India – Part 2

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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India – Part 1

In late January, one of my choir members asked me if I’d be interested in travelling to India to teach music classes at an orphanage. I felt like a small child again, with my hand shooting up in the air, crying “PICK ME! PICK ME!” She put me in touch with the organizers of the James’ Connection, a not-for-profit that runs Angels’ Place, a children’s home in the state of Maniupr.

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The ball was in motion, but there were many details to arrange before I could go. Special permission had to be received from my school board, my substitute teacher had to be prepped, all of my travel vaccines and medications needed arranging, and plenty of musical planning for my classes there at the home. It was a real tour-de-force, which I couldn’t have accomplished without the support and help of my family and friends. I am eternally grateful to the role they played in this adventure.

Here is the first instalment of my adventures in north-east India. I’ve included the good, the bad, and even the ugly, although the first category far outweighs either of the latter!

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Tuesday, April 1st-Wednesday, April 2nd

I left Montreal on Tuesday, April 1st. Erick drove me to the airport in the morning, and waited with me as I checked in. Truth be told, as I walked through security, I shed a few tears. Not only because I was leaving him for 10 days, but because I was very scared. I was scared that something would happen to me on the trip and that I wouldn’t see him again. You hear horror stories about young women travelling in developing countries…

I was scared, too, because while I had exchanged numerous emails and phone calls with Jan, the leader of the group, I had never met any of the three Americans with whom I was to travel. I really didn’t know what to expect.

I arrived in Newark and passed a few hours exploring the airport (terrible) and eating a meal (equally dismal), before meeting up with Jan, his wife Leslie, and Hedi, one of the children’s sponsors. I felt better upon meeting them, as they seemed like warm, friendly people. We got instantly talking about music and teaching, and began to get the feel of each other. Unfortunately, we weren’t seated together on the flight to Delhi, so the rest of our getting-to-know-you happened during the trip.

A 14 hour flight later, we arrived in Delhi. It was so warm coming out of the airport that I thought we were still inside until I saw the cars and taxis lined up. We took the Radisson’s cars to the hotel, where we went through security again (!), and entered the stunning, spacious lobby. The hotel was beautiful, with fantastic service. Truly blissful.

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I ordered something for a light dinner, which turned out to be fried patties made of broccoli, green peas, and paneer with a cilantro sauce. It was spicy, but entirely delicious.

My relaxation was only interrupted by a brief fight-to-the-death with the unruly shower fixture, which would not, for all the tea in China (India?) stay in a downward position. Instead, it would escape its metal bonds to spray wantonly throughout the bathroom. Only part of the shower was actually enclosed, which meant that certain walls and floors enjoy an even more thorough cleaning than that carried out by housekeeping.

Thursday, April 3rd

After a completely dreamless sleep, I again enjoyed the virtues of my untameable shower, followed by a mouth-watering breakfast buffet. I went straight for the Indian selections, which to me seemed more like dinner options, but were delicious nonetheless. Following breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and made our way back to the airport. 

The driving. Oh, the driving. I’ll just sum it up as a constant state of passing. Basically, you just barrel down the road toward the oncoming traffic and hope that the driver will cut back into their prescribed lane in time to avoid a fiery death.

Indian airplane food is at least 500x better than Canadian or American airplane food. On the flight to Imphal we were served a delicious rice and chicken dish with a lentil curry. Take note, Air Canada.

The plan trip from Delhi to Manipur was quite nice, and the gentleman beside me offered to switch seats so that I could take picture after picture of the clouds. I think he thought I was crazy, which is not really far-off. Exhibit A:

“Clouds Over the Himalayas”

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Note my masterful capture of the Ganges river through the greasy airplane window.

Exhibit B: “More Clouds Over the Himalayas, Including What May or May Not Be Everest”

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Upon landing in Imphal, we were met by Mr. Sanga, who is the overseer for Angel’s Place. We drove to the Imphal School of Preaching, which is where he lives and works, and had lunch prepared by his family. Lunch was good, but very simple. I was glad, though, because I was not particularly hungry. Exhaustion does that to you.

After lunch, we drove into Imphal, to the market. What an experience that was! Immediately, your senses are assaulted by a host of odours and sights that can barely be described. Oxen wandering down the middle of the road. Driving head-on towards oncoming traffic and swerving back at the last second. Trash everywhere. The platforms near the bodies of water. These are for the Hindu cremation rites, where the body must first be burnt to ash and then scattered in the water.

We parked the car and proceeded over a bridge and into he market. You step lightly, avoiding traffic and pile after pile of foul-smelling garbage. And yet, the people around you are obviously completely immune to the smell and constant feel of danger.

We stopped at a fabric store, where I purchase a gorgeous printed silk set in black, white, and blue to be made into a Punjabi dress. The vast array of silks and cottons was a pleasure to look at, but my choice was clear. I didn’t want anything that would feel too costume-ish at home. After haggling (done by Mr. Sanga) and paying, we were led by the shop owner through what I can only describe as a dodgy back alley to a tiny seamstress’ shop. Once we’d explained the cut and style I wanted, she measured me, I paid and we were off.

We drove about 1 1/2 hours to Churachandpur, where Angel’s Place is located. We were greeted by the children holding welcome banners and were presented with flower necklaces of bougainvillaea. The children wanted to take lots of pictures, and then we were shown to our rooms.

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I shared with Hedi, who is very friendly. The rooms were spacious, with fairly comfortable beds, each with a mosquito canopy.

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There is a small sitting area and a bathroom. The bathroom facilities were simple, but clean. There was electricity from sundown til about 10:00 pm, when it is switched off. There is running water, but hot water is in short supply. This will surely make for an interesting shower experience tomorrow morning…

My first night’s sleep was very disturbed, with many slamming doors, sliding grilles, and voices. At last peace descended, but it was interrupted shortly thereafter by a tremendous thunderstorm! I was also woken by (what I found out later) was the sound of a gecko lizard. Needless to say, it was a fitful night.

Friday, April 4th

I woke up with the sun and the roosters, to a beautiful sunrise.

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The view of the sun coming up over the rice fields was stunning, and reminded me of a scene out of the movie “Anna and the King”.

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We woke early, as the children do their chores at around 5:30. At 6:30 I had my first music class, with the 9-12 year olds. They were very receptive and most listened attentively. We learned “Won’t You Lend a Hand?” with egg shakers first, and then we did some rhythmic notation using Popsicle sticks and my drum. We finished up with “Up the Ladder”.

After a much-needed nap, we visited the children’s school, Hermon English School.

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We had an interview with the principal, who seemed a bit vague about the children’s study, but allowed us to view the exam papers for grade 10. We met up with a young English teacher who seemed much more knowledgable and was a pleasure to speak with. We toured the classes, and I even did “Head and Shoulders” with the nursery (junior kindergarten) children, and “If You’re Happy” with the preparatory (nursery school) children. Highlights!

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When we returned we enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by Sanga’s family: a chicken curry with green beans and rice. Following that, I taught a class to the 4-8 year olds, where we learned “When the Saints” and “Fish and Chips and Vinegar”. The “pop!” was definitely their favourite part. All the little girls came up with us to Jan and Leslie’s room, where we spent a very pleasant hour or so, dancing, singing, playing around on the keyboard, and braiding hair. The little girls were particularly enchanted with my hair and kept enthusing about its length and colour. I was glad, in the end, that I didn’t get it cut before I left!

In the evening, we attended what they call a devotional service. This included a scripture reading, a short sermon, and several songs. The children sing very naturally, and with big voices! There would be definite work to be done on vocal technique, but I couldn’t imagine there’ll be any issues with shyness. I couldn’t wait to work with the older students the next morning.

After the service, I took a shower. This was completely horrible. Truly horrifying. The actual shower fixture didn’t work, so I prayed myself with cold water. Of course, there is no shower cabin to speak of. You just spray yourself in the bathroom and then use a sort of squeegee thing to push the water towards the drain. Unspeakable heebie-geebies.

I did feel better once I was clean, though, so that helped me to sleep. I slept well and didn’t wake until the roosters began crowing, around 4:00.

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Check back soon for India – Part 2!