Saturday, 25 July 2009

Sorry, forgot to include my name in the last blog.
Theo FS

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

Hi everyone,

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,

Neil x

Friday, 17 July 2009

Dear all,

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.

Ruairi x

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Life so far

Hi, all,

Fully adapted now, we know Delhi better, we have been working for two weeks at our schools, monsoons have started around here... a lot of things have changed in these two weeks, and so have we, a bit, I suppose.

Last week, a lot of the conversations we were having were about how we were going to face teaching. Now, a lot of them are about what we are going to get them to do for the following week. Actually, as Olivia pointed out before, I'm surprised at how disciplined some of the kids are. I mean, I had this student the first week to whom I was teaching her first piano lesson. The following week she had already achived an almost perfect hand, arm, and body posture in relation to the piano. Another one, I had to promise to him that I would teach him for a bit longer next week because the homework that I had given him, which wasn't little for a six-year-old, was such a small challenge to him that we finished going through it all 5 minutes before the end of the lesson!

The warm welcome keeps being almost overwhelming: Jack Thomas, my contact at the school, offers me lunch at the school, treats me amazingly and he's invited all 5 of us, the Delhi-based, to a jazz concert and a jazz workshop that they are organising.

Other than that, Hannah and I have made successful contact with the Delhi Music Society and, though we have not been given a schedule yet, our activites there will include a concert, lectures on appreciation of music, masterclasses and judging this system of trial examinations they have established in order to determine whether the people who voluntarily take the board exams are actually ready for them.

Theo V, by the way, I had a conversation with the theory teacher at my school: Anjli had given your name for composition classes. I told them I'd talked to you about it. I'll give you their number.

Apart from that, if anybody is feelinf up to a bit of tourism this weekend, Theo, Hannah and I might be going to Agra this weekend, anybody joining us?

Nice to read your posts, guys,

Lots of good wishes


Facebook friends

It seems we´re really getting into the swing of things now. We haven´t been ripped off for a week! This evening we approached a cycle rickshaw to take us back to the flat, insisted on agreeing a price before we got in. "How much?" I asked. He paused. I smiled. He smiled. He knew we weren´t going to be ripped off easily.

On Sunday Alvaro and I went sightseeing in Delhi, taking in the Red Fort, Chandni Chowk market, Firoz Shah Kotla and the Indhira Ghandi Memorial Museum, each of which was extremely memorable and derserves a blog entry of its own. Despite the intense heat, possibly the hottest day yet, it was a fantastic day and good to finally be able to appreciate some of Delhi´s rich culture and history.

Alvaro and Hannah are organising a partnership between WAM and the Delhi School of Music. Blog about this to follow...

The long awaited monsoon season has finally reached us - if tentatively. Yesterday there was a deluge, accompanied by deafening thunder and even more power cuts. In the evening Gurgaon was stained and eerie yellow from the dying sunlight in the thunder clouds and a faint rainbow lingered in the upper atmosphere. Today was our first bright day, and not quite as hot. Much more European. (There are actually far more exciting things here than the weather, but the weather is one of the few things simple enough to be described succinctly.)

We all have very different experiences of teaching but it seems we´re all finding it a rewarding experience, and satisfying to be offering a style of teaching which our pupils are clearly not used to, and which they appreciate. Some are even adding us as friends on Facebook...

You may remember our earlier blog about the taxi driver on our first day who asked for 300 rupees from us to pay a policeman´s bribe. Well apparently a standard bribe is 50 - 100 rupees so he did quite well out of us.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Being Punjabi, feeling at home and loving the mangoes!

So now we have been in India for over a week, though it feels we have always been here - I already feel very settled and am starting to get into a routine. I have really enjoyed my first few days of teaching, and am amazed at the obedience and concentration of the children here, unlike my unruly and often very cheeky students in London!

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 UK, this attention is not threatening, just curiosity, and more often than not friendliness. I feel a lot safer walking through the shopping centre at night than I would at home in London. The roads are another matter however! Last night we watched a very scary zombie film in our flat, but this does not even compare with being on a cycle rickshaw entering one of the many chaotic roundabouts, frequently showing little regard for red lights or driving on the correct side of the road (I had a heart-stopping moment on my way back today after being passed on either by two motorbikes travelling in the opposite direction).

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 Delhi on Sunday to fit in some more sightseeing!


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 Indira Gandhi International Airport even removed his mask (supposedly protection against swine flu) to point this out when he saw the name on my passport.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Still much to learn

Delhi is either hopelessly inefficient or delightfully laid back. Whichever way, it can make life extremely frustrating when there things to be done. Today I planned a visit to the Qutb Minar complex, but due to a last minute change of schedule from another party, I´m forced to spend most of the day in the flat. Yesterday I spent an hour completely lost in 40 degrees, being sent on countless wild goose chases around Gurgaon by locals who apparently thought it was better to give te wrong directions than none at all. If I´m complaining, it´s due only to a fault on my part. I´m still seeing Delhi from a Western perspective. Once I start to appreciate the atmosphere as ´delightfully laid back´ I know my experiences will only improve. You have to structure your time as flexibly as the Indians do.

It is difficult though to think of Delhi as care free when you see the number of desperately poor people living on the streets. There´s a lot of new building work taking place in Gurgaon, mostly large blocks of flats and plush detached houses. But within a hundred yards of our respectable ´Princeton´ estate in Gurgaon Phase V, there are countless rows of makeshift shelters made from canvas and branches lining the main roads. Behind them is a small river of stagnant water, clogged with rubbish and the putrifying carcasses of pigs, baking in the sun. Yesterday, as I was being driven back from my school by one of the staff, a boy of about 7 was waiting at some traffic lights, shirtless and pathetically thin. As we stopped at the red light he rushed at us and immediately started rubbing the whole car with a dirty rag. "Don´t give them any money," said my driver. "It only encourages more people to beg." This is the view held by most of the population, but it doesn´t help that boy. He or his family haven´t chosen to beg after seeing the success of others beggars. The beg because they have no other choice. When he saw he wasn´t going to be paid for his efforts the boy stood in front of the car and spread himself over the bonnet, begging pitifully, squeezing his hands together and touching at his mouth.

Despite the frustration, pain and confusion of living here, it never ceases to be a fascinating, vibrant, welcoming and colourful city. There may be masses of new construction, but there is still an ancient feel, particularly in the centre of Delhi. Everything is a hodgepode, the new built on top of the old, the old built on top of the even older.

Teaching is proving to be an extremely rewarding experience. Most of the kids in my school (the Theme Institute) are adorable, and teachers and pupils alike are extremely receptive to my input. There are two main musical issues which plan to address.
The first is that they all learn a piece as much by ear as possible, making very little reference to the notes on the page. When they are taught a scale, for example, they are given the names of the notes, but not made to read the notes as notation. They therefore learn to play, but don´t learn to read music, so sightreading and (most importantly) discovering new music is extremely difficult for them.
The other is that they play with loose fingers and floppy final joints. I´m going to try and teach them to keep their fingers bent in order to create a clear tone, and their wrists loose. They can get away with floppy final joints because they play on electric keyboards with the volume on maximum all the time, so they don´t need to make their fingers work hard in order to make a big sound.

Theo FS

Music lessons and football

Having read Neil's blog, I found it quite hard to resist the pangs of jealousy that hit me upon reading his daily routine:

-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.

Ruairi x

Ayurvedics and Indian Idols

Well, what can I say? I have been in India for nearly a week and have been exposed to so many different kinds of food, dance, music . . . life! I won't bore you all with all the experiences I have had but I will tell you briefly about our first 'Kerala Special' Ayurvedic massage experience.

So, you walk into a room where your clothes are taken off your body immediately. Yes! All of them . . and your private parts are covered with a sort of tissue nappy. Very sexy. Oil is then poured all over you and you are then massaged into heaven for the next 45 mins. Anhil, my masseuse, noticed that I had tension in my back and thighs, so he focused on these areas, apparently not caring whether or not this meant he had to keep touching my private parts. With a considerable amount of force, I might add.

You are then steamed and medically examined. The examination consists of "Was that OK?" from the 'doctor' (bloke that just walks in the room) and it doesn't really matter if you reply or not because he doesn't stick around for it! Instead, Anhil just stood in front of my medieval steam box and smiled / stared right into my eyes for the full 10 mins I was in there. Very sweet of him but . . . slightly weird.

You are then washed and dried EVERYWHERE and various bits of dust and 'other strong smelling stuff' are placed on various points on your body. Job done. I'm a new man!

Anyway, back to the important stuff. Olivia and I have just about settled into our daily routine which consists of yoga at 7 in the morning followed by a swim (where they make me wear speedos, as apparently swim shorts don't count) and then lunch. After a brief snooze we then head to the school to teach from 3:30-8:00.

I leave the classroom 45 mins early to go back to our flat to give individual vocal training to 5 of their students, one each day of the week. Expecting a young student to walk through the door, I received a shock. I was greeted by a man in his 40's who was already an established singer. AAH! OK . . . Here we go. The lesson was successful as even though his voice was beautiful he didn't know how to support so I showed him a few things. What I didn't notice was that the lesson was being watched by a man called 'Alfonso'. After talking to Alfonso and exchanging pleasantries I was told that he was probably India's most famous male singer. He then asked ME for singing lessons . . . . Even more AAH! I agreed, only on the condition that he would teach me Indian singing, which he did.

After an exhausting day we sat down to relax and chat to Simi about the day. She says, fairly off-hand, "Oh, by the way, tomorrow you'll me teaching Amritha" I felt I should have known the person. "You know . . . the Indian Idol Winner". [Big smile] Here we go again . . .

Neil x

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

"You'll feel your way"

Upon entry to the Aisha music Academy I am met with a rapid name call of all the members of the school and then ushered into the office of John Raphael, the Principal. After we have become better aquainted, the other members of the school leave the office. I take this as a cue to reveal my plans for the coming two months!

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.

Theo Vidgen

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Heat, haggling and hot food (Ruairi)

Hi all!

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.


First weekend in India

One cannot avoid to be overwhelmed by this, but I think we are slowly getting the hang of how it works over here and next week we will start work, though it has already started for some of the group.

I met the director of my school, Gurgaon School of Music, today. He is called Jack Thomas and has also been driving us around Gurgaon last Friday, helping us to get everything we needed and joining everybody else in the warmest welcome that I have had in years. He showed me around the school and explained to me what I'd be doing as of Monday. I really cannot wait to start!


Saturday, 4 July 2009

Tea, monkeys and fag breaks

Neil and I (Olivia) have, I'm afraid to admit, been living a rather luxurious life since our arrival in India. As we were the only two people moving down to Kerala the High Comissioner and Lady Stagg kindly let us stay in their beautiful house for the night before we caught another flight down south. Leks, the house keeper, made sure every second of our stay was enjoyable, from high tea and brownies upon our arrival to a large spread of breakfast in the morning. Baroda, the golden retriever, became our new best friend along with the monkeys on a lead that were on a walk around the grounds.

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.


Quawwali Concert at the British Council

This evening Ruairi, Theo FS, Alvaro and I were fortunate to be invited to attend a quawwali concert at the British Council in the centre of Delhi. It took us a while to get there in the taxi from Gurgaon, but it was definitely worth the journey. Quawwali is a form of devotional singing accompained by a band of instruments, including the tabla, harmonium and some others we did not recognise. In this particular concert there was even an alto saxophone, though I had never heard one played this way before!
The atmosphere at this Indian classical concert was very different to classical concerts in the West. It is much more informal, with the performers sitting on the floor cross-legged and barefoot. This creates a greater sense of intimacy between performer and audience and enables dialogue to take place, with the solo singer and audience sharing many jokes, which sadly we were not able to appreciate. It was still fascinating to watch, as the soloist and leader of the group sang speeches, gesturing dramatically with his hands and many facial expressions. From time to time, members of the audience would pass him a note detailing their musical requests in order to challenge his ability, though of course he was able to perform them all with great skill. He demonstrated a fascinating vocal technique whereby he imitated the sound of the foot-bells worn by dancers using his mouth. In this as well as his singing he showed tremendous range of expression and great ability to communicate.
We also noticed the hierarchy in the group denoted by the type of hat worn by the musicians. The more exquisite and decorative the hat, the more important the role played by the musician.
Afterwards we enjoyed drinks in the courtyard of the British Council where we hope to stage our WAM Extravagam.
We are all very grateful to Rebecca Chettri who made it possible for us to attend, and to countless others who have made our visit very pleasant so far, with their kind hospitality and limitless generosity.
Now time to enjoy the rest of the weekend before we start work in our schools next week - cant wait!


I think I speak for all of us when I say that Delhi is totally different from anything we´ve ever experienced before. The smells and sounds and sheer energy of the city is quite overwhelming. The first time you meet a cow loose in the middle of a six lane highway you realise that the Indian concept of traffic is a bit different from our own. But after a total of three and a half hours with a cab driver who was permanently lost (and whose bribe WE had to pay when he was pulled over for jumping a red light), we´re getting used to it!

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...

Theo FS

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Arrival and first report from Ruairi and Theo

Hi all!

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)