Tuesday, 26 July 2011

One Moose, Two Meese.


Alex here. I’m a third year BMus student at the University of Edinburgh and am currently teaching at the CDMS music school in Trivandrum, Kerala (‘Coconut Land’).

Firstly, I would like to list some recent observations:
  1. Indian traffic laws are yet to be established.
  2. Eating with your hands is harder than it looks.
  3. A ‘vada’ may look, and feel like, but is not a doughnut.
  4. Everything takes at least 3 days to dry (including my guidebook).
  5. Curry for breakfast is an acquired taste.
  6. I saw an elephant outside the bank last Tuesday.
Now, back to teaching.

There is an army of students at CDMS – somewhere in the region of 1000. Most of them study Western Keyboard (the whole one-man-band thing with drums, bass, horn section and strings on one instrument) and about 150 study Classical Piano, with 90 entered for ABRSM exams in October. The school is open every day (!) and runs morning sessions, which are usually pretty quiet, and evening sessions for exam students after school. Most days, I arrive with my eyes full of dust at 3pm on the back of Abraham’s (one of the piano teachers) motorbike and offer one-to-one tuition for exam students until about 8pm.

It’s going well so far but I often forgot which students I’ve already seen so have, embarrassingly, managed to introduce myself to many of them at least twice. But I’m sure they don’t mind.  

Now, the teachers at CDMS are facing a bit of a dilemma. Many of the students studying Classical Piano would far prefer to be learning the Keyboard, as for one, it’s seen as a pretty ‘cool’ instrument in India, and  also puts at the performer's disposal a vast number of different instrument samples that can be played alongside pre-recorded accompaniments in a variety of styles. However, they end up studying Classical Piano because unlike the Keyboard, ABRSM offers an exam at the end of it, which gives successful candidates an additional qualification that could set them apart from other potential employees at a job interview. Understandable, but unfortunate.

The kids are a pleasure to teach and practice hard though for many, a new approach to practice may have to be adopted. One of the main problems that I have found is with fingering, as many of the kids are left to their own devices when learning a piece and proceed to invent a completely different fingering to the one written in their part. As a result, they are not in control of the dynamics, articulation or phrasing, which are key to achieving high marks in the exam. Another big problem is the fact that many of the kids cannot see past the notes on the page. To help them with this, I have come up with many (often absurd) examples of imagery and emotion to illustrate the music and open their minds to new ideas. It seems to be working and I now have my students living by the motto that ‘Every piece of music tells a story’. Well, it’s true.

I have also led a couple of aural workshops for the exam students (about 30-40 in each session) where we looked through the ABRSM tests before I gave everyone a chance to try them out individually. To break it up a bit, I incorporated lots of silly songs and games into the classes such as ‘Rhythm Detective’ (where the ‘Rhythm Detective’ has to identify the ‘Rhythm Criminal’ who is clapping and occasionally changing a rhythm that everyone else is copying) and ‘The Crazy Moose Song’ (they had no idea what a moose was so the whole thing was hilarious). I've got workshops on piano performance, jazz & blues and duets planned for next weekend, after which I will be going to the Asian Christian College of Music in Kottayam to give the teachers some advice on the BMus course that they will be running next year. I’ll let you know how it all goes!

The 'Crazy Moose'!

‘Praise him with a massive bass thumping at your chest’. Who knew that the Church held rock concerts? I certainly didn’t. This quote was taken from the opening slide of a PowerPoint presentation put together by the lovely people at Abraham’s Church. He provides all the music for the service using a Korg Pa50, and upon hearing a sample of his material, I decided to go along and see what it was all about. Turns out that every song is sung to the booming accompaniment of an 80’s synth-pop backing track, performed live by Abraham. I was blown away (although not literally, as the fan was broken).

Abraham getting his groove on in Church

My Indian cinema experience last Monday was an interesting one. I decided to see Harry Potter and found myself surrounded by a hoard of applauding lunatics that erupted whenever anything remotely positive happened to Team Potter. There were also occasional shouts of encouragement to urge on various characters during the on-screen battles and, of course, huge celebrations when the good guys won. And probably tears when they didn’t. All in all, very entertaining.

Also, the Pepsi here has recently been contaminated with some sort of disease, so I’ve been told not to drink it. On a more positive note, I have a rechargeable mosquito-hitting bat.

That’s all for now!


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