I’m back with the second installment of my trip to India, where I taught music classes at Angels’ Place children’s home! Click here to read about the beginning of my adventures in North-East India.

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Saturday, April 5th

On Saturday morning, I was presented with a selection of tops to wear for our conclave event that afternoon. Sanga’s wife had purchased them for Hedi and Leslie and myself, so that we would have traditional dress to wear for the event. I chose a stunning coral chiffon top with coral beading and lace. But that wasn’t all! Mrs. Sanga wrapped me in a gorgeous turquoise sari, embroidered with turquoise and copper thread. The whole ensemble was really striking! Their generosity was truly touching and I admit that a few tears were shed over this beautiful and heart-felt gift.

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Some of the little girls joined us in our room for a recorder party. They didn’t really get it, but one of the older boys showed promise. He picked up “Jingle Bells” quite quickly! I had to laugh about playing “Jingle Bells” in April, but whatever motivates the kids is good with me!

The little girls enjoyed my pictures of home and playing with Garage Band on my iPad. I reached up to feel my hair, and one of them had put her bow in it. I really feel like these children are so completely selfless, and I wish all of our western kids had that sense of giving.

I had my first encounter en masse with the older students at Angels’ Place, and boy, do they ever sing! When I heard them at the devotional the day before, I was itching to get my hands on them as a choir, and I was totally right: they were naturals! We learned the African song “Siyahamba” in two parts, and the baritones were already very solid on their harmony, which was a fairly new concept for them. I would like to work with them again on something in three parts. I think they’re ready.

After choir, Hedi, Sanga, myself and Heidi’s two sponsor girls, Sarah and Raveena went into the market area of Churachandpur.

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The flowering trees were just gorgeous and I couldn’t resist asking Sanga to stop for a photo!

In the market, we purchased some clothing and shoes for the girls. They wanted high heels, and both chose very nice (but uncomfortable-looking) pairs. We took a quick trip through the food market, with its many sights (like wandering herds of cattle), smells and sounds. I saw banana flower for the first time, and also many new vegetables.

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It was fascinating, but we had to return to Angel’s Place to drop off the girls.

We returned to town for lunch at a restaurant called Fat Jame’s [sic].The food was delicious but too spicy for me to eat all of it.

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When we arrived back, there was just time to get changed into our Manipuri dress before the special conclave event. It was a lovely, if long, ceremony, with the children singing several numbers and performing a traditional dance. There was a speech by Jan which talked about the importance and effect of music worldwide. Sanga also spoke, and I was suitably embarrassed when he read my entire CV to the crowd. Yikes! I was also put on the spot when there was some kind of delay with a number, and in was asked to sing a song. I sang “Amazing Grace”, which the audience seemed to enjoy and then I gave a short speech, thanking the kids for introducing me to their culture.

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We greeted the crowd and took many (many!) pictures, and then we were free to relax a bit before dinner. I ended up sleeping for two hours, until I was woken up for dinner! Dinner was light, consisting of a lentil soup, called “dal”, and a sort of flatbread/tortilla with cumin in it. I must find out the name of it, because it was delicious. I slept soundly, and woke again when the bells from the nearby farms signalled the start of the day, around 4:30 am.

Sunday, April 6th

On Sunday morning, we got up a bit later, though I still woke much earlier than I am used to. Despite my efforts to go back to sleep, I couldn’t seem to block out the roosters’ crowing. I lay and listened to the early morning sounds until it got light enough to see. You hear the bells from the nearby farms, the small rustlings of people stirring, and then CRASH! The home with its young inhabitants begin their day!

I worked on an arrangement of “Down to the River to Pray” for the older kids to sing, and when I took our tiny keyboard downstairs to try it out, the kids were fascinated by how I was writing out the music. I tried to explain the basics as best I could, but I’m not sure how much I actually conveyed.

I took a particular interest in a boy named Pau, who showed a lot of promise musically. He really took to the recorder, so I gave him some one-on-one time and then gave him a recorder and a book to continue practicing. I planned to take some more time with him the following day. Pau was also a very good singer, and helped to translate my classes. He was a good sport about singing along with the younger children’s songs, and  was the kind of quiet student who observes and takes in everything.

At breakfast, Sanga arrived with our newly-delivered Punjabi dresses! I tried mine on and it may be one of the most beautiful pieces of clothing I’ve owned. The silk was light as a feather, and it fit me like a glove. I cannot believe that the whole thing cost me only 900 rupees, which is about $17 Canadian! The seamstress only charged 300 rupees, which is less than $10, and seemed so very little. I wanted to pay more but that just isn’t what’s done. I couldn’t wait to wear it for the final concert on Tuesday evening.

Unfortunately, I had some rather bad indigestion after breakfast, which caused me to miss the Sunday church service. I could hear their singing, though, and it was nice to nap to its sound.

After resting until the early afternoon, I felt much improved, and was able to eat some lunch. One dish (which I only tasted, as it was quite rich) was potatoes and shiitake mushrooms and was absolutely delicious!

After lunch, I did about 45 minutes with the young children, where we worked on “Fish ‘n Chips” as a round (which they totally got), the first part of “Dona Nobis Pacem”, and the first part of “Peaceful River”. I also showed them the video of the GJS singing “Peaceful River”, which they seemed to enjoy. It’s hard to tell because their English is still quite poor. They seemed to understand the song better with the addition of hand gestures, just like my kids at home!

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Next, I saw the 10-13 year olds, and boy, was that a tough crowd. The girls were very willing and have lovely voices, but the boys were quite shy and didn’t want to show too much enthusiasm. We worked on “Tshosholoza” and “Simple Gifts”, but I had lots of work to do there. Afterwards, I came up with the idea of asking some of the keen older children to join this younger group. I figured it might boost the confidence and interest of the boys.

We had our devotional service in the evening, which included two hymns in Paite. Their hymnals are printed in Paite, which uses English characters, and instead of notation, they use solfège. The children are actually quite well-versed in solfège, although they don’t know how this related to the staff. I did an exercise with the older kids the second day, where they moved around on a giant staff and the rest sang those notes. I’m not sure if I shouldn’t have used A, B, C notation, though, because they use moveable Do. Hmm.

After devotional, I kept back the older kids and we worked again on “Siyahamba”, and I started them on “Down to the River to Pray”. I taught the melody, because the harmony is homorhythmic, so it would make learning the harmony a bit easier the next day. They really were a fantastic group: extremely responsive and a pleasure to conduct.

Speaking of which, it looks like I may yet get to conduct them again! Leslie and I have concocted a plan to bring 25 of the best singers to Canada and the States next year for a concert tour. If it happens, it means that I will be going back to prepare them, likely during March break next year! I can’t wait!

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Check back on Saturday for the final installment of my trip to India!

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