Thursday, October 30, 2014

The post-Newkulele Festival, TALAUG and Ukulele Leadership LetDown

Is this what success looks like? Exhaustion? and dreams of overflowing ukestras in holiday resorts?

This morning's dream was a slight anxiety one, about trying to run a beginner's ukulele session prior to one of my normal weekly regional ukestras (Tomaree Ukestra up at Port Stephens). Except instead of having the expected 2 people show up for the beginner's session, there were about 20 new people, including teenagers who should have been at school at 9am on a Monday morning. What was I going to do with them? As the 9:30 Ukestra start time encroached, this was my concern...

The Ukulele Professional Development Marathon

And then I woke to my first day of not having to rush and do something. I'm still awake with the sun just after 6am, but I don't have to rush off and be a well loved and familiar figure in my own lunch-time at a Festival or swathe of training days. I can sloth, and greet Jane slowly with our normal morning rituals, and then get into the piles of washing and administrative work that await us after a full week of full-on-ness.

The endurance marathon started last Wednesday night. We discovered that our Ukestration Manual was something like 35,000 words and 100 pages, and that it needed a final edit. So off I go (alone) at 8pm to our favourite third place to ensconce myself at a table and read the tome. Start with a double pot of chai (Bengali), quaff for an hour, order dinner, keep editing, a glass of water, eat dinner, keep editing for hours, drink water, drink peppermint tea (with honey and lemon). If I were polite I could have helped the staff (Richard, Tilley, et al.) stack the chairs at midnight, but I hadn't quite finished. At home I finish the last few pages, then start collating the edits onto the computer. Another four hours later I am done. Finally I can say I have 'pulled an all nighter', charged up on Chai Tea and a work ethic that won't let me sleep except for a snippet after 4am.

It wasn't me!

Even genius's practice. Photo: Bob Beale.
Thursday is tired and shambolic shards of work, but the famous person / new friend arrives, and the not so famous (old) friend arrives, both from distant entrepĂ´t. On Friday begins a full-on weekend of Newkulele fun, music, direction, assisting, running, ukeing, and way too much sleep deprivation. It is giant success, but people are constantly praising me for a great festival (it wasn't me, it was a committee), telling me what a wonderful thing I have done (I wasn't on the Committee! It was the Committee!), telling me that it was much better than this or that festival, and what great things I have achieved (IT WASN'T ME!!!!! I LEFT THE COMMITTEE IN FEBRUARY!!!!!).

It was others.
My new shirt. Thanks Mum. Photo: Penny Creighton
It was Christine, it was Jane, it was Martin, Susan, Marie, Pam, Ron, Lindsay, Dianne, Danielle, Kate, Gail, Ralph, and a swathe of volunteers who are so passionate about their community that they have created something very special to celebrate that. But me, the public face, inevitably gets some accolades. Thanks. But can you please stop, and start telling the not-so-public people how good they, and what they have done, is/are?

The weekend ends with an intimate gathering in our very small house, with the world's best ukulele players trading sensitive jamming riffs. That was the best bit. Oh. And maybe the new shirt. And definitely the fact that Robyn – the most deserving raffle winner in history – wins the $1300 Kamaka Ukulele. Such a hoot of quiet respect and delight when the people who know her hear the announcement.
Robyn with her proudly won and richly deserved Kamaka Ukulele

Leadership and Teaching

But this is all a prelude to the real work; the real ground-breaking stuff for us. The ignobly named TALAUG happens on the Monday, where we corral as many willing ukulele leaders and teachers as possible into one room to talk turkey. What are our common experiences, challenges and goals? It's a great day and all too short.

But wait! There is more. At the 2012 TALAUG people said, “but we want to know what YOU do, and how YOU do it”. So ok. Two years later we develop our aspirational goal – a manual. 'Cept it'll be an emanual. (Which, if said in the wrong (mostly male) company, usually draws snide glances).

These are our two days of reckoning – the Ukulele Leadership Training. The launch of a draft of the Ukestration Manual, with some rare hard copies. It's our chance to tell people what we think, and how we do it. And they want us to do this. Indeed, they have paid good money for it. And according to all reports post-ULT, it was good, very good.

Sleep returns

And so, now I can return to normal sleep patterns, and normal ukestras, and contemplate the future that was hidden for so long behind this brick wall of a festival of professional development.

Bring on today. It's 7:15am. I'm going back to sleep.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The woes of the musically literate

(--- Go on. Play this music to accompany your reading. It's the music of birds, of the morning and a girl rehearsing in the adjacent lounge. Just recorded on an phone thingie as I typed, no edits --- )

Sunday morning. Lotsa birds lost somewhere in the Strathbogies. Another great Folk Music Camp.

I write from the verandah of the 'Altos' bunkhouse, looking at the mountain, listening to the birds, and in behind me in the lounge I can hear a tentative voice repeating phrases with a guitar and pausing and resuming and pausing – I reckon she is writing a song at 7:45am – I can almost hear the pencil scrawls. In the accompanying Soundcloud clip you can hear the birds, the typing, brief conversations, the tentative voice.

The Intermediate Turkey Gobblers

And so the uke players trudge up the hill to the workshop.

Yesterday we had about 60 musically literate people show up for our first 1 hour ukulele workshop We did Royals and How to Make Gravy – it was all happening and very successful, even if we had to leave our allocated lounge classroom and be ejected onto the lawn. It is so good to work with people who are already musically literate, who listen and take instruction easily. Though they do become a noisy rabble, and without a PA we resorted to a 'modified shut up! primary school method' which involved gobbling like a turkey. I would do gobble and everyone would have to follow suit. That seemed to work, much like this video (just play a second or two of it - it is much sweeter listening to the accompanying soundcloud of birds, songstress, typing fingers and morning hellos).

Keen ukers gather for the first session. This is only a few of the final participants. I couldn't take photos. I was teaching!
So we completed the first session of turkey gobblers, for intermediate players. Phew! Glad that is over! We've dealt with 60 people out of a total of 300 registered campers (with perhaps another 100 unregistered kids). There are only 4 concurrent workshops at any time, and we feel like that will we be our fair share of punters.

The Beginners

30 minute break and then off to do the 'Beginners Ukulele Workshop'. We should only get 15 people at the most, and surely they've put us in the wrong venue for this? The main Marquee? So we toddle off down the hill to that ... and are aghast. At least another 60! What is it with the ukulele?!

Big mistake. We set up the area without thinking of using the PA which we could have used. It is more personal, but very taxing on the voice – turkey gobbling notwithstanding.
'The Doctor' helps tune ukes. Jane girds her loins for another class.

So. Back to the beginners. The wonderful thing about teaching uke at these camps is that people are already musically literate. Or at least they are here with a desire to learn music. Such an important first step. There is no dragging kicking and screaming here. Just willing voices and fingers.

But it also has its disadvantages. Our one-hour-each-day beginners program is shot to pieces. At home we work with 10-15 people in a two hour beginners' workshop in which we can count on getting through maybe four songs and a whole bunch of techniques. Here we are with 60 people, croaking instructions, and they get through 2 hours of skill development and song learning in 40 minutes. Now what do we do? And more to the point, what do we do tomorrow?

We'll figure it out. It's not like we are strangers to this situation.

And when you have finished reading, and listening to the birds and song, you can play the videos of the final night uke concerts.

Here be the first - How to Make Gravy.

More to come very soon....

Sixish days of music, in-laws and the road - Roses Gap Folk Music Camp 2014

Facebook is a funny non-place to be. 5am at home is a good place to be. Writing and reflecting on our old front verandah, waiting for the guy swinging his budgie smugglers as he walks up the street to the beach, hearing my first koel of the season in the distance, avoiding the avalanche of emails that will drag me screaming back into the 'real world' that is my own doing.

For now I'm just going to reduce the screen brightness, type, and watch the street and its dawn.

I will go back to bed, in an hour or two, when I get a cup of tea for my love. We do not have to rush off anywhere, even though Tuesdays are a traditionally 'big' day. The life of the community musician, afternoons / evenings / and a desktop computer with so many tasks awaiting. That's why I avoid the big computer and use this small one in my lap. Not such easy access to the net, more time to sit with my brain.

The productive, creative and relaxed drive to Forbes

We had a huge weekend, a rather long one. It felt like one of our four week sojourns to the US, travelling and meeting strangers who become fellow travellers, being encased in a dream world for a couple of days, then re-emerging from our temporary cocoon to engage with the daily stresses.

We stop at Beela Rd to honour Jane's dearly departed cat.
Wednesday we left, after a good swim and a visit with Mum. We decided to do the big dogleg to Victoria, via Jane's parents in Forbes. A holy visit of obligation, and a six hour drive that we used well, bright-eyed with full attention on serious personal matters that we addressed with great productivity and creativity. The drive ended with Jane and myself taking turns at strumming a uke, practising harmonies as the trees and the dusk flit by, and the kangaroos stay safely on the verge (mostly).

Aforementioned curtains
We stayed in the same room and with the same bedroom curtains that Jane bought with her own pocket money when she was 16. Had dinner with rellos, walked around Lake Forbes, wandered the streets searching for wisteria to smell, admiring the slow architecture of the place, wondering how to address small and large family matters and difficulties. Life in a small rural Australian town – you remember Karen Smith? You went to school with her. Well she …. etc. etc. …. Life remembered as only parents can.

We played a little music outside the family estate.
The Chinese restaurant that I wouldn't recommend, except it is the only one, and it's the place in which Jane did two months as a dishpig waiting to depart home and school life for the big city university life. The discussions about distant friends, distant relatives and their fates over the last 25 years or so of adulthood, including the history of the ownership of the Chinese restaurant and the fate of their family life. We try to identify small fleeting birds of the Central Western Slopes and Plains, combing the desolate wasteland of lawns of neglect, pick bags of lemons at Harry Brown's farm. We even discuss getting the parents onto the internet and familiar with modern day computers. The last people on Earth who are not connected shall be connected. And it was good. All completed in one frenzied Thursday of indolence. And then on Friday we hop back in the car and drive off down the mighty Newell. And it was good.

The Newell

Beckom Public School kids did a geography 'B' project.
Facebook on the smartphone and iPad was well present in Forbes. So were other writings and the occasional email. Facebook and driving from Forbes to Benalla was also good. Sharing little insights of the distant rangelands along the Newell, or the more remote places on the road to Urana. Even there the lesser telephone network had its tentacles working. The relative thrivingness and welcomingness of West Wyalong. The tumbleweedness of Urana. The cuteness of a nondescript highway toilet stop decorated with geographical panache by the local school children. The preponderance of Caution! Emu! signs, and the absence of emus. The continual thrum of the tyres on the macadam at a 110km an hour that remind you that you are not actually flying, even though it feels like you are and you may as well be.
Thom, Dick and Harry's - West Wyalong. Coffee mug purchase

A wee stop and a brief enjoyment of the new Corowa Civic Centre overhanging the Murray floodlands, and then we drive into Victoria, into a deep wooded valley of the Strathbogies and enter the zone. No Facebook. No internet. Just music and damn fine people.

Roses Gap

Roses Gap Music Camp is a scion of Turramurra Folk Music Camp – the child that left home and became even bigger than the original. For a while there it seemed like Roses Gap was going to be made homeless by the bushfires that damaged the Grampians nestled Roses Gap centre that gave it its name. 

But this musical community and committee is strong and vibrant and the geographical dislocation proves a mere hiccough, and the whole camp is able to vault across the state to the Strathbogies. This new home at Charnwood seems more than appropriate to our needs, with the main challenge being what to call it? Rosewood seems to be the interim name of choice. 

And there obviously was a need for a bigger venue than the Charnwood dining hall can provide. A Port Fairy worthy marquee dominates the valley floor, betraying this little festival's potential aspirations to be like its large Folk Festival cousins. But it never will be, and never wants to be. 3-400 people is just right.

I've written at length about Turramurra Folk Music Camp – the original one that gave rise to this spillover. This feels much the same, though with many different people. Perhaps there are more families here? More kids? Though maybe not.

The lawn next to the Marquee
The format remains the same. Dinner then a Friday night concert to showcase the tutors (which includes us) and then a relatively early to bed. The catered food is good with plenty of vego and small serves that leaves one hankering for more salt and fat. I suppose that's a good thing. As tutors we are given two booklets of 'food money', but we top those payments up with a song each day in the kitchen for Deb and her other wonderful cooks.

Workshops all day Saturday and Sunday. The program is a relatively small one … it's easier to refer you to the website and copy and paste the dot points.
  • Art with Julian Chappel
  • Contra Dance with Maggie Duncan
  • Ensemble with Lyndal Chambers & Brian Strating
  • Federation Bells with Ariel Valent
  • Beginners and Intermediate Fiddle with  Hugh Gordon
  • Beginners and Intermediate Guitar with Jem Dunlop
  • Singing with Jane Thompson
  • Keyboard with Janet Gordon
  • Hula Hoop Dance for everyone with Donna Sparx
  • Beginners and Intermediate Tin Whistle with Pat Lyons
  • Beginners and Intermediate Ukulele with Mark Jackson and Jane Jelbart
  • Wildflower Walks with Elvyne Hogan
  • Morning Yoga with Wendy Ashton
  • Youth Band with Matt Sheers
Lanterns at night with iPhone = poor photo
It's rich and small - we partake in other morsels including yoga, singing, guitar, lantern-making, youth band and ensemble.  Talking, yabbering, networking, learning through conversations, drinking cups of tea. These too are important to being here. Alcohol is not dominant, but a mere accompaniment to a meal (perhaps).

Saturday night is always the dance, and Sunday night is the concert featuring the products of all the workshops. Sunday night begins with a rather ritualistic parade replete with a 50 ish piece marching band, lanterns, Federation Bells and solemn moments.

For me, the Sunday night concert is renowned for three distinct things. One is its length, where parents of small children must keep them awake or submit to their tiredness. Some kids inevitably miss out. Sometimes I miss out and head to bed at an unreasonably early hour like 11:30pm.

The whistle workshop invades the stage.
The second ever-present Sunday night motif is the self perpetuating funky brass band limbo competition. Daniel with his impossible limbs didn't win this year.

The third is the wonderful youthful performance surprises that turn up constantly Most of it is captivating and sheer delight. In another world this might be called a family camp, or a youth music camp. But in this world there is no distinction made between what has gone before and what is forthcoming. The old and the new, the generational pull and progression, all of it naturally slides into the other. Music is for all generations; feeds, creates and reflects each generation; everyone finds their space and does their thing, together and apart, and always, it seems, with a respect for the other - one for its mentoring and musical wisdom, the other for its apparent dedication for musical excellence and for their sense of responsibility that they are the ones travelling the tradition forward.

We wrangle and wrangle and manage to wangle and mangle four performance songs for our 120+ ukulele students. What amazes me is everyone's immense musical literacy. Even the beginners are swiftly taught. Where we would teach a beginners workshop to 10-15 people over two hours, here we only have an hour to teach 60-70 people. We achieved what we normally achieve in about 40 minutes. But I write about that more in the next blog.
Virtuosic classical guitar munchkins. Sunday night.
In the video of How to Make Gravy, particularly watch the elfin Georgina (she's the one in the guitar trio piccie, on the right) who is all over it, and focussed on the most complex riffs – and she is 9. Her classical guitar training stands her in good stead.
There are myriad stories to tell, and so many people showcase wonderful stuff. But you can't just write about it. You have to immerse yourself and be there.

And then you leave. As always, its a wrench.

The freeways of our lives

We wend our way on the dirt out of this rich musical, social and bushland ecosystem. After a few kilometres we join the freeway. We call this civilisation, the freeways that circumscribe our 'normal' lives.

And we do the most stupid thing in Albury - we go to a shopping centre. It is indescribably awful. Culturally demoralising. Reality.

The 10 hour drive back home is like a zombie journey, fraught with bickering and whinging. No creativity, no productivity, no conversations. Not a skerrick of Facebook is indulged, even though for two and a half days I have been deprived. It is the legacy of a general lack of sleep. Or is it the shock of reality?
Maybe it is grief?
We fall asleep.
And awake back home. 

5am is a good place to be.