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