Mike Chunn tells us how lyrics are proving to be imaginative and revealing in the Play It Strange 'themed' songwriting competitions for secondary schools.
Taking Mereana Teka's Tirairaka as an example, he talks of young NZers projecting their musical voices far and wide.
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We all know a song has two elements to its unique construction.
Words - that speak to us in a language we understand; and
Music - the mystery of which completely fascinates us.
And those two wildly divergent entities are forged into a song.
The exploration of writing music is primarily an imaginative adventure where the myriad of past and favourite melodies, motifs, riffs, intros, outros, codas, chord structures, harmonies etc rest in one’s heart and from that kaleidoscopic pool new patterns are plucked.
But lyrics are different. They draw on the cognisant array of facts, fantasies, phrases, words, epithets, lyrics et al that have voluntarily (and involuntarily) entered our conscious understanding of who, where and what we are. (The ‘why” seems to be still at large).
The Play It Strange songwriting competitions have a 50/50 rating pattern. Fifty per cent of marks to the music – fifty per cent to the words. And with the lyrics the new emerging songwriting competitions that are ‘themed’ are drawing more and more entries.
Competitions such as:
What impresses most about the lyrics of students aged between 13 and 18 is their focus on all things outside the music industry. They’re not writing to get more fans to next week’s show. They’re not hoping to be broadcast on The Edge or ZM. They write the songs to project that which they see and know of the world. Even though they are ‘confined’ in the four walls of school – they have the wherewithal to reach out and absorb that, which surrounds them.
Mereana Teka from Opotiki College won the Junior Maioha Award in 2014 with her original song Tirairaka. She wrote the lyrics in te reo Maori. When I asked for a translation her mother, Merepeka, responded.
“We all sat together to translate as it was quite difficult in the sense that one cannot literally translate into English. Every line in maori has a huge thinking behind it so we have translated it hopefully conveying fully the in-depth meaning of the song in English without having to write a "BOOK".. As you can see it is basically talking about the fantail and it's significant place in the forest and how it needs to be nurtured, looked after....”
Here is Tirairaka in Maori and English.
Tirairaka -Original composition by Mereana Teka
Translation of Maori words into English – Teka whanau.
Whakarongo mai ki te whio o te Tirairaka
Harken to the calling to the distinct shrill of the fantail
E rere ana tona reo ki runga i te whenua
His call resounds throughout the depths of earth and sky
Ahakoa te aha ka topa tonu ia
He will always continue to flit to fly, soaring his ancestral pathways despite the everchanging forces
Ki nga hihi ki te pito o te Uenuku
Soaring through the rays of the rainbow he finds a place of refuge at the end
E rere, e rere Tirairaka
Therefore little fantail, take flight take flight, fly away
Tukuna te ha o to reo rangatira
Let the breath of your sacred call be heard through out the land
Kai konei ahau hei awhi hei manaaki
I am here to preserve, to nurture, and to keep you safe
E rere, e rere Tirairaka
Therefore little fantail take flight take flight, fly away
Noho peka rakau, te manu nei a Tane
You live in the bosom of the trees, a child of the guardian of the great forest-(Tanemahuta)
Manu kai i te miro, nona te ngahere
You sustain your life by the fruits of the great forest where you belong
He manu whakatoi, he manu aroha
You are cheeky, you are mischievous, but you have love in your heart
This increased focus on such competitions ties in well with the emergence of discussion on the introduction of an Achievement Standard in secondary schools Level 3 for songwriting. This brings to the fore the writing of lyrics.
Trevor Thwaites, a principal lecturer in the School of Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Faculty of Education, University of Auckland and a seasoned writer and coordinator of NCEA standards in music education, has proposed this on the Musicnet music teachers’ email group. There has been much positive response. Trevor knows how to read the education environment and the growing number of secondary school students wanting to write songs and present them within the subject of songwriting reflects his making this watershed move at the right time.