Renee Liang asks composer Andrew Corrêa about the value of taking on big community projects, the secrets of successful collaboration and about his latest project, People In Harmony, as part of Race Relations Day on March 21.
* * *
I’ve just wrapped my play, The Bone Feeder, in Hamilton where it was part of the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival. Coordinating five actors, two directors and six musicians to rehearse for an in-situ performance in the outdoor venue of the Chinese Scholar’s Garden was… well, let’s just say that I’m constantly getting myself into projects that roll on the rim of the too-hard basket. But usually I get lucky.
In the end no one got lost or injured (amazing considering some actors were coming from Tauranga and Paeroa to rehearse in Auckland and Hamilton), we were all still talking to each other, and to top it off we had five days of perfect weather. Even the cicadas, key ‘extras’ in our piece, stayed in fine voice throughout. So big ups to the Tron for being such perfect hosts… and I’m not even being cheeky.
Thinking about it more deeply, I realize that success is not as chance-filled as it seems. When I try to figure out what works for me, it’s the people involved that count, every time. I’m lucky in that I’m surrounded by – or maybe attract – people whose attitude is, ”OK, why not?” instead of “it sounds too hard.” Proof of this is that many of those involved in the play stepped in with enthusiasm even while juggling other commitments, including concurrent lead roles in other projects, looming examinations, jobs in other cities, and for our youngest actor, prefect duties at school.
What I’m trying to argue here is that a can-do attitude pays. It’s a trueism that “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” In an earlier blog, I expounded on the merits of saying ‘no’. But it’s also good – and I don’t think I’m contradicting myself - to know when to say yes.
Luckily for me, Andrew Corrêa says yes to my ideas frequently. He and I have been collaborating on the music for The Bone Feeder. Over the last year or so that we’ve known each other, Andrew, trained in classical Western music, has magically produced compositions for traditional Chinese instruments and also improvised sound effects and background music in collaboration with the musicians. We’ve also gotten to know each other very well over the course of several long drives to Hamilton and back. So here, for your reading pleasure, is a simulated transcript of one of those conversations. (The dirty jokes have been edited out, of course).
Renee: When did you first decide to be a musician?
Andrew: Well it's funny - I was always a bloke who happened to play piano, but after winning the talent quest a month after joining Lynfield College in 2002 I suddenly found some popularity. So to be honest, that’s what tempted me to get more involved on the music scene at school.
Renee: Do you think of yourself as more a musician or a composer?
Andrew: I've stopped referring to myself as a musician these days. I find it more liberating to describe myself as a guy who immerses himself in the arts and cultures around him. I do enjoy the creating/writing of music more than just performing standard music - I mean, I love performing but it's usually the improvising and collaborating that attracts me.
Renee: I’m curious… how has your own cultural background influenced the artistic decisions you make?
Andrew: Well, I could quote Seneca...."I was not born for one corner; the whole world is my native land." The thing is, to be honest, I've have never really felt Indian. So Indian music to me is like what Indian music is to you - it's never been personal to me. I love exploring the music of all cultures – that ties in with my passion for languages.
Renee: So what's your latest collaboration about?
Andrew: People In Harmony is about bringing the community together with music, song and dance to celebrate Auckland's rich multicultural heritage. Groups of amateur musicians will perform in two concerts on 21 March as part of International Race Relations Day.
Renee: How are you going to train up the musicians?
Andrew: I've been working with local musicians from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities who in turn have been working in groups of their own to teach others about music that is culturally unique to them. We've got performers from Turkey, Sri Lanka and India and are still looking for more performers who are enthusiastic to get up on stage and share their culture with everyone.
Renee: Is it open to anyone who wants to join?
Andrew: Yes, as long as they are able to perform in a group and can provide their own gear. I’m still looking for performers, in fact – the idea is that it’s open to the whole community, and to every community.
Renee: Is it only "cultural" pieces you are after? And how do you define cultural, anyway?
Andrew: It's preferably music of an ethnic ‘flavour’ as opposed to classical/jazz/pop/rock covers.
Renee: But what if performers want to refer to "global" cultures, things like hip hop? Being a bit of a devil's advocate... you could argue that hip hop gains an ethnic flavour depending on where it is performed and what language is used.
Andrew: I’m open to all music! However, the idea is the concert has an international flavor, to show our unity in diversity... So I'm happy for a Swedish rock song or Portuguese samba to be performed.
Renee: How did you get the idea for this?
Andrew: Well, I'm doing a course at Landmark Education which challenged me to create something in my community that inspires me and can positively impact others. Music for me has always been a form of expression and communication - the international language. The concert seemed to be the perfect way for musicians to share the gift of music with everyone (including non-musicians) and to celebrate our multicultural society. I've been working with the Human Rights Commission and New Zealand Diversity Action Programme to integrate this event with International Race Relations Day.
Renee: Wow - that's a lot of work! How does someone get started organising something like this? Is it one step at a time, or a sudden snowball?
Andrew: Well, it's a matter of getting a lot of people involved from the start and working towards our final goal collectively as a group. I was lucky to have the assistance of Stephen Dallow who is from Kids4Drama at the Blockhouse Bay Community Centre. He guided me with setting up the event in terms of production and promotion, and also suggested some useful contacts.
The project has put me out of my comfort zone on more than one occasion but I've really been witness to what's possible when a community is inspired for a collective aim. Also I've made a lot of breakthroughs in my organisation and communication skills.
Renee: How important is stepping outside a comfort zone?
Andrew: Well for one it makes life more fulfilling. There's nothing like taking on a challenge bigger than yourself - it's the best way to make your personal struggles insignificant and forces you to think outside the box about how you can make a difference in the world.
Renee: So this project is really about the community?
Andrew: It's about empowering ordinary people to have a stand in their community and make a difference in an area that otherwise wouldn't happen.
Renee: So what happens after the concert on the 21st?
Andrew: Well there's definitely scope for this to be an annual event on a larger scale - perhaps even a nation-wide event. Auckland City Council seem to be happy to support musicians sharing their cultural music with people outside of their culture. Maybe (just maybe!), they will be interested in supporting an ongoing project in the form of weekly lessons or workshops.
Renee: What have been the challenges in getting an event like this on in Auckland?
Andrew: As the event isn't sponsored, performers have had to provide their own equipment. Also everyone involved - performers and crew - are doing so voluntarily. The main challenge has been getting people to commit their time and efforts to prepare for the concert.
Renee: How have you reached out to the different communities? I know that in Auckland it is often easy for people to feel that there are "niches" or "cliques". Breaking through those perceived barriers is quite hard, in my experience.
Andrew: I find that the youth in Auckland integrate quite well across the cultural divides. I primarily spoke to youths who were passionate about making a difference in our community and they've spread the word through their family, friends and social networks.
Renee: I love how you make things sound so easy! I know that when we first met, your ambition was to end up composing for film. Is that still your aim?
Andrew: I'd love to regularly score for feature films but I quite enjoy taking on a variety of projects - theatre, school bands, one-on-one artist collaborations, concert pieces - each come with their own challenges and rewards and I like being able to work on different projects as it keeps me innovative. I've picked up a lot of techniques from some settings that are very useful in others.
Renee: So what do you find works when collaborating?
Andrew: It really helps being flexible and unattached to one's music. Collaborating involves a lot of compromising to ensure that everyone is satisfied with the end result. I also find that it really works to create a space of honesty and trust with other collaborators as that leaves them with a freedom to give you critical and vital feedback.
Renee: Wow, that’s an awesome attitude! So.. after this, what’s next on the cards for you?
Andrew: Not sure to be honest! A wee break would be nice… then after that I guess there might be more theatre collaborations on the horizon. I have to finish my degree (Arts (Italian and Linguistics) and Music (Composition)), at some stage!
People In Harmony
21 March 2010, 4pm and 8pm
Venue: The Blockhouse Bay Community Centre, 524 Blockhouse Bay Road, Auckland 0600.
Tickets: $10 adults, $6 seniors and children under 15 yrs. Pick up at door only. For reservations, email email@example.com and specify which show.
Barbeque provided before each show by the Blockhouse Bay Lions Club.