I have been so lucky to have been selected for this FAMLAB music residency in Hoi An, sponsored by the British Council in Vietnam and in collaboration with Lune Production. The program started a couple days ago and it includes over 40 musicians from around Vietnam including those from tribes from the North West and Central Highlands, Cham community, Scotland, Laos, Philippines, and two New York Jews (I’m one of them).
Trust me you’ve never seen an orchestra like this before: bagpipes, t’rung, k’ni, cello, gongs, electronics, cham drums. The list goes on. It’s really cool, but I do feel like an uncultured idiot because I don’t know half of what the instruments names are or where they are from. But hey, what are we here for other than to learn and experiment?
We have just started scratching the surface of what we are going to be doing. Today we sat together as a full Seaphony (that’s what we’re called) and tried to go over the first piece. The thing is, there really is no set music besides a very few numbers. The majority will be just exploration, improvisation, and collaboration, which is fantastic, albeit quite hard to do when there are over 40 musicians working together. We will be broken down into smaller groups to collaborate, but unfortunately there aren’t multiple practice spaces, so it’s nearly impossible to work on music in a group when a completely different music is blaring at you in the same room from a different group.
One challenge is there seems to be a lot of time where a large portion of the Seaphony isn’t working on something because only one group is needed to rehearse. Since it’s only a 20 day residency, it’s a quick race to the finish line to create over an hour’s worth of music that sounds good.
But it’s such a fun challenge and I know that it will turn out really cool. The most challenging part for me is usually learning the gong parts. We all will play one gong and they all fit together in a very tight rhythmic pattern that is full of polyrhythms and odd time signatures. Rhythm has always been my weakest element of my playing, but it will be good to try to stretch myself and see if I can do it. And if I mess up, honestly, who is going to really know the difference? That’s an important lesson I impart to my students. Seriously, no one knows if you screw up, just keep going.
Yesterday we got to see the show, Palao, by Lune Production that takes influence from the Cham community in Vietnam. Many of the people in the show are also in the Seaphony. Lune Production shows are always fantastic and this one was no exception. The choreography, lighting, music, emotion, and cultural elements were just stunning. I really can’t do it justice in words. If you’re in Hoi An, go and see it, you will not be disappointed.
Tomorrow we’re going to see another Lune Production show, Teh Dar, so I fully expect to have my mind blown again. It’s just funny because I’m a guy who loves to sit down, stay in one place and either write music or play cello. I see these amazing people who are all acrobats, musicians, dancers, and actors pulling mind-bending moves with their body, voices, and souls,. I try to envision myself doing what they’re doing and just laugh at the prospect of me trying to stuff my incredibly inflexible (and hairy) body into a clay pot like they do in Palao, all the while maintaining complex choreography and convincing acting.
I think I’ll just stick to sitting down and playing the cello.