts contexts. For instance, so far I have contacted and (sort of vaguely) committed (we can talk about the *joys* of scheduling in a minute) a pair of actors, a classical trombonist with composition and songwriting background, a jazz singer, a recorder player with a lot of folk music experience, a jazz/pop singer who plays classical flute and has acting improvisation experience, and I'm hoping to get a contemporary dancer though getting contact information for that has been troublesome, and myself. Basically there are tons of different improvisation techniques floating around various disciplines and I want to see what will happen when we get together and try out different exercises/games/setups. Also I'm hoping to create an environment where everyone can feel free to make comments and participate even if they don't have any formal training in that area. Dancers and actors? Please make musical suggestions, and vice versa.

The people that I have been asking to participate have been uniformly enthusiastic which is really encouraging and makes me feel like I am tapping into, if not a need, then at least a pretty strong desire amongst the people I would like to work with. The problem is that I probably maybe should have definitely started scheduling this two weeks ago. The performance time/space that I am currently signed up for is on July 1st (which I found out today doesn't work for the actors, and they are kind of key if this is going to be cross-arts) with my dress rehearsal in the performing space on June 11th (which is practically tomorrow AND doesn't work for half of the group. Cool.)

So I'm thinking about a plan B which involves changing my performance date, getting rid of multiple rehearsal dates, getting everyone I can into that space on the 11th (maybe 2nd year actors? None of whom I know?) and working for 3 hours to explore a short exercise/game from as many disciplines as I can (singing drone game, a couple of acting games, a movement to a piece of music exercise, and something else? If there is time?) and then spending the last 45 minutes of that time setting up the structure for an improvised piece that we do on the performance day....which would be scary as all get out but might be what I need to do.

Anyhow, the good thing is that this is not a one time opportunity and most of the people I am talking to and whom are interested in my concept are going to be if not at Guildhall next year, then at least still in the London area so as long as *something* happens this year it will be enough to get the ball rolling for this to become more solid and real next year. Learning curve and all.

This entry is getting long, so on to the next one for my other projects that make up the "loads" of the title.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Catch up time

I've written a little list of recent happenings that I have been meaning to tell you about. I'm waiting for a meeting right now and have a handy computer in front of me- so it seems like a good time to tackle that list, don't you think? These are in no particular order, and I forget mostly when they happened...some time within the last two weeks.

*Gamelan at LSO St. Lukes: St. Lukes is a church about three blocks away from Sundial Court that the London Symphony took over a number of years ago and turned in to a very cool state of the art re-configurable concert space. We're going to use it in October for the performance of the MapMaking project. But last Friday we were there because they have a Balinese Gamelan and we had a session booked to play it a bit. SO MUCH FUN! A Gamelan (this is going to be a piteously poor description, check out for more information) is a set of tuned metal percussion instruments that are traditionally owned by a village so they are a community musical instrument. They play very complicated interlocking rhythms and are hugely important in the history of Western 20th century music from Debussy on. The LSO's Gamelan is in the basement of St. Lukes (we are forever destined to have all of our classes in basements. Without windows...) You have to take your shoes off when entering the room as a sign of respect to the instruments. The instruments themselves are gold and red and ornately decorated. There are different sizes of sort of xylophone like sets, a bunch of giant gongs, and these upside down bowl instruments- oh- and a drum. My favorite was the gongs. You could smack them hard and then they reverberate for forever. It was pretty awesome.

*Kate's album launch. The Rude Mechanicals made an album and they had their launch um. last week sometime? It was at a club that is basically inside the London Bridge station. The place is made from an old cellar or something? I'm not really sure- there were lots of old brick arches and in order to get to the stage(s) where the show was you had to walk down long, dimly lit, vaguely scary hallways. It was made a bit creepier because halfway down this long corridor (where is the stage?!) there were 12 red spotlights and soft, ambient, constantly changing music. It took me quite a while to get to the stage because I spent so much time with the red spotlights. It turned out that the music was controlled by the spotlights so if you walked over
them or made a shadow to block the light you activated that pitch. John- a visiting musician from Colombia- and I figured out how to play chords by standing in the middle of three spotlights and blocking two lights with out hands and one with our heads or feet or whatever was handy. The sounds morphed over time as well so we weren't always working with the same sustain or reverb or tone. Am I a bit nerdy? You betcha. But Kate's gig went really well too and all of us leadershippers danced away in the front of the crowd. They were doing so well that they had to play an encore. Yay Kate!

*Medieval Concert- most of the early music instrumentalists at Guildhall were involved in this concert that took place at St. Magnus the Martyr which is by the Thames. It turned out that those directions were not really complete enough for me to be able to find that church....after numerous phone calls I eventually made it there minutes before the concert began. Which was good because there were only about 5 audience members and a good 10 people performing. What lovely music it was. And again I was reminded of the reasons that I am so impressed with Guildhall students, everyone does multiple things and that is seen as a good, worthy, and even necessary thing. There were some lovely medieval choral pieces as well as numerous arrangements of secular and dance pieces. Most of the instrumentalists sang as well and played multiple instruments- not even necessarily the same instrument families either. Emily, the recorder player who organized the whole thing sang, played various recorders, and the vielle which was totally impressive.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Our Ladies Primary School

Heather and I had our first workshop session on our own today. We are working with a class of year 3 students at Our Ladies primary school in the Canary Wharf area. They have had next to no music education so far (year 3 is 8 year olds), and while they very much enjoy singing- they haven't had any instrumental experience at all.

We started them out with singing "kalele" which is a welcoming song from South Africa (?) and then started working on they rhythmic base for our piece (bananas and mangoes is how it goes). They eventually got it pretty well and we put it on our lovely rag-tag bunch of random hand percussion. Ooo, that was a fun part. We gave them each an instrument (a stick with bells, maracas, tambourines, a chair with a couple of sticks) and had them figure out how to make four different sounds. That part was fun. And loud. "bang it on your head! How about the floor? How quiet a sound can you make? How short? How long? How loud?" So cool to watch them experimenting with the instruments. If you have no preconceptions about how an instrument should be played- there are all sorts of interesting things you can come up with. We played with dynamics and starting and stopping the sounds as well as the rhythm itself. They're good kids, they did really well.

After break we worked on our song. Heather and I wanted to base the workshop at least loosely on our trip to the Gambia. In The Gambia greetings are very important and can take up to five minutes just to say hello, so we decided to brainstorm as many ways of greeting your friends as possible and wrote them up on the board. We ended up with a bunch of different languages and my personal favorite: 'yo!' We then had them choose three that they thought would go well together for a line and made four stanzas if you will of those. Example: hello, hola, bonjour. Heather had written a bass line so she started playing that on the cello while the kids mumbled tunes under their breath. That was what was really amazing- that was exactly what we wanted them to do and they just went ahead without any prompting at all- it was just their natural reaction to being presented with some words and a bit of music. How neat is that?

We're going to need to do a bit of tweaking because with the bass line and their tune it ended up sounding quite minor and lackluster which is not really the emotion of the sound world we were trying to get to, so I think that Heather and I will need to change the pitches a little bit in order to make the song a bit peppier.

The kids are, for the most part, very well behaved. There are of course a couple of squirrely ones and a couple that aren't terribly interested, but all of them were excited at the end of the lesson when they got to have a go on Heather's cello, my djembe, and the school's keyboard. There was a teaching assistant helping the class today too, and I forget what his name is, but Heather and I were impressed with his singing voice during the welcome song. It turns out he is having his West End debut later this week (tomorrow?) as one of the hyenas in The Lion King...he was having a great time with our workshop!

I was very impressed with Heather's manner towards the kids. She is very good at validating them (even when we're looking for greeting words and they keep coming up with various words for food items in Spanish) and guiding their attention without making it seem like she is doing so. She was really not feeling well though, which makes it even more impressive how well she was conducting herself with the kids. I kept forgetting she was sick until the kids had a break and then she basically collapsed. Then the kids came back and she was totally on again.

They have mid-term break next week, so we don't see them for another two weeks. I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Wollof Boys

This is how awesome the Wollof boys are. The four in the front were our teachers. This video was taken at their compound on one of the last days of the trip when they performed for us. The two on the left and the one on the farthest right are brothers and the brightly colored guy in the middle is their uncle.

And they all dance!

Saturday 26-4-08 Berefet Susu/Jola lessons

I love feeling strong and awesome and flexible and badass and full of energy. We did yoga again this morning and I do enjoy leading everyone with the poses and all. I’m basically parroting Will word for word, but that’s okay- he is a very good person to nick from.

The Susu teachers showed up tonight with their ballafons and their djembes and their FIRE EATER. He blew a big billowy ball of fire and I screamed because oh my god. He did a bunch of jumping around like a crocodile on his belly. I am deliriously tired so when the opening night show was over I tried to do it too. I could walk- one hand and one food at a time- but not jump. I’m going to keep trying and hopefully be able to by the time we get back to London (note: I can’t do this.) That would be so superfly. Jo said “you’re so strong!” which is A: flattering B: not strictly true- there is a trick to it (keeping your elbows close to your body) and C: encouraging. I feel like a goddess.

We learned to tie-dye today with women from Berefet. I took pictures of the whole thing/process. I did a leaf pattern with green and purple (mauve as they kept saying) I’m hoping that the colors will lighten considerably when dry. We can hope (note: they didn’t…) Fun process though. The language barrier was difficult and I was convinced at the beginning that we wouldn’t be allowed to do the tying ourselves and was being preemptively disappointed which was silly because man, I ended up doing a lot of sewing. Maybe next time not quite so many little designs. I tied up Kate’s calabash bag as well and think that turned out quite nicely.

This morning we hopped on a boat to James Island which is a World Heritage site for its importance at the beginning and end of the slave trade. It was sort of like going to the concentration camp in Germany with Laine. I kept walking around quietly and contemplatively while trying hard to *feel* something. The thing is, it was a lovely day and the ruins were a bit like climbing around my own private castle. The island was deserted except for us. I sat on a beautiful ledge and sang ‘edelweiss’ to myself- clearly mixing up the Nazis and the European slave trade. Oops.

Wendesday 23-4-08 Berefet Wollof lessons

It was infernally hot again today- so dancing was a bit much this morning. This afternoon dissolved into unmemorable conversations and desperately trying to cool off. Evening drumming lessons however went on for forever so that we didn’t really have a break before dinner the way we usually do because Wollof drumming is so very much fun.

Oh! I wish I didn’t have to decide what to buy before having tried all of the various instruments. I would really like to try a djembe and learn how they are played first before deciding whether I want a wollof drum or a djembe.

Tuesday 22-4-08 Berefet Wollof lessons

The wollof drummers arrived last night and performed for us, it was phenomenal. Good job I had my ear plugs though because the drums are ridiculously loud. The dancers’ butts jiggle around all impressively. The moon was still very nearly full and I could still see the rabbit that Ous asked if I could see a few days ago. He sees a man’s profile. I swear the moon is closer here.

We learned how to dance this morning. Lots of swiveling hips around and bouncing. It was tough work, but fun. After class I went up to the drums and had a bit of a private lesson with Viye which was great. I love thwaping the stick on to the head of the drum.

After lunch I sat with Tara and Nick for a while, but then it got far too hot so I sat with the blondies and then Kate for a while. It seems like everyone is sort of squirming around in the group feeling uncomfortable for any variety of reasons. It also seems like it is all coming to a head of sorts now which is probably good. We’re not all talking about issues together, but clearly there are small conversations going on all over the place which can only be a good thing.

Ha! They couldn’t get rid of us after drumming class- we just kept going and going and going. Lets play it again! I recorded the whole thing, which I think will be helpful in small little sections but not in its entirety which is going to be a pain to pick through. The wollof boys were very patient teachers and paid us each quite a bit of attention. By the end of the lesson we were playing a whole song and walking in time around the drums as we played them. At the end of the lesson they ended up taking the sticks out of our hands to make us stop playing.

I spent more time than is really sensible playing with a calculator at the bar and calculating the drinks tallies for our group for the last six days in Berefet. Weird that we’ve been here for nearly a week.

As we were heading to bed Caroline found what she thought was a mouse under her bed. I sat there with a flashlight while she went to get Habib and had just figured out that it was a frog- which Caroline has a deathly phobia of- when Habib called out “It’s not a mouse, it’s a frog!” at which point Caroline screamed, ran out of the hut and began sobbing on my porch one hut over. Good work Habib.

Monday 21-4-08 Berefet

It is our day off before the Wollof people arrive this evening. I have to admit- I am kind of done. I would like to be back in more familiar surroundings, be able to make my own decisions about what to do with my time instead of this constant group think.

We asked for fresh fruit for “fruit salad time” today. This is a great idea in theory, but in reality this meant that we had yellow grapefruit and fresh papaya which sounds all nice until you realize that fresh papaya is VILE. I liked the grapefruit though.

We went on a bush walk today to find some monkeys. We saw a couple but I was unable to take a picture. Some of the foliage was gorgeous and I got a lot of pictures of cows. We ended up in a clearing of palm trees where a man was climbing with a sling to hack palm fruit down. We tried some and it wasn’t terribly tasty- just sort of oily. We walked back via the farm/vegetable garden and the new fancy school that ECCO helped to build. We stopped by some classrooms and said hello while the classes sang out their lessons. One class was learning months and days of the week. The student who was leading it kept leaving out October which I thought was pretty hilarious. At the garden we saw cashew trees! Each nut has its own red/orange fruit that it hangs from. It was a nice walk.

Somehow yesterday I became the yoga instructor du jour. I think it was because Maria and I did quite a hardcore practice in the morning and then she kept raving about it which I really felt quite honored by. In the afternoon I did a short practice with Emma and Jo with lots of explanation because they had each only done yoga once and had found it easy and kind of worthless. Having been trained (as it were) by Will from Charm City yoga in Baltimore, mine was harder. It was nice to have to remember what it was like when I first began doing yoga and how to explain how to do certain postures. Between the calming effect of doing yoga twice in one day and having good conversations with the blondies I am feeling so much more included and like myself.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Gambia Itinerary

In response to a comment left by my mother, it occurs to me that it is not obvious to anyone (save myself) that I am posting the Gambia journals/blogs in chronological order. So, in order that you know what has come and what will arrive soon- this is what we did:

Two nights in Cape Point at the ECCO house, one day trip to Paradise Beach

Ferry to Njawara- Four (five?) nights in Njawara- Mandinka lessons

Ferry/Drive to Berefet- Fula lessons

day off-Berefet- James Island and tie dye

Wollof lessons

two days off- market and...uh...don't remember currently, sorry!

Susu/Jola lessons-Berefet

drive to Cape Point for three nights. Evenings with Wollof teachers at their compound, Momodou at his compound and then flight home.

The order of events is correct, the dates/durations should not be subjected to scrutiny. Each set of lessons were three days long.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Berefet- Fula

Friday 18-4-08

Berefet is miles different from Njawara. It is like a big fancy resort in comparison. We have huts with two to a hut and bathrooms! We each have our own bathroom with real toilets and a sink. The grounds are much larger with pretty little paths paved in clam shells, and all lined with flower beds. It is clean and bright and a bit more impersonal though that may be because we’ve only just arrived.

Last night our Fula teachers serenaded us. I wish I had had my camera/recorder/whatever. They were amazing- jumping around all over the place and doing headstands. I’m not sure of any of their names but the tall, thin, clothes hanger type man who plays the fiddle sort of instrument amuses me. (His name is Abdulie, he plays the riti, and he continued to amuse me for the rest of the week) He is very quiet but with a non-verbal wry sort of humor- sneaking up on the manic calabash drummer and stoically pretending to kick the flautist in the shin. Um, I’m not describing him well- but trust me, he is charming.

This morning we learned a couple of songs. I couldn’t tell you what the names are. The rhythm and pitch of things seem much more fluid than western or even mandinka music. I think Momodou was a better teacher but these guys don’t speak English which makes it harder. They are definitely entertaining.

The afternoon instrumental lessons were intense. Playing starught for 45 minutes. With the Riti whenever I would try to stop to rest, Abdulie- the teaceher who is so tall and thin and looks like a puppet would come by and show me what we were playing again as though I had forgotten and that was why I wasn’t playing.

In the evening Ous (the main Gambian ECCO guy) sat us down to talk about how the first week had gone and to see if we had any criticisms of requests. That turned into a Gambian history lesson that opened the floodgates on questions that we had and the converstation swam informatively on as we all moved to the campfire and continued chatting. I ended up talking to Joanna quite a bit (the only female Gambian ECCO employee) – about Gambia, about being Catholic in a muslim country, about her family, cloth, and her living situation. She is very nice.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Even More Njawara

Monday 14-4-08

One of the great things about being 2/5 deaf is that depending on which ear you sleep on- when in the African countryside you can either hear everything or nothing.

I heard the bats beeping Major 3rds together, the mangoes crashing onto various roofs as they fall from all of the trees, the donkeys randomly freaking out, the broadcast prayer service in the morning, roosters, cooing doves (lets be honest: pigeons)

Momodou's brother died this morning and yet he still went ahead and taught us- which is extraordinary. I like the sound of the Kora much more when it is not amplified.

The musicians in Mandinka culture are hereditary. If you are from the family then you are a Jelli (Jali? Jeli? Whatever.) They are peacemakers, messengers, and mediators as well as entertainers. A lot of the songs are teaching or advice songs.

I think one of my favorite things about this trip so far is how everyone talks so very openly about their bowel movements. We know who has gone, who hasn't, how many times and how successful they were. It is hilarious. I mean, part of it is that we really are keeping an eye on every one's health, but we're talking about poop! All the time! I feel like a 3 year old telling jokes.

The men from the camp are watching television outside run on the generator and right now it is playing something random and vaguely classical and the beating/squeaky bats are hitting the up beat of the waltz that they are playing. Awesome. Good work, bats.

We went for a walk in the village today and visited the school. There are a lot of what look like abandoned buildings around- I suppose they could be occupied, but it reminded me that Njawara used to be a larger village. Momodou was telling us that many people left- but I didn't understand the reasons he gave us. It sounded like someone was spreading rumors about a curse or something?

We have learned 4.5 songs in Mandinka now. I've recorded all but the national anthem, which I will get tomorrow. I've also recorded the Arabic school right outside the walls of the camp where they sings bits from the Koran over and over and over again in that bellow-y "I'm singing loud" voice that kids scream in.

I've learned to play a little tune on the Kora. I'm not keen on tuning the Kora, but it is a joy to play and sounds lovely. Momodou has come over twice to show me little things which is gratifying. He has the best "wise elder" face.

Okay, so I know "bats fly in your hair" is a myth and all because they have sonar and know where they're going and all of that- but one just flew into my hair! And I wasn't even moving around wildly or anything! I was just standing there! It richocheted off my head and landed in the corner where is sat- stunned for a few seconds before flying off again, aiming for the ceiling.

More Njawara

I wrote journal entries with the idea that they were going to become blog posts, so in the interest of not wasting that content I'm going to transcribe one here. Some of the information is stuff I've already told you, but it was written in Africa! Which makes it better than those namby pamby entries written in London! Yeah! Okay. Done now.

Sunday 13-4-08

We woke up at 5am this morning while it was still dark at the ECCO house (already this morning seems ages away) we packed up our stuff and drank fruit tea while the sun rose. Then we tumbled into the van and drove toward Banjul. There was a large, imposing arch- which is how we knew we were in the capital. Buildings were white with green trim and small signs that said things like "democratic assembly" and "fisheries and agriculture bureau"

We got in line for the ferry just as the market for the queue was setting up. Tara, our expert haggler, bought us 5 loaves of bread since we had eaten nothing at breakfast. Many people were walking around selling various wares: dubious looking perfume, assorted watches, bras on a stick and the like. I bought a baseball cap because the sun was so bright. It turned out that it unzips into a visor- so I am quite pleased with that.

I love sleeping under mosquito nets. I love the feeling of being enclosed and protected while still being able to see all around.

We arrived at the camp just before lunch. Once we crossed the river, filled up with gas, and continued driving the scenery finally stopped looking like India and began to look more like what I expected Africa to look like: lone leafy trees amongst bushed and grass. Grass roofed huts and fences made from reeds and sticks rather than concrete blocks.

Everything is fenced in here. Empty plots of land are fenced in, housed in the middle of nowhere amongst the bush are fenced in. The camp and various sections are the camp are fenced in and so on.

When we arrived the people who work here were lounging about and laughing. They laugh quite a lot. One woman, whose name I don't know (Yuma), is always making jokes and imitation people. When I awoke after my "it is waaaay too hot" nap and wandered back into the living clearing she was telling crude jokes. Her English is not terribly good, but her hand gestures are plenty graphic enough.

It is Mango season! Only just beginning so some are not very ripe- but mangoes- all the time mangoes that we rip the skin off with our teeth like the savage mango hunters we are.

When we first arrived the manager sat us down, introduced his staff, had us introduce ourselves and then told us how very very very very very very very very (etc.) important we were. Basically: we bring money into the village.

After nap time he sat us around again and let us ask questions. It was dusk and his accent is difficult for me to follow- so I stared up at the base of the leaf cover from the frees and watched as dozens and dozens of bats swooped around and ate mosquitoes. It was beautiful.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

London Stuff

I picked up the Baroque bass from Peter the other day. It is lovely with a bizarrely dark varnish job that makes it look like cheap furniture, but with wonderful thick gut strings that make me play with much better technique in order to get any sort of good sound. I'm excited about experimenting with it.

My friend Ellie who is a saxophonist that I met on the Contemporary Dance School project asked me to play on her recital so we had our first rehearsal today. We are playing a Joni Mitchell song (river) with two basses. Charlie, a jazz bassist I met in Jazz Singers is the other bass player- so we've got super amplified jazz bass and a baroque actually works better than it should. The sounds blend enough to make sense but are different enough to be interesting and the raspyness of the gut strings brings a nice touch to the whole thing. I'm excited, plus I really like Charlie and Ellie so I am happy to be working with both of them.

I got my bow rehaired as well and picked that up from Malcolm Healey the other day. I was nervous about seeing him actually because I had left the broken bass there and was planning on not taking for the whole time that I promised to borrow it for. I needn't have worried, Malcolm is a sweetheart of a man. He decided that I should be charged 3 quid for the repairs (!) and took off 80% of the original rental price we agreed on because I didn't end up using the instrument that much (!!) Yay! I promised I would always bring bow rehairs to him... (lovely hair too, it is so nice to have clean and thick hair on my bow)

So that is the London news. I'll be starting work again soon and in the meantime am getting down to business with my final project for the year, working on my electronic music projects, and generally getting back to being a good student.

Have I ever mentioned that I love libraries? I've been ploughing through books the past four days (4.5 books in four days) and soaking up information. I love love love libraries. They're a cheap way to feed my habit.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Pictures of Njawara

My hut, I slept on the Right
The Chickens! I loved the chickens! They circled around the camp all the time and the little ones would suddenly realize they were behind and then scamper to catch up. I took far far far too many pictures of the chickens.
The beautiful trees and the entrance gate to the Njawara cultural camp. This makes the camp look a bit bigger than it really was. I took this from the food area.
Some of the kids from the village.
Mamadou, his Kora, and his little amplifier.

I forgot to write about the mangos- there were mango trees all over the place and we would eat them all the time. Everyone would eat them all the time, you bite the skin, peel it with your teeth and then gnaw on the fruit until you get to the pit/seed. We went through our entire supply of floss in four days. The mangos would fall onto the aluminum roof with a collosal bang and startle us.


The first camp we went to was in Njawara. Getting there involved taking a ferry across the Gambia river. There are only a few ferries (four) and many people who want to take them (there are a few other ferries that will take you across, but the one that we took is the only one that reliably doesn't sink. Good idea to take that one, yes?) so we had to wake up early in the morning and pile in to the van with all of our stuff. This being the beginning of the trip- our stuff didn't amount to all that much. Yet.

The ferry was completely crammed with people and we almost didn't get on- but our ECCO guy who stayed with us the whole time: Habib, went to bat for us and between him and Mamadou (I'm sure I've spelled that wrong) they got us on the boat. Anyhow- after a long and bumpy journey we ended up in the camp. It was a bit of a lackluster welcome- everyone was sitting on foam mattresses propped up on cinder blocks, and for the most part they stayed there, but we were introduced to everyone and led to our huts.

The huts were made of concrete with thatch/straw roofs and tie dyed fabric for the door. The beds were foam and sunken in to the concrete. The huts were in a circle around a small planting area with a path that lead to the eating area and the class area.

We were eventually served food, which was good because I was *starving* and the night before we had had extra special chicken nuggets...we actually had chicken nuggets with some regularity while in Africa, much to our dismay. But I think that first afternoon in Njawara we had benechin. Here are some recipes for Gambian food: (I think bitter tomatoes are tasty, though I'm not sure you can get them in America?) After lunch we went and napped and eventually came back out to sit in the common area and ask the camp manager questions. His accent was such that I had difficulty understanding, so instead I stared up into the twilight and watched hundreds of bats fly back and forth overhead in and out of the mango trees.

That evening Mamadou played for us. He had a tiny little amp that was run off of batteries and while it *was* louder- it also horrifically distorted the sound. The Kora is an absolutely beautiful instrument when unamplified...ah well. In lessons he would sometimes not turn the amplifier on and I was always excited about that.

The first night we spent in Njawara was by far the loudest night we had anywhere. The bats (I assume it was the bats) were terrifically loud and beeped in a rhythmic, minor third pattern. Then there were all of the insects, the donkeys down the road freaking out, and the call to prayer at 4 or 5 in the morning. I vowed to record the nocturnal sounds the next night, but it was never again that loud nor interesting.

Mamadou taught us 5 Mandinka songs. (a little bit weird that we learned the Mandinka songs in the Wollof village and the Wollof songs in a Mandinka village...) He taught us in exactly the way that we have been taught to teach. He was always very supportive and positive, he broke the songs down in to small pieces and taught them by call and response, when any of us were lagging behind he didn't single us out but instead brought the entire group back a couple of steps to reinforce where we now were and each class time we reviewed what we had already learned.

We had the same class structure for the entire three weeks. We would wake up, have breakfast, and then the first set of classes for the day. When we later got into the tribes with more dancing we would do the dancing in the morning. I didn't have a watch so I was never really very clear what time it was, but I think the morning classes were three hours long from about 9:30 to 12:30. Then there would be a big break and we would wander the village, chat, work on our notebooks, review the songs we had learned that morning, play cards, nap, or just sweat a lot. We then had to wait until after the mid afternoon prayers to start class again which they normally would at about 5:30, I think. The evening classes were only about 2 hours long, I think. Then supper and sunset followed by the generators turning on and while we were in Njawara: vicious games of cards that frequently left people minorly injured.

One day we walked up to the local school and met some of the teachers and the vice principal there. All of the buildings were painted with Things To Remember such as "hard work before success" and a painted over "no vernacular" which intrigued me- why was that one painted over? I took lots of pictures of small children and then let them see. I had to be cool about them smearing mango-y fingers all over the camera screen because they were just so darn excited about seeing the pictures. Plus, they were cute.

Mamadou always left his Kora out in the eating area for us to play if we wanted to. We all muddled around on it a bit, and while I was playing it one afternoon he came over and started to teach me the beginning of the accompaniment for one of the songs that we were learning called "kyra" which means peace. I really like playing the Kora so I got fairly proficient at that little portion of music which was useful at the end of the trip when we picked the Koras up at Mamadou's house because there was a GMajor chord from it that people used to tune the instruments and I played it again to tell them which strings the chord involved.

The second day of classes he started teaching all of us to play the Kora in a sort of masterclass style with the person being taught in the center of the circle and everyone else listening and waiting for their turn. It worked well because the people at the beginning got more time and the people at the end knew what the phrase was supposed to sound like already.

The last day that we were in Njawara we decided to go on a boat trip. This ended up being slightly sketchier than we had realized and a couple of people backed out at the last moment, but that was okay because they got to take a cart ride back to the camp. I, in my gracefulness, managed to stick my foot/leg into some rather disgusting mud and almost lost my sandal. The boats were canoes made out of hollowed out trees, both of which had some significant leaks in them that required us to bail out water during the trip. That being said it was a nice trip and we saw lots of birds and oysters and one clawed crabs. At the end of the trip one of the young fishermen cleaned off my sandal (which was *very* nice of him) and we helped another man fill a canoe with giant bags of rice and flour and sugar and barrels of oil to take up the river to Senegal. It occurred to me that he was the West African version of a trucker.

So that is Njawara- pictures from the plane ride over, the beach the first day near Banjul, and from Njawara are now up on Flickr:
enjoy- and stay tuned for the next entries which will be about Berefet and the classes we had there.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Back in London

We arrived at Gatwick airport at 3:45am this morning. None of us managed to sleep very well on the plane, but we were all fairly coherant all things considered. I think we even managed to get all of the instruments home to their proper places. Simon, Kate's boyfriend was kind enough to pick us up at the airport and drive us home. We fit 5 people and 16 pieces of luggage in to his station wagon (oddly called an estate car in the UK) and drove home as the sun was rising.

When we got back to Sundial I was very awake and very hungry so I scoured the kitchen for food and ended up eating some pasta and writing out the previous blog while sitting in the middle of all of my stuff that I dropped on the floor of my room. I managed to be totally awake until about 8am when I passed out on my bed.

I woke up again at lunchtime and called up Jon. We went wandering around brick lane and ended up eating at a BBQ stand before heading over to Regent's park to meet the dinner club people. They were having a picinic but unfortunately were just about to leave as we got there (we had taken our own sweet time and bought ice cream cones because it was such a lovely day) so Jon and I borrowed their frisbee and went off in search of more ice cream.

It was a bit too windy for the tiny, flimsy frisbee but we did have a nice game with four cousins hanging out with their father/uncle at the Park. There was a large group of fun people under a tree that I was convinced were a bunch of goths that looked like they were having a lot of fun. Jon and I kept trying to figure out a way to go over there and say "you look cool, can we hang out too?" without being you know, weird. Fortunately frisbees solve all problems and we ended up having a fun game with their heavier, and therefore better, frisbee.

Anyhow, it was a lovely nice day wandering around London and it reminded me of when I came to audition and exploring all over the city. Good welcome back day that way.

The tiredness is hitting now, so no more writing for the time being. I have uploaded all of the pictures and will begin transcribing my journal and posting pictures and videos starting tomorrow.

Gambia tallies

No. of Days in Africa: 22
No. of Guildhall Students on Gambia trip: 10
No. of tribes taught by: 5
No. of Mandinka songs we learned: 5
No. of Mandinka songs I remember without listening to someone else sing them: 5
No. of Mandinka phrases learned: 5
No. of Fula songs we learned: 5
No. of Fula songs I remember without listening to someone else sing them: 1
No. of Wollof songs we learned: 2
No. of controversies Wollof songs caused: 1
No. of Wollof phrases learned: 1
No. of Susu songs learned: 1
No. of Jolla songs learned: 1
No. of Susu/Jolla ballets learned: 1 or 3 depending on how you count
No. of hours audio recorded in The Gambia: 7
No. of people in the van on the way to the airport: 18
No. of instruments purchased and brought back to the UK: 25
No. of individual pieces of checked luggage for group: 29
No. of Kilos over the weight limit: 38
Cost per kilo over weight limit: 800D
Amount we paid for going over the weight limit: 0D
No. of Koras: 5
No. of Wollof drums: 5
No. of Djembes: 3
No. of Ballafons: 4 (3 small, 1 large)
No. of Talking drums: 2
No. of Fula flutes: 1
No. of Calabash drums: 1
No. of Calabash Rattles: 4 (2 large, 2 small)
Average price of instrument: 2000 Delasi (range: 400-3000)
Average monthly wage for Gambians: 1000D/month
37D=1GBP, 18.5D=$1
Rate of inflation in The Gambia: ruthless
Average weekly drinks bill for Tara: 1,150D
Average weekly drinks bill for Caroline: 450D
Cost 1.5L bottle of water: 35D
Cost bottle of beer: 40D
Cost bottle of soda: 30D
Taste of African Fanta: delicious
Average wake up time: Me-7:30am, everyone else-8:15
Average bed time: Me- 9:30pm, everyone else- 12Midnight
No. of days practiced yoga in the morning: 10
No. of days sick enough to warrant missing class: 1
No. of monkeys seen: 10
No. of marriage proposals to group members: 3
No. of van breakdowns: 3
No. of hours waiting for the ferry between Njawara and Berefet: 4
No. of instruments damaged in the flights: 2 (the G string broke on my electric bass on the way over and Emma’s Kora’s bridge broke on the way back)
No. of hours Jorge had between flights from Gambia and to Portugal: 2
No. of Mosquito bites: countless- but 5 on my left pinky finger alone.
No. of Mosquito bites before Wednesday April 30: 5 total.
No. of Malarone pills left for me to take: 6
No. of People taking Lariam: 1
No. of People Doxycycline: 2
No. of People Malarone: 7
No. conversations about bowel movements: countless, at least two a day.
No. of Gambians now being sponsored by GSMD students to go to school: 1
Average No. mangoes consumed each day: 1.5
No. of comments on how happy I seemed to be going back to London: 4