Thursday, 25 August 2011

Grape Juice

Yep, it’s my new favourite drink. Abraham took me to a juice shop last weekend and now I’m hooked. Whenever I return, the staff become very excitable and begin shouting the Malayalam equivalent of ‘graaaape juice!’, followed by numerous handshakes and pats on the back. Never before has rehydration felt quite so rewarding.

So, blog no. 3, eh? How time flies…

The workshops last Saturday went very well and got a great response from the kids. The first was on piano performance and ‘how to approach a piece of music’. I came up with a 10-step formula to follow when learning a new piece of music, arranged in order of what to look at first:
  1. Title
  2. Composer
  3. Tempo Indication & Metronome Marking
  4. Playing Technique
  5. Scales
  6. Fingering
  7. Rhythm
  8. Tone Quality
  9. Dynamics
  10. Phrasing & Articulation
Surprisingly, no-one was able to tell me that the first thing to look at should be the title. I explained that not knowing the title is like eating something from an unmarked can - you’ve got no clue to as what’s inside! It’s been put there for a reason and can often provide vital clues regarding the character of the music. In relation to fingering, it seems that I put too much emphasis on the importance of finding one most comfortable for the performer than on achieving a balance between that and the most appropriate fingering for maintaining phrase structure, articulation and tone quality. As a result, my efforts to suggest more suitable fingering in subsequent lessons have been struck down with the response – ‘but this is the most comfortable fingering for me!’ Damn my wise words.

After a brief talk on ABRSM examinations, I gave the students a basic introduction to jazz, as many of them were completely unfamiliar with the concept. Aided by numerous listening examples, I took them through a history of early jazz styles, which included African-American work songs, ragtime, blues, Dixieland, swing and bebop. Due to the time restraints, I decided to stop around 1950, as it can be said that this is where jazz ceased its journey along a one-track route and began to progress in a variety different directions. I likened jazz history to the structure of a huge tree, with the trunk being representative of its early beginnings, and a firm foundation from which subsequent developments (the branches) have grown.

During the workshop, we managed to collaboratively write a blues tune – I gave the students a basic form to work from and asked for lyrics reflecting the typical themes of loss and depression. Here are the results:

I’m breaking up with my friend ‘cos I don’t like them.
I’m breaking up with my friend ‘cos I don’t like them.
Here at CDMS, life’s hard, but we try our best.

Exams are fast approaching and I don’t want to fail.
Exams are fast approaching and I don’t want to fail.
Here at CDMS, life’s hard, but we try our best.

I didn’t get no money, so I got nothing to spend.
I didn’t get no money, so I got nothing to spend.
Here at CDMS, life’s hard, but we try our best.

On a final CDMS-related note, I have decided to stop beginning every lesson with a request for the student to remind me of their name. It’s getting a bit ridiculous now and some of them are probably worried about my state of health…

The week after the workshops was mostly spent back at the College, where I helped Abraham with some final preparations for the new BMus course that opens there on 1st September. The syllabus is still not complete and the instruments are yet to arrive, but I have complete faith in him and am sure it will all come together (cross fingers). On Tuesday, we met Binoy Chacko, Dr. Kunjamon Chacko’s brother, and one of the most famous singers in India. He took us to meet a potential tutor for the audio programming course at a recording studio in town, which was particularly interesting, as I discovered that the whole place was sound-proofed with coir (a fibre extracted from the husk of a coconut)! Binoy has recently recorded the whole bible as an audiobook for the first time in Malayalam, and even provided the voice of Jesus in the 1973 Malayalam film, Jesus. Phwoar.

Me and the Chacko brothers

To conclude the trip to Kottayam, I volunteered to lead a workshop for the kids at the Children’s Village, situated just down the road from the seminary. The project is funded by the Prison Fellowship India and gives children victimized by crime the opportunity to go to school and grow up in a safe environment with the provision of all basic living essentials. My friend, Azo, joined me for the workshop, which turned into a 3-hour session of songs and games for the 150 kids that live there. At the end of the morning, my Australian friends from Alleppey came to visit and were given a warm welcome by the children, who sung them a couple of songs that they had learnt. This was followed by lunch, which featured a delicacy of North-East India - buffalo intestine. It was prepared by the students from Nagaland and was accompanied by some sort of pork stew. Delicious, but spicy enough to make a grown man cry (or at the very least, get a runny nose).

Workshop at the Children's Village

To my delight, I discovered that the dental clinics in Kottayam (and possibly most of India) have fantastic names like ‘Tooth Place’ and ‘Tooth Affaire’. I particularly enjoy the latter, what with its ingenious and probably unintentional French twist.

An additional, non-essential and somewhat amusing observation: there is a student at the seminary who goes by the name of ‘Rex Jelly’. I am yet to meet this character, so now have yet another reason to return to India...

Can't wait!


p.s. I got my fortune told by a parrot yesterday. Apparently, I will live to the ripe old age of 91, have 3 children and lead a life of prosperity and wealth. I even managed to haggle the price of my future down to 40 rupees (about 50p)! Bargain.

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