Friday, 11 March 2011

Retrospective memories of WAM

To all the readers who may be looking at our old blogs and deciding if a) you want to apply to teach in India as we did, and b) are you right for this scheme? Let me right down my thoughts as they are today, nearly a year since I went for my interview that gave me the most memorable experience of my life.

Teaching in India is SO different, you simply cant imagine! I was in Gurgaon teaching in Lorraine's Music Academy (or Music Studio as it used to be). For a start, the emphasis is on progressing as quickly as possible. This can come through a series of short cuts. You are told where to put your hand, your teacher writes on the paper a series of numbers to represent fingers and plays you the tune e.g. 3-2-1-2-3-3-3, 2-2-2, 3-3-3, 3-2-1-2-3-3-3, 2-2-3-2-1, and there you have it, "Mary had a little lamb". Note perfect, memorised rendition. The child before you cannot necessarily tell you what notes he/she has played, but then neither can they reach the floor!

You find these shortcuts all over the place: numbes, letters, no recognition of notation, rests etc. There is very little knowledge of correct posture, hand position, grace, interpretation, musicality or all the "stuff" you come to expect and take for granted over here. To understand why this is allowed to happen you must get to understand the mind-set of Indian families. They want to push their children, they want them to succeed, there is a huge level of competition between families and sibling rivalry galore! This reflects society - absolute poverty lives side by side with wealth. In India, this is a daily reminder why you must achieve. Remember: you are working with the privilaged families who can afford to send their children for lessons.

I worked initially with Lucie and later, Helen. I cannot emphasise how much I loved living and working with these girls. Oh, and our adopted lil' brother, Ed. It's good to have someone to talk to at the end of the day and compare problems and ideas with. Ed was based in Performers collective and I must say a HUGE thank you to the teachers there. They made us welcome (bought us Pizza Hut the first time we met them incase we didn't like curry), socialised with us and gave us acsess to their school to practise on their pianos. They are a very good school and addressing the balance of proper tuition and theory and use experienced performers as tutors.

So I suppose my role primarily in the school I was based in was to teach music making, music appreciation, singing and piano. With singing the biggest problem I faced was that Hindustani singing is very nasal and the soft pallate does not naturally lift as it would in a Western style. Even by the end of my teaching, some of the children still did not manage to maintain the open pallate for an entire song.

Musical appreciation would range from smaller groups where we would sit on the floor with notation cards and play find the note, pair the octave, name the note, how many notes apart (intervals) in order to improve their recognition and remove their need to constantly touch a piano and work secretly on theory. Other times it would be large groups of up to say 16-18 of us in a small hot, humid room with no air conditioning...but gosh I wouldn't have changed it for the world. The children loved it. Sometimes Helen would be with me,especially when we had a little boy with special needs as she had a masters in music therapy. To see that littl boy work with her and smile in that class full of other children still sticks in my mind. We played clapping games, trained like a choir, sang unison songs, action songs, rounds - all the things we grew up with that they just haven't done before. What is great is that the older ones work with the younger ones and we all mucked in together.

Piano lessons were a little more frustrating, as personally you can see the flaws and as it says on the 2009 blog and so many of my fellow WAM 2010 bloggers, many teachers do not know that they are teaching flaws. My tip is this: NEGOTIATE TIME WITH THE TEACHERS IMMEDIATELY otherwise you will be teaching one on one as we did and you know that really, things wont change when you leave. It is true that largely they need to expand their repertoire away from exam pieces. I found the best way to do this was with duets. They simply have not done multi-hand work (for youngsters I love "The joy of duets") and the children loved it. The more you push them to be more independant and read notation for themselves, with only minimal help written in, the more they found that they could do without me which was fantastic. I got the feeling that the teachers (who were mainly students themselves in our school) were teaching pieces that had been taught to them and maybe they had forgotten how it should sound occasionally and rhythms/notation/pace slipped.
The electric pianos are well used - probably the most practical instrument in the heat and humidity apart from in the frequent power cuts (that happen ALL the time) when the back-up fails. Not all of the keys work, the pedals dont work and you dont always have a piano stool so a little person is far too low down. However, an acoustic would not stay in tune. Whilst we taught in 3 rooms, violin, guitar and theory lessons would all be going on in the waiting room - chaos! But fair play to the people there, they just got on with it. This isn't the case in more established schools where you might have networked clavinovas or a small room with a proper one-to-one situation.

The concert we did was a lovely culmination of piano solos, duets, singing, ensembles and a choir. I am proud. Although the venue looked impressive, the carpet simply ate the sound which was a shame. The children turned up dresse in the most beautiful clothes have ever seen. The colours, the! I played a duet with one of my best and quick students (Vidyot) and several of my best singers with pure voices (who could maintain that Western style I highlighted earlier) sang songs from musicals. Lucie and Helen's students played piano pieces and we all got together to perform as a choir. Well done to all.

Now the side away from the work. Living in India is a daunting experience initially. Crossing the road is so hard - traffic doesn't stop for the lights and cars, bikes, rickshaws, motorbikes, camels and elephants drive on any side of the road! You simply have to have good look and weave across. Beggars see white people and are attracted to you, it is quite overwhelming at times. I am very blonde and that was a little overwhelming with staring and people wanting to touch your hair, children wanting to shake your hand, but you get used to it. Instead of seeing tanning adverts on TV, you see skin bleaching adverts, which are bizzare! Listen, you're going to have to get to like curry...morning, noon and night! But the food is so amazing - Indian food over here is just so tasteless now I've experienced those fresh immense flavours!

We got to do sight-seeing too as there was quite a bit around Delhi, lots of tombs! Also parks, mosques (we had to wear ridiculous things at one of them), Sikh temples with music ringing out and golden domes, markets....I cant explain what a privilage it is to see. The people you meet are lovely and so hospitable.

We did 2 longer trips to the Taj Mahal (well we had to!) and an over night stay in Jaipur. BEWARE we had a tout nearly trick us off the train when we went to the Taj. You take your passport to a travel agent, you tell them where you want to go and when - they give you options and you book with them and pay, collect your tickets a couple of days later. You do not need to confirm with anyone else. Jaipur was a great overnight place - I think it was like £10 to stay overnight in a simple, clean hotel (you need your passports to check in anywhere so don't forget them). Our rickshaw driver in Jaipur was awesome - it was pimped out in blue leather with red stars and had a CD player playing Backstreet boys announcing the arrival of the Westerners haha! We used our own money to fund these trips.

With some Indian friends I also went to Rajastan and zip wired between the hills an visited an abandoned hill fort in a village where they had never seen a white woman, let alone light hair. The village seemed to turn out and follow us. I also went swimming in a lake (bit of a risk) and even a brand new hotel with a friend and used their pool and experienced fine dining.
I loved the tea! I really miss the hot, sweet spicey massala chai and the gentle refreshing cashmerie tea.

I went out as an experienced teacher with many resources, books and ideas. I really hope I rubbed off on the children in a way that lasted more than just the 2 months I was there. I could see that they enjoyed having us around. You see the delight in their faces at being shown something new. They are enthusiastic and want to learn and it's a joy to teach them. It's so sad saying goodbye. I wish I was going back to do it all again. But now it has inspired me to go and set up an exchange with a music school in Kenya and the school that I teach in now. Not quite the same, but tentative steps in helping children enjoy musical tuition they might not be able to have otherwise. Do it, go for it, you will have the time of your life and you will help the children more than you know.

Good luck future WAMers! x

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