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.