Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Final Weeks in Kottayam...

Hello from Constance and Amy at the end of our WAM adventure!
Our last few weeks have been pretty hectic so we haven’t had much chance to blog, but we have lots of stories to tell…

India’s Independence Day was the first of many highlights – we rehearsed the National Anthem with the Seminary students the evening before, and felt privileged to be invited as guests in the morning flag-raising ceremony! There were sweets, other yummy food, and games all day – we both played badminton and volleyball until the sweat just got too much and our arms were bruised and tired…great fun! Just to explain – ACCM is joined to the Indian Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS), where accommodation and food are provided for the college students (and us). There are around a hundred students studying at the seminary, and it was nice to get to know them more personally after the Independence Day. On this note, the student leader of the seminary also invited us to lead their weekly song-practice session on Friday evening. This is when the seminary students learn new Christian songs. Since we had already heard them sing a wide variety of songs in their chapel services, it took us a while to pick some songs that we could share with them. In the end, we brought along an arrangement of Psalm 23, Pass it on, New Day, and 10000 Reasons, of which the last became their new favourite!

We made the most of our only weekend in Kottayam by shopping, going along to a church service on Sunday, and playing with the local children. Since our time here is coming to an end, we thought it would be nice to get our four college students some useful gifts, and we were lucky to find a music shop in town that supplied us with a shoulder rest for Thangboi (our only violinist), and some plectrums for Steve and Priyanka. We were trying to look for some music and/or Western music history books for them, before realizing that these are almost impossible to find here… We re-visited Precious Children after church on Sunday, where we learnt how to play Indian Chess (not sure if the kids were bending the rules to impress us or not!), and had fun on the playground. :)

The week following our Kottayam-weekend was dominated by intensive rehearsals for the upcoming (though not anymore) TV recording. We only taught on Monday and Tuesday mornings, and gave our students (and ourselves) time to practice and rehearse in the afternoon. Abraham came from Trivandrum on Wednesday to hold the final rehearsals for the recording, which were, again, pretty intense; and the students were starting to panic and get nervous. It’s true to say that the standards and musical interests of the students are very diverse, and they are still finding it slightly difficult to accommodate each other’s interests. However, we tried to encourage them to practise and work together in their ensemble pieces - we were surprised that they hadn’t come together to rehearse in their own time. Thus, there were issues in voice-blending, intonation, and pronunciation clashes (two of the students are from Delhi, and two from Nagaland).

This is a video from the day before the recording. Following this, we made the students put their music down, which they weren’t too comfortable with at first. However, singing from memory made such a difference in their appearance, sound, and communication (among them and with the conductor). We didn't get chance to video it the second time, but hopefully the recording will be broadcast online in the next few weeks – watch this space…

Speaking of the recording day at Powervision – a Kerala-based Christian channel that is apparently broadcast nationally – it was pretty exciting! However, the excitement had got to the students a bit too much as the 2 guitarists forgot to bring their instruments, which were originally meant to be used in about half of the program! Anyway, keeping cool, we jotted down the chords and decided to accompany the affected pieces on the piano so that the students still had the opportunity to sing their pieces; but it was a shame that the solo guitar pieces couldn’t be filmed… On arrival, we all (including the guys) had our make-up done! We, as teachers, were both up first to record, to take the pressure off the students; and our recordings went pretty smoothly – with Constance performing Scarlatti’s Sonata in C minor and Chopin’s Third Ballade, and Amy playing Kuhlau’s Rondo and Synding’s Rustles of Spring.  Since we didn’t get time to hold any concerts or recitals here, we found this a nice opportunity to perform to the students (and a small audience of the 15-or-so studio staff…), and it certainly encouraged them to give their best efforts and not worry about mistakes in their own items.

We were proud to watch the students perform confidently to the cameras. Some of the pieces were still not quite up to standard, with tuning being the main issue, but it was fulfilling to see the changes and improvements they had made since the audition session we’d held, when they didn’t even think they could perform anything!  Here are a few pictures of the students loving the studio:

Other than the excitement of the recordings, the day gave us the opportunity to get to know the students even more – we had lots of fun during the breaks and in the changing/make-up room…

…and this wasn’t the only studio visit we made in our last week! Our final weekend in Trivandrum included a recording session, where we created some audio for the aural and history exams that we’d written.  The studio was actually in the home of Jose Thomas - a famous Keralan sitar player! Whilst we there, apart from making ourselves feel professional by putting on our ‘examination voices’, we got to have a go on his Sitar, and also had a few coffee breaks and a delicious home-made breakfast with him and his wife :)

Speaking of exams, the question papers and marking schemes are now finished and ready!

Back to CDMS, it was classroom time..  Abraham had scheduled us to hold workshops for aural and viva voce elements for the exam students, and the classes went well!  We started with Grades 1 and 2 – Amy holding the former class and Constance holding the latter, both consisting of around 20 students.  Being for lower grades, and knowing that a lot of the students were lacking in basic musical knowledge, we started from the beginning.  We began the workshops by getting the students to imagine that we were writing a piece of music together, and thus we would need a stave, clef, key signature, time signature, tempo, notes, note values, dynamics etc. – explaining and discussing each as we went along. We followed this structure even with the grade 5 and 6 students, some of whom struggled to identify note names and values…  For the aural training, the students particularly liked the conducting and singing parts; and being in groups made this more interactive and fun.

There were only 5 students at our final pop singing workshop, as a lot of families were on holiday for ‘Onam’, a Keralan festival/holiday that was going on.  It was an interesting one – again we had 2 new students (among the 5), so just decided to sing some catchy, fun tunes. We began by asking the students what their favourite songs were, and after hearing them sing them, used snippets of them as warm-ups. A power-cut made the workshop more interesting – one of the songs we’d planned to sing was ironically titled ‘Power in Me’, which we asked them to sing extra loud to generate some electricity!

And then, somehow, it was our final week! En route back to Kottayam, we stopped off at Varkala – a touristy beach and shopping area which the train passes by.  Here, as part of the Onam festival mentioned above, there were a few interesting Hindu ceremonies occurring on the beach, including the laying-down of bird food…  After we’d sat down for a bit of sunbathing, one family decided to perform their bird food ceremony a few meters away from us, which resulted in a mass of pigeons feasting around us… It was fascinating to watch, but we had to move a few times…

Back in Kottayam, we’ve held final revision and practice classes; composition presentations; and also the practical examinations! For the latter, some of our students amazed us again with their confidence in performing, but we were also slightly disappointed with some underprepared performances.  For each exam, the students played/sung 2 or 3 pieces on their first instrument, a short piece on their second instrument, technical exercises, sight reading, sol-fa sight-singing, and an ensemble/duet piece.  Without Abraham’s presence, we felt very authoritative to be conducting and marking the exams – we created graded-style marking sheets, a ‘Quiet, Examination in Progress’ door sign, and sight-reading/singing templates!  We’re in the process of consolidating marks and comments for these…

For the composition presentations, the students all performed their pieces in front of the class and spent a few minutes afterwards discussing their source of lyrics and how, if at all, they had applied any compositional devices (intentionally!) to their pieces.  These were all impressive, though we realised that some of them had failed to notate their compositions accurately ( - we had collected in their written scores beforehand to analyse them).

Steve presenting his composition ' I have Jesus within me'.

Again, we’re in the process of marking these…

And that was it! We’ve finally completed the semester with the ACCM students! As a well-deserved reward and to give them a proper farewell, we spent the afternoon snacking on Indian treats and fruits, presenting them with their gifts, and letting them all wind down and relax…

We’re actually quite upset that it’s time to leave. We’ve learnt so much from this wonderful experience, from the teaching; through the people we’ve met; and from the extraordinary, eye-opening cultural encounters.  On this note, we thought we’d finish with a list of things that we have adapted to and improved upon whilst being in India:

1.      Crossing the roads – seen as the rules of the road are simply non-existent, we’ve learnt, from pedestrian experiences with Abraham particularly, that it’s quite easy to walk out into a busy road of traffic…
2.      Standing next to the door on buses – there’s no need for roller-coasters in India, as there are buses – so as long as you hold on tight, it’s (arguably) quite safe to stand next to the door; and the other passengers, in their claustrophobic fashion, should keep you held upright anyway…
3.      Sleeping on trains – we quite enjoyed taking an adventurous nap on the ‘Superfast Express’ bunk beds on our final train ride back to Kottayam :)
4.      Eating more and more Chilli! Our taste-buds have most definitely adapted to the spice…we’re worried about the blandness of British dishes when we return!
5.      Developing our head-shakes!  We now agree with each other, and say yes to things by giving the ‘Indian shake’ – it’s quite catchy!
6.      Negotiating for the bargains at shops.  Every Indian shop-owner knows they can charge the ‘foreigners’ the extra rupees, but are usually happy to take some off if you’re nice to them/pretend you only have so much to spend…
7.      Making sure we take our umbrellas out – otherwise you either get soaked, or sunburnt.
8.      Not being too afraid of the ‘public’ – and when we say public, we mean the wildlife that roams the streets, as well as the people! We saw a troop of elephants being ‘walked’ on one of our journeys, and have also come into close contact with snakes, goats, cows, bison, etc.

It’s time to say Goodbye…we really have had an awesome time and have many memories to take away from our WAM-summer!

Our 'farewell' picture with the students
Yathrayayapu! (Farewell in Malayalam)

Monday, 20 August 2012

Rhythm workshop from week 1...


As promised 6 weeks ago (sorry!), here's the video of our first workshop at ACCM.. (The college now has wifi, hoorah!) 


Constance & Amy

Monday, 13 August 2012

Thiruvananthapuram-Kottayam Update

Hello from rainy Kottayam!

…and the past ten days’ happenings have involved four 9-hour days of teaching at the music school in Trivandrum; a lovely trip to the seaside; a rather speedy motor-bike ride with Abraham; our discovery of Dosa – an amazingly delicious Indian breakfast; and a few full days of rehearsals, lessons, and exam-writing at ACCM.

At CDMS our schedule was typically non-stop, spontaneous, and pretty unorganised (it’s the way Indians seem to do things…)! We found that we were still seeing new students, and find that it’s quite tricky to keep track of progress with so many of them (especially Grade 1 and 2 keyboardists!)… Apparently, due to the fact that the students and their families all have varying schedules themselves, it is possible for any student to turn up for a lesson, or practice, on any day of the week (the register from the middle of week had nearly 150 names on it on one day!) However, we have tried to give each student that is preparing for an exam an equal, fair amount of time to run through/work on their pieces, and also work through some scales and technical work. With this limited amount of time, and awareness that the majority of students are weakest in sight-reading, viva voce and aural elements, we are going to be holding some group workshops on how to approach these areas specifically – watch this space! For those students who we have seen before, we were pleased to see improvements in their fingerings (which they totally ignored before), rhythms, and general sense of timing.

Issues that still crop up include piano students practising on keyboards, lack of expression (including the avoidance of ornaments, dynamics, and pedalling by a couple of higher grade students!), and the fact that they struggle with reading the music – most students have to return to the beginning of the piece (or the beginning of the phrase/section if we’re lucky…) when they’re asked to start from a specific point.

It’s also quite difficult to teach keyboard lessons with another 10 keyboards playing away in the background, which also can’t be good for practising…there’s not a lot we can do about this as the school is quite restricted in the amount of rooms there are, but we’ve at least tried to move lessons into the ‘piano room’ (thankfully there’s only 2 clavinovas in this one…)

Main keyboard practice room at CDMS.

We’ve held pop singing workshops both weekends, continuing to work on vocal exercises, sol-fa recognition, and Beauty and the Beast. The students’ attendance is very inconsistent – new students turn up every time, and the class size of the first workshop was triple the size of the second! It is always encouraging to see a bigger group, but this makes things difficult at the same time as we can never revise an old song without re-teaching it. However, we incorporated fragments from Beauty and the Beast into our warm-up exercises to make them fun for the returning students, and to introduce the song to the new students. We then tried to sing the song through as a whole, with the addition of part-sing and counter-melody.

Back at ACCM, we’ve managed to introduce the Romantic and Modern periods in our history lessons. After realising that students were struggling to prepare for their presentations and with us failing to keep their attention in lessons, we have decided to change the structure of our lessons to make them more interactive. Instead of giving the historical context, we now start our lessons by playing musical excerpts as an introduction to the stylistic features of the period. It is evident that the students have either got a limited vocabulary, or that they cannot relate music to emotion and mood. (One student thought Handel’s ‘Glory to God’ from Messiah sounded ‘sad’ to him…) We’ve tried to help them by giving them a list of descriptive words to choose from, which has started to improve their stylistic answers. Due to the diversity among the students, we have set them an essay to see how well each of them can describe music in words.

Preparation for the recordings seems to be going well. We were thankful to hear that the date has been pushed back to the third week of August, meaning that we have both more time to work with the students on their repertoire, and to practise ourselves. We are starting to see progress in the group pieces – Behold the Lamb is beginning to come together in tune and in time, and the students are also enjoying working together on Hillsong’s Hosanna, which will also be performed in the recording. We’ve written out our own arrangement of this for the students, which involves a chorale-like opening, and piano and guitar accompaniments.

Students are individually showing improvement as well. For example, in singing lessons, Beni is sounding so much more confident. When we first heard her sing, she sang with very different tone qualities in her upper and lower registers, which she struggled to connect. Following various exercises, she has learned to lighten her lower register and to support her higher notes, which has given her a more consistent tone throughout her vocal range. Despite improvements like these, it appears that all of the students aren’t spending enough time on practising everything. This is partly to do with their poor time management, but also the short opening hours of the college (where their only practice facilities are) and our intensive lesson timetable. On this note, it is apparent that the students are getting frustrated about the workload, as well as the lack of resources that the college has to offer, and the fact that there is so few of them to collaborate by means of peer learning and ensemble playing. We can sympathise with this, and also personally find it difficult to do so much in so little time (- we’ve realised that we would ideally need a whole year to cover everything at the right pace!) However, we feel that we should try to cover as much as the students can take in, as we want to ensure that they will have a good enough amount of musical knowledge in preparation ready for their next semester.

Whilst on this subject, we thought we’d briefly summarise the 5 weeks of teaching that we’ve carried out here so far: We’ve managed to stick to our schedule, covering a pretty impressive amount of content - especially in the history module (15 century’s worth of Western music)! In aural training, we’re continuously practising rhythmic, sol-fa and note dictation. Although some students find this easier than others, all of them are improving at their own pace. For theory, we’ve covered most of the basics, including rhythm and metre, keys and scales (both major and minor), and intervals. And in composition, we’ve covered the basics of song-writing, including rhythm, melody, lyrics, and harmony. On the practical side of teaching, we’re still giving each of the students an hour’s piano lesson a week, but three out of four of them are first study guitarists or singers, and all of them are of low standard on the piano. Lessons have focused on technical exercises and sight-reading, and pieces that we have provided for them (e.g. J. S. Bach’s Minuet in G) or those that they would like to play (e.g. Beethoven’s Fur Elise) – you can guess which ones they learn quicker…

As their only academic teachers this term, we are also responsible for setting exam requirements and papers, which we’ve began to work on this week. We’ve made assessment plans for all of their ‘modules’, which consist of:
  • A 1-hour written paper for theory
  • A 2-hour exam for history, combining listening and written elements
  • A 1-hour listening exam for aural
  • Composition coursework, where the students will need to write an accompanying essay for the songs that they compose
  • Practical exams for both their first and second study instruments

As their school term doesn’t actually finish till mid-September, the written exams will be conducted then, so we also have to create marking schemes and listening tapes for Abraham to use too. We didn’t quite expect to have these levels of responsibilities initially (teaching a BMus course did sound a bit scary though!), but are thankful that Abraham has given us the trust and freedom to teach and assess in our own ways.  We’re also enjoying the challenge and feel that we’re learning more about how to teach every day!

Anyway, having worked two full intensive weeks, we felt the need for a bit of replenishment in the form of a beach trip to Kovalam, which was just beautiful…

Next week’s updates to follow!


Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Delhi Diary 2012

After a slow start in which many lessons were cancelled, things have started moving very quickly.  The One World College of Music runs as a musical community in which students are encouraged to spend quite a lot of time participating in musical activities aside from just instrumental lessons.  Musical ensembles and bands can use the college as a space to rehearse and workshops are taken in which they get to sample instruments other than their own, learn and improve their theoretical knowledge and hone in on specific elements such as rhythm or songwriting.  This idea of a community extends to the staff as well who have weekly meetings in which they develop ideas and share teaching methods in order to develop and progress themselves as teachers. 

Being assigned ensembles to work with already within a week of arriving, I found my lack of knowledge of instruments other than my own (predominantly piano, flute, voice) to be a burden and upon discussing this in a staff meeting we agreed that it would be beneficial for the teachers to teach each other so that we all have a basic theoretical and practical understanding of as many instruments as possible.  Thus, I have found myself being given drum and guitar lessons which comes in very handy for the more creative workshops in which I can instruct real beginners on how to play basic drum riffs and how to find various chord positions on the guitar.  I think this environment in which everybody is learning gives more motivation to the teachers and, through making everybody both student and teacher, dismantles a lot of potential hierarchies.

I have taken on the challenge of organizing and carrying out a ‘launch party’ for the school, which only opened this year.  The aim is to hold an open evening where workshops are conducted by various teachers and students enabling potential students, parents and the general public to attend and participate to see what actually goes on here.  Following this, a concert will be held, showcasing various ensembles and concluding with a choir concert. 

I have been taking choirs every Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon since we decided to go ahead and turn the idea into a reality and, with many of the students struggling to pitch notes of the Western scales, this has certainly been a challenging experience... 

In addition to working at the One World College of Music, Rosie and I have been teaching three mornings a week to the children from the Sankalp school - an NGO run school which runs on volunteers and donations.   This provides an interesting variation in our teaching and our main duties, as requested by the head teacher, are to ‘train them fully in preparation for a singing concert.’  Thus, we set about teaching them ‘My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean’ and have recently moved on to a couple of rounds and trying to explain the difference between a crochet and a quaver. 

One of the most fulfilling things that Rosie and I have been doing is teaching in the slums on a Sunday afternoon.  We met Sylvester two Sundays ago, an amazing man who dedicates his life to educating and helping children from the slums to give them better life opportunities.  After we chatted over biscuits and tea he took us into the slum to meet the children and visit 'the academy'.  A very surreal experience because although I've been in many poor parts of India, this really was a community of people living in shacks with nothing really and to be welcomed into that environment without feeling like an intruder felt like a great privilege.  One of the boys told me 'if you have love in your heart and are doing it for the right reasons than we will love you and welcome you into our lives' which was incredibly touching.  With all their Indian fabrics draped here and there, they still manage to make 'the slum' look oddly cosy.  The academy, which is a school of 80-90 children exists in one incredibly small room.  Nevertheless, about 30-40 of us managed to cram in and we were all sitting on the floor (Rosie and I were given a piece of fabric to sit on) getting introduced and telling stories - some of the children were spilling out of the doorway trying to listen in.  They asked us some questions about England and music and we sang them a couple of songs (Hey Unguwa and Black in the Colour - two rounds which I am teaching in the choir at school so Rosie could join in).  The room has two old computers (the type we used to have in the 90s); there are a few broken keyboards which they use for practising their English spelling.  Nothing goes to waste.  We sat in there for a couple of hours and as we left it had become dark.  The children cheerfully led us out to the car and one little girl held my hand all the way.  We're going back every Sunday to teach them some songs and a basic introduction to Western music, theory and history.  Many of the children are actually very competent in English and so, whenever something seems misunderstood, one of the older boys (the eldest, who collects us from the metro is 22) will translate and explain more thoroughly in Hindi.  

I have agreed amongst the children that I will teach them music if they teach me Hindi and so, every so often one of them whispers something in my ear - for example 'aapko class kaisa laga' means 'how did you feel the class went?'.  When I pronounce it wrong with my English tongue, they all laugh uproariously!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Let's get practising...

Greetings from ACCM, as we are half way through our WAMing journey! This week has been another busy one as we have had some interesting news, held auditions with the students (more to follow..), attempted to effectively summarise two musical periods, given the students another test, and took a trip to Cochin, where we met up with Chloe and Niamh! :)

Towards the end of last week, the chief executive of ACCM (Abraham) held a (surprise) meeting to announce that the students are going to be filmed for a television broadcast on one of Kerala’s TV channels! He told them the requirements: that they would need to prepare 2 hours worth of college-standard music between them for the broadcast, in approximately 1-2 weeks time (!!). He also asked us to prepare a piece or two for this…so we’ve all been feeling a little bit under pressure!

We organised an audition for our students and asked them to come to us with any ideas or for their repertoire advice. However, the sign-up sheet was left empty and none of the students approached us... After discussing with them what their concerns are, it has become apparent that they are lacking in confidence and repertoire, and will need more time to prepare for the broadcast. Still, we persuaded them to at least put down one item each…

So, audition day came along, and we had more items than expected! We are glad to see the students getting more comfortable in performing in front of the class and have advised them on presenting themselves and performing to an audience. The audition programme consisted of the following:

  • Solo guitar – Spanish Waltz and Romance (Thangboi)
  • Solo voice with guitar accompaniment – Priyanka’s Hindi song ‘Din Aur Raat’ (Day or Night) (Priyanka and Steve)
  • Vocal duet – Franck’s Panis Angelicus (Thangboi and Beni)
  • Solo voice with rap (!) and guitar accompaniment – Priyanka’s More than Enough (Priyanka and Steve)
  • Solo voice with piano accompaniment – Priyanka’s Hindi Song ‘Jabse Tune Meri Rum Ko Chua’ (The time that you touch my soul) (Priyanka and Steve)
  • Solo Piano – Pachelbel’s Canon in D (Thangboi)
  • Solo voice with guitar accompaniment – Hindi song ‘Mujhe Yeshu ka pyar mila hei’ (I have got the love of God) (Steve)
  • Vocal duet with guitar accompaniment – No other Friend (Thangboi and Beni)

We enjoyed listening to all the pieces, despite the few mistakes and nerves that came across. We were impressed to see how much potential the students have, and could see that the singing in particular was heartfelt and confident. The few issues that we noticed were lack of communication between performers, failure to establish a connection with the audience (although when we received the odd smiles, this was very heart-warming), and small technical errors concerning tuning, timing and clarity (which were mainly to do with lack of practice and confidence).

It is a shame that our students are all beginners on the piano, and that they didn’t feel advanced enough to audition on this instrument. However, we are keen to help the students with their current repertoire, and were impressed by the creativity and maturity that they displayed (, though we were also annoyed by how shy they have been about their talents!) With Priyanka’s compositions, although she has not been able to notate any of her songs down, they are all well-structured with effective setting of lyrics, which she also wrote herself. Her cousin, Steve, is a keen rapper and incorporated some energetic, well-timed rapping in to her composition, a Christian song, ‘More than Enough’:

And here's a lovely duet 'No other Friend' (another Christian song), arranged and sung by Thangboi and Beni:

Further to working on the pieces they played in the auditions, we have also tried to motivate the students to perform something as a group of 4.  They are quite clearly split into 2 groups (of 2), each having their own contrasting interests and ideas; but we have brainstormed a few Christian songs/hymns that they might be interested in working on, including the traditional hymn Behold the Lamb, which we mentioned in our last blog. As for us, we have both started practising some repertoire for the broadcast, whenever we get any spare time – it’s proving quite difficult to cover everything, with all this practical work as well as the academic syllabi, in such a short period of time..

Also this week, we’ve tried our best to summarize the Classical and Romantic periods in our history lessons, which has proven quite a lot to digest for the students (and quite a lot for us to prepare!).  As per usual, each student presented their selected composer(s) and works from the periods, though again it is hard for them to do much research because of the lack of text books and web-resources...

We’ve also had a few listening sessions to improve awareness of musical styles and genres, and the students were particularly amazed by the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute, which we managed to watch on youtube.

At the weekend, we were grateful for another break to visit Cochin (for just a 10p train journey each!).  The weather was beautiful so we spent a good amount of time enjoying the sea and sunshine on the beach in Fort Kochi.  We were glad to meet up with fellow WAMers Chloe and Niamh and share our experiences over the most non-Indian lunch we’ve had so far, which included cake! :9

We’re off to Trivandrum tomorrow for a jam-packed weekend at CDMS…

Bye for now!

Amy & Constance

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

More from ACCM...

So (As Indians like to start their phrases with..), Amy and Constance into our third week as WAMers!

We’ve only been teaching at ACCM this week, but have still been keeping ourselves busy. The new timetable seems to be working well – the students have now started to turn up on time (despite still having some unexplained absences..), and we are following our schedule tightly, with the keen intention of covering as much of the syllabus as we can during our stay. At the end of the three years of studies (of which three students are in the first year and one in the second), these students will be awarded a Bachelor of Music (BMus) qualification. Thus, we know we have a lot to work on with them.

With the level of qualification in mind, there are few resources to accommodate the students’ needs. We have a good amount of chairs, keyboards and guitars, as well as a whiteboard of good size, a pair of good speakers, a decent office with a photocopier, and two clavinovas. However, there are no listening resources in the college. With the limited internet availability, we have tried to play musical examples (specifically for the history module) from Naxos, etc, but the students have no means to access listening materials themselves. Also, there were no desks in our first couple of weeks of teaching…

…but we now have six brand new shiny desk-chairs!

Both pictures above are of the weekly tests that we have scheduled for the students. These aim to check their understanding of topics covered in aural, theory and history modules. The results of these so far show their improvement in grasping the sol-fa technique and recognition of instrument sounds; but rhythmic notation seems to remain as a weakness. The history results were also satisfactory, apart from the students finding difficulties in pronunciations and spellings of composer-names, stylistic terms etc.  

In this week’s piano lessons, students have shown a good level of practice. They have improved greatly in the pieces that we have given them to work on. However, sight-reading remains a weakness, especially in the bass clef, and they also have a great deal to improve on their rhythmic reading.  Other small issues are seen in a couple of the students, such as stiff wrists/fingers, and 'sticky-out-elbows' whilst playing scales - Amy has filmed her one student that seems to have gotten into this bad habit, to see if they can show any improvement by the next lesson!

A couple of students have opted for extra individual lessons on their other instruments, so we have also taken on violin and vocal lessons. Again, learning from listening is apparent, as they struggle to sight-read but demonstrate strong call-and-response skill. In Beni’s first individual vocal lesson, we were surprised by how strong her singing (and speaking) voice could be. It has been fulfilling to see this increasing confidence in all of the students, as they are starting to approach us more with questions or for our creative input.

Composition classes are now running smoothly. With the limited time we have, we have selected song-writing as the compositional focus. After having the students compose an eight-bar melody last week, we have moved on to setting melody to text. As all of the students have a strong Christian background and are keen on using music in that context, we assigned them the renowned Psalm 23:1-3 to compose a melody to. They each tried their best to notate this down, and performed them in class:

In addition, we also performed our own versions of the Psalm as examples to demonstrate melodic compositional devices, and as a brief introduction to harmony writing. 

Apart from having all the serious studies, we hold a singing/ ensemble workshop every Wednesday. After having the students list their favourite songs, which were all Christian songs, we thought it would be a nice idea to work on these in our ensemble workshops. Last week, we started singing four-part harmony on Behold the Lamb (Thangboi’s favourite).   It's probably worth noting that we were surprised at the large population of Christians in this area of India!

As we didn’t have to travel to Trivandrum last weekend, we briefly visited Munnar, which was absolutely stunning! We trekked and toured around Munnar, and paid a visit to Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, which gave us breath-taking views of endless tea estates, wildlife animals including elephants, bison, monkeys, and more. Our local guides took us on a detour beforehand, where we each had a fresh coconut, hand-chopped from the tree (and witnessed our host climb up the tree with bare hands and feet!).

It was a truly refreshing weekend, we got back to ACCM feeling revived and ready for another busy week.

So(!), that’s this week summed up. More posts to follow!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Kottayam-Kumarakom-Thiruvananthapuram! Go Go Go!!!

Amy and Constance here again!

We're feeling a lot more settled in despite the lengthy early morning (guess what time we wake up at?!..) journeys to and from Trivandrum. We've kept ourselves busy in the form of planning timetables and syllabuses for the College (ACCM), teaching both practically and academically (fully occupying the students!), travelling a little, and even singing in a church service...

At CDMS, we've taught a lot of keyboard students, mostly on grades 1 and 2 (can't get Ode to Joy and Skyeboat Song out of our heads now). A strange 'technique' that they share in common is to play the left hand chords with their pinky in strange positions - either curled, completely off the keyboard, or stuck up. They are all near-perfect with their pieces (with the exception of a few who can't seem to grasp the sense of metre in the accompaniment, or those that use the wrong fingering all the time!), but sight-reading, aural and general music theory are not so strong. This is generally similar with the piano. We are planning to hold some workshops to help the students on these areas.

We're always happy to be approached by a piano student, and there are certainly some very talented ones (a few of which can already play their pieces from memory, and one has even learnt the Wedding March!). As with the keyboard though, it appears that they lack technical practice, which shows in their playing. As we are just focusing on exam pieces with them, they have already done some work on these. However, upon hearing them in lessons, we noted some bad habits that they had developed through practice. These include flat fingers - possibly an outcome of the shift from keyboard to piano key-weight (apparently, most piano students start on the keyboard because they find it initially difficult to read off two different clefs), or from the style of Indian classical piano playing, as a student mentioned to us. Most of the students also are very tense in their wrist movements, which we are trying to improve. One of the strengths of the students is to pick up new musical ideas purely by listening, not only by imitating a snippet that we may play on the piano/ keyboard, but also listening to our advice. Thanks to Duncan's advice about an amusing head-shake in the induction - we noticed that the students display agreement not by nodding their heads but by swinging them sideways. This was quite confusing at first, as we thought they were disagreeing with us.

Amy ran pop-singing workshop number 2 on Sunday - with an even bigger turnout than last week.  Again the students enjoyed their warm-ups, particularly pretending to be babies with lots of "gagaaaaaa's", at all different pitches, and the (Sound of Music) Do Re Mi song as a re-cap to begin with.  We then went over I Have A Dream, teaching the new students, and then started work on Beauty and the Beast, following student feedback from the last session (apparently they're very keen on Disney and musicals!)
(Image from last week's workshop:) CDMS Pop-singing students' favourite warm-up exercise: tongue stretches!

Also on Sunday, we both sang in church! We were warmly welcomed to the 'junior congregation', of which Abraham is pastoring. We introduced ourselves and sang Amazing Grace with a different setting for each verse (as best as possible after a 5-minute-curry breakfast), before we rushed off to CDMS for another day's teaching.

An early morning long train ride on Monday (16 July) took us back to Kottayam. We noted how the railways are quite 'open to public access':

Upon reaching ACCM, we started teaching under our new busy timetable pretty much straight away. It has appeared that the students are not quite used to following a fixed schedule, which has proved slightly challenging for them, and us, due to the fact that we have so much to cover within two months. We have set up syllabi for Music Theory, Music History, Aural Training, Composition (song-writing); as well as scheduling them each an hour's piano lesson each week, and offering extra singing and violin lessons to those who request them. However, we are having to start from the basics in these subjects, as students either have some knowledge and have forgotten, or have very little background at all. Thankfully, there are only four students, which means that we can give them more individual attention and assistance. We have realised that our teaching methods have had to be adapted to support their different way of learning. For example, we started our composition lessons by teaching them to write a melody instead of beginning with harmony, as they would have melodies of songs in mind but not what may accompany them.

As for practicality, the students all have their own strengths (we are hoping to set up a mini-band for them!). We have had two of the students singing Franck's Panis Angelicus, which we have been delighted to hear them practise. One of the girls, Priyanka, has a beautiful Hindi voice (her main 'instrument'), which she demonstrated by singing us one of her compositions, with her brother, Steve, accompanying - we both had shivers down our spines when they performed to us. She has apparently composed 13 Christian songs in Hindi, but struggles to notate them. We have offered to help her do this, considering that this could be a good starting point towards developing her Western musical knowledge (i.e. of notation, key, harmony, etc.). In her first piano lesson, we revised the sol-fa names by singing them, whilst getting her to play the C major scale with the correct fingering. From this, she revealed the Hindi equivalent of the major scale, which we were impressed to hear (the Hindi 'Do Re Mi!'):


Although the students all specialise in one instrument or voice, it is to our surprise that their piano skills are quite weak. Some of them are beginners, but those who aren't struggle with reading at the piano. One particular student, Thangboi, has an impressive ability of learning pieces through listening and watching videos, before he reads the score. He learnt Beethoven's Fur Elise and Pachelbel's Canon in D simply from watching performance videos (We think he learns the guitar and the violin in the same way!), but struggles with beginner-level sight-reading exercises....

We have a great dynamic here - Beni is a rather shy student who, as we found out from her practice, in fact, has a loud and strong soprano singing voice (It was her along with Thangboi who were proudly practising the Franck in their free time - due to the acoustic of the College, their singing sounded as if it were coming from a cathedral). Despite having a strong singing background, Beni is a beginner on the piano, but this may be to our advantage as we can teach her to play from reading instead of listening!
Constance teaching Beni.
Aside from things musical, we visited Kumarakom Backwaters on our day-off (!) last Friday. We took a peaceful boat-ride around the rivers and into Lake Vembanad - definitely a nice break from our packed schedule from Saturday to Thursday! Had some fresh-caught fish and lobster (Kerala is known for its scrummy fish), alongside with the breathtaking views, for lunch. We later visited the Bird Sanctuary, in which we sighted literally hundreds of heron-like birds!

The pretty Backwaters with the Kerala palm trees everywhere.
On board the boat. Ahoy!

That's all for now, folks! Shubh raatri! (Good night in Hindi...)