Posted on August 6, 2019 / Matters
The music program at Tintern is a vibrant and dynamic one combining core curricular classes with the option of private instrumental lessons and a range of choral and instrumental ensembles, all designed to enhance the musical experience of our students.
Music is a core subject at Years 7 and 8 and students receive a semester of music classes at both year levels. An important part of the middle school music curriculum is the World Music Unit of study. Twice a year, the music department organises visiting artists to share their culture and music with our students. In the recent past we have enjoyed music from Polynesia, Africa, Russia, China, Hungary and Romania, Japan, Bavaria, Brazil and Jamaica.
The students in Years 7 and 8 spend time studying the country, culture, music and dance of the visiting groups and this prior preparation enhances the overall experience. On many occasions, we actually study one of the pieces in the performance and more often than not the students report back that this was their favourite item. One of the most common reflections from students is how much better the live performance is compared to listening to recordings or watching YouTube clips. Whilst technological advances enable us to travel the world in our classrooms and YouTube has certainly revolutionised music teaching in general, there is no substitute for hearing and seeing the performers live onstage.
“In a live performance you can feel the passion and commitment that the performers have for their music and dance.” “I love it when the performers set out to engage the audience – we have so much fun and learn so much”. “I really enjoyed how the dance told a story”. These are but some of the comments made after last week’s performance ‘Bhangra Beats – Classical Indian to Bollywood, Music and Dance’ by Parvyn Singh and Josh Bennett.
Parvyn demonstrated the most beautiful classical Indian dances and was skilfully accompanied by Josh on both the Tabla and the Sitar, traditional Indian instruments. The audience was mesmerised by the speed in which Parvyn could stamp her feet in the traditional Kathak dance (600 times per minute) making the Ghunghuru (a string of 100 bells around each ankle) sparkle and chime in time to the rhythmic beating of the Tabla. Josh explained how there are words associated with each drum beat depending on where the drum is hit and by what part of the hand. A Tabla student learns these words and associated beats and combines the words into poems which are then translated onto the drum. The patterns are not recorded or written down, but learned by rote, each one increasing in complexity as the student’s level of mastery improves.
Cultures which are included under the problematic umbrella term of ‘World Music’ (all music is music of this world) invariably do not record their history, language or music in the written word. Culture is passed on through an ‘oral tradition’ from parent to child, from teacher to student. Dance, music and drama are the ways in which the people of these cultures express their beliefs, their customs and the stories of their origins. Whilst we may not speak the same language, we can come to an understanding of another culture and its people through sharing in their performing arts. Last week’s performance was formal yet personal and intimate. Parvyn, Josh and their three year old son Ravi, invited us into their lives for a moment and shared with us their heritage and love of both traditional Indian music and dance and the more contemporary style embodied by Bollywood. The performance culminated in all students participating in ‘Jai Ho’ made famous in the movie ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and it was a delight to feel the joy and energy in the CM Wood Centre.
Over the course of Year 7 and 8, students experience the music and dance of four different cultures to their own and each performance allows them the opportunity to travel in someone else’s shoes for a moment. In follow up lessons, students are encouraged to seek further knowledge about any aspect of the performance. We ask them to ‘wonder’ – to wonder why the costumes are so colourful or whether the dance movements have special meanings, to wonder about the construction of the Tabla and why the Sitar’s sound seems to continually resonate. Wondering encourages students to pursue the knowledge and truths that interest them and fosters a deeper connection with and understanding of the performances. We can but only scratch the surface of what the world can offer, but we hope that through these performances, students might be inspired to seek out further opportunities in their own lives as they grow and mature into young adults.
by Anne Bortolussi, Head of Music (Curriculum)