Saturday, July 31, 2010

Post: July 31

The first week of India and SAM has passed. Highlights included finally sleeping for a good eight hours at night, some great musical moments with both the students and faculty, meeting some awesome people, and having some great conversations (and great food!).

Yesterday (Friday), was a pretty amazing day. It started off with two seminars given by Steve, our bass faculty, and Randy, our dean who is quite an accomplished composer, especially with choral music. They both played us some really interesting recordings of music that the students (and I) had never checked out before. Afterwards my private voice student and I had a lesson. We talked about the importance of ear training for singers. Most of the students here have rock and pop backgrounds, so jazz is pretty much new to them. Not many students read music but they have pretty good ears, especially those with backgrounds in Carnatic music. Carnatic music is taught by rote- the guru (teacher) sings a melody based on the carnatic scale and the student sings it back. It's very challenging. My student has great ears already as he's had ten years of carnatic vocal instruction so it was fun to teach him about intervals, chord tones and qualities, and extension notes. Later in the afternoon my ensemble had their session- my private voice student is in the group as well- and I taught them "Bridges and Balloons" by Joanna Newsom, one of my favourite songwriters. We did some improvisational trading in fours, twos and ones over a vamp (they learned what all this terminology means). They had never done anything like it before and it was a great moment! We were all feeding off each other's energy and ideas, and there was lots of eyes contact and interaction happening between them that wasn't there before. It was the highlight of my week.

Last night Shyam, the school's vice-president, invited the faculty to attend his band's concert. The band was playing a charity concert at a restaurant on the outskirts of Chennai. It sounded like the perfect cure for our growing cabin fever here at Tapovan. It took about two hours to get to the venue, which ended up being this big fancy four-story club right across from the beach. Everything was on the house so we ate and drank well. We had dinner up on the rooftop. It was surreal. The air was so humid it was like inhaling steam. Everything was dripping with dampness- the tables, chairs, canopies- but it was so hot that it didn't matter. The best part was the lightning show off in the distance over the Bay of Bengal. The water in the air made the lights even more spectacular. We sat and ate and watched this beautiful light show illuminating the sky, the ocean, and the boats in the harbour. Too bad I didn't have my camera with me. It was an unforgettable vista.

Inside, the club was even more surreal. It was as if Toronto's Richmond Street scene had come across the ocean and settled into this building in Chennai. I was completely underdressed. What was stranger still was that there was a backpacker scene there. It could sense it and soon heard the proof- Australian, Irish, and even Canadian accents were distinguishable amongst the booming of the dance music and other conversations. Shyam's band was fun. There was a moment of uncertainty when he invited the faculty up to perform- the surreality of performing in that situation made me wish my rum and coke was stronger- but suddenly it was 11pm and the bar stopped serving. Apparently the police strictly enforce this law. So that was it! We were all pretty wiped out driving back to Tapovan. It was a fun night though. And seeing the city for the first time was pretty incredible.

It was around 2am when I got back to my room to find a big frog sitting on my toilet seat. This frog had been hanging out in my bathroom all week but he'd been keeping his distance, originally hanging out in the far corner but slowly moving towards the toilet area over the past few days. Now he was on my freaking toilet seat. This was too much for 2am.

Then, I looked up and saw a gigantic spider on my ceiling.

I immediately went out and found someone to come and evict the frog. The employee also brought a long pole with which he knocked the spider off the ceiling and killed it with his bare foot.

After that, I could sleep.

Another funny thing I've begun to notice is the communal water bottle movement around here. Tap water is non-drinkable (unless you desire a closer relationship with your washroom frog) so we all drink sealed water bottles. I brought mine to lunch today and sat with the students to eat for the first time. It was nice to do so- up until now there's been a pretty clear dividing line in the dining pavillion between faculty and students, but things are changing for the better as time passes here at Tapovan. But my bottle was on the table along with a couple others. I wasn't really paying attention as first but began noticing that my bottle didn't have as much water in it as it did when I last drank from it. Then I saw someone take the bottle and drink from it- without touching the bottle to his lips. There were a couple other bottles on the table that were getting the same treatment. This wasn't a big deal or anything- it was actually pretty funny and I felt kind of bad because I had been drinking from it beforehand with full mouth contact- but it was interesting to see again, how communal life is here. (I did get another bottle of water though.)

The faculty is planning a trip to Pondicherry tomorrow afternoon (Sunday). It was a French colony for a long time, so it has some pretty colonial architecture and many people there speak French. Tomorrow is also the market day and I've got some rupees burning a hole in my pocket. Looking forward to buying some Indian clothes, particularly a kurta (a long shirt you wear over jeans) and some scarves. Also mentally preparing for bargaining with the shop keepers!


  1. Sounds amazing Sarah. Brings back memories of India for me too!! If you head west at all let me know and I can tell you about some favourite spots. Pondicherry will be great :)

  2. Shari, just found your comment- whoops! Pondicherry was indeed a great place. Thinking of trying to make a weekend trip to Kerala... maybe Ooty?

    When were you in India? We need to hang out when I'm back and share stories :)