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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