Thursday, 9 September 2010

Mission accomplished!

Life has been super busy since returning from India and, following those last two crazy weeks in Mumbai, I still haven’t caught up on my sleep. Hibernation is inevitable. But having dealt with the reverse culture shock and gotten used to the deafening silence when sleeping at night, I am extremely eager and excited to return to India and continue with my work at the Garodia School. For the sake of completion, however, I must write about the events of those final weeks…

On Sunday 22nd August Aaron and I hosted two three-hour workshops for music teachers in Mumbai; however one group of teachers had travelled over 200km to attend!! The workshops were presented on behalf of Trinity Guildhall and organised by Furtados (a leading music store in Mumbai and across India!). Over the two workshops there were 80 participants, with ages ranging from 20-60 years; however, age aside, we had them all up on their feet and moving as part of our interactive workshop: Fun gets results.

Since arriving in India our main objective has been to make music fun and enjoyable. This is vital for the student, but also just as important for the teacher. The passion and enjoyment should be naturally transmitted through the teacher and our workshop explored ways in which lessons could be more varied and improved, finding fun ways to gain musical results. The other big point was to remove the emphasis on assessments: if pieces, sight-reading, aural, improvising, scales etc are always taught in the context of exams, then there is not the same sense of freedom and enjoyment through learning and exploring music! Also, music taught in such a way threatens to instil a fear of mistakes… Not fun. Not good. So what did we do?

Well, we made it fun for the sake of being fun! We started with a nice Brahms duet to set the mood, a short introduction, and then everyone on their feet. In a big circle we played various games, all intended to show how you can learn things (best) without even being aware of it. We talked about exams and how they are just stepping stones in the context of a wider goal. We discussed how ensemble playing (duets, trios etc) can be a fun way to address sight-reading, explore new repertoire, and develop the social and fun aspect of practising and playing. At this point we had some volunteers from the audience sight read a few piano trios: one piano, six hands – very cosy!

We discussed Kodaly and solfa by giving a demonstration lesson, firstly with rhythms – at one point we had everyone marching around in a big circle chanting and clapping in response to Aaron’s directions, in what looked like some bizarre ritual! Nonetheless, it was all very fun and we soon went onto singing using solfa, which included singing in parallel seventh chords and singing a simple canon Are You Sleeping whilst walking around the room. Then some listening and responding to music, emphasising the fundamental importance of being able to respond emotionally and personally to music. Then some tips on scales and playing them in pairs (thank you Nadia from the WAM Induction Course!) and sight-reading. Then a bit on improvising and the importance of exploring your instrument and getting away from this right or wrong answer approach to playing and finally a Q&A session.

We tried to make the session fun yet informative and the participants responded well, getting involved and asking lots of interesting questions. The teachers were very positive and many already shared some of our ideas, which was great. We simply wanted to provide them with some tools to help very their lessons and develop essential skills in a fun way. We finally summarised by coming back to our title of the workshop. We extensively went on about fun, but purposefully didn’t mention results. Of course, like an ‘unexpected’ twist in any Romantic Comedy, we concluded that our idea of results are not marks on a page, but, more importantly, musical results. TA-DAAAA!!!

The following week on Thursday 26th August we also conducted two more workshops organised through the British Council, which specifically targeted students from poorer backgrounds. The workshops took place at the Jawahar Bal Bhavan centre, Charni Road, which is one of many centres established as part of a national scheme to develop the creative potential of students by offering extra-curricular activities, especially within the arts. In each two-hour workshop there were around 40 students, selected from 4-5 different schools, aged 10-13 in the first workshop and 14-16 in the second. With no instruments and only one CD player, we conducted another interactive workshop, working a lot with body percussion. Having done a few successful workshops together, Aaron and I decided to follow a similar format to those before. Again we started with some fun games in a big circle at the beginning, introducing each other and generally creating a more fun and informal atmosphere. Then some listening and responding to music, which included two teachers showing off their Hindustani vocals! And I’m not talking about Aaron and I… Then we finished with an introduction to rhythm solfa, creating our own rhythms, and experimenting with layering them and performing them together. We had a lot of fun, made a lot of noise and the kids loved it! They were a pleasure to work with and responded well to all the activities we’d planned.

Finally back to the Garodia School and our biggest project – the final student concert on Sunday 29th August: A Music Extravaganza. In the last few weeks we rehearsed together with many of the students we’d been involved with from the Garodia School and its Music Conservatoire. It was an eclectic programme, with piano solos, piano trios, violin solos and duets, singing solos and duets (with one choral arrangement of a song), some songs by the year fours from The Swinging Piper (a show we have been rehearsing with the younger children over the two months), and a big cheesy finale piece with everyone (violin, recorder and vocal solos, three-part chorus, keyboardists, and lots of percussion), which was our own version of Karl Jenkins’ Adiemus. This came together really well and the students thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to all be part of a big finale piece of entirely LIVE music. No backing tracks today!

A guest guitarist also performed as part of the concert and Aaron and I also gave our first solo tabla performance accompanied on the harmonium – we even changed into our kurtas! It was so much fun to play and was nice to share what we’d learnt as part of our time in India. The audience really appreciated and enjoyed this. We also played a Brahms duet as an encore – a little token of thanks and farewell. The students all worked hard and participated with great enthusiasm. There was an incredible buzz among the students, teachers, and parents after the concert and a general feeling that we’d helped to inject a lot of enthusiasm and interest into the children’s musical experience. I look forward to many more concerts like this when I go back.

So that’s it for now... Thanks to everyone who has followed the blogs and to friends and family for all the support. Most importantly, thanks to the WAM Foundation for giving all of us this opportunity – it has been an incredible two months.



Wednesday, 25 August 2010

WAMers on tour...

It was cool, calm, clean and less crowded. We were definitely out of Mumbai. Yes, as luck would have it our trip to Pune finally came to light, even if it was on Friday the 13th! As much as those two days in Pune, or ‘Poona’ as it once was, seemed like a mini vacation, they ended up being just as action-packed as a regular day in Mumbai... but with less noise. After a four-hour train journey of beautiful and varied landscapes providing the backdrop for what seemed like an on-board market place (there were selling EVERYTHING possible on the train), we finally arrived around midday. One of the senior students from the St Cecilia’s School of Music picked us up and, with her friends, drove us to our hotel, The Royal Connaught Boat Club, before taking us for lunch at a swanky restaurant. Indian hospitality is simply unrivalled!!

We then enjoyed the rest of the afternoon/evening at the music school where we met the wonderful Veera Pooniwala, head of the music school. Everyone was inviting and friendly and the music school was set in a beautiful little building, looked after by the adjacent convent. They have two grand pianos, an upright and a digital. We then had a master class which ran from 3pm till 9pm, where students of varying abilities (grade 2 up to ATCL and even one FTCL student) played for us, after which Aaron and I worked with them, giving them advice and guidance, focusing mainly on interpretation, character, and colour. Tension and stiff wrists were a common problem that I addressed in various ways for some students, but generally the playing was of a very good standard and there was an obvious buzz about the school. It definitely had the enjoyment factor, which, since our trip began, we have been trying to develop in the schools we’ve worked at in Mumbai. In addition to piano the school offers singing, as well as classes in theory, aural and music appreciation. Although the session ran on for six hours and we were feeling the effects of a very long day, we enjoyed every moment with the students and wished to have stayed longer!

The following day we were shown round by Hemant Godbole, a piano teacher who runs classes in another part of the city. We got to see the huge university campus in its tropical setting, the old city and the Raja Dinkar Kelkar museum. It was also this day that we discovered Mosambi (sweet lime juice), also available as a combo with many other juices. D-E-licious! Then a shorter afternoon at Hemant’s studio, where we heard some of his students play. They were around grade 4-5 standard and played their exam pieces for us. Addressing similar issues as before, we hosted a small masterclass with them. Though coming from a less privileged area than those we’d seen the day before, the students were equally keen and responsive, even if their exposure to Western classical music was more limited. After another fun day our short time in Pune was up. And that was ten days ago. How time is flying here...

On the Mumbai front things have been very busy. We’ve now introduced recorders into the school and I have started off classes for the 4 standard children (ages 9-10) in small groups during activity times in the morning and a longer session on Saturday mornings (they don’t seem to mind coming along again!). I wrote a starter book for them, introducing five notes and basics of music theory through varied tunes and exercises which I get them to clap and sing along to first. The children are enjoying the lessons and the opportunity (for most of them) to learn an instrument for the first time. We are happy to introduce these extra-curricular activities, which can altogether enrich their music education and promote a more active music-making environment in the school. It is very encouraging that Blaise, the music teacher in the International School, is happy to volunteer his free time by helping me to teach the recorder, dividing the children between us.

Finally, and most excitingly, I will be coming back to the Garodia School in September to teach for a further year, as part of which my main job will be to continue the work Aaron and I have started in the classrooms by fully establishing a music curriculum for the International School (at least standards 1-5). In addition to this project, I will also continue to work in the Music School, again helping to develop its infrastructure as well as offering more free classes beyond the students’ weekly lessons (aural, theory, ensemble classes etc). The International School is preparing for two large shows on October 1st, so once this is completed I can start up an International School choir, extend recorders to earlier year groups and introduce recorder ensembles at the very least... This is a very exciting opportunity and, while there have been some lasting improvements since Aaron and I have been here, this will ensure continuity from our efforts over the last two months.

So good news and exciting times here; however there is still a week to go and so much to get done, including more British Council workshops and a final concert for all the students we’ve been working with across the schools. Back to work for me...



Monday, 23 August 2010

Bangalore Survival Kit.

Key words in Kanada:

Namaskara! Greetings!
Esh-du? How much?
ill-lah. No.
How-du. Yes

Respect is a universal trait, that is highly regarded in every culture. It goes a long way when it comes to speaking to strangers, from rickshaw wallahs, to the security guards, to misfortunate homeless people. To gain the respect from the Avatars, we have learned several words in Kanada, the local language of the natives. Yesterday, our invaluable language studies was rewarded.

Brigade Road is in the heart of the city and it is always packed with the growing middle-class and tourists on a Sunday night. As many shops get ready for the fall clothing line, attractive promotions lure people, testing both their spending power and temptation quotient. We have also noticed the attraction of “Slumdog Millionaire” children on the streets. The packed streets only permit Rosie and I to walk in single file for we wanted to wiggle our way through the crowds as quickly as possible. Since our accents have improved, we are feeling more at ease and have circumvent many situations which tourists may experience. After dinner last night, a young girl walked passed me as her eyes were fixed on Rosie. Usually this is the norm on Brigade Road but Rosie was silent behind me and I kept hearing the begging sounds. To my disbelief, the girl was aggressively following Rosie clinging to her arm. I stopped, waiting for Rosie to come closer and staring straight into her eyes I said with the utmost authority and poise “ILL-LAH.” The girl immediately stopped what she was doing and her eyes lit up. She was baffled and froze in the stream of passer-bys, as we continued our way down Brigade Road.

Over and Out,


Tuesday, 17 August 2010

A Button Factory, Jelly Beans and Jungles

This was the reply I gave today to sister Christine when she asked what the workshop was going to be about today. This was received with worried looks from both the parents and teachers especially since it was a few minutes before the workshop was about to begin and i was running around asking people what different types of beans there were! However I think that curiosity got the better of them in the end and turned out to be the first workshops the teachers actually attended (usually they just chill in the office despite all our persuading to try and get them to take part!) and infact a parent also watched as well!
We have done many workshops over the time we have been here and have ranged from rhythm and ear training to improvisation, and today, creative thinking. I was in my element today as this is what i do best. Playing musical games and having a right old laugh! We started with a warm up exercise about a fella called Joe who worked in a button factory. It ends up with everyone going mad and jumping everywhere but does alot to get their rhythm going. However since I have been quite unwell for the past few days this alone took it out of me and i could barely talk by the end of the exercise but we ploughed on to the Jelly Bean game. This involved me concocting a highly elaborate story about how i have a bean factory and my mother rang me last night and said someone had broke in and swapped all the pipes round in the factory and now all the different types of beans had been mixed up. The aim of the game was for them to act out the different types of bean and match them to a certain type of music. So when they heard a passage Sylvia improvised they would name the bean it represented and do the action. However the difficulty was (unusually) trying to get the kids to think of the actions in the first place. They wouldn't just open up and go crazy. They were far too embarrassed and when i picked on people to think of one they would hide their faces of point blank refuse. I have never found this in the UK and realised that this is probably why none of them play with any emotion - because they are too worried that it will be wrong and so to save themselves from embarrassment they just don't do it. But i didn't give up and eventually just forced them to do it and as soon as one student let go, they all did and they all really got into it! Obviously, like all things i do here, it all descended into complete and utter chaos but I think the idea was put across and was highly amusing for all, especially the teachers who were practically rolling round on the floor laughing. Actually looking back on it it must have been pretty funny watching a 19 year old white girl running around a room with a load of 10 year old Indians pretending to be a scary bean...
The next idea to be introduced was thinking about how to describe a scene, emotion or colour with different sounds. We picked the topic of Bangalore and got all the kids to think of a sound that describes Bangalore. Once we had all heard each others sounds individually we got them all to sit in a circle with their eyes closed and when i tapped them on the head they would make their sound. Whilst they were doing that I would get them to get louder and softer (like it would during rush hour and the middle of the night). It introduced to them the concept that their pieces are written about a certain idea or emotion. Once we had introduced that idea to them we played them pieces of our own on the piano and got them to make stories about them. Some of their responses were so profound and creative i would never have thought of it myself! I was most impressed, as were the teachers. We then got them playing their own pieces in front of the class and talking about them. At first no one wanted to play but as soon as i picked on one person then everyone wanted too and we are having to use the workshop time tomorrow to carry it on!
It turned out to be a really successful workshop and one that I think really opened their eyes to what music is all about but showed it to them through a different and more accessible medium.
We have also confirmed 2 workshop dates in ordinary state schools, one this Thursday and one next Monday which should be fun. Although we don't really know what to expect! Also since today was such a success we are thinking about repeating it there but altering it slightly to include composition and body percussion which always works well. We are also in the process of organising dates with another music school in the area to do a pedagogy workshop, children's workshop and concert where we also think we will repeat the same workshop.
On top of all this we have also found time to fly to Delhi and Agra to see the Taj Mahal aswell as other sites and have travelled to Mysore and the surround villages so explore some of the local history. We feel that we have definitely made the most of our time here and looking back across the whole period we have managed to make some significant changes and fill some of the holes in the students learning. If anything we hoped to have made music more enjoyable for the students and if not then at least they've had a good laugh!

Rosie (The last post was mine also!)

Sunday, 15 August 2010


After nealy 7 weeks in Bangalore we like to feel that we have made some good changes in the schools we are in. At the Good Shepherd we have weekly/twice weekly workshops on various different aspects of music. These are always met with much enthusiasm from the kids and often so many turn up that they barely all fit in the room. I have to agree with Lucie below that the kids think that we are crazy! I was teaching a couple of children a piano duet and by the end of the class, them, myself and 2 of the teachers had descended into fits of laughter. Maybe not such a productive lesson but definatley alot of fun. I have also figured out a good way of getting the children to practice. I threaten that if they dont Sister Christine (our host) will get angry with me and kick me out onto the streets and then i will die of hunger and, 'do you really want this burden on your shoulders Benita?' This probably isnt the most PC way of doing it but it seems to work... I have also got a few of the kids here involved in piano duets which is actually more fabulous than i can explain. It kills so many birds with one stone. In all of the cases their sight reading, rhythm and musicality has increased 10 fold. Its nothing short of a miracle. I never believed it would work before i got here but with a couple of kids i tried everything and nothing worked but as soon as i got them playing a duet it was like they were 2 different children. I would strongly recommend it to all! I have also started a choir... I thought this would be a relatively easy thing to do but it turns out some people are really tone-deaf so its proving quite a challenge (much to the other teachers amusment)!

However at the St. Marks Music Academy things are not going so swimmingly. If started off well with a good number of students turning up to our first workshop. We even did a very successful teachers workshop. However the violin workshop only had 2 in attendance even though it had been specially requested by the violin teacher and the other junior workshop only had one in attendance. This was a great dissappointment to us and we feel like the school is not helping us achieve anything. When we asked them what they wanted us to do and what impact they wanted us to make we just got the reply, 'well everyone thinks you are doing very well so far.' Even though we werent actually doing anything!
Teachers Workshop at St. Marks
However Sister Christine (Good Shepherd) is only too happy with this and after me telling her about the bad response she replied, 'well that just gives you more time to do workshops here! The children love the workshops!'

So with only 2 more weeks left to go its difficult to know what to do next but we will continue to the bitter end trying to make our mark on the Bangalore piano teaching method! We have other things in the pipeline though. We have done our first concert today to a very enthusiastic and grateful audience, and we have another 3 to go. We also have workshops in state schools and a workshop in another music school in koramungalaakjdshkfbnsa. We have also met the representative of the London college exam board who is also very keen to work with us. So all in all we think we are being pretty successful!

Not only that but we have adapted very well to the way of life over here. Sylvia hails a rickshaw while i hide behind a tree and jump in last second so that they dont hike up the price! It works very well as many people have commented the Sylvia could pass for a north Indian! Also now we've learnt a bit of the lingo its much easier to work our way round the city and ward off unwanted attention. Nothing gets past us now!

Gurgaon . . . are we pronouncing it right yet?

Ok, so time has flown by and it is nearly the two week count down to coming home. A lot has changed, a lot has remained the same . . .

We have our concert organised for Tuesday 24th of August, I believe the venue is meant to be good, but the piano will be digital which is most disappointing because I wanted the children to experience an acoustic piano. Making sure they are all prepared for the concert is proving difficult with some children and a dream with others. They are given so many piano lessons a week (some, even 5 hours!!!!) and so do not really understand the concept of practising outside of lessons . . .

Our work with them is paying off though and the improvement in some pupils who have really taken to the challange has been vast.

The only problem with the concert is that focus has been forced to switch from working on general problems to working on problems in the specific piece the child is playing, and trying to make sure it is good enough and ready for the concert. Therefore their learning has been a little restricted and tailored mainly to the piece they will be performing. I feel that when we leave and they begin a new piece they will not be able apply what we have taught them effectively enough.

Unfortunately, working with the teachers, or the teachers observing our lessons has not materialised and this is a major hole in our work here. Little knowledge has been passed on that will sustain, as it has all been just one-on-one teaching with the children. I have suggested that during the remaining time after the concert we do group classes on style and interpretation, pedaling, sight reading, and so on, and some classes with the teachers on how to teach certain concepts effectively (like articulation!) . Hopefully this will allow us to pass on some more lasting advice.

Sam, Gaspar, Helen and myself are heading to The Doon School next week (I hope this is how you spell it) to give a recital and do a one day workshop with 25 children, so planning for this needs to commence . . . Will write about it when we get back. Not looking forward to travelling through the night though!

Then we have our British Council workshops - two days in our last week hear. We have chosen a fable and plan to create a play with music from this within each three hour workshop. Minimal instruments, maximum body percussion, and hopefully 100% effort and participation. Hopefully the children will not have too many barriers and will be ready to let their hear down and make a fool of themselves. If it's anything like the games we played in our planning session then the children will leave thinking us Brits are a little crazeeey . . .

Which of course we are, and hopefully, will always be!


Friday, 6 August 2010

Second part of the trip in Mumbai...

The concert last Saturday was such an amazing experience, the happiness that we gained from it is still flowing up until today, although the catalan have left us on Monday night. The kids were quite tired on Friday evening during the general rehearsal, but no panick, all was handled and on the D day (big BIG Rain day in Mumbai, floods and floods), we were all relieved to see the kids participating to their fullest and leaving aside some of their previous attitudes during rehearsals.

The very small ones were still fidgety but one still sang through a very high fever, and one went on all through the songs until the last, before which, HE CAME IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STAGE to announce he needed to go to the toilet! :) The children do really make us realize how important music education is important for self-development and fulfilment!

It has been sad to have been separated from the Catalan conductors but a new part of the program starts now. I've taught many pupils and I am pleased so far. The kids are all quite enthusiastic about the piano; all present tension in their wrist (and not only the children...) I have only had one student who did not present a case of tension all along the arm up until the finger tip!
But once they understand the relaxed movement up-down-up, the use of the weight of the whole arm, the use of the wrist as a bridge to pass this weight through and the pivoting on the knuckles, they all had a relieved look on their face. Even the littlest, most fidgety child.

The sense of rhythm is generally good and the everlasting problem of "keeping going through the piece" is a long work process but the children are in general quite good readers.

I had a class this morning with 2 year-olds! And there even one girl who had just turned 1! They come with their parents who work with them in music. They admit this is a very happy time to bond with their child and one told us "this is the only thime my baby actually comes on my lap!". Once more, music joins us all in the blink of an eye. And these kids were so not bad for their age! We sang rhymes. They don't really sing but they react to tapping on their knees, touching their nose or saying "snap" in time at the end of a song! We played with shakers to show them when to play and when to stop, and impressively, two times out of four, they stopped right on. I performed a lively piece for them and they were dancing! Then during a calm and relaxing music time, they were speaking softly. It's impressive. I wonder how much they make the difference between live and tape music but it's interesting to see their reactions.

Last week, I performed with an American singer some songs by Barber to very young children and despite the character of the pieces, they remained silent, showed good attention; it was great for us to see how the eye contact with them and live music make them work differently. It's a different feel for them to have music happening directly under their eyes. I find they can work out the relation between the action and the result and the focus it entails!

I'm coming to the conclusion that yes, learning music is the most universal communication system and one of the most effective way of fulfilling oneself. Through projects like "From Barcelona to Mumbai" where teachers and conductors come from abroad and assemble 350 children to sing together and learn fast, and with the teachers of the WAM, children get motivated, they learn so much, they enjoy the experience and want to make more happen socially and internationally! As we do too!

The day after the concert, we went to visit Lonavla, where you go up the mountain to enter a temple. We didn't attempt to wait in the queue but we witnessed dancing time and music time with a funny instrument made out of 8 to 10 keys and one string! It sounds like a funky flute to me but the atmopshere is just great and the people unite through the rhythm and joy.

On the way back, we went past an elephant on the road. I just can't believe I didn't get on it! I would have loved it! Then we went past cows of course, in the city, and sheep and we could see the butchers and the animals dead on the floor right next to the road. The amazing mixture of it all in the city here shows a real contact with the environment which we often lose by tv or internet monopoly. Reminder of reality once you walk a couple of meters around. The tradition is one which includes music and colours, happiness and well-being! While doing some workshops with the kids of Godrej school (1h30 from Mumbai), they welcomed us marvellously with singing and dancing, all dressed with beautiful saris and kurtas!
I also visited an NGO "Sonrisos de Mumbai" (Smiles of Mumbai). Spanish organisation that has and continuously helps schools, teaching and curing diseases such as leprosy. The children of these school just look so happy, it's a real wonder to see the effect that we can have by helping through international languages!

I've had the chance to sit in a teacher's individual class one day here and I thank her for it. I find the most important thing for us is to not give the child time to get bored at all, which often happens unfortunately. They need to learn to think fast and a lot, (I need it too!), in a limited amount of time. And mostly importantly, they need to be taught to relax and sit propperly ALL the time.

I have been given slots to give some piano lessons to teachers here, which I'm deeply happy to do. I will also be able to sit in teachers classes to be able to help if I can and give positive criticism as much as possible and if necessary.


Saturday, 31 July 2010

Notes from Delhiground I

I have now completed my second week of teaching in Delhi and am honestly struggling to find the right words to describe my experiences here so far. My life has been so full in every dimension that it is very difficult to decide where to start writing from. One simply has to experience India for themselves, words are not enough to explain in full some of the unique moments I have had in these past two weeks. Still, let's give it a try...

I am enjoying a busy teaching schedule, working every weekday with students of varying levels and ages. Along with individual lessons I have also been leading music theory-aural training and music history classes for groups. I work with the regular teachers of the school and will soon start holding teacher workshops to respond their specific needs. Asha School has a very welcoming, friendly staff always trying their best to provide me with a comfortable work environment. Regardless of their skills and training, all my students are extremely hard-working, disciplined and enthusiastic.

I am still finding enough time to go sightseeing around Delhi. So far I have seen some amazing examples of Moghul architecture such as Humayun's Tomb, Qutb Minar - a huge complex of mosques, tombs of Moghul royalty, and schools, and Lal Qila - the Red Fort. Along with the other WAMers I had the chance to travel to Agra and see Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort.

Here, all contradictions and oppositions find existence next to each other. There is no option of filtering things out in India and you just have to embrace everything altogether. Smells of unknown herbs, spices and incense sticks and roasted chana (chickpeas), insistent shopkeepers desparate to sell you anything (ranging from peacock feathers to mini chess sets and children's clothing), old-fashioned yellow-green rickshaws, fabulous traditional food with mysterious dressings & gravy, powercuts & traffic jams, Monsoon rain and mosquitoes, cows goats monkeys rats bats...

Firat A.
WAM Delhi 2010

Friday, 30 July 2010

Memoirs of a Music Teacher in Delhi: Chapter 1

There is so much I could choose to talk about in this blog. My days here have been packed. I feel like I should mention everything or nothing at all, since summarising won’t do it justice nor give as vivid an impression as I feel is necessary. Also, writing words has never been my strong point (- I’m a musician not a journalist!) Still, I would very much like to share some of what I’ve done and seen so far, while I sit on my bed struggling with word choice, structure, punctuation, spelling and the digestion of my lunch.

I’ve been placed at two branches of the Bridge Academy of Music although my Wednesdays are spent at MusicTek. I have very much enjoyed teaching there. My students are all extremely eager to learn and almost shockingly respectful. I have had a lot of encouraging and kind feedback which really makes me feel like my efforts are worthwhile! I have a wide range of students, from first ever lessons to diploma level, from 5 to 55 years of age and a few that have special needs or disabilities for example I am teaching a blind man and am finding it hugely interesting adapting my approach to being purely aural and physical. I am also teaching several of the teachers and am hoping to do some workshops with the teachers. Many of the teachers are sitting in on my lessons, though I do wonder if it wouldn’t be more constructive for them if I were to sit in on their lessons instead, as this would allow me to give the constructive feedback on their teaching style from first hand experience of it, as opposed to assumptions I’ve made based on teaching their students. I have noticed that the students who share the same teacher often also share the same strengths and weaknesses. With many of the students I was able to correctly predict (silently in my head) who taught them based on their playing technique, repertoire and general approach to the instrument and lessons.

Of course, I realise the opportunity to learn about Indian music traditions while I’m here, not just teach my own western classical music as if it is the only tradition worth learning. So, I am attending lessons in Hindustani singing. My teacher has an incredible voice. He’s taught me so much about Ragas and has given me very challenging exercises to do. Also, meeting Parimal was also really inspiring. He told us a huge amount about Indian Classical music and performed to us on his sitar for about an hour or maybe more. I don’t know, I totally lost track of time. I found his playing to be very medicinal and moving. We also played to him on his piano. It was a really lovely exchange of music. He says he’ll help me find some table to buy. His wife also cooked us dinner with which I stuffed myself silly, as per usual.

The food here is amazing, if not slightly dangerous as a few of my fellow WAMers have proven. (I have been fairly lucky in not getting a serious Delhi Belly, though I am tempting fate by writing that.) I must say I have eaten about as many lentils as I think is humanly possible and although dal is delicious I am looking forward to having a good old baked potato with cheddar cheese and baked beans, when I get home!

The people that work at the serviced apartment I live in are very friendly and warm, but when the boss is around they pretend like they've never spoken to me. They work so hard and always want to serve me, which actually makes me a little sad. I just want them to chill out a little while I change my own sheets or take my own dishes into the kitchen. I’m not used to so much service. One of them, a 14ish year old, doesn't even get paid, he just gets to live here and sleep on the floor of the reception with two of the other employees.

I’ve loved sightseeing and walking around random places, tombs, ruins, temples, markets, but there is so much more left on my to do list. It isn’t so much the heat, but the humidity, which makes your batteries run out (and ankles itch- I HATE MOSQUITOS!!!) which means you can’t always pack in as much as you’d hoped. there is so much more to see and month won't suffice. I will have to come back again and do more then.

There are many food markets scattered around Delhi as well as handicraft markets. They have so many beautiful things: fabric, silverware, marble, jewelry, shishas, clothes, cutlery and plates, spices, paintings, little instruments, lampshades made of seashells, food, fruit and veg, figurines, henna, shoes, teas, etc. They are amazingly colourful. I haggled a beautiful piece of fabric down from Rp1500 to Rp400. I thought that was quite the success.

I find Delhi to be full of contradictions. It is beautiful and revolting, it’s extremely rich and even more poor, it is multicoloured and a dull orange-brown. It is struggling but also flourishing, it is fast and furious but also calm and slow, honest and mischievous, society is so sectionalised but everyone has a sense of unity and knows their place, it is alienating and comforting.

I have seen:

Men meditating in the middle of motorways

People who will find anything a suitable sleeping place often in the most bizarre contorted positions

Women dressed in loose fitting flowing fabrics doing heavy-duty manual work on construction sites

Children operating heavy machinery

Little monkeys crossing the roads in huge packs carrying their babies or big monkeys crossing the road by swing on electrical wires overhead

Slums next to amazing very wealthy high-rise buildings

Cows casually strolling down the motorway and them literally being the only thing that is not being honked at. By the way the very complex language of “HORN PLEASE” (cars honking) is by far the most widely spoken language in Delhi.

A guy sitting on top of the tarpaulin covering the back of a truck collecting water with it in the monsoon rain and using it to wash himself whilst the truck drives along and slaloms from lane to lane.

6 lanes of traffic in a 4 lane road.

15 odd people rammed inside an auto-rickshaw, entire families on one motorbike and people clinging on to the back and sides of buses

The list goes on and on…

I can’t believe it’s almost to the halfway point of this trip; I’m definitely going to have to plan another India trip.

I’ll hopefully find time to write and update all of you blog readers again soon.



I was not expecting that...

Day-to-day life in India is full of unexpected surprises. Even this morning on my short walk to school a man was playing a small drum and chanting, as a monkey he held on a leash continuously circled him. Then, after passing the regular group of cows relaxing in the middle of the road, I arrived at school only to think, ‘that was quite unusual... maybe I should’ve taken a photo?’ By then I found myself teaching in the classroom and such an oddity became a distant memory in an average action-packed day.

Speaking of unexpected surprises, while at school on Sunday having breakfast Aaron and I found ourselves at a bit of a loose end and wondered what to do with our day (apart from catching up on sleep!). Our tabla guru had invited us to a small event nearby (his mother’s Guru Purnima – a yearly event at which all students pay respect to their guru, each performing as a gesture of appreciation); however Vinnie, one of the drum teachers, arrived and we got chatting about our plans. He had one up on that idea and invited us to the Guru Purnima of Zakir Hussain, one of the world’s greatest tabla players who had made his annual trip back to India (he now resides in San Francisco) to attend the event and perform. JACKPOT! Funnily enough we only discovered who he was last Tuesday when our tabla guru recommended we look him up as he one of the world’s greatest players. Thursday we were watching his online tutorials and performances on youtube. Sunday we saw him live. His performance was mesmerising and exceptional in every way, topping off what was an epic six hour event of student performances (including a group of twenty tabla players performing at once), performances by his brothers and nephew, and a ceremony. The event was also in commemoration of Zakir’s late father, who was his guru and a greatly respected player. As part of the event some of the biggest names in Indian classical music attended and according to the musicians we went with this was a very rare occasion. We certainly felt like we witnessed something very special. A late and well needed late dinner at Leopold’s with the drummers followed. Then home. Sleep. School in the morning.

We’re hoping to attend many more live events in our month remaining here, but more importantly we want to take students from the school along to encourage them to see and experience live music. As part of our initiative to promote active music making in the school and giving students more opportunities to perform, we have introduced solo performing during our music lessons in the International School. Even in our classes on the Kodaly method with the younger year groups we ask individuals to demonstrate and perform each activity relating to the singing/clapping exercises we teach. While shy at first, they’re now eager to have their turn at performing in front of everyone and, making sure they get a round of applause, it gives them a nice little confidence boost. It even seems to help with their attention and behaviour! More significantly, after only a short time here, I’ve already noticed a difference in the pitching/tuning of some of the younger classes, so it is very encouraging.

Speaking of Kodaly, we’ve now got the music school offering classes in aural training, for which we will be running group sessions – we’ve also stressed that anyone can benefit from these, even the drummers! These classes are due to start next week. Furthermore, after some firm convincing from Aaron, the music school are now entering a selection of keyboard students for the piano exams (in replacement of the keyboard syllabus, which they currently only follow). The basic argument was that the piano syllabus would challenge, develop, and engage the students more and that if they could play piano, they could easily pick up the keyboard alongside; the opposite, however, being much more difficult. A natural concern was that the students only have keyboards at home, however it is still possible to learn the piano repertoire on the instrument and address basic issues of technique (I’ve also encouraged students to buy pedals for their keyboards to develop that skill in their playing). We’ve also felt that some of the students are under-challenged by their repertoire and so have offered them alternative, more difficult pieces, which they have accepted enthusiastically. I feel it encourages the student to develop their reading and playing skills at a faster rate as well as improving confidence – the student-teacher relationship being important here, encouraging them by showing you have faith in their abilities!

Finally on the piano-front, we have convinced the piano teacher to offer more one-on-one time for students, offering extra lesson-time during another evening. Currently in the group lesson format they would receive 15 minutes each, however we have stressed that focusing on quality is of importance if they are to get the standards up (and ultimately improving numbers, but we have asked them to hold back on that for now...) and, through more time with each student, that vital student-teacher relationship can be successfully enhanced, bringing a more personal and enjoyable quality to the each individual student’s lesson-time.

Beyond our work at the Garodia School this week we conducted our latest set of workshops, and our first organised through the British Council, at the IIT Kendriya Vidyalay School in Powai – not too far from where we are based in Ghatkopar. We arrived at 8am to meet the teachers and the principal and were told the students were very excited about our workshop we had planned. The school offers lessons in Indian classical music up to 5 standard (age 10), but with only one music teacher, one room and a school of over 2000 students, timetabling lessons are impossible thereafter. Quite a few students learn instruments (drums, guitar, keyboard etc) outside of school and they form an ‘orchestra club’ in school made up of these instruments. So these were the students selected for the workshop and we worked with them in two separate groups of around thirty students for 2.5 hours each; first the seniors aged 14-16 and then the juniors aged 10-13. When we arrived at the music room the students were patiently waiting and, after being formally introduced to the session, were asked to each light part of a Samai traditional oil lamp used here to respect the teacher as a bringer of knowledge to the school. Touched by this, we were also presented with flowers in what was altogether an unexpected surprise at the beginning of the day. The sessions ran very well, following a similar format to our previous workshop day at the Garodia School. We started with some fun warm-ups and activities, which instantly got energy levels up and people excited, then followed by a section on listening and discussing music, encouraging them to respond personally and imaginatively to the music, while also trying to get them to think more carefully about how the music is invoking the feelings. After listening to some of the movements of Saint-Saën’s Carnival of the Animals, we took the rhythmic theme of Fossils, introduced quavers and crotchets, and in groups of four got all the students to come up with their own rhythms, which they performed for each other. This then formed the basis of the creative and performing element of the workshop.

Following from the animals theme, we decided on a tribal/jungle idea for a piece. I took half the group and worked on a simple call and response melody and some vocal effects, while Aaron took the rhythm section, using their rhythms composed, layering them and creating a coda. Fortunately the classroom contained many percussion instruments so we put these to good use and made some noise! After a quick 20 minute rehearsal (we were running low on time) we put the piece together and performed it, using a simple AB structure with a coda. The performance went well in both workshops and the students really enjoyed it, some saying they wished they could do this every day! We had a very positive response from the students – they interacted well and were a pleasure to work with. The hospitality of the school was exceptional and they are keen to have more workshops in the future, possibly again next year???

We’re now penning in our next date for a set of workshops organised by the British Council and are eager to do as much as we can while we’re here. Next Saturday we are hosting more workshops at the Garodia School, so we need to get planning.

And as for that piano tuner, well, that may just have to be an entire blog entry unto itself!

Until next time!


P.S. here’s a snap of Aaron and I jamming – Hindustani style! I’m currently debating whether to keep growing my hair in honour of Zakir... but then there is the heat factor!

(Friday 30th July 2010)

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Bangalore through James Cameron's vision

We are essentially Avatars but instead of travelling light years away to Pandora, we have landed in the energy zapped city of Bangalore. The broken pavements and constant city blackouts brings a stark contrast to the joy of teaching here.

Luckily, we've learned to put our expectations aside and let the city's natural eb and flow of things settle in our minds. The initial shock of the chaotic road drivers was desensitized within a few days. (Motorbikes are like wolf packs and when they sense fear, they will use their turbo on you. For first time visitors to Bangalore, be brave and use your hand to stop traffic if ever in doubt). Open smells are as common as perfume on the streets of Paris. Life is different here.

Like Jake Sully, who was left to figure out his survival through the first night in Pandora, we have figured out our first month in Bangalore. Just to describe our circumstances a little further, one of us is white and the other one of us looks like a Nepalese tour guide. Being musicians, it was easy for the Nepalese-looking Avatar to switch on a local accent which has enabled us to hold our money in our pockets longer when seeking rickshaw rides around the city (Never pay more than Rs. 50 even for a 20 minute ride!). Bangalore, I have learned means “Barter-galore” in English.

At the end of the movie, Jack Sully must convince the natives or Na'vi's to believe in the help he can provide. Unlike Jack, we did not wait for the end of our Bangalore sojourn to start our epic battle in reforming the children's fundamental understanding of music. Our workshops are classroom based, enriched with games, aural listening drills, and the fundaments of music theory. We must adjust to the hybrid language of In-glish: rounder "r" sounds and replacing "t" with "d". Attendance is taken at every workshop and the natives receive homework. Evaluating them means self-evaluation.

We appologize to the other Avatars (in Mumbai and Delhi) for not blogging sooner. We live in a convent room which means ascetic living arrangements: our room is 8x7 and consists of two twin-sized beds, a small night table between the two of us, a metal wardrobe, and a fan that hangs above the room. No living room, kitchen, courtyard, or corridor but we are lucky to have a western toilet and shower. We have made a small network of host families who have generously welcomed us to their homes. The Navi'is teach us about their way of life, with an emphasis on music and cuisine.

The night is young but we must remain loyal to our 9pm curfew.

Over and Out,


'50 Rupees? No Way Hosay!'

Greetings from a very VERY rainy Bangalore!

Me and Sylvia are now nearly half way through our stay here and we can safely say we have been faced with a few challenges! The accomodation in the beginning was not as we expected and 3 changes of room later here we are! As the title suggests we (well actually just Sylvia) have mastered the art of haggling! We have made some killing deals in our time here! Staying in a convent has been interesting to say the least. The nuns are lovely and look after us very well but as they never leave the convent it was difficult to find anyone to show us around. They also like to tell us horror stories about the area and beg us not to stay out after 6! Everyone here is very friendly. The other day one of my students mother took us on a 10 hour tour around Bangalore which involved elephant rides, palaces and one very patient rickshaw driver. Another family keep inviting us round to stay in their lovely house and making us feel more than at home. We are also very lucky as we can do lots of practice (if we wake up on time!) which i think is starting inspire some of the teachers and students! So everything is going well now and we have really started to work on the key areas we think the children are lacking in.
One of the practice rooms where only only two of the pianos are tuned to A=440

The first week was mad. As Sylvia has accurately described, Bangalore has taken alot of getting used to. Infact the initial journey from the airport was probably one of the most scariest experiences of my life. I thought we were dead. But nonetheless we have lived to tell the tale! After a strike, many school exams and busy teachers we finally managed to get something organised in the way of workshops. The main problem we have faced is lack of enthusiasum from the schools. When we arrived no one really knew what they wanted us to do and why we are here. Everytime we tried to organise something, everyone was busy. I think the schools here are very different from the other schools that people have been posted in. As far as I can tell the kids just turn up as and when they can and then the teacher rotates round them showing them what to do and the students copying. This means that many of the children cannot read music and their understanding of the printed score is very limited. This is actually the biggest problem facing us. Trying to get the students to actually read the score. Most the time they either copy or just guess. A great example of this was in one rhythm workshop where we were playing a game that involved them clapping rhythms off the board and when we counted them in they all clapped whilst looking at us! Obviously it was a complete shambles and took about 5 attempts before they all actually read it off the board!

The students often travel a very great distance to come for lessons and so cannot make it in more often that once a week. This posed a difficulty in itself. After waiting for a couple of weeks for the teachers to sort something out we decided just to post up a list of workshop dates and wait and see who turned up. We expect about 5- 10 as the room we have to teach in is tiny. So when on the first day over 30 kids turned up we were a little overwhelmed. However now, 5 workshops later we feel that the students are really starting to understand the fundamentals of score reading and rhythm. So plenty of games and laughs later all the students can now read music to an acceptable level. Phew... So next week we can actually get on to teaching them what actually matters. The playing level of the teachers themseleves is not very high here. Infact I gave a teacher a lesson last week who was studying for her grade 5 and another who skipped from grade 1 straight to grade 5 and is now teaching grade 5 students which is scary. Luckily he doesnt teach in any of our schools!
Clapping game in the Rhythm workshop

Oh also if this isnt enough we are also doing violin workshops. And after not picking up a violin in about 5 years it could be a laugh!

Teachers workshops are not going down too well here. No one is up for it. But thats not something that is going to stop us two! We have become like mean, lean workshop machines. There are also lots of concerts in the pipeline and hopefully workshops in state schools also. We are still trying our best to make some new contacts but the pace of life here is very slow and it can take weeks just to get one piece of information out of someone but we are really starting to feel like we are moving forward.

Hope the other WAMers are having fun and are getting better weather than us in the south!

From a very cold and soaked Rosie

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A summary of my first 3 weeks in Delhi so far...

Hi all,

This is Gaspar signing in from Delhi. 3 weeks into my WAM experience, and I’m alive and well! (sort of – I was very sick on monday for the first time)

I was assigned to “Theme Music Institute”, and they were very organised in preparing for my arrival. My name and CV were posted on the walls, I was given a schedule with the name, age, and proficiency of each student, and I was swiftly put to work.

The school has loads of students, which are taught in group classes of about 6 at a time. My pupils pay for a weekly 45min individual lesson with me on top of the regular class. 3 teachers so far have also signed up, and I will be running at least 4 teacher workshops (the first one tomorrow). About half my students are above grade 5, including around five taking grade 8 and a couple of diploma students. They’re all lovely, and I really enjoy the fact that they cover the full spectrum in terms of personality, motivation, work rate, pianistic strength/weakness. I feel like I benefit just as much from teaching them as they do from me. My working week is 3:15 to 7pm weekdays, with a long Saturday (10-7) and free on Sunday. So far that’s in the regions of 27 students – by the end of my first week, I was desperate to stop meeting new faces and start getting on to lessons no.2!

I’ve been managing to get quite a lot of personal practice done, ranging between 2-4 hours most days. The school is open for administrative purposes from 10am, and there isn’t any teaching before 3 so I can just turn up as early as I like. My summer project is to memorise the Tchaikovsky concerto, and progress so far is good! It’s also quite a good way of inspiring my ‘lazier’ pupils – when I show them all 67 virtuoso-filled pages of the score and tell them I have to memorise them, getting to the end of their 2 page-long piece with music doesn’t feel so hard anymore…

The school is quite far from home (8 miles), and coming back in rush hour by auto-rikshaw takes about an hour. It is very hard to find a willing driver in the evening, as many start to avoid long journeys at that time, or demand double the normal price and move on when I try to bargain. However when there is heavy rain and storms, the combination with rush hour turns very nasty indeed. One amusing journey involved 3 hours of standstill traffic, crazy driving, a crash and getting drenched by overtaking cars.

I teach two days a week in another branch in Gurgaon, which is where Lucie, Ffion, Helen and Ed are staying. That involves travelling on the ‘Metro’, which is high above the ground, similar to London’s DLR route through Canary Wharf.

I met the director and the head of international sales of Kawai pianos last week; they spent an afternoon at my school as part of an India sales tour, because Theme has many branches including a dedicated piano/keyboard store and buys exclusively Kawai instruments.

In our first week here the weather was pretty hot, but I was expecting it to be a lot worse so by comparison I’ve found it perfectly bearable (mind you, I have an air-conditioned bedroom and teaching room). Since then the monsoon has arrived and the weather is quite pleasant now. In many ways it reminds me of England – the sky is often a vague carpet of light grey and it rains every now and again (only the rain and resulting puddles are really warm which is a little freaky). I do not find Delhi a beautiful city at all, apart from a few nice tourist sites. I really feel in need of some countryside, and hopefully that may come soon. Otherwise, really enjoying the experience so far, the teaching, and my fellow WAMers’ company.

Till the next entry,


Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Workshop No. 1

And so it got me... yes, I couldn’t really have said I’ve been India without the experience of something going wrong with my stomach! It’s practically a must on all the tourist guides, no?

Well I’m glad to say I’m rid of it now – but on Saturday both Ryan and I had to suppress ill-feelings and, stomachs unstable to say the least, conduct our first workshop of trip; the topic of this blog post.

This workshop was planned before we even got here; we were told about it on the first day (“We’ve got a date for a workshop that you’ll take. You plan what you’re going to do with that.” “OK.”) So we got planning, it was only later that Hyacinth (one of the co-ordinators of the music school) told us that she was expecting over one hundred children in both the morning and afternoon workshops.

We racked our brains, thinking, what we could do with 100 kids. Could we even control that many children in one session, let alone engage them for a whole 3 hours?! We picked our title: “Discover Music”, and our aim: to cover the main aspects of music (listening/performing/creating) whilst introducing them to some key western music through listening.

As the workshop got closer, we got various and rather varying estimates of how many people would actually attend... “30 children”, “200 people” (we were a little taken aback when we heard that one), “50, children and parents”. In the end (perhaps due to the fact it was raining) it was probably around 50 people (both children and adults) for the morning workshop and about 30 (mainly adults) in the afternoon. We were pleased that we were not overloaded with people, and the numbers enabled us to have a decent level of discussion and interaction throughout the workshop, something that we were worried would be missing if over a hundred turned up.

We started in typical Indian fashion: late. The microphones were still being set up, people were still arriving, and we were still trying to settle our stomachs from churning. A few simple warm up games to wake people up a little; clapping, shaking, beats etc. – and then on to the listening. Now, we were expecting children, and so we had written down in our little plan to play some dance music and we’d ask the children to dance to it (and talk about why it made us dance later). But trying to get a whole room of people including adults and teenagers, well you’ve just got to make a fool out of yourself. So we did that. They danced a little bit. A very little bit.

Ok, so the dancing wasn’t for them (although it has proved popular in some of classroom activities in the school – but more on that at a later date), so we sat down and talked about the music - what it made us feel like, what we imagined, why it made us want to dance (or perhaps, why it might!), did we like it, what instruments we could hear. There were some interesting discussions, and a lot of them even said they liked Webern’s “5 Pieces for Orchestra” when we played that to them – a nice surprise, given I’m used to people’s reactions at home!

On to the performing. We wanted to give some of the children from the music school the opportunity to perform as it seems they don’t often get the chance to in front of a larger audience. So we had performances on the guitar, keyboard and violin. We talked about nerves, how the audience is there for you not against you, and about getting emotions and ideas across to the audience and how that’s really the key to performing – not the notes. Ryan gave a performance of a contemporary piece “In Memoriam of the people of Chernobyl” by Larysa Kuzmenko to address the idea that when we say ‘emotive’ we don’t always mean just gushing with longing and sadness (as ‘emotive’ sometimes has connotations of) but that it can the whole range of emotions that we can feel.

We then also wanted to push the idea of ensembles, and so during the week before the workshop we had invited Laksmi, a guitarist and singer, to form a little band. She had written her own song – and hopefully seeing a band play together before them could have showed a lot of the audience how easy it is to get together and just play music together. And for Laksmi, this was a great ‘throw in the deep end’ of performing, which she really enjoyed – and I’ve heard rumour that she and her friend are to try and form their own band now.

We wanted the workshop to be an active one, and so we thought that what better way to explore the creative side of music by actually creating a piece all together! Ryan and I had planned out a few things before the workshop so that we knew that it would actually work: we chose our inspiration – Rain (of which there is currently a lot of in India) – and we composed a simple theme to work with (keeping it pentatonic for ease of singing en masse). We split into two groups, Ryan took the rhythmic group and I took the melody/vocal group and, based on our plans, we created a ‘rain song’ in ternary form ‘calm-storm-calm’. The folk got into it! The singers offered their own ideas; we had chants in the storm, Indian vocal improvising and the drummers came up with their own rhythms for the storm to keep it pace-y, whilst the rest of the rhythm group used body percussion and created sound effects in the outer sections.

It was a nice finale to the workshop, leaving on a high and incorporating everything that we had touched on beforehand. And so, without further ado, I give you the “Rain Song” ...

We had a lot of people stay back, asking us various questions about music, asking about what we do in the UK and asking for tips on their playing. This is the first of lots of planned workshops - and we're currently organising teacher workshops with Anthony Gomes and state schoolworkshops with the British Council. Also, a trip to Pune is also in the pipeline!

Till next time,



(P.S - Oh, and we must tell you about the piano tuner... the only(ish) piano tuner in India! But that'll have to wait for another time.)

(Wednesday 21 July 2010)