Gill Reflects on Guangzhou Part 2

GUANGZHOU, CHENGDU & BEIJING 17th – 24th JUNE

Sorry for abrupt end to Guangzhou.
Internet & time are very limited! Better to send something than nothing!

Our time in Guangzhou is a bit glamorous; my hosts have taken me out to dinner a couple of times & they have organised restaurant meals for the whole choir a couple of times.One of our hosts took me & another Wayfarer driving in his soft topped sports car. First time on the 2nd level of the famous, posh 4 floor restaurant, my host invited her English speaking friend who translated for us. She was from Inner Mongolia studying in Guangzhou & has studied in England.

I got to know my host, Hannah (her English name) a bit. Hannah is editor of the ‘Creative Weekly’ section of Yangcheng Evening News. I think it was her article about us that was published Fri 15th June. She believes in developing creativity from an early age, hence her interest in the school. She is also interested in architecture & design, for which there is much inspiration here in central Guangzhou. They are very proud of their tall towers & bridges which are lit up at night in multi-coloured neon glory. Freeway interchanges and bridges are highlighted with multi coloured edges to mark their sweeping curves. We live close to luxury car shops, the famous business class multi-level resaurant as well as Guangchou Tower, West Gate Square and other land marks. Freeways enable quick access, streets are lined with street trees & plantings including Mangos, Lillypillys, Gardenias, Camellias and Gum Trees. Yes, Eucalypts grow like a weed! Bouganvillea, Passionfruit, & Morning Glory drape beneath the bridges. Plants are sprayed with water regularly to wash off dust & keep them looking beautiful. Amongst the cars, trucks & buses, fully laden 3 wheel bicycles pedal or motor by. They are often piled high with the equivalent of a 6X4 trailer full of building rubbish, fruit or 100 litres of drinking water.
The traffic has no rules. Everyone, pedestrian, bike or bus, heads straight for each other, cuts off or heads into road-fulls of oncoming traffic. Everyone seems to miraculously miss each other. I think the drivers expect this behavior & waste no energy remembering any road rules. So each day all of us Aussies had tales of miraculous survival.

Near the school the street is lined with small shops filled with all sorts of things, several selling building materials or groceries or home made take away Chinese food. There is one where men gather to play cards & smoke. People live behind the shops in old, crowded 3 floor buildings, accessed by labyrinth dark alleyways. Fruit & vegies are sold here or beading to decorate clothes for sale.

Contrast is one of my abiding impressions of China. It feels safe outside, I see no signs of drunkeness or crime. Groups of women form outside in the evening and dance to up-beat Asian music on portable CD players, obviously for excersise & relaxation. People use the streets, there is little private space.

As with all Chinese families I have met, the children come with us every where, no matter how late at night. My host’s 3yr old Emma is remarkably good, given her late nights and 9-5pm at school as well as trailing around shops afterwards etc.

Classes with the kids are pretty nice. One of us (a trained teacher) takes the class while several of us help with singing, playing recorder, actions, hand movements, games or percussion to help the kids experience variouse parts of the music – pitch, rhythm, beat, tempo, language etc. Judy has written a book full of songs especially to guide children through progressive musical excersises. Steiner kids all learn recorder from an early age.
One song is about variouse Australian animals which the children can act, another is about a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, another about a seed awaking to become a plant, another about sharing each others names etc. So basically I get to sing & a play for an hour or so without having to take too much responsibility except to sing & play correctly!

At the end of the week we have a concert where each class performs to the rest of the school, parents & teachers. Usually the kids sing songs complete with several parts, recorder & percussion ensembles& actions. Usually we have taken a class for adults, the parents & teachers, so they perform several songs with us in many parts & several languages, including some instruments. Usually we Wayfarers perform something for everyone.

Everyone is extremely appreciative. I think the schools love the input of quality music teaching, and Western culture. Usually there is a packed school hall, speeches & gifts for us. I feel I owe our hosts hugely, they have organised, cooked & transported us all week ; but often they press more gifts on us. In every place I feel I have made friends that are hard to leave, even if we have very littlle language in common. I notice the similarities between us and our common shared humanity.

My impression of China is a schemozzle of glitz & poverty, social order & anarchy on the roads, environmental disaster & valiant environmental wisdom, social control yet great human warmth.

Gill Reflects on Taiwan

Hi All,
Greetings from Taiwan!!

We took a shuttle bus from the airport, down freeways, through mountain tunnels and past towns & industry cuddled up to rice paddies & vegie gardens – to make the best use of space. It looks like north coast NSW – same weeds, also banana plants, pawpaws, & many other tropical fruits that I don’t know.

Saw lots of motor scooters ridden by people wearing rain ponchos & sometimes a traditional straw hat.

Our hosts greeted us at the school with hand-drawn signs of our names, so I met Christy(!), Joseph and Chantelle who walked me around the corner to their 3 story flat. Christy & her husband speak some English, Joseph is 10 & a bit shy, Chantelle is 3.They have Taiwanese names which I haven’t learnt yet. Mostly they speak Mandarin. They gave me some nice veg food which I promptly threw up due to being exhausted after sitting up all night on the plane…

After snoozing in my very nice bed, I woke to discover that I was on the 3rd floor, in a room of my own, with a view of misty mountains and rice paddies all around & of a cement factory & other flats.

Singing in the concert that evening seemed to cure the nausea, several hundred people from the school were a very appreciative audience.

The school is big by our standards, the kids are keen & the teachers translate for us!
We generally are in small groups taking a class. We sing the music through & then teach it to the class. Most fun bit today was impromptu performance of ‘The Owl & the Pussy Cat’ (me starring as cat) – to great hilarity…

Home cooked Taiwanese meals are abundant – the school cooks lunch for all students (at least 800) & also for us Wayfarers! Lots of vegies, various mushrooms, rice, sweet corn, noodles, greens, soup, tofu. Like home but better!

It rains heavily often during the day, there are big puddles, gumboots & umbrellas every where. Our clothes dry on a covered balcony helped by a de-humidifier fan.

Christy took me for a walk this arvo, first to the farmers co-op shop sponsored by the school, selling fruit & veg, dry goods & hand made Steiner-ish crafts. We chatted with the manager & her friend & enjoyed a homemade cookie. Next we walked up the road where Christy says many people take early morning walks, past a few houses, vegie gardens, many orchards of tropical fruits, a Mini Golf and a very ornate temple. Discovered at this point that the camera battery is flat, also soon this laptop battery will run out: then I’m not sure if I can borrow an adapter to charge everything. So communication may be short lived!

Best try & save & send this now.
Love, Gill.

Little Yarra. Our first stop on the tour.

We spent our days in the school hall. A rather ugly building in comparison to the rest of the school which was beautiful. Flat floor, raised stage, dark brown curtains at the sides and back of the raised stage. It felt much more like a heavy metal concert venue than for choral performances. Ply board walls with graffiti painted over sections of it, a lighting and sound box at the back made with fantastically patterned rusted metal sides. Exposed trusses in the ceiling spray painted black.

But a couple of weeks before the high school had performed the whole of Bach’s St John’s Passion in it. Out of the windows you could see a range of beautiful hills, what a view to look out on every day. The variety in the kinds of places we have been is huge, sometimes the spaces we were a reflection of what we were doing, at other times there was no apparent similarity. Little Yarra had an amazingly musical bunch of kids, and a variety of musical styles are respected and supported in the school.

Red Hill House

Before I describe the many wonderful places that we visit on this tour it is worth spending a short time acknowledging our ‘home’ in Canberra. ‘The Red Hill House’, generously lent to us for the duration of our stay, was home since we left Orana in January. It has been an amazing gift.

So much work and excitement, struggle and intensity went on inside those walls. Sometimes the empty house felt like a place of endless possibility, anything was achievable from within its walls. Sometimes it felt as though it were a workhouse, no time to rest, constant work, long days, stress, intense concentration, argument and exhaustion. Sometimes it felt too full, at other times empty. Sometimes the halls rang with beautiful harmony, at other times it was choked with dissatisfaction. One thing is for sure though, without it, we would not have got as far as we have. It was the most generous gift of Matt’s parents, to so freely lend us their house. We owe them a very great debt.photo of red hill house

The kitchen became the costume sewing room during the Ring Bearer; the hall balcony the prop making room during Story Songs; the big carpeted room was our meeting room and second rehearsal room – everyone sitting around on the floor leaning against the walls. Two toilets-which would start to stink very quickly if they weren’t cleaned at least twice a week.

Photo of Ring Bearer script writing session

Rohan and Gawain during one of many Ring Bearer script revision sessions.

Two other smaller carpeted rooms, one contained the photocopier and computers and was where Judy often set herself up when not running rehearsals. It was one of the few rooms with Internet. For some reason the house had terrible Internet and phone reception.

photo of Will getting internet

Will doing his best to find internet for his laptop

The other was the individual rehearsal room, or the jobs room, for doing things like calling schools about upcoming concerts, designing posters, sorting transport etc. That was where Gawain composed his ‘Thank you’ song.

The biggest room, a living dining kind of room, was our rehearsal room, where we spent most of our days. Terracotta tile floor, cream concrete walls, patterned curtains. Filled with deck chairs, kitchen chairs, fold out chairs of all descriptions and a stack of crates to sit on. Music stands, various instrument cases, piles of books, drink bottles and just the random junk that accumulates so quickly when you have a group of about twenty people spending all day there. The central hall way was our bags dumping ground. Leaving all personal gear there (supposedly), including shoes when it wasn’t too cold.photo of hall

Outside the front door was our eating area. Morning tea and lunch every day, sometimes beautiful and warm and sunny and at other times cold and windy, but our gathering place, sitting and eating, sometimes playing games, but most importantly, work free! Downstairs, behind the Garage was a storage room tucked under the stairs which every week on Friday night we emptied our gear into before spending a few hours cleaning the house ready for open inspections on the weekend.photo of wayfarers outside eating

 

Raphaela Mazzone Reflects on the Ring Bearer

The production was a massive undertaking, beginning with a collaborative re-working of the script. This mainly involved removing as many of the scene changes and narrations as possible, while simultaneously trying to make the storyline easier to follow. We got it down to about two hours in the end, including the nineteen songs.

I found it incredibly interesting, working on the script. It was a long process, the story came from the books (obviously) and out of these Judy had selected what she considered to be the pivotal scenes (and scenes that included poetry that she had set to music). A massive undertaking and one that only by the end of my editing time could I appreciate how well she had done. When reading Tolkien’s beautiful language, and seeing the subtlety of the the relationships between the different characters and the rich and sophisticated development of the plot, each cut or alteration seemed a terrible loss. Every scene, every sentence chosen to be in the script represented tens of others that were equally beautiful or powerful. And permeating through it all was Tolkien’s descriptions of the most beautiful forests placed in stark contrast to the cruellest intent. I wish I had only half of his imagination and his ability to express his ideas eloquently.

All of this then had to be blocked (in the process often changing the script, again) then memorised. Then we added the music! Wonderful language combined with beautiful melodies and harmonies. Often quite difficult to sing, and certainly a challenge when also acting.

Production week! So much fun, but wow, so much intense, hard work! The greatest sustaining factor being that I was surrounded by a bunch of enthusiastic, intelligent, artistic, capable and proactive people who are all working as hard as I was!

What was particularly wonderful, was that at the last minute Clara came down from Sydney for the week to help out. She landed on her feet! Walked in and started writing running sheets, making lists of props and costumes, formulating running orders and generally organising things. She was amazing! She was our stage manager for performances, director in the dress rehearsal (allowing Kia and I to finally focus on acting and not directing) and a general organiser with everything else. She calmed us down, focused us, ran warm ups and generally kept everyone motivated and organised. We would get home at 10.45pm each night and I would go to bed exhausted, but she and Evan would sit up for another 2 hours planning out what to do the next day, from large scenes that needed work, to costume alterations, to small details like taping a light cover down. Her presence made our rehearsals more efficient and our performances of a more professional standard. An incredible gift! Thank you!

One of the greatest challenges was that as well as normal blocking, each song had to be choreographed, learned off by heart and then reorganised and sorted because of the many complications that occur when creating a production with a small group of multi-talented people. For example: ‘Who’s playing the accompaniment in Tom Bombadil? Isn’t it Katrina? No, Katrina can’t play the clarinet because she is the tree that is holding up Pippin, maybe Rohan could play the oboe? No, he’s helping Katrina. Can’t someone else hold Manuka? No, those two are the strongest. Okay. Hmm. What Judy? Oh, you want them both playing their instruments on the harmony lines? Could Gawain do one of the harmonies on the clarinet? No, he’s on stage as Sam. Um, well, if the tree dissolves early, and Judy plays the introduction and the first verse on the recorder accompanied by Jane on the cello then they may have time to come off stage, grab their instruments, put in the reeds, and be in time to play the second verse…

Meanwhile, on stage Kate (as Goldberry) is singing the first verse as a solo, but she’s singing the alto line because the tune is too high for her, the second verse now sounds fabulous with oboe and clarinet accompanying, but Dave (who is Tom Bombadil) is having difficulty singing his solo because he can’t sing high enough to do the tune either – so is singing the bass line, which is hard – and since he is still trying to hold down a job whilst all these rehearsals are happening he is still catching up with the music learning. So could all other men on stage sing with Dave please. So that’s you Theodore and… Where’s Evan Squire? Oh, he has just been a narrator so is now off stage. Evan Sanders? “I’m in the lighting box and no, I won’t sing from up here!” Okay. Rohan is playing oboe, Gawain and Will are on stage as hobbits. Hmm. Theodore it is then. Then the chorus comes around and “other hobbits why aren’t you singing” and “not you trees, you only come in after verse three”. Okay, lets do that whole song again and see if we can get it right …and so it goes…