Ethnomusicology Undergraduates Learn By Craft

Thursday 2 June 2016

Throughout this Semester at the School of Music, Lecturer in Ethnomusicology Dr Bonnie McConnell has taken her students in Introduction to Ethnomusicology on fieldtrips and to workshops. From visiting the Indonesian Embassy Cultural Centre to learn about Balinese gamelan, to classes on Trinidadian steelpan, and West African Kutiro drumming. Of course, ethnomusicology isn’t just about everywhere else in the world: students also practiced their knowledge of ethnographic research methods by engaging in individual research projects that focused on the Canberra community.

But in the second half of our first semester, Ethnomusicology took a new turn: the School was joined by a new Lecturer in Composition – Dr Chris Sainsbury. Dr Sainsbury is of Dharug Aboriginal heritage and was previously the Head of Arts and Media at the Eora Aboriginal College in Redfern, Sydney. Dr McConnell mentioned to Dr Sainsbury that she was focusing a class session on Australian and New Guinean music and instruments, so Dr Sainsbury offered to teach students how to make 'maraps' - a traditional Torres Strait and New Guinean instrument that makes a thundering clap and frequently accompanies dance. 

‘The marap making workshop was right in line with my goals for the course.’ Dr McConnell said. ‘I aimed to give students a deeper understanding of music as a social practice by taking a hands on approach. It was great for the students to have the opportunity to learn firsthand about marap making with Chris's guidance.’

Chris collected the bamboo required and recruited Simon Ramsey – a luthier and designer from Woodwork and Furniture at the School of Art – who assisted with overseeing the use of dangerous tools in class (axes, saws, chisels and gouges). The students were instructed in a very hands on approach to making maraps, and it was a great success with students asking for more bamboo, and clapping maraps all afternoon. Simon, a fine guitar maker, was pleased to discover that it’s possible to make an instrument in about 5 minutes.

‘It was a nice collaboration between the departments and staff, involving fruitful outcomes for students.’ Added Dr Sainsbury. ‘It was all chisels, mallets, axes, gouges – and we still kept all fingers. (Some classes are just lucky I s'pose.)’

In Semester Two, Dr. McConnell will be running a class on Music and Globalisation, and Dr. Sainsbury will be running both Composition, Arranging and Sound Design II as well as being involved in the School of Music’s Postgraduate program.

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Updated:  24 June 2016/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications