Thursday, 21 July 2011

Pianos and Politics: End of Week Three

Electric pianos? Who said they wouldn't go out of tune?

It seems every electrical device I've brought with me - laptop included - has decided to play up; typing this on a flashing neon screen is already beginning to give me a headache. The humidity ends up frying the brains out of all these devices, ending up giving them a life of their own. And the Clavinova last week? That was a joke. I was convinced Harry Partch had come round in the middle of the night and deemed the 12-tone scale, for the umpteenth time, redundant.

I feel like I've settled into the way of things at Garodia and in Mumbai quite satisfactorily. There was, unfortunately, the scare last Wednesday with the terrorist bombings - not an experience I'd like to repeat again. Possibly made a little more chilling by the thought that two of us - myself and Hannah - had been down and past St. Xavier's about three hours before the horror unfolded.

Hannah strikes gold:
Cadbury's saves the day.
The food situation seems to be a bit up and down these days, but on a plus side, I've (unbelievably) found a Costa Coffee. And internet. I think I'm already a Costa Convert and fortunately these folk seem to be a little unsure of what to do with my Costa Card. I got a free coffee yesterday, 20% off another day. Wicked.

Classes have been having academic exams over the past week or so and, unsurprisingly, any practice that the kids at the Music School should have been doing has gone by the wayside. On the other hand, it was obvious that some were quite relieved to come and simply have a piano lesson - a change from sitting in front of textbooks I'm sure. In general, however, the methods that the children have been following in learning piano are a little worrying. Very old-fashioned. Standing in front of a chalkboard and tapping this, that, the-next-thing. Repeat. And again. Can't imagine it's the best way to learn. Fortunately, a couple of things I've managed to timidly and diplomatically - a first for me - suggest, seem to have been taken on board, such as dispelling the notion of having all the keyboards beside each other; it's quite plain to see that the students were in no way encouraged to develop an ear - an ear which should be taught to constructively criticise and correct throughout the learning process. Simply impossible when you've got three kids in a row all playing Yankee Doodle (or a theme and variations thereof). In addition, that brings me to another of my niggles - none of the piano tuition at the Music School is truly one-to-one and is usually a class of 2-3 students at the same time, a concept which is quite foreign to me indeed (at least, for private instrumental tuition) - though I've no picture of the financial situation at the Music School to be able to comment on the viability of one-to-one tutorials.

At the primary school, Blaise and I have been giving each class a little exam, where each of them goes in front of the class in turns to sing a song which they've learned over the past term, as well as clap the rhythm of it, demonstrate it in sol-fa and 'conduct' it. It was quite good for me to be able to see what sort of standard each of the students was at - there's certainly a few number of students who can sing quite well, but a rather larger number who still struggled to put two consecutive notes one after the other. Partch, again, would have been delighted: room for improvement, I think. However, I was thrilled to see that each of the students tried as very best as they could - and that's the most important thing.

There's a concert coming up next term, where a series of fairytale animals meet another series of fairytale animals and sing some fairytale songs. So far we've got Mother Goose, Barney the Dinosaur and an as-of-yet-unidentified frog in the plot and so I'm understandably a little apprehensive as to how 'The Frog' and Mother Goose are going to be incorporated into Barney's "I'm a Dinosaur" song. (*edit: I've just read the "Barney & Friends" Wikipedia entry, which clearly demonstrates a link between Mother Goose and Barney, alongside the note that Barney "is ranked on TV Guide's List of the 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time")

Open-Top Tours, but not as you know them:
Tree Surgeons take heed, this is the way to go.
Hannah and I attended a violin class last week which was particularly good. We'd sat in on a lesson with an older student, to see what else was going on and were warmly welcomed to stay. We eventually came back in the next lesson and spent a bit of time with both the teacher and his student, demonstrating and teaching them a couple of tunes by ear and playing along with them. Fortunately Hannah and I had the good sense to bring our violin/viola to India, though the humidity got the better of the instruments as well - but that's another story. Traditionally of course, in the tuition of Classical Indian music, you've a 'guru' and the student - and it's all by ear. It's therefore a shame for this same skill to not be used to its full potential in other musics, especially in the tuition of a string instrument, where the player has a much greater sense and physical connection to pitch than with, say, a piano. I'm no hardcore disciple of Suzuki/Kodály method - or any other 'by-ear' method - but it's unequivocally ideal to incorporate such skills in lessons as part of a balanced musical diet.

I've been doing a fair bit of exploration on the trains and on the buses. Though the trip to school is a little long, it also gets me out of Vashi and so when I fancy popping off somewhere at the end of classes it's quite quick to get into town/go north/whatever. At the end of last week, I headed up to Ville Parle, where I knew of an orphanage run by the Missionaries of Charity. They were very accommodating and - although they don't usually take any volunteers - agreed to have me come in on Sunday afternoon to do some music with the children. With all ages in the room, between 3-14, it was a little bit of a struggle to have them sitting down and so eventually had to give up on the notion of sitting down at all and just launch into a few songs with them. Some of the songs (thankfully, I'd brought a few) sank like lead balloons. But one in particular got them going so much that they sang it six times round (it's a 4-verse song…) before eventually cooling down after having exhausting themselves. I'm planning on heading up again next Sunday and so I'll hopefully find a few more crackin' good songs before then.

Blaise and I headed up to St. Francis's school/orphanage at the beginning of this week to have a chat with the Brothers about doing a small music project with themselves as well. Tomorrow (Friday), we'll be going up (myself, Hannah, Blaise) to Borivali for an evening session with the children there, followed by another session on Saturday morning - though as far as the practicalities of getting up there before 8am are concerned, I'm as of yet unsure as to how that'll work out!

In any case, it's about time I head back to my internet-less cavern and put together a few papers for tomorrow's kids - so long, folks! 

[Barney voice]: And remember, I love you!

-- Ronald

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