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)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Gurgaon: the home of call centres and buzzing music schools

Hey fellow WAMers and blog readers!

Routine was beginning to kick in here in Gurgaon until I decided to slip and fall over this morning. After a CT scan and five hours on a drip I am finally home and housebound for two days, and thought "hey the perfect time to kick start my blog entries'. So here goes . . .

My musical experiences here so far are just the tip of the iceberg so before I dive into that I thought I'd mention some of the other experiences I have had.
Firstly - the fantastic group of musicians I have met through WAM - we are a really united bunch, working together, socialising together, teaching each other, and feeding off each other's enthusiasm.
Secondly - the rain (although not that often) is amazing, and quite liberating, as Ed and I discovered whilst deciding to go for a walk in the monsoon (pictures to come). The heat, however, is quite unbearable.
Thirdly - a mix of all the following: stray animals everywhere, crazy road traffic, noisy horns, conning rickshaw drivers, endless bombardment of people wanting to take our photograph, amazing curry, having someone to do everything for you and so on . . . .

So on to the music side of things . . .

I'm working alongside Helen and Ffion at the Music Studio which has two different buildings. the children range from age 4 to approximately 15, grades 0 - 5 although the majority are young and beginners.
The children are great fun and very enthusiastic but suffer from similar problems: bad posture and hand position, lack of phrasing and use of correct articulation and a general lack of understanding about the pieces they are playing. Sight reading is poor; when aural skills are mentioned they look at me like I have three heads, and technique has not been addressed.
I have begun focusing on all of the above, giving each child new and challenging repertoire from the pile of books I brought with me. Ensemble work is yet to be developed as there is so much for each child to focus on individually I think these problems should be addressed before I try to introduce duets.
A concert has been arranged for August 21st and so each child is working towards this, although not everyone will have the opportunity to perform.
I would very much like to work with the teachers, but this has not been a possibility as of yet. This is vital for the continuation of our work so I hope it can be arranged ASAP.

The children spend a lot of time singing and having general musical appreciation classes with Ffion, as I am sure she will mention in her blog.

As for workshops with the British Council, plans are underway. They do not however quite address our aims of working with totally underprivaleged children with no musical background and so we are thinking of other ways to access these children. ..

Timetables and plans are finally falling into place and once everything fully settles I will have more exciting tales to tell.

Right now, even though I am NOT appreciating the slippery ceramic floors I am appreciating this fantastic experience and hope the next 6 weeks are as good as the last 3!

Until the next time!


Delhi Jazz Cats

Greetings from Ed in Delhi!

Well, the last three weeks or so have been a colourful and intense introduction to this city and its music. I am based at the Performers' Collective school in Gurgaon and am also working with the British Council., The school director, Jack, has been keeping me busy not only with the teaching, but also getting me out learning, playing and meeting musicians in the Delhi music scene which has been a fantastic and valuable experience.

First I'll talk about the teaching... I teach in the afternoons at the school and have had lots of fun, and have learnt alot during my time here. Jack and I have a lot of shared beliefs in terms of music education, which has helped me blend with the school in a really good way- for example, parents of the students are all EXTREMELY keen for their children to take grade exams to earn another qualification on their way to further education. I have always found the music examination system a slightly unnatural way to introduce music to people, so I have tried to gently push away the expectation that each lesson must revolve around the end goal of attaining marks, and rather focus on musicianship.
A key concept I have introduced to my students is the idea of connecting the ear with every part of the pianist, such as the fingers, pedalling feet, eyes, etc etc! This importance of listening is a new concept to several of the students. One technique I have used to demonstrate this focus on the ears is the simple metronome. Playing in strict time with a machine requires the student to give equal dedication to both the act of performance, and the act of listening. Most of my students haven't had much experience outside solo playing, so find it difficult to stick to a tempo, and some of the early attempts show that they find it very difficult to play and listen at the same time. However, making them play along with a metronome at very slow speeds (increasing gradually) improves this quite quickly. Though I've also had to remind them that playing with a metronome all the time isn't good practice, especially with classical music!
It has been really interesting to hear the difference once this concentrated aural awareness has been 'activated' in the students- they play with more and more sensitivity and musicality. Another benefit that this brings is that the students think less about making mistakes and negative thoughts (a classic symptom of exam based teaching) as their focus is shifted onto musicality and creativity.

Another part of time here have been keeping busy with playing, rehearsing, and learning with bands and musicians around Delhi. Alongside Performers Collective school, Jack manages professional musicians in Delhi so has given me contacts in the scene, particularly in the Indian fusion and jazz genres- one band has even asked me to do a paid tour with them in South Africa in September as their keyboard player is unavailable, which is an incredibly exciting opportunity! It's been very interesting gigging with musicians from an entirely different continent and education background. As a jazz musician growing up around London, I have had lots of opportunities to learn and listen from the best players and teachers, but in Delhi, visiting professionals are rare and teachers practically non-existent. Even if the Delhi jazz scene is fairly quiet now, many of the guys I have been playing with are the children of the 'golden era' Delhi jazz musicians in the 1960s/70s, where there were many big bands and recording sessions happening around the city, with many famous American jazz musicians making stops in Delhi after hearing about its vibrant scene. So it's really quite strange hearing the same jazz banter here that is in London and the states... 'jazz cats', 'killing solo'..amongst others! And it's been great to hang out with musicians that listen to and love the same music, but come from the other side of the world..
Many of the musicians I've played with are self-taught from records and limited books. In contrast to British jazz musicians, there is much less focus on express music with theoretical terms, which means that it takes longer to express musical concepts between musicians; however, there are lots of benefits in their way of learning, so neither can be classed best I suppose! Another thing I've found different from working in London is that there seems to be a lot more time available to rehearse for performance. This is in contrast to back at home, where as the bandleader it is a requirement for me to produce notated music charts for the musicians, as it is impossible (and not the done thing) to schedule enough time to rehearse with the band learning the songs by ear. In Delhi however, it is not a requirement for musicians on the scene to be able to read (and transcribe onto paper) music. This means that someone depping in a band on one occasion has to learn each of the songs in the set by ear, which is a massively time consuming process. In conversations with session musicians I have been told how even in the multimillion Bollywood film recording studios, the orchestras are taught their parts aurally!
Anyway, it's been interesting seeing what the Mumbai guys have been up to, talk soon! Ed xx

Sunday, 18 July 2010

what happens in between multi-million car horns and dashes of rain

The concert, future result of this whole month work, is now in two weeks. Such hard work every single day that it goes by very quickly! I have to agree with Aaron and Ryan about the amount of interesting work to do here and the method they are using. Being around professional conductors from "La Palau de la Musica" and "Orfeo Catala" to get 360 children in a choir has taught me how to entertain the children into singing and listening and that we cannot rely on scores or leave one single second (litteraly) of distraction during the class.
In the rehearsals, it is all by memory from the first note of a song, it is 5 different languages (4 of them that they don't know), it is a lot of harmonies to develop the ear and barely any time to be unsure of ourselves: the warm-ups are active, the Kodaly method is constantly effective, the memory is developed, the body position sticks in their mind and they become more self-conscious of what they are doing.
And it is fun! They discover our teaching (sounds related to activities of every day: "tch, pf, sh, ts, k, r" related to showering, train noises, mosquitoes, cars, brushing. It works great with children) and the older ones have a lot of respect: we teach them what they do wrong-- while turning it into a show to make them laugh, therefore remember and apply later--so they can improve their technique. I have to agree once again with Ryan and Aaron in their last post when dealing with intonation and structure of the class. From what I have seen so far, the children have not been taught how to pitch, they only repeat after the teacher more and more without being propperly corrected. The rhythm is often not correctly settled for them by the musician, which slows down the class and confuses the interpretation.
The main point is that there is no concrete communication from the children during the classes in schools. The idea is not only to follow the orders and listen to the stories but to react to them with their musical abilities: during the rehearsals these past weeks, they are asked to come up with musical tunes, rhythmical patterns, dance moves. We ask them to make contrasts in the music therefore use up their memory from the warm-ups and the music they sing. The conducting is precise so that they should understand the entries, the expression and dynamic of the songs, the words and the direction of the piece. No need to get annoyed with them or beg them to do anything as we single them out to make each child feel more important and noticed. That way they can loosen up more and let go of their guard so as to be more expressive.

On the other hand, we went to Godrej on our free day of the week to discover the school (primary and secondary): They emphasize the education on art discovery and development. The values and principles of life are taught through prayers, yoga every morning, pottery, painting, drawing, creating works of art with recycled materials, making instruments out of recycled pieces (Coca-cola caps or coconuts) and important words in the songs. The children are being taught to think and create for themselves.

I've analysed Hindi music more in the few more sessions we've had and the rhythm is brilliantly intoxicating. The tunes don't use a wide range and mainly repeat the same words all together (no parts singing). It seems like the tune is set and the rhythm is varied which may explain why they don't really warm-up before choir Hindi singing: the repetition of the same phrases and the small amount of notes used make up for part of our singing exercices! But it is lacking in teaching the function of the body.

In Godrej's primary school, the children recognize all the sounds of different instruments, melodies or rhythms and immediately know what actions, songs and positions to take. No need to explain or order. Music highly develops the brain connections and it is great to see how their memory and ear just get better. One of the hardest thing for them is coordination and choir rehearsal with instruments in their hands teach them patience and group work.

The choirs here are doing great and the teachers are highly motivated, helpful and wanting to learn. Despite the weather and the atmospheric pressure which slows them down sometimes, they work hard and make us enjoy teaching very much with their enthusiasm and interest. The other morning, the rain got our shoes soaked on the street; there was no difference of level between the pavement and the road, and the water came up to above the ankles! I love the experience because it shows how to deal with infrastructure problems emphasized by the environment and nature.

The Colaba market is very attractive for its products but so frustrating since you actually never know which prize is a good one. They give out too easily on the price, you know you've been sort of robbed. They don't give you anything and even sometimes ignore you: it seems like they're not interested in selling. They push you into choosing within litterally 5 seconds of getting in.
A stroll in the fresh water fish market on Sunday morning is the experience of your life! They are dripping with water from the fish, throwing it right 5 cm in front of your face, push you in all directions. It's a little bit like the driving and the horns around here! I love getting around and seeing the different customs and crossing the roads!

The baker who was supposed to deliver cakes for the general rehearsal next week, delivered it today! So he decided to give it out to the poor. We give out sweets to the children who come knocking on the car's door, but they always ask for money as well. We sang in a cave last week and the people around came to record!

People in Mumbai are friendly after two lines of conversation and make our time here a real pleasure!
Juliette, Sunday 18th July

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

The Garodia School has ambition. Lots of it.

...Hi guys, we'd love for you to teach piano in the music school. Yeah definitely, we’ll come to India and do that! How about you help out with the other instruments too: drums, violin, voice and guitar? Yeah sure! Ok, and we’re going to put you in the International school with our music teacher Blaise – you can teach classroom music. Ok cool, we’ll do that. Oh and you can teach some of our pupils in the P.G. Garodia School too; choirs, classes, listening and things. Cool. Great – now we’ve started advertising a workshop for you to do on Saturday... two workshops, maybe 100 or so kids each? Yeah sounds good, we’ll get planning. Excellent. Right, sounds good to us – now how do we fit this all in...?

Add to that planned 3 workshops for the teachers in Mumbai, workshops with the British Council in state schools, and us taking the time to learn tabla, Indian vocals and the harmonium and we’ve already started cram packing these two months we’ve got here! We really are aiming to do as much as possible to help develop western music in India, working with the children (and having to go back to basics in the classroom) and – perhaps more importantly – the teachers.

Since starting, we’ve noticed that in quite a few cases, one ingredient is missing... FUN! In the classroom, children we’re being taught music in a lecture style; copying down from the blackboard whatever they were (meant to be) learning that day. That needed to go. We’ve been planning lessons that are getting kids out of their chairs and actively responding to music.

Listening is now integral, and something that we put in every lesson, after which we have a class discussion where pupils share their ideas and most importantly feelings about the music. We’ve also gone back to basics with the singing (as most of the children were unable to sing in tune), we’ve chosen to follow the Kodaly programme, which alongside rhythm practice is proving to be successful even in these early days.

We’re also encouraging extra-curricular activities and will soon be introducing an after school choir, recorders (classes and ensembles), and ensembles and bands within the music school to encourage playing together.

We’re thrilled that the response from the teachers has been so positive and in particular from Blaise, the International School’s music teacher. He really liked our ideas and we really wanted to make sure that when we left these ideas and teaching methods could be continued. Each of the younger years in the school has two sets due to the large class sizes, so we utilise this by us taking one of them early in the week, then over the week we talk with Blaise to ensure he understands what we did and why, and then Blaise models his own lesson on our shared ideas with the other class in that year group.

Piano classes run on Tuesdays in Bandra and Fridays at the school in Ghatkopar. We are currently running the Friday sessions as the teacher recently became ill with malaria (don’t worry - he is now well on the mend). We’re able to offer the pupils more one-to-one tuition at the moment, however we are trying to think of more effective ways to run lessons with four students at a time, which is the current setup...

We are living and teaching in Ghatkopar, which is in the central suburbs of Mumbai, and certainly a world away from London! The hospitality has been exceptional and Brian has taken us under his wing, showing us around, feeding us and inviting (or somewhat forcing) us to join in his dance academy in the evenings. There is video evidence (perhaps unfortunately)!

More photos and updates soon!

Ryan and Aaron, 14th July 2010

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Exchange of Western and Hindi music

It is so truly amazing to work with so many choirs and so many children with different abilities!

I find myself learning so much when we work at the Happy Home and School for the Blind: the two pianists just impress me so much. They learn so fast by ear (because they obviously have to), always know where they are in the piece, don't panick when they miss a beat or few notes. I am trying to listen like them and remember much faster. Only just now do I realize how I take for granted the fact that I have the music in front of me. I should be learning to listen and concentrate doubly when learning a new musical line, a chord or a new harmony.

Interestingly, very many children consider the musical time of the day with us their game time. Even the older children. As in any country, their attention during the sessions show up their education at home and I realize how much it is up to us to motivate them and most importantly, GUIDE them in their attitudes and principles during this time when they actually come to relax at first. We have to be able to mix relaxation and musical teaching for the children who give up quikly; we have to use up to the maximum of their ability to make them aim for the best instead of thinking of music as purely just a hobby. If we can instil how much satisfaction they can get from this training in music, it will be a great base to their learning process.

At the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation, there are classes of Music Discovery for children aged 2 onwards! I find this so early but they also have classes for children and parent at that age and it is very interesting to mix both and see how effective musical training is from early on. Western classical music is already very installed in Mumbai, more than in New Dehli. So many concerts, festivals and masterclasses are taking place and it is so enriching to see how they have developed this in about 15 years in this Foundation, with such classes and motivation.
Children learn so fast if they have been convinced by the teaching and it is a constant readjustment for me with each child to find how to adapt to his/her personality. It is interesting to discover how they hear notes and pitches differently. What is hard for me is to know if they are actually listening or only letting their voice sing without controling it. When they don't pitch, they don't seem to realize so; and when we work with them they might get to pitch the note for a moment and many times I'm not sure they hear the difference. This is really important for harmonies recognition. It is a long process of playing and listening and understanding the musical changes happening and I wish I had started that training earlier on.

It is raining a lot these days. It is strong rain and I have seen it in Mauritius Island: hard on and starting fast -very typical of Summer rains-. The horns don't stop on the streets. Last Monday was day off for all Mumbai because of the strikes. Mumbai was then a completely different city on the road! We had a stroll in the afternoon in a Park in the area of Malabar Hill and the citizens often do the same and also take pictures with friends in the park. Not many bins around which can explain the pollution around the city.

We went past a woman on the pavement today, selling fresh fish that she had collected from the famous market Colaba. A dozen cats around her, looking like they were going to jump on her fish, but they stay calm and wait for the heads and tails.

Invited by a couple living in Mumbai, dinner at the Taj Mahal hotel was delicious and the view from the restaurant "Souk" on the docks of Mumbai is great. We have now seen a couple of flats with views on Mumbai marine drive and a stop at the Intercontinental Hotel top floor for a drink and a view of the sunset just makes you want to live by the sea (although the sunset was covered by clouds that day!). And if you want to have few games with children you don't know from Mumbai, go by the sea on the beach covered by pebbles and slate and look as if you are looking for interestingly coloured rocks: they'll come help you and start wanting to play with you!

Had a session of yoga last night. We figured we had to do it in the country of yoga! I love the meditation and exercice side of this "sport". We visited two temples so far and the art is so colourful and complex. Another thing special about India are the smells you'll get everywhere! It's impressive... We visited the hall of the Russian Centre yesterday to check if we could have a rehearsal there: apparently they had just put new carpets and seats. By the smell of it, I don't think you would have known. You go out and the vegetation is pouring out. You go in and you're stunned by the difference with the looks of the building from outside. Mumbai is great! I'm loving it! The shy children and the overexcited ones with such great indian accent in english and the great culture of Hindi music that we are discovering with them.

We had a session of Classical Hindi music singing and playing their instruments (I was on the harmonium). It's highly meditative music and actually throws you in another world fairly quickly without you realizing! Same purpose of Western Classical music, yet so different!

Juliette (Saturday 10th July 2010)

Sunday, 4 July 2010

First impressions with ready made choirs in Mumbai


I've been in Mumbai since 26th July because I am based at the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation! They are so lovely over there and take great care of me.

They have a project called "From Barcelona to Mumbai": three conductors/teachers (singing) have come with an organiser, all from Catalunya and teach three groups of choirs from 5 different schools. All from the scratch: the kids don't know the songs and don't read the music and don't know the pronounciation of the languages (catalan, "maori" from New Zealand, german, italian, and some in english of course). I have been accompanying all of them and there is only a month for a lot of music in different voices, so it's litterally work every day!

I had my two first students yesterday and today. They are both teenagers, talented, hard-workers and very motivated! The first played Prokofiev "Vision Fugitive 8" and Chopin "Polonaise" and the other two pieces from Fantasiestuck (Schumann). The MMMF has given me the most advanced students for now because I have a lot of work with the choirs for the month of July. So I should have more to say on other students in August!

I have already been to a Marvadi wedding (beautiful saris and decorated horse for the groom), to Elephanta Cava where I got sunstroke on the boat (and it is bad, so all! be careful and don't stay in the sun!), marine dirve for the sunset and Taj Mahal Hotel!

But enough on tourism! The children here are very enthusiastic for the most and a funny thing is their way to say yes with their head. It is a mixture of yes and no!! Hopefully we can make videos for you. The school (MMMF) is a school of Western Classical music and they are very interested into new ways but like all children, they have their own tricks of course. Shy at the start, very happy by the end of the workshop or class.

The two students I have had so far already have their own ideas on the music they play, choose what they want to play. I have a lot to learn from them as well! i have also met a little boy who composes on the piano and his sister who is only 8 just loves the double bass and is learning it with so much passion!!

Juliette (4th July 2010)