Monday, November 10, 2008

November 11

Today is my birthday and although I'm not at home with my closest family and friends, I am still enjoying myself. At this age it is not such a large celebration anymore and passes like most other days, but it's always a good time for reflection. Thinking about where I've come from and what in life has gotten me to where I am is always a fun time. In terms of what has brought me here to India, it's quite interesting. As far back as about 8th or 9th grade I had an interest in India due to my reading about Hinduism, as I explored world religions, and my close following of a drummer named Danny Carey - from the band Tool, whom also played an Indian drum called tabla. The Hindu religion that is practiced by a majority of the people in India had some ideas that I agreed with and likely consciously if not consciously adopted. The music of the tabla is also something I have searched for and listened to since first discovering it. These continuations as well as my developing an addiction to Indian food and dating a girl of Indian heritage have made for the constant reemergence of Indian culture in my life. My run-ins with India culminated this past summer when after deleting the initial email informing me of the opportunity to student-teach in India, the head of the music department at U of M Flint recommended that I should investigate this trip, as the university would pay for travel and accommodations. This all but sealed the deal for me. The only thing left was to be accepted by the committee choosing students to go. Being the only applicant involved in music, and the committee members telling me they like to have music people go as music is a good ambassador across any border, I was quite sure that I finally would visit the land whose culture had grabbed my attention for years. Life certainly works in funny and seemingly interconnected ways.

Now as for more of my experience here, yesterday I returned from a weekend trip to a city called Hampi. This is in the neighboring state of Karantaka and a twelve hours journey by train. The only saving grace of this journey that rivaled the time it took to travel from the USA to here, is that it was overnight and in a train car with places to sleep. I traveled with two other people; Ashley, one of the girls who taught in the same school as I, and Jessie, her room mate who studied at Hyderabad Central University. Leaving at 7 on Friday evening, we arrived at 5 in the morning the next day in a city called Hospet. Another 20 minutes or so by autorickshaw and Hampi was at our footsteps. We found a guesthouse and promptly plopped back into bed for a couple of hours. The guest house was fairly inexpensive (500 rupees/approx. 10 dollars) per night, although this was tourist season and as Jessie informed us, usually one can find such a room for 250 rupees.

Not luxurious my any means, but we only used to to sleep so it was not a big deal. The town of Hampi is very low key and as such, what we were looking for. Tourist seasons was certainly apparent as I saw more white people here than in any previous place. Many people came from Australia and Israel, but I met people from Germany, Switzerland, America, and England. We only had two full days and one night in Hampi, so we did not sleep for very long before getting up and roaming around. Jessie had visited Hampi previously so she knew of a few places we should go. The city has lots of temples and ruins which we saw a few of.

As one picture shows, monkeys are also prevalent in the city and will snatch your belongings if you are not careful. First, we ate at a beautiful restaurant called Mango Tree and the setting was on the side of a hill overlooking a river and the hilly terrain. Shoes had to be removed and seating was on straw mats on the floor with tables of an accomodating height. Although plates were used, they were covered with large green leafs from which we ate. As is the custom in India, hands were used to eat although silverware was available.

After breakfast, we wandered through the city looking at little shops and then made our way to one of the temples shown in most of the above pictures. I found a drum maker who had an assortment of hand drums and a few other instruments. I spent a good amount of time here the next few days and eventually bought a set of tabla for 5000 rupees and my iPod (I did not bring enough money myself so I had to negotiate a bit and borrow from Ashley) He was very friendly and showed me a little bit of how to play certain drums.

All of the people in the shops and on the street who were selling items were very friendly and although I am sure this was part of their sales pitch, it felt as though I befriended the drum salesman and a man who sold me three flutes (but then again these are the people to whom I gave a fair amount of money.) It really made me wonder about the sincerity of these people's kindness. India in general seems to be a country full of very kind people and perhaps it is my reservation and unfamiliarity with the culture that makes me question this kindness. Regardless, I enjoyed the time I spent in the shops and on the streets talking with these people. The man who sold me the flutes even had his friend stop to show me his cobras.

The time spent in Hampi was a welcomed break from the hustle and bustle of Hyderabad and also left me with a taste of what else India has to offer. It certainly makes me want to come back and spend more time in more places all over the country. I have to go now though and try to make the best use of the few days I have left.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The School I'm In

In India there are three main types of schools: private, public, and government. The first two mentioned both require the family of the student to pay a hefty fee and the third is only a small fee or sometimes free. The school I am observing is a private school called International Education Academy. The fee is 12,000 rupees for student in 10th class (they only go up to 10th class) a year or about $240, and the fee is less the younger the student. The school day is 8:30 to 2:30 with 30 minute lunch and a 15 minute break at 10:15. They teach in English, but students must also take Hindi and one of two local languages (Telegu or Urdu.) The method of teaching is largely based on memorization and rote. Students do not have much paperwork in terms of worksheets. although textbooks are provided. Most written work is copied from what the teacher has written on the chalkboard or from the book. Students often read aloud what has been written and repeat it two or three times. The only "worksheets" I have seen are in the form of the examinations the students are currently taking. The school was founded by a very well-known Indian radiologist named Dr. Subbarao. The campus is quite beautiful as can be seen below. There is no air-conditioning, but all classes have windows. During the summer months, when temperatures can reach over 120 degrees Farenheit, school begins a little earlier.

This picture is of a wall with shards of glass that surrounds some of the school, interesting way of keeping out unwanted guests.

These are pictures of primary and secondary school classrooms respectively.

As far as music goes, there is a lady who teaches song in Indian languages, a man who teaches Western and Indian music to primary students, a man who teaches Western and Indian music to all grades, and a group of 3 men who teach a brass band consisting of trumpet, euphonium, bass drum, and snare drum. The lady rotates throughout the primary school in a week (this encompasses age 4 through 11.) She also teaches secondary students songs during a period every Tuesday and Friday, called Core Curricular Activities, where students are allowed to choose between a number of activities. I had the opportunity to write the words and record the music for one song that she taught in Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language that forms the root of a few modern Indian languages. The man who teaches only primary school music plays piano and guitar and sings songs. His repetoire includes songs whose lyrics will be either in English or an Indian language, but the music is set to Western harmony. The same instruments and repetoire goes for the other man who teaches all levels of students. He also teaches piano skills during the Core Curricular Activities, where students will bring in small electric keyboards. A problem with this CCA, musically speaking, is that it is totaly voluntary, thus putting together music of high calibur proves difficult. The brass band I know little about as I have spent most of my time with the single music teacher during CCA. I did, however, notice that they do not use "proper" technique as I have learned it, but I did not said anything as I did not want to step on the instructors' toes. The music is taught by writing fingering positions and singing or demonstrating the pitches. The reading and writing of music as we know it in the Western world does is not taught in this school, or many other schools as I understand. It is usually only through personal research that someone learns Western music notation, as the two teachers have done who teach Western songs.

I am a bit disappointed to see the lack of a music curriculum as I know it, but certainly can understand it. In a country where the population is so large and thus the competition for higher education which hopefully (only hopefully I have heard about people with degrees taking jobs they are far more qualified for) leads to a job that pays well is so intense, academics come before arts. On the other hand, this is a very musical culture. Almost all films are filled with song and dance, the majority Hindu religion uses singing as a form of worship, and even when taxis or buses go in reverse a tune of some sort can usually be heard. Many forms of music can be found from Indian classical to any Western genre. Below I have included photos of a music class I observed, and also of a kid's carnival that took place. At the carnival there were music groups, which I was in charge of, and dance routines in addition to food stalls, games, and camel rides. I played a drum solo at the carnival as part of the entertainment portion which landed my photo in a local paper. It made me feel quite cool.

I have had to opportunity to teach. When this happened it was to grades 5 or lower and took on a few different forms. One was discussing blues, jazz, and steel drums as I mentioned in an earlier post. I also have taught Amazing Grace to a few classes, some which really enjoyed it and others where most of the students mocked my style of singing. Although I was able to make a point about singing not having to be all in the head, that the throat and chest were also available for sound production. Sometimes I end up in an English class and have gone over definitions of words with students. When that fails, I end up telling where I'm from and details about my state and city, as well as about my family and their migration from Switzerland- where that is and what language they speak. The most fun I've had "teaching" a class though was when I was in front of about 80-100 kindergarten students and began playing drumset. It ended up being a 15 minute drum solo on my part and a dance party on the part of the students. It is a very good feeling to not only have a bunch of little kids dancing around you, but worrying as though you are doing wrong by "only" playing a drum solo and having a teaching motion not to stop because the kids never get to experience such a thing.

One last note, I get asked to sign autographs by the students everyday, which is cool at first, but gets really tiring considering the kids are tugging at me, yelling at me, and there might be as many as 20 of them surrounding me.

I took this photo from a car on the way to school. As you can see, not everyone has the luxury of having a car, let alone a spot on the bus.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

India Oct 23

It's Thursday and I will continue where I left off, detailing last week.
Friday: First full day at school and I was thrown in to the classroom right away. I think the teachers in this school were under the impression that I was already a seasoned teacher. After the daily assembly (picture below)
I went to a classroom where the teacher said go ahead and left the room. I let her know I was not comfortable with this so she stayed but I still was in front of the class. I had not prepared any lesson so I had to improvise and began to ask students their names and interests. A few students mentioned music and performed for me; one singing and one on a small keyboard. This only took about 10 mnutes of a 30 minute class though, and I was forced to further improvise. Although this was an English class, I gravitated to my comfort and knowledge of music and began to tell them of my various musical endeavours. This entailed talking about the origin and construction of steel drums as well as the origin of jazz which led me to the subject of the blues. I used a student's keyboad to demonstrate a 12-bar blues and the use of improvisation within the genre. I did this both lyrically and melodically then had a few students come up and try their own melodic improvisation. This turned out to work well so I used it in two more classes that I observed/taught. In one of these classes, a student played tabla (drums of North Indian origin) along with the blues. This class also brought in an American style drumset ("jazz drums" as they call it) which allowed me to demonstrate various groove styles. This provided me with a positive feeling after initally being intimidated by being asked to teach right away. The rest of the day was spent observing various classes, which is how I found myself in the presence of a teacher named Poornima. She taught singing to all levels of students in various Indian languages (Hindi, Sanskrit). I felt at ease and as though I had found my place in the school. Initially I was not sure where I should be and what I should do, I was told at first that music only happened on certain days when two male music teachers came to school -one for primary grades one for secondary grades. When I found out Poornima was here everyday I was happy that I could watch a music teacher everyday. I spent the rest of me school day with her and to behonest I don't know what happened the rest of that day. Even though I have been here a little over one week, it seems like a long time - many new experiences to mentally sort through.
Saturday: I decided to go to work this day as many schools in India have a half day of classes on Saturdays. The day was considerably easier for the students and I found myself follwing Poornima around for the day watching, listening, and learning a Sanskrit song which I was able to record :) The afternoon found the group of American students visiting an monument in the old part of the city. This was nice to see, but even better was the bazaar that engulfed the surrounding streets. Below is the momument first (called Charminar) and pictures of the bazaar next.
Mainly clothes and jewelry were sold, not my top interest, but the environment in which this frenzy transpired was an amazing experience of its own. I captured many photos of random people - young childen beggin in the streets, angry looking rickshaw drivers, and street vendors alike. I even managed to find a shop whose sign advertised musical instruments, but when I asked to see them I was told they were for display only. The evening conlcluded with dinner at a local restaurant that we frequented almost every other day in our first week, as it served a variety of cusine that appealed to all members of our group. Food that is recognizeable really helps to feel comfort in a place where so many things are strange. I have to go, but more later.

Friday, October 17, 2008

First days in India

This is my first post sine I have arrived in India so I have a lot to write.
Sunday- Tuesday: The longest day ever. Arriving at the Flint airport at 5:30, I checked in luggage and met with the rest of my group - seven people in all, one professor, two graduate students, and four undergraduate student-teachers. We left Flint late, but made our connection in Detroit. From there it was a six to seven hour flight to Amsterdam where we had a one or two hour layover. Our flight from Amsterdam was delayed due to a problem with the hydraulic fluid in the landing gear. We had to sit on the runway for about two hours before taking off for an eight hour flight. By the time we arrived in Hyderabad India, the total travel time had reached twenty four hours. I felt as though I could do anything after enduring such a journey. From the airport it was another hour by car to our hotel where we would stay for the next two nights. The drive brought many new sights, sounds, and smells even though it was four in the morning local time. Arriving at the hotel, I slept for only an hour and a half before waking up for breakfast - this was to adjust to the local time as quickly as possible. That first day included a trip to a local supermarket to buy water and snacks (the tap water here is not suitable for a westerner to drink as the bateria are quite different.) This trip was made by autorickshaw - a common way to move about the cit, see below.

Navigating the streets is an adventure all its own. Traffic lanes are only suggestions and pedestrians, bikes, cars, autorickshaws, and animals share the streets, although there are also sidewalks in some areas. There are few traffic signals, but they are obeyed. The autorickshaw driver who took us to the market overcharged us for the ride by four times the amount - this came to 80 rupees which is about a $1.50. This angered the professor who is of Indian descent and has visited the country numerous times and knows what a ride should cost. Thus, she got into a bit of a shouting match with the driver. The rest of the day included a nap, a visit from the families in whose houses the student-teachers would be staying, dinner, and a trip to a local shopping mall. I was very surprised at how modern parts of the city appear. I thought India would be very third world, and certain sections still are, but places like this shopping mall rival the nicest areas I have seen anywhere.
Wednesday: This day we travelled to the two schools (Hillside Academy and International School) where the student-teachers would spend the month - two at one school and two at the other. At both schools we were greeted with an assembly of students and an introduction by the school principals. The school where I am spending my time (International School) gave us a welcome that made me feel like a UN delegate or some important political figure. We were greeted by a small brass band (trumpets and drummers) then led into a large room where about 200-300 students sat on the floor. We were lead onto a stage infront of the students where chairs and water awaited us (the temperature being around 80 degrees requires a lot of water.) It was a bit intimidating sitting infront of this large group of wide eyed and eager looking students, especially considering I was still jetlagged and getting used to the different kinds of sensory stimulation all around me. The ceremony concluded and we were given a tour of the school, after which lunch was served (with men and women sitting at different tables.) This conlcluded our school visits and we spent the rest of the day relaxing at the hotel and again visiting a shopping mall (things are considerably cheaper here), although I am yet to buy any clothing items - I am waiting for the outdoor bazaar markets for clothes and also am trying to conserve space to bring home any musical instruments I can find.
Thursday: Our first day at school, we all went to Hillside Academy and observed classes, (International School wanted us to wait one more day before we began there.) The method of teaching seems a bit more authoritative than back home, something like I imagine schools were like in the American past, but this was only one day of observation and I'm sure I will have more insight as I am able to see more. At the school day's end, I and one of the other student-teachers were taken to International School to go home with our respective families. I am at the home of Mr. Joy, the school principal. He lives in a nice three story house in a quieter part of town, with two boys (11 and 4 years old) and his wife. They are very accomodating and I have a room and bathroom to myself. Mrs. Joy cooks all the meals and even offered to prepare lunch for me, in case I didn't like the lunch served at school. I met the boys of the house by playing a bit of music on my melodica, which lured them in like mice to the Pied Piper. I was able to sit dow with the older boy and give him an hour and a half drum lesson - surprising for a boy that age to have that good of focus. The night concluded with dinner and a bit of reading of my part before getting a good night's sleep for my first full day at International School. I have to end my writings here as I am taking up the only computer at the school with Internet access, however there wll be more of the story to come as well as pictures.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Trial Run

This is my first blog and it comes after a day of school and practicing, I'm tired and feeling sick. I eagerly await my trip to India which starts next Sunday. I still have a lot of loose ends to tie up before I go so this next week should be a little crazy.