We’ve been here for over a week, and it has been both exhausting and exhilarating! The children are very bright, energetic, and sweet, if a bit unruly! It appears they have been largely taught by rote, so they don’t understand accidentals, subdivision, time signatures, etc. This makes for a rather difficult task regarding teaching them chamber music and having them play in orchestra. The Colby students have been exceptional, spending lots of time with them. The Ashram students grab their hands, hug them, and generally shower them with affection.
Colby student reading with Gandhi Ashram friends.
I only wish I had brought my standardized sight-reading tests with me to confirm what I know to be true! More about this at the bottom of the page under “My Thoughts”.
Two of my students are teaching violin technique classes to Gandhi Ashram students in grades 3-8.
L & E teaching violin class.
Here are two younger students practicing outside.
I’m also conducting three different orchestras: one comprised entirely of violins (using literature arranged for four violin parts), a smaller chamber orchestra, and a larger string orchestra with a few violas and one cello made up of students who only board at the Ashram. These students go to school elsewhere in Kalimpong, but they choose to live on campus. It is a safer and more nurturing environment than many of them experience at home
In addition, I’m coaching a string quartet who will play on the concert with us when we return to Delhi.
Here are some photos.
An impromptu lesson following an orchestra rehearsal. The gentleman in the foreground is the year-round orchestra director, R.
Bach in the morning!
Every morning at assembly someone, or some group
performs for the students. Here I am playing some “Morning Bach”.
K played an unaccompanied piece by Debussy called “Syrinx”, and the
kids have also heard jazz groups, dramatic readings, and a student string quartet at
these morning mini-concerts.
So, now I have experienced world-wide the decline of the teaching (and general knowledge) of western classical music, along with its basis of the written note. Many other types of music in the world are disseminated and perpetuated by ear (the oral tradition). In my study of East African music, some writers were concerned that the inability to properly notate this music might lead to a gradual death (especially in light of the acculturation brought about by western popular music, film and television). Some music scholars have invented elaborate notation systems in an attempt to preserve this music in written form. In fact, I am afraid that Western Classical music will pre-decease music of the oral tradition.
I fear (and have more than a strong suspicion) there are hundreds of microcosms in school districts across the United States, where various forms of fiddling have overshadowed the classical tradition. I will not demean this method of getting children to play the violin quickly (mostly by rote), because I feel this is a very important component of how we learn to play an instrument as difficult as the violin. For me, rote learning is a starting point, or a point of departure, from which must follow the inclusion of note-reading, study of classical works and the teaching of a secure foundational violin technique. The”standard” violin technique in the U.S. (in my estimation) that allows students to navigate more complicated works, and to cultivate a sound that can be used as an expressive tool, is the Galamian technique.
The problem, as I see it, is the “dumbing” down of violin teaching and playing in order to enable young students to “perform” recognizable pieces quickly and easily for their parents and family. If note reading and proper technique are not taught concurrently, more complex music becomes too difficult and the student becomes frustrated and no longer finds joy in the violin. Hence, classical music becomes unattainable, and is therefore classified by the young student as boring. These young students may not want to confess to themselves and others that this music is simply beyond their ability to understand. One certainly needs to understand the music one is performing on some level, or nothing is communicated to the listener.