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...)

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