Friday, 19 July 2013

Update from Gurgaon, Delhi

Maria: I’ve been really busy here in Gurgaon and think I’ve settled down well. Teaching classroom music at Shri Ram School secondary school is my main activity which I do most weekdays from 9 till 2 then afterwards I usually have classes at the private music school IMD.
Since music is such a new subject at Shri Ram, only having been introduced a few months back, the children have no knowledge of most of the basics of music. I am busy providing a course to cover the rudiments of rhythm, harmony, texture and form with them in a way which I hope will be fun and engaging. I find that I am teaching in a way which is very different from how I might teach the equivalent age group in western school because the culture is so different. For example, the children although are keen on western favourites such as Justin Bieber and One Direction, have no familiarity with for example western scales or instruments other than pianos and guitars.
Shri Ram School has an impressive extra-curricular life and the teachers have decided to stage a production of ‘Oliver’. This musical will be performed in September after I leave but I aim to prepare students as far as possible. This is a tricky task as this is the first musical the school has done and it seems to be an organisational challenge. In particular, as yet there is no separate rehearsal time other than music classes which means that for half of the lesson I am teaching, for example an introduction to rhythm, and for the other half of the lesson  they need to learn how to sing ‘Food Glorious Food’. I am working to introduce a separate practice time for those taking part in the musical but this might take some time. Still, it will be good to have all the children who are performing in one space at last.
After the hectic pace of Shri Ram and the 500 children I teach there each week, I’ve really enjoyed coming to the IMD in the afternoons to teach individual lessons. I’m covering vocals, composition and some piano too. IMD has a blossoming composition section but the students are primarily working by arranging existing music using a software programme. I am working to allow them to compose their own music away from the software so that they can do some work at home too. I have some adult pupils and this has been particularly rewarding because they are so keen to learn!
Outside of work I’ve been doing quite a bit of yoga, visited Qutb Minar and India Gate and successfully survived a bout of Delhi belly. Looking forward, Shri Ram has plans to stage Happy Feet the musical for its younger students, so I will have my work cut out with that no doubt.

Áine: We are currently deep into rehearsals for the OWCM Independence Day concert, which is taking a lot of preparation, and late sessions fuelled by kitkats and samosas!
My days are broken down into lessons for my intensive course pupils (a lot of whom are already showing really pleasing progress), group singing classes, theory classes, composition workshops, Preparation to Perform ensemble and theory classes, as well as band and choir rehearsals. Most pupils are near-beginners, but there is a smattering of (mainly pianists) up to about Grade 8 standard. This presents its own challenges in that the differences in the standards of players means that more advanced students may not always be as engaged during the group classes.
I have now arranged twice weekly meetings with the teachers as a forum for discussing pupils and the teaching system. I aim to have written a tiered curriculum by the time I leave, as well as a system for judging what level a student is at, to ensure students of a similar standard are grouped together, make it more clear to teachers what they should be doing in these lessons and to provide a bit of continuity. The teachers are all very enthusiastic with bringing up suggestions and issues, as well as asking questions and sitting in my classes, and are all eager to work to improve the school.
Tuesdays are OWCM’s day off, but I use this time (as well as Thursday mornings) to work at Sankalp, a local NGO run school. I teach a class of around 30 primary-age pupils, and we have been learning We Shall Overcome in Hindi (Hum Honge Kamyaab), Vande Mataram and a marching song to sing with one of the OWCM bands. Transcribing some of these songs into Western notation, learning Hindi, and getting my head around the Bengali and Sanskrit pronunciations has been a bit of a challenge!
I was touched to find in my last lesson that my Sankalp class had all been devotedly practising their do re mis and sa re gas in the playground. As a school for the immigrant population of Gurgaon, all of the classes are led in Hindi as the children don’t really understand English, but we do our best in class. This has provided plenty of hilarity with my broken Hindi and dodgy interpretations of the Indian head wobble (usually leaving me feeling a tad dizzy and in need of a sit-down).
The biggest challenge so far though has probably been the weather. Firstly the heat; frequent power-cuts mean that a/c and ceiling fans cannot always be relied on, and my last class in a windowless Sankalp classroom culminated in one child wandering priest-like down the aisles, flicking cooling water at us all. Secondly, the rain. The drainage is so bad around here that one day the other week, no rickshaws could access the roads to OWCM, and so I had to wade to work. The water almost reached waist height at points, so I waded out with my skirts knotted up and a towel turban (to keep my hands free and the towel dry, to use at school), much to the amusement of many onlookers...

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