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Saturday, 6 June 2020

“I want to go Artground,” my 28-month-old toddler, whom many know affectionately as Dodo, pops the question to me once in a while. I smile at him, and tell him that “The Artground is closed, I’m not sure when it will open again.” 

Just a few days ago, I cheekily responded, “why don’t you ask Auntie Luanne (Chief Worm!) to open it for you?” He remembers my words, and repeated the phrase “ask Auntie open Artground for Dodo,” a few times since.

My partner and I run an arts organisation, and our studio is based at Goodman Arts Centre, where The Artground is also located. Dodo used to go to The Artground to play frequently, and was also no stranger to its WhiteBox where we presented performances for the young and young at heart. That was our norm for a while, but not anymore. Like everyone, we have had to adapt to this new normal of WFH – work from home. Our studio has not been accessible to us since Circuit Breaker (CB), and we have not been able to present any form of live performances or engagement with our audiences. 

Nonetheless, with challenges comes opportunities. Some of our organisation’s arts programmes had gone digital, while our young audience initiative, LittleCr3atures, have had to take a hiatus, because I believe that live engagement for the very young (0-3 years old) is essential. How else would we communicate with our lil’ ones through sounds, colours, touch, smiles and eye contact? Or simply feel the vibrations in the air as we approach or detach ourselves from them?
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 Nevertheless, I take the CB period as a creative impulse to work with my lil’ one at home. With the support of my industry colleagues who began a ground-up initiative “Rolling On Artist Residency (ROAR)”, I started a project titled “First Connections” where I seek play-songs and lullabies (i.e. children’s songs) from other parents with young babies like myself, find out about their musicking patterns at home through ZOOM interviews, and share them on my project site platform: 

I hope to revive some of these songs passed down through generations together with Dodo in our own ways (though it might become abstract and experimental, which is essentially my partner and my musical practice). Through the project site, I also share my own musicking experiences with Dodo at home during this CB period. While musicking is an ongoing, almost minute-to-minute affair where we hum, sing, make up songs, drum on chairs etc., this CB period has encouraged me to further document some of these experiences that might otherwise fade with time. 

Dodo came to us when I had just embarked on my PhD journey. While there were fears and uncertainties at the beginning with becoming a first-time parent and coping with a big project such as a PhD amidst other responsibilities,  Dodo became an integral part of my doctoral research journey. In November 2018, when Dodo was barely one year old, I presented my first ever baby production titled “Nadam” ([Nadam – An immersive performance for babies 18 months & under by Little Creatures by SA – YouTube]. The entire creative process involving Dodo from brainstorming, workshopping to rehearsals was documented as part of my PhD studies, and this CB period has given me some respite from our daily rat race previously to finish writing my thesis.

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As a parenting-artist-researcher, I do juggle roles and responsibilities that are varied yet similar. While I do crave time alone to read and write, or simply sit and ponder, I also feel blessed that I have activated my parenthood as an impulse to my creativity and art-marking. While having a partner in the same industry whom I work closely together is dynamic and volatile, my practice is also only possible because of it. In navigating unprecedented, turbulent times that we are currently in, being in a family of arts practitioners has been my solace in some ways.

While not every one of us (parents, families) may identify ourselves as an arts practitioner, I believe that we are all artists in one way or another. As I seek solace through the arts with my family and toddler during such times, I hope you do too. There are many stay-home activities that artists have put together for families to experience together, such as The Artground’s Home withTAG initiative ([#HomewithTAG is a series of art activities that children can do at home](https://theartground.com.sg/homewithtag/)). In terms of music for the very young, I believe that parents are of utmost importance in our babies’ experiences. Our babies make meaning of their environment through multi-sensorial ways, and I feel that giving them opportunities to experience their worlds holistically through their bodies is key. I believe in letting babies “be”, such that they can engage themselves in “unadulterated play”. What then do we do as parents or adults? I’d like to think of ourselves as setting up the aesthetic environment we wish for our babies to experience. At home, I simply lay out materials (and instruments) and allow Dodo to explore freely, sometimes improvising along with him. Most of the times, we are engaged in what some may find “noisy”, or “abstract” – similar to my experimental music practices; but other times we sing along to make-up songs or good old nursery rhymes, while still banging along on the chair, a ukulele or some metal tin cans.

Musicking doesn’t have to be a daunting affair, and even the youngest one is musicking as they respond through rhythmic gestures and facial expressions to your voices as mummies and daddies in somewhat synchronised manners. Researchers Stephen Malloch and Colwyn Trevarthen have called this “communicative musicality”. Sound is a large part of our lives, and many materials around at home can create interesting sonic experiences for our lil’ ones. Otherwise, our voices are the closest instruments we could get in nature. With a little experimentation and creativity, I hope you can make musicking a daily affair with your baby at home too!

About Natalie

Natalie Alexandra Tse (b.1987) is a mother, performer, educator, and researcher passionate about the exploration of sounds, sonic objects and environments. A guzheng performer since young, Natalie has been experimenting with extended techniques, creating different textures, ambience and emotions evoked through her instrument. Her practice as an experimental improviser has led her towards researching into babies’ sonic play through her doctoral studies and motherhood. She believes that play is a baby’s essential being, and is interested in furthering research about the creation of spaces to allow for unadulterated play with sound and objects in safe and immersive environments. She is mother to Baby Dodo, who has been involved in all her young audience’s works since birth, and is expecting another lil’ one in August 2020. Natalie founded LittleCr3atures in 2017, a young audience initiative of the parent company, SAtheCollective whom she co-founded and is a resident artist of. Through LittleCr3atures, Natalie designs arts experiences for very young audiences up to 36 months old and also explores the roles parents play in their babies’ play experiences.