Dispatches from the road from our wayfaring travelers.
We trekked out of Rajasthan, a long two days of driving punctuated by stops at Mt Abu, the Indian honeymooners equivalent of Niagra Falls, this one in a high mountain retreat in the middle of a tiger preserve; Rani-Tki-Vav, an enormous eight or nine storey well, carved out of solid rock with every surface displaying images of the avatars of Vishnu, really overwhelming; and the Modhera Sun Temple, a lot like the step well only it rises from the earth rather than descending into it. The state of Gujarat is a total contrast to Rajasthan’s desert — lush green farming country, lots of animal life.
A few days ago we landed in Jaisalmer, a town in far western Rajasthan near the border with Pakistan. It is known as the “golden city” because all of the buildings and temples are made of yellow sandstone that positively glows in the desert sun. To our surprise and delight, our oud teacher and HR Assistant Ronnie Malley announced that he and his longtime girlfried Nicole, who is accompanying our delegation, had decided to get married! Pranita Jain took them shopping for rings and special wedding attire and arranged for a Hindu priest to officiate.
The Old Town School India reconnaissance team has been here for a week and it is has been a pretty wild time. Reggio McLaughlin, Dan Fulkerson, Mary Peterson, Ronnie Malley, Pranita Jain and I (Bau Graves) have seen some rather awe-inspiring sights and some gut wrenching scenes as well. We’ve had several performances — all very positively received — and have been treated to extraordinarily generous hospitality by Indian musicians. A few impressions:
Laura Doherty, Andrea Bunch, Steve Rosen and Bau Graves reporting in from Brazil.
It’s great here. The “winter” weather is 75-80 degrees daily. The people just as warm. The food really pretty unbelievable.
We are teaching at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, which is a huge campus, the 3rd largest in Brazil with about 40,000 students. The Musica building is spacious and very well equipped. Like almost all the public buildings here (schools, restaurants, banks, you name it) it is open and airy, with whole sections of wall open to the outdoors. A very large garden is planted in a big central counrtyard INSIDE the building.
Our host, Prof. Walenia Silva, teaches in the music program. and is an encyclopedia of information about Brazilian traditional music. We’ve been offering workshops for her students and others in the music school. The students are all well trained musicians, very quick on the uptake, and full of interest in American music. Many of them have a lot of knowledge about our music already — which is a little humbling since we have so little insight into theirs. Even though we’re singing in a language foreign to them, all of the students know the words to “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
Last night we visited a small private music school called Pro-Musica, which has about 800 students and focuses on popular music. Students there sign up for a year of classes and they all take three classes per week — their specialty instrument, ear training/theory, and ensembles. They seem to run their operation on a shoestring and the amazing energy of their director. He invited us to offer a workshop on Friday so we’ll be able to experience the students then.
More to come soon. Boa tarde. Bau
We’re home now, but I wanted to add a little to the narrative.
Some things we saw that could find a home in Chicago. In the British Museum, sculptures created by Mozambiquan artists using decommissioned weapons — beautiful and moving. In Heathrow airport, corridors lined with images depicting apparent opposites that could switch signs according to the viewer, i.e. a high heel and a hot pepper labeled variously as “pain” or “pleasure.” In our Helsinki hotel, elevator doors filled with photographic representations of the wondors of the Finnish environment, different on every floor. In every British pub, beautiful varnished mahogany bars that offer such a warm contrast to Americas chrome, formica and marble. In every classroom at Sibelius Academy, vitrines displaying ancient or exemplary instruments, a bit of musical heritage on permanent exhibit.
How to convey this energy? Our delegation saw some extraordinary performances and our immediate response was a desire to share this with the entire community at Old Town School — we’ve just got to figure out a way to get some of these amazing artists to Chicago. But the next challenge will be generating a critical mass of enthusiasm among our Chicago colleagues and students. Those of us who traveled have the experience of having witnessed these incredible artists, butmost people at the School have no particular reason to get excited about Northern English fiddle tunes, Chinese sheng players or ancient Finnish shamanic vocal styles. What is our strategy for impressing our friends with how really special some of these things can be? That something they’re probably never stopped to imaginecould offer sucha powerful experience. If our hoped-for exchange program is to work, somehow we’ll have to engender an open-ness, a desire to try something new, that is not most people’s default setting.
Prospects for future exchanges. Our hosts were very enthusiastic about their encounters with Old Town School teachers. In the last 24 hours in Finland, Boogie taught two hip hop classes, Barb taught a clogging workshop and a vocal class, Maria taught a fiddle class, Joe was whisked away by the harmonica students and gave them a seminar that occupaied about 7 hours over two days. Over our farewell meal I asked one of the faculty how she felt things had gone, and she responded that the students were “ecstatic.” I believe with both Britain and Finland the only hurdle left to surmount before we can initiate some serious faculty swaps is to consult the calendar to find dates that work for both institutions. There is an excitement from both sides that will drive this process forward.
What’s next? This trip represents a beginning. It is a beginning on what could evolve into ongoing relationships with the Sage Gateshead and Sibelius Academy. And it is also the first step in building a program that can and should expand to other cultures and parts of the world. Due to the MacArthur Foundation’s funding proclivities, I suspect the next steps will be with Mexico and India. In any case this trip was a success on multiple levels, for the School, for our hosts, for the individual teachers involved, and for the prospects that it opens for future evolution. I offer my deepest appreciation to the team from Old Town School who made this all possible. Thank you.
Lots of good anecdotes and rich food for thought at every turn on this journey. A few snatches:
Sharing music. There are people everywhere who love American music, and some of them are passing experts in specific subgenres. But encounters with country singers abroad inevitably bump up against our ingrained knowledge of what that music is really supposed to sound like. For me, the more satisfying encounters are with those who are carrying on their own local styles: Geordie fiddle tunes, English music hall numbers, Finnish polskas. And here is the thrill of discovery: something steeped in its own place with a long history standing behind it and with more meaning and nuance than we as outsiders can comprehend. We’ve been very fortunate to experience several virtuoso level performances, most delivered in the most casual, relaxed manner. A delight.
Old Town School folks. Our teachers are excellent traveling companions. Curious, tolerant, flexible, ready for whatever is around the next corner, fun to be with. But getting seven of them aimed in the same direction at the same time is like herding cats!
Public spaces. We’ve been in some very interesting — and vastly different — public spaces on this trip, which of course make me reflect on the nature of the public space we’re about to create across Lincoln Avenue. The Sage Gateshead is an enormous new public performance facility. The lobby is about the size of two football fields, lots of glass and marble, a little chilly to my taste; the concert venues are all trimmed with wood, making them warm spaces to inhabit. But in all of it the scale fights against the intimacy of face to face interactions. For that everybody retires to the local pub, a very different kind of public space. Small, narrow, crowded, almost haphazardly decorated — and totally delightful. Somehow, we require both, the arena and the pub. A day at Durham Cathedral offered another kind of space, this one deliberately constructed to impress individuals with their smallness in relation to the grandeur of God. But again, one feels that the big church may have been good for inspiring awe, but the real interactions took place out in the comparative confines of the cloisters and side chapels — or down the street at the pub.
Ensembles. We had the chance to sit in on some ensemble classes at Sibelius Academy, and they are working at a very high level, far more polished and professional than anything we have at Old Town School. Granted, these are students in a degree program preparing for their performance critiques, but still it makes me wonder whether we could create mechanisms for allowing advanced students to immerse themselves in sophisticated ensemble playing that is up to professional performance standards.
The Old Town School sitcom. While riding the three-hour tour of a train from Newcastle to London, our crew fell to casting ourselves as the stars of Gilligan’s Island. The results: Bau Graves as the Skipper; Maria McCullough as Gilligan; Joe Filisko as the Professor; Robert Tenges as Ginger the Movie Star; Boogie McClarin as Mary Anne; Barb Silverman as Thurston Howell the Millionaire; and Steve Levitt as Lovey, his Wife. “Lovey” might even stick as a nickname for Steve…
Lots more to come, but we’re headed back over to Sibelius Academy soon and I need to go have a little smoked reindeer meat for breakfast.