Ambassadors Updates, September 2020

Quarantunes Playlist from The Ambassadors
Axelle Miel, Ambassadors Program Leader, Philippines

Though we enjoy getting to report about each of our programs on The World Ensemble, we Ambassadors have agreed that this routine has gotten quite monotonous. Two weeks ago, we met over Zoom for the first time to discuss what we could do a group for this month’s issue. The result––a collaborative playlist of songs that had gotten us through the brunt of COVID-19. We share these “Quarantunes” with you so that you may hear the melodies that meant the most to us these past few months. Keep an eye out for our future projects!

You can listen and follow the playlist on Spotify here:

Click on an update below to learn more about the program’s activities this month

Ghetto Classics Update
Stephen Ongoma, Kenya

Bugandan TraditionsAmagunjju
Mary Nakacwa, Uganda

Collective Conservatory and The Harmony Project
Pedro Ramos, U.S.

Brazil to the Silk Road, Handmade Drums to Pro Tools: How two youth music organizations in the UK are maintaining engagement and exploring new territory
Matthew Jones, England

Ghetto Classics Update
Stephen Ongoma, Kenya

It has been such a hard time for the art industry to be running its usual activities all over the world since the coronavirus outbreak.

Ghetto Classics has not been left behind in adapting to these uncertain times. The program reopened its doors in late August for the young musicians to explore different ways of making music with strict new health measures. We are optimistic that better times are coming and cannot wait to come together to play our instruments!

Bugandan Traditions – Amagunjju
Mary Nakacwa, Uganda

Once upon a time, a king of Buganda died. When his heir was born, the baby’s uncle Gunjju created a dance to keep the young monarch constantly happy, as a crying king is said to bring bad luck. Today, the dance, now called the amagunjju, is performed on various occasions such as weddings, birthday parties, introduction ceremonies, and many others.

Here is a clip of students from the Architects of Music program rehearsing the amagunjju accompanied by mujaguzo drums, in preparation for their performance before the king of Buganda, which was unfortunately canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collective Conservatory and The Harmony Project
Pedro Ramos, USA

Collective Conservatory Logo – Pedro

This year, despite the ongoing pandemic, students at the Harmony Project exercised their creativity while participating with the Collective Conservatory, an organization that offers immersive and meaningful musical-making experiences for communities to improve youth-development, restorative practices, and wellness.

During the last week of July, selected students met with musicians from other youth organizations across the country––including other Harmony Project sites––and the staff of the Collective Conservatory on Zoom for two hours every day for one week to create an original summer hit. The students would record any musical idea that came to mind, submit it via email, and have the recording played over Zoom. Then, others would imitate the idea on their instruments or add their own melody, harmony, or rhythm. Despite the wide range of musical ability and experience, all students were encouraged to participate; for example, a beginning saxophone student would submit recordings of whole notes to be mixed into chords or harmony from more experienced students. All musical material was arranged on top of a pre-composed backing track and presented at the end of the week.

This project allowed the students many benefits. First, they had the opportunity to make connections with musicians across the country. Younger students in particular were able to look up to the musicianship of older students while also showcasing their talent. Additionally, the students were exposed to playing by ear and working with production, two skills that are rarely exercised in a regular classical rehearsal. They were also able to highlight their creativity, cooperation, and leadership, all of which would translate beautifully once classes resume.

Attending the Collective Conservatory was a reminder of the power of music education and its ability to provide vulnerability in the sharing of ideas even in limited circumstances.

Brazil to the Silk Road, Handmade Drums to Pro Tools: How two youth music organizations in the UK are maintaining engagement and exploring new territory
Matthew Jones, England

With the continuation of lockdown halting all live music activity, orchestras and ensembles are becoming more and more accustomed to this new ‘Zoom’ reality. In this article, I mention two recent online musical events I’ve been involved with, specifically the National Orchestra For All’s (NOFA) Online Summer Course and Jubacana’s Summer School. I also contribute my own observations about each occasion given that both events were the first of their kind for the respective organizations.

Where everyone attending the NOFA Online course was from – Matthew

NOFA Online Summer Course
From August 4–7, NOFA met on Zoom for their first ever three-day online course. Each day was packed with everything you would expect from a regular NOFA course: warm-ups, sectionals, games, and the beloved recital evening! Over the three days, NOFA members recorded their part in a new composition titled “Stories of Silk,” which was put together by NOFA’s young composer-in-residence Lucy Hale. The raw material for this piece was created through a stacking of often imagery-stimulated improvisations during both sectionals and tutti rehearsals of the 2019-20 course. For the recording, three excerpts were taken from the piece and recorded by each member using a supplied backing track. This music was edited together with images contributed by the members relating to the season title, “My Roots, Our Routes.”

“We were really pleased to be able to bring together NOFA online to make music together,” says NOFA’s Program Manager Steven Smith. “We wanted NOFA members to re-engage with music-making, catch up with their friends and the NOFA staff team, and take a break from the strangeness of the last few months to enjoy being together.” It appears this goal was effectively fulfilled, with one NOFA member saying, “It was great to play amazing new music, socialize in lockdown, be inspired, compose with new people and learn to love music even more.”

Pro Tools and the Power of MIDI
On the second day of the NOFA Online course, Artistic Associate Emma Oliver-Trend led a “Creative Composition Workshop,” in which she took snippets from the piece “Silk Roads” and recorded them using MIDI instruments. From there, Emma encouraged members to think of different ideas in terms of structure and instrumentation as to how these snippets could be rearranged into something new. I really admire this idea as the huge array of MIDI sounds and editing capabilities of a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) allows the workshop leader to accurately represent the ideas contributed by members. For anyone who prefers visual learning, being able to see how manipulating the sounds in different ways (for example, replacing it with something from a different section) impacts the music could be an incredible learning experience. Although Emma was working with a huge group, she made a great effort to ensure everyone’s contributions could be heard, taking at least one idea from each person and using both the chat and reaction buttons to see as many ideas as possible. To make this even more interactive in the future, we could use polls and allow annotations to provide more anonymity and increase engagement, though that may come with its own risks. Perhaps Zoom could add a feature where the host can approve or decline different annotations made? (Zoom, I expect a check in the post.)

A creative project from the Jubacana Summer school titled Jubassic Park – Matthew

Jubacana Online Summer School
A week after NOFA’s online course saw the start of Jubacana’s first Online Summer School. From August 17–22, members attended a full week of activities, with each day having a different theme:

  • Day 1: Guest Artist Day. Staff from Katumba, a drumming and movement group based in Merseyside in the North of England, held a two-hour drumming workshop using a variety of audio/visual technologies to make the session as interactive as possible. In preparation for the workshop, members were asked to make their own instrument using the online resources Katumba had provided (further explanation can be found here)
  • Day 2: Writing Day. This day was all about creating! Members were supported through a day of songwriting, melodic/rhythmic composition, and choreography workshops, and were asked to record their own ideas to feed back to the rest of the group.
  • Day 3: Culture Day. In Jubacana rehearsals, we often get some golden nuggets about the origins of the music and instruments we play, but this day was dedicated to further enriching our understanding. The day consisted of a workshop in African Dance, a Portuguese language lesson, and a ‘tour’ of two Brazilian cities (Olinda and Recife) through online videos and enlightening discussions between staff and members.
  • Day 4: Melody Day. My guitar-playing friend Shariq, bass-playing friend Lawrence, and I often take entire control of the melody in Jubacana. On Day 4, we wanted to get rid of that! The day started with a guitar workshop where anyone who happened to have a guitar could come along and learn some of the tunes used in the program. After that, I led a session in music theory and piano, where I introduced some of the fundamental principles needed to read sheet music and taught a piano arrangement of one of Jubacana’s tunes, “Samba Reggae.” The day finished with a check-in on how everyone’s songwriting ideas were coming along. Although Jubacana had never done anything like it before, the caliber of the members’ writing was astonishing!
  • Day 5: Sharing Day. This day was dedicated to reflecting on what everyone had achieved throughout the week and showcasing some of the recordings they had put together.

Taking Back Control
During the Jubacana Summer School, “Melody Day” aimed to ensure that younger members could join the melody section in playing and improvising around the tunes we played. To quote from an article I did back in April of last year, one of the project leaders, Dan Jones, said: “We want kids in Jubacana to grow up and be running this project, and if they don’t, we’ve not done our job properly.” The idea of the younger members taking over control of the melody section is just another step toward this exciting goal. Without these extraordinary circumstances, I do not think the group would have taken this step in such a quick way, as a typical Jubacana rehearsal would mainly be a lot of drumming and preparation for concerts. Although the skills acquired in these regular preparations are incredible to have, there is a fundamental lack of variety. Being online and effectively having all the time in the world rather than a couple hours on a Friday evening has allowed this to accelerate tremendously. By the time we get back together, the young people will be playing their own music and dancing their own dances—it is just a matter of when!

Final Thoughts
In my eyes, both projects were huge successes: they both made the most of the circumstances and strived to bring some sense of normality back to the members’ lives. With both being the first of their kind, the doors to a whole new world of experimentation were opened.

We still have a lot to learn if music is to carry on in this new norm, but we are getting there! Despite the circumstances, these organizations will continue to carry out what I believe is a shared goal: to keep allowing young people to do incredible things. Once we reach a post-pandemic world, we will only be thankful for what we were able to achieve in the most uncertain time of our lives.

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