Dance has a strong presence in musical history, so for this week’s post, I’m comparing two genres of dance music separated in origin by both time and the Atlantic Ocean: the Irish reel and Brazilian choro.
Traditional Irish dance music has a long history, developing from the middle ages as tunes we hear today were spread around communities (White). Among traditional Irish music, the “vast bulk of instrumental music consists of fast dance music”: jigs, reels and hornpipes (White). Brazilian choro originated in Rio de Janeiro as dance music in the late 19th century (Béhague), the product of an “encounter between European and African cultural strands” (Gallaugher 189).
The first piece that I analyzed was The Traveler(Track 1), an Irish reel that likely originated in the 18th or 19th century, when “the bulk of the current repertory” was produced in Ireland and “the reel and the hornpipe were introduced” (White). In this piece, the accordion takes the melody, the mandolin plays the harmony, and the Irish bodhrán plays percussion. These instruments characterize the genre, the bodhrán being unique to Celtic tradition. Its circular wooden frame is covered on one side with animal skin and struck with a wooden ‘tipper’ (Figure 1) (O Súilleabháin).
My second piece was Noites Cariocas(Track 2), by choro composer Jacob do Bandolim. It features four typical choro instruments (Fairley 161): the bandolim, a variant of the mandolin, plays the melody, the cavaquinho, Brazilian lute with four strings (Figure 2), plays harmony, the classical guitar supplies a bass line and the maracas play percussion (Béhague).
Both pieces begin in the key of G major, before Noites Cariocas modulates to C major, and are written in 2/4 time. These basics are essential for the investigation of the musical links of melodic elements and rhythm.
LINK 1: MELODIC ELEMENTS
The Traveler and Noites Cariocas share similarities in melodic repetition, ornamentation, texture and contour. Irish reels generally “comprise three or four distinct motifs in a variety of contrasting and repeated patterns”, reusing melodic material (White). Similarly, choro usually features “a soloist playing a highly ornamented version of a familiar melody” (Garcia 60).
The Travelerhas two primary melodic themes, A and B. Like other Irish dance pieces, theme A is the “tune”, and is lower in pitch than theme B, the “turn” (White). Sections of the song’s melody are repeated exactly, for example in measure 20. Although it lies in theme B, it is an exact repetition of measure 4 from theme A (Figure 3, Track 3).
The Traveler also contains melodic sequencing, where notes and intervals are raised or lowered in pitch, such as in measure 23. Here melodic material from measure 2 is sequenced up a perfect fifth, with a slight modification due to the triplet in measure 23, an embellishment common in Irish dance music (White). A in measure 2 corresponds to E in measure 23, and so on (Figure 4, Track 4).
Furthermore, the opening measure of theme A is inverted, essentially flipped, to become that of theme B, in measures 1 and 17, respectively. This is diatonic inversion, rather than strict, as in order to remain in the key of G major without accidentals, the intervals must be altered slightly as shown (Figure 5, Track 5).
In Noites Cariocas, simple melodies are likewise reused and modified, as the “originality” of choro “lies in the typical virtuoso improvisation of instrumental variations” (Béhague). The phrase in measures 1-2 is modified and repeated in 9-10 (Figure 6, Track 6). The melody is sequenced up a whole step, with D in measure 1 corresponding to E in measure 9, and so on. However, the last two notes are modified so that the final F# of measure 1 remains the same in measure 9.
In measure 24, beginning on the second note, three notes are sequenced up a diatonic second (Figure 7, Track 7). The B is raised a semitone to the C in the last set of three notes, and the C and D are both raised two semitones.
Similarly, in measures 26 and 28 the last five notes are sequenced down a whole step (Figure 8, Track 8). A is lowered to G, followed by G# to F#, and so on, as indicated.
Both pieces also use ornamentation, the addition of decorative notes, to vary their melodic material. The Traveler makes use of grace notes, such as the F# in measure 17 (Figure 5, Track 5). Noites Cariocas includes a trill on F# in measure 41, tied across to 42 (Figure 9, Track 9).
The Travelerhas a homophonic texture with its single melodic line. Noites Cariocas also has a homophonic texture, with the bandolim melody. It should be noted, however, that the classical guitar takes on some melodies in the form of call and response with the bandolim. For example, in measures 10-12, the guitar plays a chromatic descending line while the bandolim rests (Figure 10, Track 10). While this goes beyond simply supporting the harmony, it is not frequent or consistent enough for the piece to be considered polyphonic.
Both melodies have relatively wise tessituras, the range of pitches, with The Traveler spanning from D4-B5 and Noites Cariocas from D4-C6. Both ranges of almost two octaves grant melodic space to roam, adding variety in pitch. The melody of The Traveler is extremely diatonic, with all of the notes contained in the key of G major. On the other hand, Noites Cariocas employs numerous accidentals and more frequent variation of intervals compared to the primarily triadic ones in The Traveler. Despite this difference between the two songs, they share similarities in overall melodic contour, as both pieces alternate between ascending and descending lines. Measures 1-2 of The Traveler are examples of this, as the symmetry of each measure indicates (Figure 11, Track 11). It is also worth noting that the melody alternates between scalar and non-scalar movement here, with thirds and fifths in measure 1 and steps in measure 2.
Noites Cariocas follows both of these patterns in measures 1-4. The melody first ascends into the first beat of measure 2 and then descends through measure 4 (Figure 12, Track 12).The first four notes proceed stepwise, followed by labelled intervals. For the descending line, movement is once again alternated with a step, two thirds, and two more steps. In both of these pieces, this variation of intervals allows the piece to keep interest while retaining familiarity and establishing patterns.
The melodies also share similarities in phrase use, illustrated by measures 25-28 of The Traveler. The first two measures represent an antecedent, question-like phrase and the latter two the consequent, answer-like phrase. Measure 26 feels especially unresolved because it ends on F#, the leading tone of G major, anticipating the G that follows it. This “diatonic major mode with major seventh” is a common feature of the reel (Travis 468). Meanwhile, measure 28 ends on D, the fifth scale degree, which is a much stabler note (Figure 13, Track 13).
Measures 1-4 from Noites Cariocas also illustrate the pattern from antecedent to consequent with an identical phrase length of two measures. Measure 2 also ends on F#, the leading tone, before in this case descending to E in measure 4, the sixth scale degree, which is comparatively stabler (Figure 12, Track 12).
LINK 2: RHYTHM
The second musical link between the two pieces was their use of rhythm, with regard to repetition and syncopation. Despite the differences in genre, both pieces use small subdivisions of sixteenth and eighth notes as well as improvised elements and variations that I have included in my transcriptions. In choro music, “rhythmic freedom” is a “principal characteristic”, and “it was expected that the players would maintain an improvisatory approach” (Garcia 60-1).
In The Traveler, most of the melody is rhythmically constant due to the lack of rests. This results in several bars with only sixteenth notes, accompanied by a few alternate patterns. One of these occurs in both measures 1 and 18 with one eighth note followed by six sixteenth notes (Figure 14, Track 14).
Additionally, the harmony plays a few different rhythmic ostinatos throughout the piece, starting with the repeated strumming pattern introduced in measures 17-18 (Figure 15, Track 15).
Noites Cariocas contains similar rhythmic repetition, notably in melodic theme A. In measures 1-4, the same rhythmic pattern is used for both the ascending and descending lines, starting with a sixteenth rest and an eighth note, followed by five sixteenth notes tied to the next measure (Figure 12, Track 12). Furthermore, some other rhythmic sections are modified and repeated, with patterns displaced. For example, in measures 5-6, there is first the same pattern from the first four measures, followed by a slight variation. In measure 6, rather than beginning with a sixteenth rest and eighth note, the rest is followed by a sixteenth note and the eighth note is moved to the end of the measure (Figure 16, Track 16). This creates an effect of familiarity while still making unexpected alterations to the rhythm.
In The Traveler, the main source of syncopation, emphasis of non-dominant beats, is the melody’s swung sixteenth groove. This is based on triplets and thus implies that each set of two sixteenth notes is a triplet (Figure 17).
In certain phrases this effect is emphasized, such as in measure 17 (Figure 18, Track 17). Here the repetition of the G with the swung groove makes these notes more prominent than the others in the measure, highlighting the “off-beat accentuations” characteristic of reels (Nathan 460).
Noites Cariocascontains a substantial amount of melodic syncopation as well, which is characteristic of choro music, such as in measures 27-28 (Garcia 61). Starting from beat 2 of measure 27, the downbeat is played with an eighth note tied to a sixteenth. Then, another sixteenth is tied across the measure to a sixteenth, followed by an eighth note. These last two fall on the upbeat, creating a syncopated rhythm against the more strict eighth note percussion line (Figure 19, Track 18).
Both pieces also feature syncopation in the percussion and harmony parts. In The Traveler, when the bodhrán enters in measure 33, it plays the same two measure long syncopated pattern for the rest of the song. It is first struck on the downbeat, then struck again on the fourth subdivision of that beat, followed by an eighth note on the upbeat of the second beat. In measure 34, the upbeat of the first beat is played and then two eighth notes are played for the second (Figure 20, Track 19).
In Noites Cariocas, two different percussive patterns are played, the second of which is syncopated, starting at measure 65. Here an eighth note is played on the first downbeat, followed by a sixteenth note on the fourth subdivision, like in The Traveler, and finally an eighth note and two sixteenths (Figure 21, Track 20). This pattern is repeated throughout section B of the piece.
The harmony line in measures 17-18 of The Traveler is syncopated, with notes played on the upbeat after the first eighth note (Figure 15, Track 15). Similarly, in Noites Cariocaswhen the harmony is introduced in measures 2-5, some chords are syncopated. This first occurs in measure 3, when G6/B is played on the downbeat, followed by a sixteenth note and another tied over to a final eighth note, emphasizing these upbeats. The same goes for measure 4, when the chord is introduced on the second subdivision of beat 1 as two tied sixteenth notes, followed by another sixteenth and two eighth notes (Figure 22, Track 21).
Until Next Time!
Thank you so much for taking this virtual journey with me! To sum this up, the Irish reel and Brazilian choro use techniques to add variety to their melodic material while maintaining familiarity, and share similarities in texture and melodic contour. They also both employ rhythmic repetition and syncopation to accommodate their function of dance in their respective cultures. This investigation has taught me not only about the similarities in the musical traditions of these two countries, but also the cultural implications and significance of dance music. Even when two genres like the reel and choro are so different, their overlapping features suggest that they share the goal of creating music for dance.
Keep the conversation going in the comments and don’t hesitate to ask questions! If you have any suggestions for future analysis, let me know, and make sure to check back for next week’s investigation. I hope that you enjoyed learning about these musical cultures as much as I did!
“Itchy Fingers LIVE – The Traveler, The Swallow’s Tail, The Silver Spear.” Performance by Erik De Jong, and Tijn Berends, YouTube, YouTube, 1 Nov. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v. Accessed 2 Sept. 2017.
Gallaugher, Annemarie. “Listening to Latin America and the Caribbean: Sounds of Struggle, Ambiguity, and Hope.” [“Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies (Canadian Association of Latin American & Caribbean Studies (CALACS))”]. Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies (Canadian Association of Latin American & Caribbean Studies (CALACS)), vol. 33, no. 65, May 2008, pp. 187-200. EBSCOhost, http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=33141787&site=ehost-live. Accessed 9 Nov. 2017.
Garcia, Thomas G. “The ‘Choro’, the Guitar and Villa-Lobos.” Luso-Brazilian Review, vol. 34, no. 1, 1997, pp. 57–66. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3513804. Accessed 10 Nov. 2017.
During tenth grade, I had the idea of creating an a cappella group within the general high school choir. This ended up being an all-girls group simply because of who was interested, but over the course of the year I was responsible for leading and organizing our group of around ten members. Our goal as a group was to rehearse and improve our skills to reach a standard at which we were able to perform confidently. Hence, my goal as a leader was to help make this happen in whichever ways I could, including arranging music, teaching parts and handling logistics.
Finding times to practice proved to be a challenge, because even though the group was student-run, we had to have teacher supervision on campus. In order to accomplish this, we had to coordinate with all of the members and Ms. Trefren, our choir director, but most of our rehearsals had to be before school. In order to organize this, I created a Facebook group for all of the members to communicate about performances and rehearsals. Here I posted other resources as well, such as links to the sheet music and practice tracks that I created in order for people to practice their parts individually outside of rehearsals.
Achieving our goal, we performed twice throughout the year, once at the end of each semester, and both songs were arranged for the group by myself and one of my friends. The first performance was of the song The Love Club at the studentainment concert, which we had to audition for. This meant that I then had to communicate with the Student Council to organize set-up and rehearsals on the day of the concert. Here we encountered a few problems, as there was a limited amount of microphones available for us to use. Being an a cappella group, this was an obstacle, as we needed to find a way for the different parts to stand next to each other and all reach the microphones while still being able to hear the rest of the group to stay in tune. Ultimately, we had two or three members sharing each microphone, and the performance ran smoothly. For our second, more challenging piece, we performed Florence and the Machine’s Never Let Me Go at the end of the school year. This arrangement was more complex, but the group’s enthusiasm allowed us to continue with the same amount of parts, even after one of our members left the school at the end of the first semester.
One of the biggest challenges I faced as a leader was managing both of my roles as leader and as classmate. As the majority of the group’s members were in my grade, I was close friends with most of them, and this made it challenging in terms of discipline. Because most of our rehearsals were before school at 8:00, certain members would come to practice late or skip it completely. I found it very difficult to encourage their punctuality, as I did sympathise with them, but it was also necessary for the group to use its time to its best ability. This became frustrating at times, but with practice I learned to separate myself as a leader from myself as a friend, and managed to stay in control and keep everyone on track.
Although the management of the high school a cappella group did not include any finances, it did demand a lot of skills when working toward our performances. I had to stay completely organized in order to make sure the group received their sheet music and part tracks as well as setting rehearsal times that worked for everyone’s busy schedules. Unfortunately we were not able to continue the group the following year, as too many of our members left the school, but my time as a leader taught me a lot about how to manage people and resources in order to accomplish a goal. This experience has prepared me for my role this upcoming year in twelfth grade as co-leader of the high school LGBTQ+ human rights group, and I am looking forward to developing the same skills further here.
During my time in high school at YIS, teachers have always stressed the importance of our approaches to learning. A few of these that I feel that I have demonstrated most effectively are research, reflection and transfer. Although all of these skills are used subconsciously throughout my studies in all of my classes, certain moments stand out to me in which I feel I was developing the skills.
Research in some form or another has been important in all of my classes so far. In tenth grade we had to complete a very structured research process for a history essay as part of our Individuals and Societies class. I chose to write about Dutch influence on Dejima during the Edo period, and we had to collect a number of both primary and secondary sources. Some of my primary sources included original Japanese prints from the time and quotes from books written at the time, and my secondary sources included articles written more recently about Dutch influence. I even received some scanned pages of old books from a contact at the Dutch Embassy in Tokyo. For all of these sources we had to evaluate the OPVL: origin, purpose, value and limitation. These helped determine which sources would be the most useful for our essays. We then had to complete MLA citations for these, although at the time this was still MLA7 as MLA8 had not yet been implemented.
On the other hand, in our practice Music exam, a different style of research had to be completed. For the first essay question, because we did not have access to any sources besides the score, we had to rely solely on our own analysis. To do this we had to annotate the score and mark anything we noticed about different musical elements, including instrumentation, melody, harmony, time signature, key signature and rhythm. Although this was a different type of research from the OPVL style, it was still important to check through the piece multiple times to make sure that we could articulate clear musical arguments about it.
Reflection is something we have been doing at YIS since kindergarten, but a lot of times, especially as a young child, I would do this without considering its significance. Over time, I have learned to think about more than just what I’ve done when I reflect. For example, for the assessment of composition in my Music class, I had to write reflective statements. This included thoughts and information about our inspiration, process and outcome, which encouraged me to think about the origin of my musical ideas. While on the surface this told me about what I had accomplished and how I could improve, it more importantly allowed me to understand how my creative process had developed over the course of the piece.
For the literature in translation section of our English Literature class, we had to complete another series of reflective statements. However, these differed significantly from the ones of the same name in Music, as they were written about other students’ work. Every group in the class presented an interactive oral about the contextual implications of a particular work that was studied, and the other students wrote reflective statements about everyone’s presentation but their own. These reflective statements required us to answer the question: How was your understanding of cultural and contextual considerations of the work developed through the interactive oral? This urged me to think about what I had learned from the other students’ work as well as my own, and how the different sections of the course could be brought together to create ideas for our written assignments at the end of the unit.
One final skill that I believe represents me as a learner is the ability to transfer information between subjects and investigate how topics covered in class relate to the rest of the world. For example, in my tenth grade Individuals and Societies class we completed a unit about sustainability which included information about recycling plastics. Around the same time, we were studying organic chemistry in Science class where we learned about the formation of plastics. This helped me understand the properties of certain plastics due to their types of intermolecular and intramolecular bonds and how this made it difficult for them to degrade. I found it very interesting to study the same topic from two different angles, as it allowed for connections between the two to arise.
Another example of transferring knowledge from one class to another took place during my eleventh grade higher level Economics class. We were learning about the Keynesian multiplier, a macroeconomic theory which suggests that when money is injected into the economy, it will infinitely produce more income that decreases at a fixed rate. Right before we were going to learn how it was calculated, I suddenly realized that the formula must be the sum of an infinite geometric series, which was part of our first unit of eleventh grade standard level Mathematics. This was an eye-opening moment for me for both classes, as I had never applied the Mathematical concept to a real-world situation like the multiplier. Although it is logical that math is used throughout economic theory, I remember this moment clearly as my beginning to understand the reasons for the formulae used without them having to be explained.
Sum of an Infinite Geometric Series
Overall, my classes have challenged me and urged me to develop my approaches to learning skills, especially research, reflection and transfer. Improving my research skills has allowed me to apply the same strategies to completely different situations and organize my information more efficiently, my reflections have taught me about my strengths and myself and my transfer skills have allowed me to apply ideas from the classroom to the rest of the world. I know that developing these skills will continue to benefit me, as they are a fundamental part of understanding oneself as a learner.
Throughout high school I have come to value and appreciate the impact that taking part in sports and physical activity has had on my life and well-being. In addition to encouraging my physical fitness, the sports that I have taken part in have helped me considerably in terms of mental well-being. In ninth and tenth grade I participated in the YIS high school dance company, but unfortunately I had to stop performing in the spring of 2016 due to a minor knee injury that prevented me from dancing. Luckily, after completing rehabilitation exercises for about five months, I was able to return to sport in eleventh grade by playing on the JV girls tennis team and in the quidditch club. These both helped to ease me back into athletics, as they were not on a very competitive level. Then in the second semester I returned to soccer after having played during middle school and made the girls varsity team. This was an amazing experience for me and taught me a lot about the sport and my abilities as a center midfielder / central defender.
Soccer Team Photo
Throughout high school these sports helped me to maintain my physical fitness, though I would say that soccer was the most strenuous. As a varsity team, we practiced for two hours after school three times a week before playing games and tournaments on most weekends. Although the season only lasted for a few months, our coach continued to hold practices after it had ended in order to ensure that we would be ready for the following year. At the end of the season we participated in the AISA tournament at Seoul International School and played against five different international schools, ultimately coming in third place. Our most challenging game, and the only one we lost, was the semi-final against the SOIS team from Osaka. We found it difficult to match their intensity throughout the game, and as a result did not get to play in the final. Regardless, the tournament was a great experience for the whole team and taught us all a lot. By playing against very intense teams I became a more aggressive player and found myself physically working a lot harder.
During the soccer season, I was surprised to find that although my schedule was busier, I felt more relaxed in general. The first year of the DP program put me under a lot of stress that I found difficult to manage, but joining the soccer team allowed me to disconnect from my schoolwork and other activities for several hours per week. In PE class we had discussed the mental benefits that exercise has on the brain for hours after physical activity, and my experience with these sports has definitely proven the significance of this. Although none of my work got any less difficult, it was easier to take a step back and complete my assignments using a step-by-step process after exercising. I really feel that exercise allows me to think more clearly and organize my thoughts more effectively, which has resulted in my work being completed much more efficiently. Although it was difficult to maintain my amount of exercise after the soccer season finished and our number of practices was reduced, I tried to make up for this by completing five to ten minutes of daily leg and back stretches. So far I have found these beneficial in a similar fashion, as the stretches allow me to improve my flexibility and temporarily stop thinking about the problems that result in my stress. I know that keeping up these regular activities will be extremely crucial throughout twelfth grade, as I anticipate that it will be a challenge to manage my mental health when faced with such a strenuous schedule.
I am very glad that I have rediscovered my interest in soccer, as it has been one of my favorite forms of physical exercise and has benefited me mentally as well. Being part of a kind and supportive team has also been comforting during times of worry. My daily stretches have also been a great addition to my schedule, as they help me manage my thoughts and push away anything that seems too hectic but they are also helping me improve my flexibility, something I have always wanted to achieve. These activities have played key roles in motivating my work and have helped me improve and maintain my wellness over the past few years, and I hope to continue these habits in the future.
The performing arts have always been a strong interest of mine, and throughout my school years I have participated in many activities in addition to taking classes in the arts. For most of elementary and middle school I participated in theater productions and took dance classes, and I enjoyed these, but my biggest passion was music. Since I was seven years old I have participated in school choir, and I started taking piano lessons at age six. Although my main instrument so far has been voice, I also taught myself some guitar, ukulele and percussion.
My main commitment to the arts has been through choir. I have been singing in choir for most of my life, but more opportunities surfaced once I entered high school. In ninth grade I attended the AISA choir festival at Korean International School in Seoul, a weekend which allowed me to meet other singers and train for a group concert. Unfortunately that was the final year that the festival took place, but since then, I was selected to perform in the Kanto Plains Honor Choir during grades nine, ten and eleven, and hope to audition next year as well. All three years this event has been a remarkable experience filled with long hours of practice and other students that are passionate about singing. Through this choir I have even made friends from other schools in the Tokyo area. Being able to sing a variety of styles in choir has been very beneficial to me, as it has allowed me to explore genres that I might not have otherwise expected to enjoy.
2017 Honor Choir Concert
As part of the IB program, I take Music at the higher level. So far this course has been very demanding but has taught me a lot about different areas of musical study, as it includes performance, composition, ethnomusicology and analysis in its assessment. Through my other music classes, private vocal lessons and experiences with choir I was quite familiar with performance, and even composition somewhat, but the other two areas have been a challenge to pick up. I am, however, very grateful that the course allows students to explore different paths within the field of music, as I am considering it as a path of study for university. I think that my participation in this class has definitely urged me to improve my practicing habits and will continue to push me through the next year. At the end of eleventh grade, I was happily surprised to be named high school musician of the year at YIS. This award gave me recognition for all of my work and improvements in music class and as a singer throughout the year, and I am very proud of my achievement.
2017 DP Music Recital
Outside of school, I have attended two different musical summer camps, one after ninth grade and one after tenth. The first one, A Cappella Academy, gave me the opportunity to sing contemporary a cappella with other high school students and the accomplished group, Pentatonix. During this 10-day camp, we prepared for a final performance and each group recorded a song that was produced and put together in an album on iTunes. The next year I attended SOCAPA for two weeks in New York City, where I took songwriting classes and received the opportunity to record my own work in a recording studio. Both of these experiences, while quite different from each other, taught me a lot about my own skills and how I can use them for different purposes. As a result of my time during these summers I am very interested in both arranging contemporary a cappella music and general composition, which are both options I have been able to explore in my DP Music class.
Music has played such a large role in my life so far, and I know that it will continue to do so, whether or not this is in an academic environment. My experiences have allowed me to develop as an artist, and over time I feel that I have gotten better at expressing myself through my music and my compositions. I am glad that I have been able to participate in such a variety of musical endeavours, as they have all taught me something important about my interests and my personality.
Growing up with two nationalities has allowed me to maintain fluency in both of my parents’ native languages: English and Dutch. Although I learned both languages from my family as a child, English has taken on a more prominent role in my life as I have attended international school in English for most of my life. I did, however, live in Belgium for a time and attended public preschool there in Dutch. Then from ages five to fifteen, I took Dutch classes both in and out of school where I studied a range of skills, including writing, grammar and vocabulary. These classes helped to make up for my lack of time regularly spent in a Dutch-speaking environment, as we are only able to visit my family there once a year.
Despite my citizenship, because I had never lived in the Netherlands, it was necessary for me to prove my fluency in order to apply to university or work there. Although I was not sure of my future plans at the time, in tenth grade I decided to prepare for the NT2 Staatsexamen, which tests candidates on reading, writing, speaking and listening to determine whether or not their level of Dutch is sufficient for study. I took the test during the summer after tenth grade and received my diploma a few months later.
NT2 Staatsexamen Diploma
Email from my Dutch Teacher
My Dutch teacher sent me an email to congratulate me after passing my exam. The above translates to:
Congratulations for achieving your Dutch diploma. A little bird told me that your scores were very good. Of course I expected that from you.
Best of luck with your second-last year.
Speaking two languages has been so beneficial to me in my life so far, as it has allowed me to maintain my cultural connections. I think that speaking two languages as a child also improved my ability to learn foreign languages, and both English and Dutch have definitely helped me learn French vocabulary and grammar and see the connections between languages. Although being bilingual is not very rare when attending an international school, it has helped me keep a piece of my identity while living in a foreign country. For me, speaking Dutch has been essential in incorporating Dutch culture in my life, and the same of course goes for my connection to the United States. I hope that in my future I will be able to learn more languages that will continue to shape who I am.
(NOTE: this is a shortened version of my Personal Project Report, if you would like to read it in its entirety, please leave a comment)
To finish the MYP in tenth grade (2015), the goal of my project was to write and record three a cappella songs that expressed different ideas that the audience could understand and relate to. After creating all of the songs, I titled my EP Unguarded Heart, which is from a lyric from one of my songs and reflects the openness expressed through the music. One of the reasons I really wanted to use this topic was because I had so much to learn about it and decided to take the personal project as an opportunity to pursue this passion.
I decided early on that before writing my songs, I would ask people about their life experiences and use this as inspiration for my songs. This way, I could write songs that brought a wide audience together and make the content and themes of the songs feel somewhat personal for everyone listening. Essentially, I wanted to take little pieces from everyone and put them together to create a bigger story.
My initial action plan:
June 15th: plan important research decisions
August 24th: complete the majority of research
September 21st: survey and collect ideas for song inspiration
October 12th: write first versions of songs
November 9th: finalize arrangements of songs
December 7th: record songs
During the summer I completed the majority of my research. I attended A Cappella Academy (ACA), a summer camp where I had the opportunity to learn from several experts in the field. One of my resources was the feedback I received by email from Johanna Vinson, a cappella singer, coach and arranger, and my director at ACA. In June I sent her one of my first cover arrangements and intentionally sought out criticism and feedback in order to get advice on how to improve and develop my arranging.
Email from Jo Vinson
Toward the end of the summer, I also enrolled in an online songwriting course from Berklee College of Music that was recommended to me by a director at ACA and by my supervisor for the project, Ms. McDiarmid. I collected information from a variety of sources in order to make connections between them and determine the most useful information for my project and came out of the research stage with a clearer image of what my final product would include.
Throughout the personal project, my action plan changed a few times. On a few occasions, I realized that I could not get a certain task done in time, and I would have to push that deadline back. The more significant changes to my action plan occurred during the creation stage, as this was when I had difficulty meeting some of my deadlines.
In order to find inspiration for my songs, I needed to collect information about people’s feelings and experiences. To do this I created a Google survey, which I sent the to a variety of people, including some classmates of mine, teachers at my school, and family members and friends. I received several responses that I then sorted into five major categories: sadness, happiness, fear, love and home. By processing the data and analyzing the results, I realized that there were quite a few responses that showed unexpected connections to the others. This was a step towards achieving my goal of creating songs for the audience to understand.
I split the steps toward completing my product into four tasks: songwriting, arranging, recording and editing. My writing process was slightly different for each song, but what I did each time was start by writing at the piano. I created the melodies and basic chord progressions and recorded this all in a notebook with the lyrics written down as well. In my goal I aimed to write three songs, but just before the deadline I had set for myself, I ended up writing another song, which gave me a boost of confidence going into my next task.
each song I arranged six parts: the solo line, soprano 1 and 2, alto 1 and 2, and the bass line. This number allowed me to explore my options throughout the parts without having too many counter parts to create. The arranging process forced me to make many difficult decisions for my songs, and with practice I believe I got better at finding what choices matched my songs.
To record and edit my EP, I used Garageband and a simple recording microphone I had bought. I recorded in my room and did each part separately, listening to the track in my headphones while recording the next part over it. To edit my songs I used the tools in Garageband. I mainly adjusted the volume, reverb and ambiance of each track until I was happy with the result. After I had finished editing, I had to sort out my EP’s last details before publishing it. My last task was creating the cover artwork for my EP. I had a general idea for it: a picture with a silhouette of me, representing the fact that the message of my songs came from a collection of anonymous sources but was delivered through me. Finally, I uploaded the EP to SoundCloud as a playlist, making it accessible to the public.
Overall, I was pleased with my product, although at times I found it difficult to build up each song musically, lyrically and in terms of the arrangement. It’s very easy to build up musically with a large group of instruments, but this was more difficult with the songs using only my voice. There are strengths and weaknesses to my vocal range which I had to use to my advantage. Lyrically, it required quite a bit of thinking and carefully choosing where each lyric fit in order to create the theme. To build up the background voice parts without just adjusting the volume, I used the fact that I had four voice parts and bass to bring the power necessary for the peak of the song, while toning it down in the beginning. I think that with some more time and research concerning the audio editing, I would have been able to explore and use my strengths a bit more.
The personal project gave me the opportunity to learn about the topic of songwriting and a cappella. When thinking about my work on this project, the trait that stands out to me the most is being a risk-taker, as I took on the challenge of a project that required a lot of work and left my comfort zone in order to approach people for important feedback and information. I also showed evidence of being an inquirer by choosing a project I wanted to learn more about and seeking out that information myself. I displayed my research skills by collecting information from a variety of primary and secondary sources and synthesizing it to come to new conclusions. I think I really developed my self-management skills because of the way the project was self-directed and how I was responsible for organizing and completing my tasks. I also developed my thinking skills through the creative process of songwriting. Finally, I used my communication and social skills to contact experts, audience members and my supervisor for information and feedback.
All of these skills have contributed to my development as a learner and have taught me things about myself. Now that I have completed the personal project, I can take everything I have learned and apply it to my other subjects and my personal work. While it took a lot of effort and was stressful at times, I am happy with everything I achieved through my personal project. I hope that my songs also make a lasting impression with the audience who helped to create them.
Although my parents are Dutch and American, for most of my life I have lived in Japan. Belonging to an international community and my travel opportunities over the years have opened my eyes to global perspectives from different countries. While a lot of my travel has been in western countries, I have been on a few trips to other Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. One trip that I found very interesting was my visit to Qatar in ninth grade, as it was my first visit of an Arab country, and there were several aspects that differed from Japan. Because Qatar is such a small country, I didn’t know much about it before visiting and therefore did not know what to expect.
I went there to visit one of my friends that moved to Doha after middle school, but while there I did some sightseeing with my family as well. One of the most notable differences between Qatar and Japan is its religious association. As the majority of Japan’s population is non-religious, it was a new experience for me to be in a country whose population is predominantly Muslim. While in Japan, Buddhism and Shintoism are tied to traditional culture, this is not that obvious in the modern city setting of Tokyo or Yokohama. However, it was clear from my visit that in Qatar, Islam plays an important role in defining the country’s culture. For example, it is expected that foreign female non-Muslim residents and visitors respect the cultural expectations regarding clothing by wearing garments that cover both the shoulders and the knees. This contradicted my personal views about freedom of expression, but was a difficult conflict to resolve as it so clearly established unity in the country. I think that my visit opened me up to trying to understand this practice rather than simply judging it as something foreign. I considered the fact that many of these women had never had the opportunity to publicly express themselves through their clothing, so for them it might not be a nearly as noticeable issue than it was for me, as I had to adjust from the “normal” of my life while staying there. This forced me to view things from a new perspective, acknowledging that something I had before only considered restricting could also bring unity to a nation and that it was not just black and white. Ultimately, the best conclusion I could draw was that it is important to respect the home culture when visiting a new country and temporarily set aside personal beliefs in an attempt to form understanding.
Visit to the Beach
Qatar, with the highest GDP per capita in the world, is a very rich country due to its oil resources. This means that most natives of Qatar are economically privileged, and while this is also the case in Japan, which has the 24th greatest GDP per capita, Qatar’s is more than three times the amount of Japan’s. As a result, there was a noticeably high consumption of luxury goods in Doha, with high-end clothing stores and amusement parks in the shopping malls, for example. This was interesting, as the country seemed to be the product of both traditional culture and modern influence.
Another aspect that I found drastically different between Qatar and Japan was safety. Japan has one of the world’s lowest crime rates, and I have cherished growing up in an environment in which safety is not an issue. I feel in some ways, however, that I have been sheltered because of this, and that being exposed to my friend’s life in Qatar has made me more aware of this. She lives on a compound which has very high security and is constantly monitored by guards. Her family also said that it is unsafe to trust all taxi drivers or go places on foot as teenagers, so they always contact one driver that they know well and trust. Despite religion uniting the country, Qatar does not feel safe, especially as a foreigner that stands out. My community in Japan is very international, so it is rare that I feel ostracized because of my nationality. What I noticed most as a contributor to the impression of danger in Qatar is the fact that it has many poor, migrant workers that are not accepted by the country’s society. This then contradicts the feeling of religious unity, which only really includes Qatari natives, viewing immigrants as outsiders. This brings issues of cheap labor which I think strongly contributes to Doha’s crime rate being higher than Yokohama’s. Despite the fact that Japan is more secular by comparison, it is still unified in its culture and traditions, which leads to more overall satisfaction and hence safety. The safety in Japan allows me to have more power over where I go, and this is a privilege I had overlooked until I had something to compare it to.
Despite having visited several countries prior, I feel that my trip to Qatar especially opened my eyes to a part of the world I had never before visited. It also showed me that despite the differences between Japan and an Arab country like Qatar, it is not as exotic and foreign as I expected it to be based on my little prior knowledge. My experiences and observations allowed me to compare the country to Japan, which in turn made me recognize some of the privileges of my everyday life that I had overlooked. This trip gave me a lot of respect for cultures that differ drastically from my own, encouraging me to understand before making judgements. In general, it pushed me to acknowledge perspectives other than my own and question the origins of my own beliefs as well, which I have started to consider in my travels since then as well. Different areas of the world developed differently over time, and the result of this is an array of cultures that may conflict with each other but can also be learned from and shared in the age of globalization. I think that this visit really emphasized that fact for me, because of course we had studied other countries and cultures in school, but having a firsthand experience made it all more real. I really enjoyed my visit to Qatar, not only because I got to see my friend, but also because it gave me a broader perspective of the world than what I had already been exposed to, even in an international school.
Throughout my life, I have been exposed to several different languages. Although I was born in the US, I have never lived there or in the Netherlands, which are both my native countries. Instead, I lived in Japan from infancy to when I was three years old, then in Belgium until I was five, before returning to Japan and hence spending most of my life here. I am fluent in both English and Dutch, but for this reflection will instead focus on foreign languages that I have learned throughout my life.
Despite having lived in Japan for most of my life and attended YIS since kindergarten, I do not speak very much Japanese. Instead of taking Japanese classes throughout elementary school like all the other students, my parents enrolled me in the Dutch mother tongue classes to maintain my fluency in the language, which I am grateful for. However, as a result, I only took Japanese classes in seventh and eighth grade, which was useful, as they taught me to read both katakana and hiragana, but my vocabulary is still quite limited. My relationship with Japanese culture has been quite interesting, as I feel very comfortable in the country but do not fit in whatsoever because my primary environment has been the community of an international school.
Because most of the Japanese general public does not speak English, it can be difficult to navigate the public transportation systems. Because I have lived in the same area since I was five years old, I find it easy to find my way around Yokohama and Motomachi, but this is quite a different story when it comes to Tokyo. One occasion I remember was when I was returning home from Tokyo by train on one of the JR lines, which are more unfamiliar to me as I am used to the Toyoko and Minatomirai lines. I had managed to find my way to the platform which I believed hosted the line I needed to take, but was not sure which train to get on, as there was more than one line leaving from that platform. Luckily, I was able to ask another person on the platform whether or not the train in question went to Yokohama station, where I would be able to transfer to the Minatomira line, by asking: “kono densha wa yokohama eki ni ikimasuka?” While at the time I was not sure if this was completely grammatically correct, the woman I asked understood and reassured me that I was on the correct train. I am glad that, while I have not become proficient in Japanese, that I have learned enough to get around.
The other language I have learned at school is French, which I am much better at than Japanese, as I have been studying it since sixth grade. I initially chose this language as opposed to Spanish or Mandarin, the other options I was given, as my parents and siblings all studied French in school and it is also one of my father’s seven fluent languages. My family’s multilingualism has always inspired me to explore the cultural connections between different languages, and I am glad that I have learned French to the level that I have. While my vocabulary is still not fluent and is somewhat limited to the topics covered in school, it has grown significantly over the past few years in particular. Unlike with Japanese, in French I do not often feel as if I need to translate sentences from English in my head before speaking, and I have become more comfortable with it. On one occasion in tenth grade, I was volunteering to help with the Daddy Daughter Dance, which happened to be Paris-themed and run by a group of French women. Although they spoke much faster than what I was used to in class, I was able to speak some French with them and understand the different jobs that I had to do. This was a very exciting moment for me, as I had never before really tested out my language skills in a setting with a group of native speakers.
One thing that I have noticed while learning French is the linguistic importance of gender. All nouns are classified as either masculine or feminine, and adjectives must also be adjusted to match gender. Because this concept rarely exists in English, besides sometimes distinguishing between genders in terms of occupation, this was very interesting for me to learn. It suggested that French culture has a traditional view of gender, as all French pronouns are gendered, whereas English has the gender-neutral “they”. Another observation about language and gender was that when describing groups, a male form and female form of the word “they” exists, “ils” and “elles”, respectively. If a group of people is comprised of all males and all females this is quite straightforward, but if a group is made up of a combination, it is always referred to as “ils”, even if only one male is present. This suggests an undertone of male dominance in the culture that was implemented at least when the language was created.
In addition to French, I have been learning some Norwegian outside of school on Duolingo, a language acquisition website. This was inspired by my interest in Herik Ibsen’s play, A Doll’s House, which we studied during our Literature in Translation unit of English class. So far I have found the language really interesting, and learning it has felt more like a hobby than a class, which I have really enjoyed. Languages overall fascinate me, a similar example being when I learned some American Sign Language for a science project about hearing loss. Growing up in an international community has exposed me to a lot of different languages, and I am very grateful for this. While I have encountered challenges concerning language barriers during different travels, this has generally resulted in me learning something new about the language and culture.
Beginning with its revival in 11th grade, I have enjoyed being a part of the LGBTQ+ Human Rights group. Our main mission is to increase awareness of LGBTQ+ issues in our school and take steps to make our community, both local and global, a more tolerant and informed place. I initially wanted to be a part of this group because I felt that it would be a service opportunity in which it would be easy to engage with the community in need (this is also what inspired me to join my other service activity, Van der Poel, as it grants students the opportunity to form relationships with the children in local orphanages). During our first year, most of our accomplishments were limited to within our school community, but we have started to reach out to a local volunteer organization that helps particularly non-Japanese members of the LGBTQ+ community, Stonewall Japan.
At the beginning of the year, we wanted to make YIS a more tolerant school community, because while it is generally very open-minded, it was apparent that the majority of the school was not very informed about local issues to do with LGBTQ+ safety and rights. For example, because of Japan’s generally traditional culture, same-sex marriage is scarcely recognised in the country. Throughout the year, we hosted events for several occasions, including both bisexual and asexual awareness weeks, LGBTQ+ history month and anti-LGBTQ+ bullying awareness day.
During the Food Fair we also had our own stall to spread awareness among the school and local communities. We provided the visitors with informative pamphlets and stickers that we designed and created. The stickers seemed to be quite a successful way of letting people know that our group, though new, existed, as we ran out of the few hundred that we had ordered. A difficulty that we were afraid of having to face was being able to promote a safe environment to the YIS community while still respecting other people’s religious or cultural beliefs. Luckily, this has not been a big issue so far, and we have managed to represent our school in the wider community as well.
Food Fair Stall
Upon finding an Amnesty International petition urging the Chechen government to stop the abduction, torturing and killing of their gay men, we made announcements letting the school know about this issue. We then filled over four pages with signatures from members of the school community for the petition, shedding light on some of the more serious current issues that the LGBTQ+ community faces internationally, and allowing people to make a difference even from a distance.
Finally, to finish up the school year we took part in the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade, marching on behalf of the school. We painted a banner with the YIS logo and went with a group of students, teachers and parents and really enjoyed marching through Shibuya for about an hour. Our photos were ultimately featured in a few different Japanese newspapers, including Asahi and the Huffington Post, highlighting the impact that our participation had on the recognition of the international LGBTQ+ community in Japan.
YIS in the Pride Parade
So far my experiences in this group have opened my eyes to the power that we possess to make a difference, whether that be simply within a school or on an international level. Our first year gave us the opportunity to test out numerous events and activities and figure out what worked most effectively to achieve our goals. We have already made a noticeable impression on the school, as our group was voted to be involved in the fundraising during the Live Aid concert in spring of 2017. On a personal level, my participation with this group has taught me the power of community and encouraged me to make a conscious effort to be more open-minded, especially toward marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ community that are often overlooked. I think that this experience helped me to become a more mature learner that recognizes the magnitude of both the struggles and successes of minority groups in general, and I can definitely say that I am proud of the change inspired by this group, as it not only taught me a lot about myself in the process, but also taught me how to teach others. My newfound interests and passion for social justice has accompanied my personal growth, and I hope to use this to spread positivity in the future. In my experience so far, this group has inspired a personal cycle of curiosity and growth. I hope that I will continue to learn in the future, and I expect that this experience will have affected my approach to conflict resolution and outlook on the world once I leave the community at YIS that I have belonged to for so long. I look forward to continuing to lead the group next year and interacting more closely with organizations outside of YIS.