After months of language training, observational research, questionnaires, discussion groups, performance practice, writing workshops, and recording sessions, twenty-one children from SDKE Mangunan presented their own informal, fourteen-track album! The final push to the presentation I referred to as a “tornado,” running around Yogyakarta, sweeping up supplies, making album booklets, writing programs, and generally hoping everything would turn out perfectly. The children throughout this process have seemed very relaxed and happy (they are Javanese, after all), and it was quite entertaining to see them suddenly taking their music so seriously.
For our final song-writing unit, the children at SDKE Mangunan and I discussed the life of children in Indonesia. I began with a workshop in which children answered the questions: “What do children need to live happy and healthy lives?” and “What problems are faced by children in Indonesia today?” To make this a more fun activity than a discussion, I made posters with the questions, and each child made three paper hand cut-outs. They wrote two answers for the first question with their hands, and another answer with their third paper hand. Some decided to write their answers quickly and spend the rest of the workshop playing drums, while others thought carefully and colored in their hands.
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One of the main focal points of my research here in Yogyakarta is to explore the identity of Javanese children. I am analyzing if and how music reflects their identity already, and if Indonesian and Javanese culture allows for children to express their identity creatively. With the children in Kelompok Kecil and Kelompok Besar at SDKE Mangunan, I held workshops over the span of a few weeks discussing the concept of identity, writing lyrics based on the children’s ideas of their own identities, making new songs in small groups, and finally recording these songs for an informal album.
The concept of identity is a common topic of discourse in anthropology and ethnomusicology. However, the purpose of my presenting this theme to the children was not entirely to fuel further discourse, but also to inspire the children to consider their own. This research project lends itself to uncover the most important information when the children are creatively empowered and are the creators of their own lyrics and music. What do they say? How do they say it? What are similarities and differences between boys and girls and the different age groups? These questions were all addressed during this unit and resulted in some very exciting song recordings that illustrate each child’s social and individual identity.
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Before school vacation started in the middle of June, the children in Kelompok Besar (The Big Group, grades four and five) had begun writing their own music. I introduced a process to them that was adapted from an NGO I interned at in Dakar, Senegal that also worked with children in creating music. Their process was as follows: take a song the children already know; have the children change the lyrics; then change the melody and the rhythm to which the children will sing the new lyrics. Voilà, a new song written by children.
The first half of my research with SDKE Mangunan in Yogyakarta was based around discussions of children’s musical culture in Indonesia and having the children practice songs they already knew. After a few weeks of workshops, I felt we were prepared to take the next step and change these songs into new creations. I first tried the process with my favorite regional children’s song, “Suwe Ora Jamu” (a Vimeo recording of this was posted in a previous blog). I posted the lyrics on the board, and explained that the children would write new lyrics to the same song, but maintain the melody. Unfortunately, when I went home to type and translate the new lyrics, I realized that I had chosen a Javanese song. I am still learning Bahasa Indonesia, so unfortunately most of these songs I could not understand or translate.
The following week, I made sure to post a song in Indonesian from which the children would change the lyrics. I chose the song “Bintang Kecil,” or “Little Star.” This song follows a different melody from “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and is not an exact translation. However, during our initial meetings when the children wrote this as a common children’s song, they also proved to me that they knew the English version (at least partially, they mumbled through most of the lyrics but maintained the proper melody). So with the lyrics from “Bintang Kecil” as a guide, each child wrote a single verse using new lyrics. What proved difficult was that many children did not change the lyrics entirely, only a few words (“Bright Star” for example). However, two groups persisted and wrote two completely new songs.
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As news of spring training started appearing in the subheading of news websites, my stomach griped; this may just be the first year since I was six that I won’t go to a baseball game! Not much later one day at school, some of the children started asking me questions about American baseball: the rules, the players, the teams. In anticipation, I asked my parents to bring along a small whiffle ball and bat when they would visit in April. As baseball has always had a special place in the hearts of the Stillings’ family, they were happily to oblige. Not only did Mom and Dad lug a suitcase of books and protein bars, but the whiffle ball set, a few bags of cracker jacks, big chew bubble gum, and MLB-themed silly bands.
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