Saturday, 25 July 2009
Thursday, 23 July 2009
Last weekend Hannah, Al and I made a wonderful visit to Agra, seeing the Agra Fort, and of course the Taj Mahal. Getting up at 5am we stood on the rooftop of our hotel as the pale dawn light illuminated the Taj Mahal in the distance. (I'll try not to make this blog TOO corny...) When we arrived at the Taj by 6am there were relatively few visitors and the buildings were simply breathtakingly beautiful.
We spent the afternoon at the massive Red Fort, the red sandstone military stronghold converted into a white marble palace by Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal) - a palace in which he would later be imprisoned by his son. From the massive ramparts the Taj Mahal is visible on the other side of the city. I could write about this all day, but it's all been said before! It's just a wonderful, wonderful place.
We had dinner on the roof of a hotel at the Taj Mahal's south gate, watching the sun set on the glistening marble... ... ...
As we returned to our hotel we found ourselves caught up in an enormous Hindu water festival called Bam Bam Bullai, in which thousands upon thousands of boys and young men surge through the streets, barefoot, completing a complete circuit of Agra while dancing to Indian pop pumping from speakers at the every street corner and chucking water around. Being westerners we were mobbed every time we stepped into the street. We couldn't move without a throbbing crowd pressing against us in seconds, all wanting to shake our hands or have us take their picture. Eventually they decided I was too dry so I was promptly drenched by a cheering crowd. One of the main culprets immediately came at hugged me, as if to say "no hard feelings". There weren't any! One guy, soaked with water and sweat, put his arms around me and shouted above the crowd, "Your God, my God - same!" It was a fantastic experience to be welcomed into their festival so willingly.
As we left the hotel for our train at 5am the following morning the thousands were reduced to hundreds, some still walking (or limping), others asleep in the road.
On more piano related matters, I've found the opposite from Ruiari: the group classes are stifling as all students have different levels of ability and it's difficult to work on a level which is productive for all. Very impressed that Ruairi is making a success of it though (going to pinch some of your techniques...)
Solo lessons I'm finding much more rewarding, and it's great to see some kids actually smiling in lessons - something which I feel they're not used to. One lesson recently was particularly satisfying. A girl played me her exam piece and was clearly unexcited by it, understandably - it's a very boring piece. However, underneath I could see she was quite musical and just needed and opportunity to enjoy some music in order for her natural musicality to come out. "So do you like this piece?" I asked. "No." They're usually not so honest. "How about this one?" and I played her a short, punchy and fun piece by CPE Bach which was well within her capabilities. "Much better!" After 45 mins of slow methodical practice, one minute before the end of the lesson she played it for the first time all the way through with both hands, turned round and gave me a high five. It wasn't a very technical lesson, but seeing her transformed for boredom to genuine enjoyment and satisfaction was immensely fulfilling. I'm feel I'm making similar progress with other pupils.
Sunday, 19 July 2009
First of all, apologies on behalf of myself and Olivia for not 'blogging it' sooner. The computers we normally use have both experienced hard-drive failures and there are NO internet cafes in Thevara!!!! Anyway, 60 km away from Thevara, I'm sat in a small interenet cafe sweating like mad trying my best to touch-type, for the first time I might add, to finish this as quickly as I can so I can get out and breathe!!!! So . . . I'll just stop rambling and get on with it . . .
As well settling into our laid back, relaxed, possibly even chilled morning routines (just for you Ruairi (",) we have also settled into 5 hours of teaching for 6 days a week. Monday is guitar for me followed by four days of piano and finally the three vocal ensembles on Saturday.
One of the major battles I have had to overcome from the start is the sheer enthusiasm of the owner of the school. She firmly believes that if you put your passion into singing, it's more than enough. It is an absolutely beautiful way of thinking that I don't condone at all but given the level of technical skill she wants from her students and they want for themselves it is rather difficult so . . . How do I introduce technical exercises but make them 'passionate'?
I use a diversion tactic not dissimilar to those used in card tricks. I disguise the technical aspect e.g. moving the larynx, by talking of how we may want to put more or less 'emotion' (or tone) into a note. As for sliding up and down scales while altering the larynx, I had to talk about this in terms of 'intensity' and 'emotional climax'. It sounds drastic but it seriously was my only option at this point. ITseems to work a treat and . . . now that she is sufficiently happy that I am working on 'emotion', I drop the bomb and reveal it is in fact a technical exercise and very good for the voice. She loves this idea! Hooray! I then try to push it further by saying that to some extent, we have to detatch ourselves from putting all our emotions into music when practicing and act as a sort of 'technician' so that in performance when certain feelings ARE to be conveyed to the audience we have the technical ability and fallback to do so. She is not so keen on this idea and replies with 'if there is no emotion in practice then the song is dead'. I leave it there, but I am sure that with a few more weeks our viewpoints will meet somewhere in the middle.
The students here have been learning guitar, on average, for about 1 year. However, I discovered that most of them couldn't read music OR even Tablature. They were set on just learning the chords to deifferent songs.
On talking to most of the older pupils I realised that they were in fact frustrated as they LOVED guitar songs but just thought the sound was a bit DULL when THEY played them. Hmm . . . Not sure what they meant. By fluke I was playing along with one of the students and I started inprovising over the top and the student asked me how to do it. On showing him how I use a scale to improvise he wasn't that impressed. I took another angle. I showed him how I used chords AND my knowledge of scales to create added/suspended notes, though for now I just call them EXTRA notes, he loved it. This is what the guitarists wanted! They wanted to learn HOW to find the chords and HOW to change them to make them more interesting. I focused on this aspect in the next week and the change in attentiveness and eagerness of the pupils was dramatic. I am NOT going to try and teach them notation in 7 weeks as I don't feel I will be using my time effectively. As they have been taught by ear and most of them can recognise mistakes/added notes, even if they don't know what they are, I hope to, in the remaining 6 weeks, give the pupils an undersanding of HOW to find Chords and scales and move it around the guitar to get different colours and possibilities, but also HOW to carry on discovering the guitar after I've gone. My BIGGEST challenge in this deparment I feel.
PIANO to follow soon, unfortunately my connection is about to an end and I have some elephants to visit. Goodbyyyyyyyyyyye for now,
Friday, 17 July 2009
Wow, what a week! With the "settling in" process long behind us, Theo V and I are living the life in central Delhi. We've both repeatedly talked about how much better it is in Delhi than in England. Once you get over the hot weather, you realise that the city's bustling streets and vibrant atmosphere are all part of the life here. And to be honest, as Britons we're always complaining about the weather anyway, so it wouldn't really matter what conditions we were in. And it's definitely better than cold rain (the average British climate). Furthermore, if you walk down any suburban street (as I do every day on my way back from work) then you'll find that the ubiquitous ice-cream vendors more than make up for the hotness. Finally, since my last blog I've become much less perturbed by the conniving rickshaw drivers - I've learned how to say "are you crazy?!" in Hindi, so my bargaining power has been greatly enhanced for situations in which they attempt to charge me extortionate western prices. It was initially embarrassing, however, when I got this phrase mixed up with "can you take me to...". All I can say is that the rickshaw driver certainly didn't think that HE was the crazy one in that particular situation.
Theo and I are based in Chittaranjan Park in South Delhi, a beautiful and lively area with many local markets and public parks. We've been scouting out the area over the last week and we're now much better at finding our way around. Theo was delighted to find a Costa Coffee the other day in a nearby market. We also found a place where we can play pool. It's these little things which are almost certainly going to be keeping us sane if we ever suffer from western withdrawal symptoms.
At the same time though, we are trying to immerse ourselves in Indian culture as much as we can. Over the weekend we both learned how to make genuine Indian food - we started by learning how to cook a Matah Paneer (a classic Indian dish made with cottage cheese) and then supplemented this by whipping up some chippati and puri - pancake-like rolls which accompany the main curry. Pressure was on though, because we were at my friend Nakul's house once again, and some of his extended (and very hungry) family were watching and waiting with anticipation. I'm happy to say though that there are no reports of food poisoning, so I call that a success. Theo was particularly good at making his chippati nice and round with the rolling pin (the "authentic" look), and I was good at...well, I think I was more of an all-rounder...
But of course the music lessons should take priority in such blogs, as they are the very thing we're here for. I don't know if I mentioned this before, but it's my first time teaching piano ever. The very first day when I arrived at the school, I was expecting to be shown around and talked to about how to teach etc. Instead, I started watching one of the lessons and the teacher decided to get me to start doing the teaching instead. Talk about improvisation. But since then I've definitely found my rhythm (excuse the pun), and I've started to angle my teaching towards expanding the student's understanding of what music actually is (without trying to be patronizing of course).
I've found it very interesting that the students are so obedient. They will do more or less any (musical) thing you ask of them. This perhaps explains why they are used to following instructions without actually thinking about what they're achieving or what the point of the particular exercise is. For this reason I've found the group lessons I teach to be the most enjoyable. After starting the lesson with a healthy mixture of aural games (including rhythm, harmony, melody and improvisation "tests"), I then try to initiate a kind of group discussion in which the students are forced (by me) to talk about the pieces that they are playing. Are their pieces just a bunch of notes in the right order? Or do they have a greater significance than that? Do the pieces actually reflect certain characters and styles, and do they evoke particular emotions? Well, suffice to say that the first time I tried talking to some students about this in a lesson I got five dumbfounded faces staring back at me. But that might just have been because of my obscenely bright ginger hair.
Since that first attempt, however, I've managed to get hold of and ipod dock, and in all the group lessons I am now playing excerpts of various piano masterpieces to them. This healthy diet of Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky et al seems to be working quite well - I've managed to get them to talk a lot more in lessons now, and most importantly to think about the music they're making. Hopefully this will encourage them to enjoy what they're doing at lot more, and their pieces will start to sound genuinely musical and interesting (as opposed to lots of notes which have been passively learned and then regurgitated). And it will certainly boost their marks in an exam.
So I would say that I've now established my goal for my time here in Delhi as a teacher. If I can get them to enjoy themselves more, to the extent that what they're playing starts to sound genuinely musical rather than just correct, then mission accomplished. If not though, at least I've been to get away with listening to Chopin every lesson. A win-win situation for me!
Finally, I'm very excited to learn about the potential performance opportunities for some of the students at the Ravi Shankar centre. This will be a fantastic opportunity for them, and a great incentive for them to practice! I look forward to discussing plans with Hannah Theo and Al tonight over some drinks after our jazz guitar concert (more culture there, though not necessarily Indian).
That's all for now, all my love to everyone back home in England.
Thursday, 16 July 2009
Friday, 10 July 2009
So now we have been in
The children listen very well and often play from memory. To balance this I hope to improve their reading ability, essential for learning a wider range of music. I also want to focus on posture, as many of the children sit too close to the keyboard, with their wrists either too high or too low. Many of them play with collapsing fingers, so I want to help them build up strength in this area to enable greater control of tone. It´s important to make them realise how certain hand/finger positions and movements affect the sound, and I also want to achieve greater economy of movement, enabling faster playing by not lifting fingers too high. I have been showing them plenty of ideas for practicing techniques which will help them to build up little by little when learning a piece, as seeing so many notes for the first time can be quite daunting. I even found myself giving singing and violin lessons after having previously studied viola, so it seems I will be very busy here!
The past two days I have walked along one of the main roads in Gurgaon to get to my school (though I was deterred by the first heavy monsoon rains this morning!). However, I wasn´t prepared for the amount of staring I would have to endure, being the only Westerner for a long distance. But unlike in the
Since being here I have also enjoyed plenty of delicious food, including my favourite channa masala (spicy chickpeas). In particular the mangoes are much sweeter than the overpriced supermarket variety at home, and this is complemented by a whole range of mango-flavoured items, including mango lassi (a sweet milky drink), mango icecream and even mango cornflakes!
Like most of us I will also be working on Saturday, but hope to take a trip into
PS On an interesting note, I have been informed on more than one occasion that my surname is apparently Punjabi (despite having no known Indian relations!). The officer at
Wednesday, 8 July 2009
-yoga at 7 in the morning, followed by:
-a swim. in speedos.
I imagine that during their hectic schedule Neil and Olivia find it very difficult to fit in their ayurvedic massages. Tough life. I wouldn't mind taking everything off so that someone could give me a massage.
So, while those two are busy being at peace with the world down in the south, Theo V and I spend our days haggling with rickshaw drivers in 40+ temperatures, getting lost in central Delhi with same rickshaw drivers, and then getting stuck in mile-long traffic jams on the way back home. In the same 40+ temperatures.
But that all sounds a tiny bit too bitter, and it is, because we're in fact having a pretty good time. We're getting treated really well by everyone here. This is especially the case at our music schools. Last night one of my student's parents told me that the teacher has a highly valued place in society. In fact (well, according to her at least), the teacher is just one step down from God - so effectively we are gurus. I have to say I really don't mind having this title attached to me. It 's good for the self-esteem.
It possibly also explains why I am followed around by people in the school offering me drinks and snacks all the time. Also, at our guest house where we're staying, there is a young man called Balo (pronounced "Pablo") who doesn't speak a word of english (not strictly true - he can say "yes" and "football"), who seems to want to do everything and anything for us. This even involves cleaning my bedroom and bed in the morning while I am still sleeping (or trying to!).
The music lessons have been challenging but enjoyable so far. For someone who hasn't really had any experience of teaching, I've definitely been thrown in at the deep end (NB this is a metaphorical deep end - not the real deep end that Neil and Olivia dive into every morning!). I'm based at the Theme Music School in Delhi, which is the school that Anjli runs. I teach a mixture of solo and group lessons. In the solo lessons I get to teach in a private room with an actual piano, but for the group lessons I'm in a "piano booth" which has 6 clavinovas and one "master" keyboard. Group lessons are definitely more challenging because I have to keep talking all time (more difficult than you'd think - I'm good at talking but not when what I say has to be relevant or acutally mean something!). And it's very hard to try to convey information to 6 different people at once (I now have much more sympathy for teachers and lecturers!). I had some pre-grade 1 pupils yesterday which was my most challenging lesson yet - I was teaching them to play different notes on the keyboard, and also rhythm things like what quavers, crotchets and minims are. But it's actually really difficult because they were all about 8 years old and getting them to sit still and pay attention for a whole hour is definitely easier said than done. It was really embarrassing when I told them all to play a middle C at the same time, and then I hit a B by mistake. What a joke. The pupils aren't the only ones who need the lessons...
Finally, I've become good friends with one of my pupils called Nakul. He lives in the same area of Delhi as our guest house. Yesterday he invited us to play football in his local park, an offer which Theo V and I both took up. This was at 8pm, but we both forgot that it doesn't really ever get cooler in Delhi, so after 15 minutes we were completely drenched in sweat - and exhausted. However I'm pleased to say that I was on the winning team. After this he invited us back to his home (which was nice to say the least) and we had freezing cold mango juice. This sounds trivial, but it was so utterly good after having lost half our body weight through sweat! Then we met his mum, who was absolutely delighted that her son had made some english friends - to the extent that she said we could come over any time we wanted. Given that he's got a playstation 3, a piano and food on demand (literally), we've decided to take this offer up - we're going round to his house again on friday for a meal...and probably for playstation too.
So all I need now is a swimming pool and a good massage, and I'll be completely resistant to any more attacks of jealousy. I think I'll skip the yoga though - if I tried to do that outside at 7 in the morning I'd get run over by a rickshaw.
Tuesday, 7 July 2009
I begin to splurge about the techniques that may improve posture and the particular aural tests I had prepared, I talk about extending repetoire and developing composition skills, listening to this Beethoven Symphony or that Liget Etude and nature of listening to music as both an expression of the artist and as a product of society. John leans back in his chair, after watching so many words being squashed into such a little time, he looks exhausted. In silence he reflects upon my ramble with more consideration than is due and then he waves it aside, "You'll feel your way". He makes it clear to me in far fewer breaths that his only aim is for his pupils to love music and have it as a companion for life. He is not interested in them passing grades as much them playing with passion and capturing the spirit of the piece. I nod in agreement: that's what I meant. He then goes on to teach me a jazz arangement of twinkle twinkle little star.
The first day showed more talent and variety than I had been led to expect. There were both naturally talented grade-oners who could sing back any melody I played to them and others like a boy called Mayank who played the first two movements of a Haydn Sonata with both intelligence and flair. Then there are those who hope for lessons in the area closest to my heart, composition. In the first day I set two assignments, the first to a young girl, Uensoung, who will write a piece inspired by a T.V show she watches (The Princess Diaries) and the second to a teacher at the school, Nisako, who will write a short Fantasy on the first bar of a Haydn piano Sonata in no more than 40 notes. However, those who I feel could benefit most from the lessons were those least likely to want my help: a mix of children who were fixated on pasing their grade 8 before they were 14.
The path ahead for each of these students will be different, but with each student I hope that I can help them develop a relationship with music that will be rewarding and long lasting. All that I can hope is that I continue to feel my way.
Sunday, 5 July 2009
As everyone knows, most of us will be starting our experiences as music teachers in India today. Anticipation and excitement are the two most relevant words for this, but as the first few days of our time here have elapsed, we're getting gradually more 'used' to how things are done here. Here's a final summing up of our Delhi experience before we get started with the teaching.
Theo FS's description of the road system is certainly the best way to depict how it functions. But it certainly is right to say that the roads are functional...somehow! I've noticed that there is in fact a hierarchy which exists on the roads (as in other aspects of India too perhaps?): the better your vehicle is, the more priority and weight you have in the bustle and hustle of traffic. Whilst in Anjli's rather nice car the other day, I felt a remarkable upgrade in the way you're treated by other cars. Normally I get around in rickshaws (which admittedly can weave in and out of traffic quite nicely), so the difference was huge! The vehicle's horn also has a completely different usage in Delhi to the UK. Where in the UK the horn is used as an expression of disgruntlement, in Delhi it simply notifies other road users (including pedestrians) that you're about the drive past them, whether or not they get out of the way! Finally, I would say that the general rule on the roads is to drive on the left, but this really is only a very general rule! Our taxi driver yesterday decided to just start driving on the pavement during rush hour traffic. It seems very logical in fact - what a great way to get around (that is if you're not concerned about pedestrians!).
The haggling is without doubt an intrinsic part of the culture here. This holds at least for foreigners. We spent the first couple of days being very exploited by taxi and rickshaw drivers who knew we obviously weren't acquainted with what the normal price level was (we didn't help ourselves by saying things like "oh we've only been here for two days!" when they asked us). However i would say that we're definitely picking it up a bit now. I must blow my own trumpet by mentioning my haggling yesterday, in which we managed to negotiate a very equitable price for 5 people in front of lots of excited taxi drivers who were intially trying to charge extortionate prices.
The heat has probably been my greatest challenge yet. Yesterday, myself, Theo V and Theo FS, Hannah and Al were wondering around the India Gate (in central New Delhi) for over 3 hours. This challanged was augmented by the constant attention we received from various merchants trying to sell us the latest commodities. Stress and intense heat are a potent combination! We managed to relieve ourselves slightly by taking a trip on the lake in pedalos and rowing boats though. Theo FS exhibited his impressive adventure-rowing skills by sitting at the front of the boat with his feet dangling in the water whilst rowing with just one ore! It reminded me of something from a Tom Sawyer novel. The same Theo also managed to attract a large amont of attention by purchasing a henna tattoo, to the amusement of the locals who were reminding him that hennas were generally designed for females. The young girl who received a lucrative reward for doing the henna didn't seem to mind this at all though!
I'll try to start uploading photos of these great experiences as soon as I work out how to use computers properly.
Finally, food has been our staple diet, and I wonder how spice-averse Neil is getting on down in Kerala...
That's for now, next time I will be back with news of our first teaching experiences.
Saturday, 4 July 2009
After the British Council meeting, kindly hosted by Neil's latest heartthrob, Anubha, we had to part with the rest of the group. Tears shed by all.
Three hours and one very bumpy flight later we were met by the sizzling Simi at Kochi airport. Simi is the director of the Amadeus School of Music founded in 1998, the first Western classical music school in Kochi. We were shown to our enormous flat and given lots of tea and biscuits whilst chatting into the early hours of the morning.
Teaching began at 9:30am and we were thrown in at the deep end helping squirt after sprog with their piano pieces. Neil took the school's first ever vocal training classes in the hope to form a choir at the school. The Lion King, a bit of High School Musical and Abba (for the older ladies!) were used to help bring the students out of their shell in a style rather atypical compared to most Indian teachers. Anthony, the piano teacher at the school, and I taught around twelve students in just three hours with a VERY relaxed rotation system moving the children between electronic keyboards (WITHOUT headphones in the same room!) and two upright pianos (in separate "booths"). Neil and I were both AMAZED by the children's obedience. When we told them to go and learn a particular passages they actually would(!) and when we were told to take a five minute break they sat diligently and learnt their lyrics as opposed to what might happen in England, e.g. trying to sneak off for a fag.
Yesterday, after a very generous and informative introduction by the British Council, we parted company with Neil and Olivia, who are now in Kerala, and spent the afternoon in New Delhi. We were specularly ripped off by our first Rickshaw driver, and went to a "concert" in memory of Ali Akbar Khan, which unfortunately turned into a series of heartfelt speeches in Hindi, while a TV camera zoomed in on us. The small amount of music we did see, in particular part of a film from one of Ali Akbar Khan´s concerts, was a fascinating insight into Indian classical music which we hope to be experiencing more over the next couple of months.
This evening we´ve been specially invited to a Quawwali concert at the British Council...
Thursday, 2 July 2009
Arrival in Delhi was successful!
Well, after having been horrifically separated from our fellow WAM-ers right at the beginning of our trip, Theo V and I (Ruairi) got settled in to our lovely room at the guest house, which most crucially is air-conditioned. Had this not been the case we might well be dead by now due to the sauna-like temperatures outside. On the downside however, the TV does not subscribe to the channel showing the Wimbledon matches, meaning much aggravation on my part.
Anyway, we're all due to meet tomorrow at the British embassy before we finally do depart for good (said with pangs of melancholy!). That's going to be great fun and I'm planning to drag everyone out for a meal before we go (time permitting obviously).
Finally, it's probably worth mentioning that Theo and I have absolutely no idea where we are in relation to the rest of Delhi! We've got ourselves kitted out with local phones, so we're all "wired up", but neverthless haven't managed to gain any sense of orientation...yet. I'm sure this is due to change as we become more acclimatised.
In the meanwhile, we're really enjoying the exotic smells and bustling streets, but having less fun with the more horrible smells and lack of pavements...
That's about it for now,
See you soon!
Ruairi (and Theo)