When filming first started on Living with the Tiger 3 years ago, our intention was to record the music lessons that Bruce Gaston had started. Now, it has become a significant project and given us the opportunity to deal with the stigma that confronts the children.
Although attitudes are slowly changing, there is much that still needs to be done if they are going to be able to live in society as normal. The film shows the contrasting attitudes that exist and the need for more awareness and education if progress is going to be made. We hope the film will contribute to overcoming these problems and provide a better future for the children.
Now that the film has been completed it will be submitted to festivals with the aim of finding TV distribution. Most importantly, it needs to find an audience that does not know about Baan Gerda and have no connection with HIV.
If you would like to play a part in supporting this venture you can visit the website. By making a small donation, you can get a limited version of the festival DVD which will help fund the promotion and outreach programme. Alternatively, spread the word amongst your friends, groups and online networks who you think might be interested.
Since Baan Gerda opened its doors at the end of 2000 the HIV/AIDS situation in Thailand and beyond has changed a lot.
Although modern ARV medicine existed in those days it was out of the reach of most people who were infected due to the exorbitant prices. At that time an HIV diagnosis was synonymous with a death sentence. Public information about the disease lagged behind and was nebulous. The stigma that surrounded the infection made it difficult to live in society.
Today, medicine is available even for those on low incomes but the stigma is still a big problem. This will be a big obstacle for our children when the time comes to look for a profession and place in society. Children need a future without prejudice and society owes them a better understanding for the HIV/AIDS situation as it stands now.
We are sure the upcoming film ‘Living With the Tiger’ will help to raise awareness of these issues and reduce the prejudice aimed at those who are infected. The film follows 3 of the children in Baan Gerda and is told mainly through their perspective. As well as providing an insight into their daily lives it also shows them as they journey home to meet relatives that had once abandoned them. Currently, there are no films that deal with these issues in a positive style and avoid the clichés and sensation often associated with the disease.
The story is guided by their preparations for a series of performances in an opera that took place in Bangkok and the countryside.
The recent concert in the province of Khon Kaen was a huge success, with our children performing excerpts from Bruce Gaston’s opera ‘A Boy and a Tiger’
The event attracted thousands of people from local villages and communities near to the site at Bua Ngern.
We started planning the event several months ago and our main aim was very clear; many of our children originated from this rural and poor part of Thailand and we wanted people to see that they are fit, healthy and very capable. The show now includes a number of non-infected children from schools in Bangkok, and it sends an important message that they can perform alongside our children.
We were fortunate to receive extensive cooperation from the district council in the area, who assisted with many of the arrangements and promotion of the event. It was organised as an ‘HIV awareness day’ with the focus on education and promoting the idea of infected people living in their own communities. We hope that one day some of our children will be able to return to live with their families.
We have plenty of photos from the weekend which you can see here
The concert also features as the finale to the film ‘Chivit Mai’, which has been following the children’s lives over the past three years. It is scheduled for release later next year.
It was nearly three years ago that composer Bruce Gaston first started teaching music to the children of Baan Gerda. Who would have predicted that they would end up playing the largest theatre in the country?
‘A boy and a Tiger’ the opera composed by Gaston, will be premièred at the Thailand Cultural Center on 28th and 29th November. Tickets are available from thaiticketmajor.com
The show now includes several children from international schools in Bangkok and The Mercy Center in Khlong Toey. Local skateboarders perform tricks on specially designed ramps that have been incorporated into the elaborate set design.
An independently produced film will be released next year chronicling their journey since the first music lessons, as well as their lives in Baan Gerda.
The children will also be travelling to Khon Kaen for a special performance on December 11th. In contrast to the bright lights of Bangkok, this show will be held in the middle of the countryside in one of the poorest areas of Thailand.
Are you a photographer? We would love to have some well-taken pictures of the shows in both Khon Kaen and Bangkok. Let us know if you can help! (contact us)
Following a recent visit to Baan Gerda by the German Ambassador (Dr Hanns Schumacher), the children were invited to perform for a specially invited audience at the German Embassy in Bangkok. Although the opera has not been completed, composer Bruce Gaston organised a 40 minute show consisting of scenes from the full opera.
As the day of the concert approached it was obvious that things weren’t ready; the children were frantically trying to learn new parts; people were scampering around making the props and the costumes had still to be made. They would take to the stage without even having a dress rehearsal.
Set amongst the city’s towering skyscrapers, the beautiful gardens of the Ambassador’s residence provided the perfect backdrop for the opera. Despite our uncertainties, Bruce and the children managed to pull off a great show which was well received by the 100 VIP guests.
Commenting afterwards Dr Schumacher said “A wonderful experience! The children performed as if they are on stage every day. The scenes were colourful, alongside a fanciful set, props and costumes, leaving the whole audience stunned. It was so entertaining, and so professional, quite to the contrary of my expectations. You could tell the audience were captivated. I’m delighted that the embassy residence hosted the world première of this performance. I’m also sure that the opera with the children of Baan Gerda will be a special highlight for the Bangkok theatre programme. Those who don’t see it are really missing something!”
I first heard about the Orff method about 25 ago, when The Goethe Institute in Bangkok sponsored a special workshop and they brought over Dr. Hermann Regner from the Orff Schulwerk Centre in Salzburg. After that, Regner led several workshops over a period of years and we developed together the beginning of the Orff system in Thailand. At that time we were unable to achieve the goal that we had set for ourselves; that was to make an Orff system as you see in so many other countries.
The basis of the idea behind the Orff System has to do with children’s songs and it’s very attached to a language and a culture. Carl Orff was German so he used many local nursery rhymes, folk tales and fairy tales to form the Orff system in Germany. It was such a magical system and it worked so well and gave children an early and rich understanding of music, that it spread immediately to other countries.
Very soon there was a whole series of English text books overseen and controlled by Orff himself, and this was followed by French, German, American and Spanish. Up until now we’ve never been able to achieve this in Thailand.
So one of the things that we are doing in BaanGerda is not only giving the gift of music and encouraging musical sensitivity, but also doing research and working very hard to develop the Orff system by using Thai nursery rhymes, folk tales and children’s songs that have been in the Thai tradition for hundreds of years.
The reason the Orff system is so applicable and so appropriate in Thailand is because we have the same way of looking at things as Karl Orff did, and that is, you teach children to start with percussion instruments such as xylophones, metallophones and glockenspiels. This means that you use your two hands to make melodies on bars which, if you think about it, is much easier than worrying about where your fingers go. If you look at the history of music all over the world you’ll see that people tend to start playing with two hands alternating back and forth in a kind of hitting gesture.
We take these percussion instruments and bring them together to have a symphonic sound; an ensemble, in which the children, even the very young children can immediately have some success in playing together. The other very convenient point, and certainly the genius in the Orff system, is that if you make the percussion instruments in a way that you can take the bars out, so that with the remaining bars the chance of making a mistake is manageable even for small children. You don’t have to worry like you do with a piano where you have so many black and white keys and much more chance of making an error.
With Thai instruments, the bars can’t be removed so you always have to choose between lots of notes to get the ones that are right. Using the Orff instruments, you take many of the bars away and the children can achieve something instantly. It’s a wonderful way of introducing the children to music and making it successful right from the very beginning, so the very first hour you start studying Orff you can have musical joy.
The Foreign Anti-Narcotic Community of Thailand (FANC) held their annual ball at the beginning of December, with proceeds going to BaanGerda. The event, held at the Westin Hotel in Bangkok, was an opportunity for some of the children to demonstrate their new musical skills they have learnt this year.
FANC has existed for over 25 years and is made up of police attaches from 20 countries, who work with the local police to fight drug trafficking and other crimes in Thailand. Some years ago, they looked at ways that their membership could make a difference to those individuals whose lives were directly (or indirectly) affected by these crimes. As a result, for the last 4 years FANC has chosen to sponsor the children of Baan Gerda.
Mike Hiller, FANC Chairman, “Many of the FANC members have visited with the children at BaanGerda and were deeply moved by the children themselves and the work being done there. It was the experience of having met the children that led us to inviting them to perform at the 2007 FANC Charity Ball. Not surprisingly, their performance was the highlight of the event…those that attended the ball were as deeply moved as those of us who visited BaanGerda and will likely not forget the amazing children of Baan Gerda.”
Preparing our opera always involves smiles. Not that happiness is the goal of our work, but it is the modus operandi. Too often, music is thought of as a leisure activity and that only leads to re-creative results.
“No proper music education?” I hear you ask. Well, I admit that I do require the children to memorize aspects of musical theory which is so basic to Thai classical music. However, it is only one part of the overall approach which is centered on creative music making, and placing the children in situations where they learn for themselves.
By the way Fong Naam, my Contemporary Thai Music Ensemble, is celebrating our twenty fifth anniversary this year, and the production of this opera with the children is part of our celebrations. They have been enjoying working with the children over the last months. They were rather surprised the other day when I had our first rehearsal alone without the children. Up until now they have only been playing along with the kids to encourage their rhythmic skills. But during the rehearsal I gave them some fairly difficult tasks which were quite independent from what the children were doing. They suddenly realized that this children’s opera was going to require more of them than they had first thought. They did not complain because they know that you cannot ask your students to strive to go beyond themselves if the teacher is not also ready to do the same.
‘First’ doesn’t always mean the beginning of something. The music project with the children of BaanGerda has been going on since April. In subsequent weeks I will be telling some of the stories about the children’s musical adventures in that early period.
But for now, let’s begin in the present. Since the children are on a vacation from school for about a month or so, we have brought fourteen of them down to Bangkok for intensive study in music, singing, dancing and acting. As you may already know, we are going to perform a children’s opera. The plan is to stage it during the first part of next year, and perhaps even take it to Germany.
The Opera emerges from various methods that I have developed over the years (this is my third children’s opera), whereby the children’s creative input is an important part of the finished product. The work is centered around the Orff Schulwerk method, although I modify the approach considerably so that the music relates more to the Siamese musical heritage. For singing we use Kodaly Method; for dancing and acting I rely on names like Dalcroze, Laban, Slade, Spolin, Littlewood, Heathcote, Johnstone and in the area of theatre education, I am perhaps most indebted to Augusto Boal. Forgive all these names, but it just a habit among Thai artists to remember their teachers at the beginning of every new endeavor.
The story is based on Yann Martel’s wonderful novel, “The Life of Pi”. It’s not an easy story and certainly not a children’s book. I shall have more details in future postings.