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Updated: Mar 12

Week One and Two

(Hello wonderful lecturers who are marking my blog -- please click on the relevant link so you don't have to sort through all my other blogging from this week :)

VSAO3601 | Gamelan | CDIME

Very exciting to be starting back at Sydney Conservatorium for my final year of study. This semester I'm studying Cultural Diversity in Music Education (CDIME) with a short exploration of Gamelan at the start of the semester, which requires a progress diary which I'll be keeping here. To develop my performance and vocal skills I'm also taking a Stage Fundamentals course which I'll also be reflecting on in this blog.

Last year I really struggled to motivate myself in my studies. While completing my first two placements I discovered that I really struggled to enjoy classroom teaching and motivating myself to finish the degree has been difficult since then. My mental health and personal life were also difficult to manage last year, so I'm hoping that being in a more stable place and being more enthusiastic will help me enjoy my final placement more, and maybe inspire me to do some casual teaching or even take a part time position.

This year I'm also aiming to do more gigging and push myself to take auditions for ensembles and opportunities I'm interested in. This will be difficult with PEX3 coming up, but I'll do what I can.

VSAO3601 - Stage Fundamentals

Coming back into the vocal department of Sydney Con for Week One of Stage Fundamentals was quite confronting to me last week. After spending a few months becoming more comfortable and reacquainted with classical singing and with my voice, I suddenly felt very insecure about singing with other people in the room.

Seeing the familiar faces of my lecturers and some of my peers was reassuring, but I felt that it might take me some time to find where my voice would fit in this new group.

I found myself feeling really proud of my progress in my confidence and understanding of stagecraft since my OperaLab days in 2018/19. I find that I’m less shy and more willing to make mistakes and embarrass myself, though I still have to remind myself to relax, or act least not show discomfort in my body language.

This week I found our opening exercise quite challenging. We were challenged to invent a new sport and act it out, and my partner and I chose our sport to be grave digging, but only with your feet. In hindsight, this was already a difficult subject to act out, and we struggled to make our intentions clear. Nell gave us some great ideas around defining the space using specific actions to give the audience some idea of what we were doing before we started.

Following this, I really enjoyed doing work on forming tableau scenes and how even a scene without movement could tell a story. This drew on a short exercise from last week where we played around with a tableau based around John and Tharushi and it was great to see how the class had already developed in their understanding of levels, in changing their body language slightly to make sure the audience could see them or that their faces weren’t covered.

We also played with some different types of movement and characters through the use of personification. I struggled with this as well, especially in personifying the gorilla which was opposite to the ways I feel comfortable moving.

When we moved onto Cat Like Tread and were able to move around in more of a context I felt more comfortable, I think because I felt I had a reason to be moving that way. I felt a lot more secure in my voice as well this week, and I’m hoping this continues.

MUED4603 - Gamelan

In Cultural Diversity in music education this week we began our unit on Balinese Gamelan. I did a lesson on Gamelan in first year, and I’m really excited to expand on this. I find the texture of Gamelan so excited and pleasing to the ear, especially the ombak-ombak sound — playing in a flute ensemble in high school we would often hear this effect as a result of playing ‘out of tune’, and at that time I hated the sound, but hearing it ring out in the gamelan room is actually quite thrilling! I find that with this effect and the slightly different tunings of each instrument and the sound of the ensemble has more body and fullness as well, and I love the contrast of this with the western tradition that I was raised with.

I found the playing technique to be quite natural, striking each bar and then muting it afterwards, either immediately to produce a shorter note or, for a more legato line, as the next note was played. I did struggle a little bit when we sped up, but I think this is natural when being first introduced to a new technique.

I found the method of teaching very similar to Orff pedagogy in that a melody was ‘chunked’ into small pieces and repeated for us to learn before we put it all together. At first I actually really struggled with this due to the unfamiliar tunings of each note and the siah pitu (7 note scale) used on these instruments. Where I thought I heard a small jump in one of the melodies was actually only a step (to the next bar), but sounds wider because of the tuning. It was really challenging to recalibrate my ear to this new scale, the siah pitu, and patet (pitch set) we were using.

Peter preferred us not to take notes in this class, to make sure we were fully immersed in the hands on learning experience and not absorbed in getting every word down, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how much knowledge I’ve retained while reflecting on the class a few days later. I look forwards to learning more about the Gamelan instruments and the pedagogy balinese people use to learn this kind of music.


I really enjoyed the reading this week from William Coppola and found that it made me think quite deeply about how I can make performing more enjoyable for my students and their audiences.

I love listening to opera and I love performing it in an ensemble but I really struggle to sit and watch it for 3 hours in an opera house. I feel that I can't connect with the music in the same way and I actually don't get that my joy from it, even though I have such a longstanding connection and interest with the art. However, when I play gamelan in class, when I get to jam with my classmates on a completely unfamiliar instrument and interact with them, or when I'm able to go to a pop music concert and dance and sing along with my friends I get much more enjoyment from the experience.

From Coppola's article I found his ideas about how spaces can inform performance and audience engagement really resonating with me -- no wonder my students hate performing their work in a recital style in the school hall - they can't

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Today's lessons were really hard, for multiple reasons. It's getting to that part of the year where everything just feels a bit too hard. I'm exhausted, I'm overwhelmed and I'm just trying my hardest to keep up.

Today I planned an action packed lesson, which I honestly thought would end in disaster. My students are wonderful and talented, but they often struggle with group work, and with student driven learning, and this whole lesson revolved around teaching themselves a song and playing together. Last week had been a bit disastrous with quite a bit of misbehaving so I was ready to be a bit more strict this week.

The lesson actually turned out really really well. There was only one class that didn't get through all of the activities (my chattiest class who took a while to get going in the first portion of the lesson) and most classes actually had time to swap parts and learn a whole new line. The kids seemed to enjoy the lesson, and it was great to finally get them playing with different textures and tone colours inside the one lesson, and also to give them some control over their learning. Being a bit strict and then loosening the reigns a little seemed to work and they worked really well together for the most part.

I found at points in the lesson (and in the afternoon choir session) that I was raising my voice often, and even yelling at points, especially when students were being unsafe, inconsiderate or just plain rude. I was getting so frustrated that I didn't know what else to do and my students were suffering the brunt of that and it wasn't fair. I try my best to teach from a trauma informed perspective and yelling isn't a part of that. I know that I sometimes need to be strict with my students, but I just felt awful, so awful that I had to have a little cry before I left. I don't think it was the best way to reprimand and correct my students, and I'm doing my best to reflect, and to reach out to my colleagues for advice.

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This week was a very tricky one for my students at Banksmeadow -- they had their first go at reading a score. I tried to make it as simple as possible for them to follow with colours, but I also made sure they were exposed to proper musical symbols and terminology.

We started the lesson with Pass the Beat, and then they sat down with the boomwhackers. When I asked them to choose a boomwhacker, I forgot that kids are kids, and will get excited if you offer them a giant colourful pole to whack on the ground, so they all rushed the front of the room to grab the biggest, brightest boomwhacker they could find. I ended up yelling, telling them to go to the back of the room and sit down and scolded them, explaining the importance of taking their time and being safe. I'm really not proud of this, especially since it was my mistake that prompted this behaviour. Their classroom teacher recommended to me that I get them come up in their table groups, which I thought was a really good idea.

I've not been doing very well with anticipating behavioural challenges in class lately which has created problems in my behaviour. I hate yelling at my students and when I fail to anticipate it feels like my teaching suffers, which means my students are getting the support they need.

I'm hoping that next week I can improve on this and also use more of the PBL framework techniques in my lessons.

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