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.