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Jam Bus

Mike and Barney Chunn report from the Play It Strange 'Jam Bus', a mobile recording studio that rolls into primary and intermediate schools to record students in song and musical action.

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Mike and Barney Chunn report from the Play It Strange 'Jam Bus', a mobile recording studio that rolls into primary and intermediate schools to record students in song and musical action.

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I (Mike) was playing a gig with my sons Nikko and Barney. A businessman I knew of  was there out of curiosity. He came up to me.
‘What’s it like – up there playing songs with your sons?’
I said ‘It’s like this. You’re on the sideline of your son’s rugby game. Saturday morning. You know what it’s like to be out there? You’ve played?’
‘I have!’ he said.
‘Well - there are five minutes to go and his team is down 14-10. One of their players is hurt and leaves the field. There are no subs that day. He calls to you. “Dad! Come on and play for us”. And you do. And you play as well as any of them. One minute from the final whistle he passes to you, you throw a dummy and cut through. He is following – and as you fall in a tackle you cut a quick pass to him and he sails on through to score the winning try. That’s what it’s like’.

One of the great potentials of songs and life in the modern world is the joy and pursuit of music and song in a family’s life. Today – in the cultural mix - we have the shared traditional performing of songs by families in Maori and Pacific Island communities. In the main - it is rare. Why? Well in the recent world of Anglo-Saxon post Queen Victoria we were all told to shut up. (Not that I (Mike) took any notice). Many did. And it’s taking some generations to overcome that. My (Mike) generation has very few musicians in it. Mine (Barney) has a whole lot more. What we need is a young generation where writing, performing and recording songs is something they DO!! So they carry that pursuit into the future and bring following generations into that realm as a cultural focus.

So is it just a matter of waiting patiently for common sense to take its course? For time to go by? Maybe not.

Play It Strange has a programme at the moment called the 'Jam Bus'. It’s a mobile recording studio that rolls into primary and intermediate schools and students turn up and make records. It focuses on the creative and performance pursuits of young NZers. Supported by the Rockshop and the Music Foundation, the Jam Bus spends a day with the pupils, recording their songs and their music, and a CD of all the school’s songs recorded is given to each of the students that take part.  So far, the programme has been enormously successful. Feedback? Here’s one:

“The session …was the highlight of my life here as Principal. It has always been a longstanding dream to have our kids performing and showcasing their talents in an environment where they can develop their own style."
Corinne Hansell – Tamaki Primary School

We have recorded over 1000 songs and pieces of music; from drum groups to ukulele orchestras, marimba bands to jazz bands, school choirs and soloists, rock-n-roll youngsters to budding pop stars. The breadth of creativity in the young, the eagerness to have themselves heard, and their passion for song and creativity, is  extraordinary

It’s a tragedy that history has typically muted these creative minds. That small window of opportunity is there in the formative years; it is unadulterated by false social stigmas, by self-consciousness; and as a whole they are at one with their imaginations.

We believe, and it’s a belief that has been strengthened since this programme has started, that society is apathetic to the lively imaginations of children.  Youngsters learn as they walk into many NZ secondary schools that their creative pursuits may be all well and good, but academia and sports are the stepping-stones to adulthood.

At Play it Strange, there is a range of programmes that aim at drawing out and shining a light on the wonderful songwriting and performance skills that exist in the secondary school system. There is a lot of it, but in terms of student participation, it’s not often a large percentage of the school.

Not so with primary school students. We have had numerous schools in which every child involved has participated in the writing of the music we record. Not only that, but they run up to us as we arrive to let us know that it’s they who have written it, and to tell us about how they wrote it and why it’s so good. Not only that, but it is THAT good. The original songs and music being made in primary and intermediate schools is fantastic. They are writing honestly and directly and with an aim at making a difference.

And those watching from the wings are truly enchanted with the results. Feedback No 2:

The students were able to believe they could be anything, anyone or anywhere in the world. We have a motto, if we can inspire or make change to even one child's life, we have achieved.”
Angela Taylor-Grimston - Edmund Hillary School

Written by

Mike Chunn

19 Aug 2013

Interests Mike Chunn has worked with original songs all his life from his days with Split Enz and Citizen Band through Mushroom Records (Dance Exponents and DD Smash) to eleven years as Director of Operations for APRA.