Thursday, 11 August 2011

Under the Indian Sun :)

Based in Gurgaon in southern Delhi, along with fellow WAMer Alice, I’ve been assigned to help at the Performer’s Collective, run by the very welcoming and helpful Jack (who, despite his name, is Indian).  The staff at the Performer’s Collective have been extremely hospitable and friendly and made the transition from England to India for us as easy as possible.  

We were lucky enough to be given time to get to find our feet and get to grips with life here in India before starting our teaching. There were many things for us to have to adapt to – not least the sometimes non-existent water and electricity in our flat, the living room with not one stick of furniture, the ‘friendly’ resident geckoes, the downright ugly resident cockroaches and the initial lack of a cooker.  And despite taking great care with food hygiene, we’ve been ill on several occasions.  But balanced against the sheer vibrancy of Delhi, the friendliness of nearly everyone we’ve met, and the amazing experiences which seem to happen on a daily basis, I am so, so very lucky and happy to be here!

The Performer’s Collective has many contacts on the Delhi music scene, and Jack has ensured that we have been introduced to as much of this as possible.  We’ve met and exchanged ideas with some of the top guitarists in India and been taken to some of the big jazz clubs in Delhi. We’ve even had our photo in the ‘Times of India’.  However, our main focus at the Performer’s Collective is to teach on a, predominantly, one-on-one basis.  

Teaching these lessons and getting to know individual students has been an enlightening process.  People choose to have lessons for a variety of reasons and it’s been interesting to see how a different approach needs to be taken for each individual.  I have, for example, one student with mild learning disabilities who responds well to being given very direct instructions.  Mechanics of piano theory come more easily to her than the concept of musicality and thus she enjoys playing scales and finds it comical to be interrupted every time she plays an odd fingering or dud note.  In fact, the more defined the interruption, the funnier she finds it!  
The children are generally very responsive to what I’ve got to tell them and need a lot of basic technique advice – hand positioning / not jerking when putting the thumb under etc...  simple techniques which are generally learnt earlier on in Europe.  A lot of students have lessons with another teacher and then extra lessons with me so I spend a short time providing suggestions for their pieces (which often lack any sort of dynamics or individuality) and the majority of time on sight reading, aural exercises and rhythmic games in the hope that they might continue after I leave and so develop a stronger and more independent general musical awareness.  Most students insist that their sight reading skills are atrocious and they probably need to overcome a psychological barrier before they can improve.

I also try to stress the importance of maintaining a steady pulse and developing rhythmic comprehension as a lot of students prioritise working out the notes.  Thinking about fingerings, the key and thus the scalic progressions should combine with strength in terms of rhythmic interpretation to provide a successful strategy for sight reading.  However, one of my students summed up what seems to be a general feeling over here - when I asked what she would do in the exam in the minute she would be given before the sight reading test she replied: ‘I’ll get a pencil and write on all the note names’... I’ll be trying to do something about this!

We are now in touch with Music Basti, a local NGO which has 3 orphanages in Delhi for children from the streets.  It uses music and the arts as a basis for teaching and helping these children, who have often experienced substance and sexual abuse.  We are about to start regular workshops with the boys’ orphanage and have already begun at one of the girls’ orphanages. The girls here are very affectionate and appreciate new company and whilst they were timid at the beginning of the first workshop, a few silly games and tricks later and the chorus was a lot stronger.  Providing structure through repeating some of the songs and games and becoming a familiar face over the coming weeks will hopefully give them even more confidence to join in.  We were informed that, for some of the children, even sitting down and listening was an achievement and I hope that with some gentle encouragement we will bring some of the shyer ones out of themselves and give them something meaningful to enjoy through the medium of song.  Music is a great way to express oneself and just teaching a few songs and games could really help these kids who don’t have much else to distract them from the harsh realities of life.  

Local schools have also shown interest in us and we’ve been invited to run some workshops for groups of 10 year olds – where we will be wired up so that we can teach big groups of between 90 and 180 students! I am currently spending quite a bit of time planning the content of these workshops, and though at the moment it sounds nerve-wracking, I’m hopeful that it will turn out to be great fun too! 

Last week I went with WAMers Alice and Gabriel to meet Parimal, who studied Sitar under Ravi Shankar for 40 years.  Unfortunately, Delhi belly had struck again, and I spent a lot of the journey throwing up.  However, Parimal looked after us very well and we jammed Indian styyyle.  It was great!                                                                               

Akshardam temple - biggest Hindu temple in the world
We have also been able to do a bit of sight-seeing, including a trip to the beautiful Taj Mahal and a wonderful weekend in Jaipur, where we travelled to a hilltop fort by elephant and had the most fantastic views of the surrounding countryside.  Travel here is different– we went by overnight bus, which we had been assured was an air-conditioned double-
decker, but it turned out that we were on the top deck which was in fact a glorified luggage rack!  But a surprisingly comfortable luggage rack ....

Back to work now, apart from one short tourist trip, we have a workshop planned for nearly every remaining day of our stay..... 



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