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...)

Monday, 16 July 2012

Post from the One World College in Delhi

Hello from Jenny and Rosie in Delhi!

We are now beginning our third week working at the One World College of Music in Gurgaon. The school has only been open three months and has been purpose-built to accommodate its students, with a range of instruments available (including one upright piano and 4 electrics), soundproofed teaching and practice rooms, and a recording studio on the way. We have each been assigned various piano and vocal students at a range of ages, most at beginner level. The school aims not to focus too much on exams, but rather to work on an all-round musical education, to which end they have developed a programme whereby  each pupil receives, per week, a one-to-one instrumental tutorial, a group aural and musicianship class, and an ensemble class.

In the last couple of weeks we have started holding teachers meetings to discuss issues and ideas, and one of the results of this so far is that we are all going to make an effort to teach each other our own instrument to improve general awareness and to create a truly multi-instrumental staff team! (Jenny and I are both aiming to do a drumkit grade before the end of our stay.) We are also beginning to make contact with the British Council in order to arrange some workshops and are looking at getting involved with various other voluntary projects.

The main issues we have found so far through our teaching include a lack of note reading ability and a hazy grasp of theory as well as a general feeling of shyness or lack of confidence; however, seeing as most of the students are beginners, this is not unexpected. In our teachers meetings, we have particularly been discussing how to improve aural ability in group classes.

Overall the school has been very welcoming to us and we are getting along well in our new environment :-)

So... that's about it for now. We will keep updating on our progress as we get on!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Namaskaram from Kerala!

Constance and Amy here! Sitting in our room, surrounded by the odour of insect repellent and Amy's sat under the mosquito net..

After only arriving three days ago, we're settling in pretty well in our two main school bases, the Centre for Development of Music Studies (CDMS) in Trivandrum and the Asian Christian College of Music (ACCM) in Kottayam. We have been welcomed and very well looked after so far by Abraham, the chief executive, and the staff and students of the schools. Abraham has provided for us well, feeding us with (apparently milder than the norm) curry and the like. From the moment we arrived and got picked up from the airport, we were spontaneously scared for our lives at the site of the Indian roads - sheer hecticness! (Though we are starting to find it more exciting now..) It's also a norm for Air India to leave your suitcases at Mumbai while you fly off to another city apparently, as ourselves and six other Indians found out.

So far we've only spent a little time at CDMS but we'll be returning there on weekends. We were there for 6 hours on Sunday, teaching piano, keyboard, guitar (!?), and also held a pop singing workshop with the youngsters of age 8-18 - they are all so lovely, obedient and responsive...  We taught the piano and keyboard students one after another and instantly noticed that they have a common ability of playing music from memory quickly, struggling with sight reading and general musical knowledge also. They are all taking LCM graded exams in October and it seems that the focus is now on the requirements of these. The keyboard concept is new to us but this is more popular among the students, possibly because the musical effect is more instant for them - the right-hand melody they play is basically accompanied by the keyboard itself, with all of its different sounds and effects. Even from this short session, we have realised the need to work on the general musicality of the students.

Abraham asked us last minute to hold a pop singing workshop with a small group of students, which went well considering we didn't have much time to prepare. We started with some vocal and physical (much to the students' amusement) warm-ups, including stretches, octave jumps on 'brrrrrr'-sounds (lip-vibrations), breathing exercises.  We also taught them the sol-fa names, which led us into 'Do-Re-Mi' from The Sound of Music,which the students enjoyed doing the actions to.  Following this, we worked on the Abba tune 'I have a dream', teaching them to sing in canon in the verse and 2 parts in the chorus.  (Brief clip posted below).

On Monday, we headed out on a 4 hour journey to Kottayam to move to ACCM.  Had a lovely Indian breakfast en route, with really cool inflated pancakes! (and of course curry...).  On arrival at the college, we were greeted by the principal and the students that we would be working with, receiving a warm welcome in the form of a guitar song by one of the second year students:

Then today, we have taken our first workshop at the college, titled 'Rhythm and Metre'.  The students struggled to identify or clap the rhythms in the beginning, but it appeared that the workshop really helped them to understand pulse, note values, and rests, as well as becoming more confident in clapping rhythmic figures. We played them Steve Reich's 'Clapping Music' and then got them to create their own 4 bar rhythms (in common time), which they practised, and clapped back to us. We then got them to clap their rhythms together in time (to be posted on the following blog post, think we've used too much space on this one...)