Friday, April 29, 2005

Last Day in Indore

Hello,

Well, just like that it is the last day here. I can't believe how many experiences have been crammed into a two week period. The last couple of days have been spent visiting some of the low income schools in the surrounding areas of Indore. They are known as the "backwards" areas, which seems like a backwards way of thinking, but that is what it is. We actually have had a wonderful time at these schools. Yesterday we visited a school that was not in session, but all the students and teachers heard we were coming, so they came and had school just for us. It was a lot of fun. We sat in the courtyard of the schoolbuilding and sang songs. I got to accompany them on a little casio keyboard as we taught the students 'Old MacDonald', 'The Wheels on the Bus', 'London Bridges', and 'The Hokey Pokey'. The teachers were very excited. They wrote down all the lyrics and moves that we did so they could teach them later. It would be interesting to go back in a few months to see how the songs sound. I am sure that they would have a Hindi twist to them. The students also put on a few performances for us as well. Some of the girls sang a song about their new saree. They had dance moves for it and everything. We all felt so fortunate to be sharing in this manner. It was just about impossible to have conversation because of the language barrier, but when we started taking pictures and showing them back to them on our digital cameras, everyone started laughing and having a great time. It was interesting to see how happy they all were. After about a half hour there were at least 75 curious people from the village gathered around. They were as interested in us as we were of them. I think that we take for granted the pure joy of just living and having genuine experience when we are so consumed by all the material things required for the average American lifesyle. These people do not know what they do not have, so it does not bother them. It was great to see. When we went for a walk through their village, everyone came out to greet us. They kept asking us to spend the night so we could sing songs and dance. It was actually very hard to say no. I can feel my whole perspective on life has shifted, but I feel like it is too soon for me to put it into words. Early tomorrow morning we will be flying to Mumbai, spending the entire day their, and then flying home. I am looking forward to coming home, but I also feel like my time here has been cut too short. I have just started to get used to the crazy traffic....(At any one moment, on any given road, you will find pedestrians, rickshaws, bicycles, cars, trucks, busses, tractors, push carts, dogs, cows, wild boars, camels, elephants, monkeys, motercycles, and scooters. It doesn't matter if you are on a village road or an interstate highway, all these things will be there.) I am also just getting the hang of the price of things, and how to get a rickshaw driver to use their meter, (instead of spiking the fair). Oh well...I am sure I will use this information on future trips to India. So I guess this is it from India. The next keyboard I type on will be the one in my home office. Thanks for reading, and have a nice weekend.

John

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Taj, Tabla, and Two days left!

Hello again,

It feels like a long time since I have been able to write. Mainly because the computer time in the Agra hotel and Delhi hotel were so expensive, (tourist rates). But we are now back safe and sound in Indore, where the beggars don't knock at your car window, and the vendors don't charge 'American' prices for their goods. It was really an eye opener to be in the tourist trap center of India. We did get to see the Taj Mahal and it was amazing. It was surreal to see something up close that we have all seen in pictures our whole life. It is just a little bit bigger than I thought, and we were allowed to go inside, which was a shock to me. The detail in the marble and inlay work was incredible, and even more stunning when you consider that it is 350 years old. Our day in Agra was consise and guided by a man named Lalit, who was very cool and good at keeping the group on track and happy. I told him that I played music and so he took us to a store that had live performers playing tabla and sitar for the customers. They let me sit in for a couple of tunes, which gave me so much satisfaction that when I was done, my desire to buy overpriced goods was totally gone. I can't say so much for the rest of the group however. It was all in good fun though.
The atmosphere in Agra is very difficult to understand. We were not allowed to go out walking on our own, not that we would want to, there was an insane amount of beggars and street vendors who had no problem surrounding you in packs of 5-10 at a time while yelling and begging for your money. Lalit told me it was a result of the gross inbalance of funds in the city due to all the proceeds from the 5 million+ tourist $$ going to the Indian government instead of the people of Agra. He made a point to mention many times that the Indian politicians are the most crooked people on the earth.
The day after Agra we drove back to Delhi and Scott and I parted ways with the group. They went back to Indore, and we began our mission to find some nice instruments in Delhi. We had set it up with our trip leader last week to be able to spend and extra day in Delhi so we could find a nice set of tabla for me and some tabla and flutes for Scott. I won't get into details here, but we were running around Delhi like madmen for the next 24 hours, going to every music store that I found while surfing the web before the trip. The three main stores we bought from were Raj Musicals - 2 nice tabla cases and a nice tabla (just the small one) for myself; Delhi Musical Stores - a couple of flutes for Scott and a biya, rings, and tuning hammer for myself; and finally Bina - a nice set of tabla and some flutes for Scott, and a mini set of tabla for myself. We finished just in time to make it back to the airport for our flight. It felt a bit weird to buy all this stuff, put it in the cases and then immediately turn it over to the airline for it's first flight. Everything survived the 3 hour flight back to Indore and I have been playing everyday since.
Yesterday we visited the most affluent school in Indore. It was a private K-12 school on a beautifly maintained 120 acre plot of land. Our visit was brief, but Scott and I got to check out the music department, which consisted of 5 teachers. It was the first school we visited that taught Indian classical music. They boasted about 5 or so students that just won national music competitions and they even organized an impromptu concert for us. It was great to talk to the teachers. They took Scott and I to an elementary class that learned only western childrens songs. I played 'Norwiegin Wood' on guitar while the teacher sang along, and then the class sang 'How Much is that Doggy in the Window'. It was cool.
In the evening we got a visit from two musicians from Indore. One has played tabla for 25 years and the other played Indian classical music on the Mandolin. They came into our hotel room and played for about an hour. It was a great little intimate music experience. It was so interesting to hear Indian music on the mandolin.

Just two days left, and I must admit, I am ready to come home. The trip was set up in such a way that we have been kept so very busy that everyone is getting worn out. It has also been extremely hot. Yesterday was 106 degrees! Last week was 114!! To top it all off I hear that there is snow on the groun back home. I am sure the complaints are equal on both sides of the globe. I am growing ever thankful for my time hear reguardless of the weather, and it will be sad to go, but I am sure I will be back soon.

Thanks for reading,

John

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Rajistani Fair, Sai Babba School, Playing Tabla

Hello,

It has been such a whirlwind adventure here that it is hard to know where to begin. First of all, I am getting closer to posting some pictures. There has just been a few technical glitches with the hotel computer system. Anyway... Last night we visited a Rajistani Fair. It was on the outskirts of town. Camel rides, music, a high wire act, dancers, henna painters, performances of all kinds, and a wonderful open-air resteraunt that served our meal on plates made of bananna leaves. It is an ongoing fair that goes on every night. Last night their were not many people, but the performers were very excited to perform for all the Americans. Actually, everywhere we go the people become very excited. I have felt like their has been a spotlight on us since we arrived. Our trip leader Sapna told us it would be like this because Indore is not a tourist town, so the locals are not used to seeing Americans.

After breakfast today we went to a school based on the teachings of Sai Babba, (I hope I am spelling that correctly!). Scott and I got a chance to observe and interview the music teacher. She was so sweet. We went into the room as a group of girls were singing. They stopped and everyone was in shock a bit to see us. We asked them to please keep singing. When they started up again it was like someone turned the volume up 5 notches. They were very excited. They finished their song, we clapped, and asked them if they could sing another. The teacher said it is time for class to be over, but the girls asked if they could sing one more. I was so great to see. The teacher played a harmonium and sang. There was also a tabla player. When the girls finished they all went up to the teacher and touched her hands and feet before they rushed out of the room for lunch, I think. The room was cool. It was on the second floor of a clay building. The only light came from the outside. Their were no doors, and everyone took off their shoes before entering. In our interview, the teacher told us about her philosophy of teaching music. She said that she has been singing and playing for a very long time, and she has experienced a blissful state while performing music. It is her only desire to share that experience with her students. All she wants them to be able to do is enjoy music for the rest of their lives. It was so simple and beautiful that I sat their speechless. The rest of the time at the school, (about a half hour), Scott and I went into a 12th grade general ed class and had a little Q & A. I was surprised to hear about all the western artists that they were familiar with. They told us that they liked Eminem, Hoobastank, Britany Spears, Linken Park,(sp?), etc. It was very interesting to hear all those names as we sit 7000+ miles away from the center of it all. They also told us about the school discipline system. They do not have detention, or any kind of punishment, only counseling. The teacher chimed in and said simply, "We hold no grudge towards them, and they hold no grudge against us." The director of the school also echoed this sentiment and said their success rate with that philosophy has been 99%. I thought that was wonderful.

The day ended with a visit to a local tabla players house. He lived on the opposite side of town from our hotel, which is about a 15 minute auto-rickshaw ride. When we got their he invited us in and did not stop smiling until we left. He asked me to play for him and set down some tablas. I played a bit and he said, "now I play the same thing!" It was awesome, he played all the compositions I just played for him, only he did them all double speed. We made an appointment to go back and play some more on Tuesday. This time there will be an Indian classical Mandolin player coming as well. I will be sure to record.

That is all for now. Tomorrow morning we fly out early on our way to see the Taj Mahal in Agra. On the way back Scott and I will be spending an extra day in Delhi, away from the group, so we can visit some instrument factories and stores. I am looking forwad to it. I am not sure if I will be able to get on a computer, so hold tight until Tuesday.

Thanks for reading,

John

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Tabla in Inda!!

Hello again,

The trip has been getting better and better. India is such a fascinating place. Yesterday we went to visit a local private school for K-12 students. It was amazing. The campus was green and lush with palm trees and flowers everywhere. They had 2 big main buildings, a temple, and a couple of other smaller buildings for sports, art, music, etc. We did'nt have too much time to spend their because the students were taking their final exams for the year, so it was just a half day. We couldn't see the classes in action either, but we did get to visit the music room where I got to play some tabla with the music teacher. He played the harmonium. Scott brought his Indian flute and sat and played a bit too. I was so overjoyed to be playing tabla in India! Scott and I have also made plans to spend an extra day in Delhi so we can buy some nice instruments. I am hoping to go to a tabla maker and get a custom set made, but I am not sure of that quite yet. Other than that, we have been eating incredible food, (all vegetarian), and doing incredible amounts of shopping. The Indian people light up when the American crew walk through the doors. It has been such a friendly place. We have also noticed a lot of laughter at our expense, but it is not a bother. Actually, the first day here, Scott and I were wearing shorts, which is totally un-Indian, so when we put on the pants the next day we could walk down the street and not get pointed and laughed at. It has been so much fun to go out and find things. I will never take communication for granted again. Yesterday we were looking for a card reader for Scotts camera. We went to an area of town that had a lot of electronic places, but no one had what we needed. Then, one guy wrote something in Hindi on a piece of paper, pointed at it and nodded, so we started showing it around to people. They would look at it and then point us in a direction. About 20 minutes, 10 people, and a couple of wrong turns later we found ourselves in a building that must have had 50 little 5ft. wide stores in it. I stopped at watch place and bought a watch, while Scott found the store he was looking for. The man running the store spoke very good english and he was explaining a ton of stuff about India to Scott when I broke in to ask him if he knew where I could find an instrument store. He called over to a guy and told me to follow him. We walked through town for 5 minutes, twisting and turning through small alleys, past tiny shops and up to a second floor instrument shop with just enough room for some shelves and a tiny counter. The instruments he had were very poor quality, but it was so great to see. I asked the man I was following if he could get my friend and he nodded and left. I sat in the store watching the clerk sell a guitar. I was quiet, unable to talk to anyone. Suddenly Scott showed up and we went back to the hotel. It was so amazing. Tonight we are going to a local festival with music, dancing, and I don't know what else. I'll let you know. Thanks for reading.

John

Monday, April 18, 2005

India, Wholy Cow!!

Hello, Right now I am sitting in a very rickety\shady cyber cafe after dark somewhere in Indore. Using the internet has not been as easy as we all thought. I cannot even begin to describe how different things are over here. There is a completely different flow to things. I am still understanding the way people move around. There is not a clearly defined way to drive, walk or ride, and being in a lone pack of Americans doesn't make it any easier. I am still in a desperate search for a music store. Tomorrow I believe we will be hooked up with a tabla player who will show us what's what. Scott and I are planning on spending a day in Dheli at an instrument factory, so hopefully our music fix will be met there. I am having a great time just walking around taking it all in. Cows wander the streets everywhere. People leave out offerings for them, and they go wherever they please. Tonight we visited a big clothing store, and they treated us like royalty. Each of us had 2 or 3 assitants, they were giving us coffee, tea, and catering to our every need, almost to the point of being uncomfortable. I feel very lucky to be experiencing this and I cannot wait to share more with you. Hopefully tomorrow I will figure out how to post some pictures. Till then....

John

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Hello From India!

Hello, I am writing from an internet cafe in an airport terminal in Mumbai, India. We have been traveling since Friday, and have just one more flight left until we reach our final destination in Indore. There are 15 of us in the group and we are all very tired. Sapna (our trip leader). Has scheduled a lunch at a friends house a few hours after we arrive in Indore. She says it is so we stay awake and avoid prolonging the effects of jet-lag. I am excited to see India in the daylight. I hope to find some musicians and play very soon. I am also hoping to find some music stores. I have no idea what to expect. So far, all I can tell you is that things are extremely inexpensive. Jody and I had a few samosas, tea and water, for just over a buck. The bathrooms in the airport are very smelly. But the ariport is nice. It is hot and humid. We have been waiting for our flight for about 3 hours now. I think there is just one our left before departure. We are all very tired. the flight from Detroit to Amsterdam was about 7 hours, then we got off the plane, went to the bathroom, and got on the next plane to Mumbai. That flight was about 8 hours. Boom, just like that we are on the other side of the world! I have heard there is ample internet access in Indore, so I will stop writing now and come back when I am a bit more lucid. Rock on, and I will talk to you soon!

John

Monday, April 11, 2005

Deja vu, Cookies and All...

Repetition in music is the norm. It is normal to have played a song hundreds, or even thousands of times. It is also normal to play certain musical ideas over and over, like when you are trying to develop a solo, or learning a trickey passage in a piece. There are some things, however, that are good to do only once, (like play at a mall in the middle of the night for 1200 girlscouts). Well, this past Saturday I found myself sitting in the same mall on the same stage with green vests adorned with hundreds of medals passing by in a blur. Earlier in the week when I called Charles to ask him where our gig was on Saturday, I literally thought he was kidding when he told me it was for the girls scouts again. We were to play from Midnight till 3 a.m. at a mall right next to the airport. My schedule is so busy that I did not have time to rest before the show, so I was pretty exhausted when it came time to play. It is funny, when you play music in that state of mind, you can wake up the next day and think the whole thing could have been a dream. I enjoyed myself. I remember laughing a lot, so that must have been good. I think it is funny that the girl scout gig will be the last one I play before heading to India.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Addiction, Finale

Hello,

It feels like a long time since my last entry. I am not sure when the last one was, but I have been dying to get on and talk a bit about the show on Sunday. Meeta and I played a beefed up vesion of Raag Yemen complete with the harmony of an 80 piece orchestra, (The Michigan Pops) behind us. It was as the beautiful Michigan Theater. We played just the one piece as a part of a show called "Pops Around the World". There were collaberations with Irish, African, Australian, and Indian music, and then a few 'popular' western pieces. It was incredible. I was suprisingly calm when we went out on stage. I was dancing to the African drummers backstage, so I guess that let out some of my nervous energy. The piece went really well. When we were done, the audience noise was so loud that I could feel it in my chest. I was hooked on the feeling right then and there. I hope to make shows like that more of a reality in the future. I guess, in a way, I am doing just that tonight. It is not on a drumset or tablas, but I am playing in a nice auditorium that just happens to be 2 blocks from my front door at Lake Fenton High School. It will be the last concert I play with the U of M Wind Symphony. It has been a nice experience playing with the symphony, and I am sure I will miss it in the future, but right now, it feels really good to be letting go of that responsibility. And today marks one week till Jody and I leave for INDIA!!

thanks for reading,

John

Share this Blog!