Thursday, 9 September 2010

Mission accomplished!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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