folding over

I introduce Padma Newsome: BMus (Hons), MM, (Adelaide University), MMus, MMA, (Yale) Former of the ACO, the SSO, The Seymour Group, The National, Clogs, Fulbright Postgraduate Scholar, and Community Musician. 

Consider this scenario. I am tired, my hands are sore, I am in community strumming away, or scratching, singing.  Everyone around me is out of tune, no-one bothered to tune, except for the player with a new tuner who is still tuning, and my worst "enemy" sits at the drums. Kids lounge around on the floor with a dog. People dance, sing, and chat. 

Someone pulls up a chair and starts leading a few songs. Harmonies erupt, as if they are obvious, a rhythm that everyone knows (except me) starts up. 12 songs later, I realise I am out of my depth. I don't know any of the songs.  I am a prodigious improvisor, but I feel that I can't pull up a tune or solo to save myself. With eyes they try to include me, but too quickly their interest lags and they pull themselves into a spirit song. I am an outsider here. 

This was at the Bruthen Blues festival back in 2005. The music style was Funk/Blues, and 14 years later, I am now courageous enough to sit in, try hard to solo in style and try not to feel like a pureed classical musician. In reality I have a lot to offer community, and it me. 

I find this remarkable element in all community music I have encountered in Regional Victoria. I have heard numerous choirs with complex harmonies, self-made song writing of huge import to community, event oriented bands, children making song with ease and joy, and the bringing together of large bodies of disparate hominids in shared cultural spaces. 

If we are to change our way of music making in Australia, we should bring the inside of us out, to encourage and support. We, that is you and I, the "elite" musicians, must learn from our community. Folding over is the way we can bring the community to us, and us to our community. Folding over attempts to understand the nature or the culture and instead of bringing my world to community, I attempt to adapt to community. That is NOT to say that I do not show my ways of making music. I simply adapt my way, so that it can be more inclusive. 

If we want to know what to support in community, we must find out about our community. This is not outreach, it is in-reach. The way in which we discover community is not by visiting once, showing art once, it is by being in community sharing, hearing, listening.

in praise of long form

Ashok Roy was a beautiful Sarod player. His teacher was Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the great and reknowned. I learned Hindusthani music from Ashok for 3 years in the mid 80’s.

The Sarod is wonder in my mind, a giant silver fingerboard wraps around the neck, attached to a great gourd. Most of the left hand activity happens on the index finger, with this nail grown over so that all the meends, and bends, are easily played and heard, reinforced by numerous sympathetic strings which function like an acoustic aura. 

This music is Sa Pa, (or occasionally Ma) grounded, often by Tampura, which is harder than it looks to play, and which has extra little bits of string wedged between the root of the string and the bridge causing a disruption in the vibration and adding a twang to the sound world.

A few yoga colleagues and I studied the basics: tala, sargam, syllabic singing, shrutti, bends, etc, and excursions into various Rags. in particular, “Rag Yaman” has stuck with me over the years, and which has the beautiful “Eri Ali” as the main melody: Counting the Stars.  

I was always taken with the long form of the Rag, the idea that through presentation, care, form, and the concomitant liberation,  a longer discussion is able to take place on an idea, a topic, or mood. In the case of Indian Rag, there is a huge amount of shared language in place: two or more players sharing knowledge of navigation, gathering and developing language, phrases, and rhythmical hooks, with ease, and alacrity. 

Further to this is the way in which material is gradually introduced, moving us from a free introductory melodic and phrase presentation towards pulsing, and then a formal presentation within rhythm, of the two parts of the melody. What follows is a serious and deep investigation of the many phrases, rhythms gathered, solos, shared hooks, tailing with a coda-like rounding down.

“Shady Gully”, “The Vanity of Trees,” and my new project, “The Danes of Poowong East" each exhibit qualities influenced by this long form. Each have phrase and language links, are well held within various pitch behaviours, incorporate invention and guided improvisation, and have strong connections between the various parts, or movements, or songs. 

It is possible that meaning has become too strong a feature in my music, however, I embrace this, and embrace connections between works. More and more music become a river, a flow.

Focus is liberation.