Author: Bettina Amacher

The ‘Crossing Boundaries Musically’- Concert – Or: Which boundaries are we actually talking about?

As my stay at BSM is going to an end, I would like to share some impressions of one of the last weeks with you – it really has been a busy time. Since January, we had the visits of Cellist Albin Ackermann, Guitarist Lazare Cherouana and Harpist Rahel Schweizer, and also Maria Rapp, Christian Berger and Ranko Markovic who are part of the team supporting this program at ZHdK. Meanwhile on-going was the East-West Music & Dance Encounter, which is a month full of concerts from Western to Indian Classical music and dance – organized through the BSM. You can imagine, how intense and inspiring the past few weeks have been: Full of performances, workshops and encounters in both personal and musical ways.

So – to give you a better impression, let’s zoom closer to one event: The ‘Crossing Boundaries Musically’ – Concert that happened as part of the East-West-Festival in collaboration with Swissnex India (view pictures after the article). It may stand as a symbol for all the collaboration, which has happened lately between the BSM and Zurich University of the Arts. The program involved four different performances as an insight into the musical part of the collaboration:

– Sukrupa Children’s Choir led by Sheba K (BSM) and Bettina Amacher (ZHdK)
– Guitar Ensemble led by Lazare Cherouana (ZHdK) and a Solo Performance by Guitarist Nandini Sudhir (BSM)
– Solo Performance by Harpist Rahel Schweizer (ZHdK)
– String Ensemble led by Alice Yeadell (BSM) and Albin Ackermann (ZHdK)

But the evening was not only meant to be about sharing music and the joy of collaborating in that way, but also about giving insights about how the participants of the project have experienced the collaboration. All the performing artists have shared their personal thoughts and experiences with ‘Crossing Boundaries Musically’, with a tone of big appreciation and thankfulness for the shared time.
As a very reduced summary of my experiences here, I want to share my personal thoughts, which I shared that night, one more time with you in this blog. While organizing the event, I started to think about the title of our exchange-program – ‘Crossing Boundaries Musically’. But what actually represents this word ‘boundary’? At first, looking at the logo, you may think about the boundaries between the Indian and the Swiss culture, or about the boundaries between two institutions. But to be honest, ever since I started collaborating with different teachers from the BSM, I have never felt boundaries between us. Of course, there are differences in the education systems that influence our ways in teaching music – but exactly that is what makes collaboration rich. On the one hand we can learn from each other and enrich our methods and concepts. On the other hand, I have started to reflect my own repertoire of teaching methods much more through comparing different ways. Also, once a discussion about music pedagogy is launched, the participants of different backgrounds really have to go to the essence of what they want to express. This is as a big difference to the everyday life in your own cultural context, where you apply teaching methods without thinking about it, because they feel right in your own context.

So, coming back to the word ‘boundaries’: As I personally understand it, it means the boundaries within myself. Apart from all the discussions with different persons, my time here at the BSM exposed me to many situations I would not have found in Switzerland, for example regarding resources or perception of time. I was challenged to be more flexible and to react differently. I think, it is very important to have an open mind in this process and the spirit, that everybody and every situation you get into can be a teacher and bring you further. Even if you disagree with something – you have to reflect why you do so.

So: Be it through teaching, be it through learning Carnatic singing, be it through chats or be it through the everyday life in Bangalore – My personal boundaries definitely expanded. For that I am very grateful and I want to thank BSM, ZHdK and all its members for giving me the opportunity of experiencing five wonderful and inspiring months!

Love Can Turn The World – Or: Music Can Turn My World

Finally it happened: “Love Changes The World” – the finale concert including all the children of the BSM-BIOCON outreach programme (BIOCON is a corporate sponsor). On Thursday 26th of February, around 200 children in colourful T-Shirts and their teachers gathered at the Guru Nanak Bhavan Auditorium to finally present their songs to the audience.


The grand finale – five choirs together performing the song “Love Can Turn The World”

Since the end of last year the children of four different schools, which are part of the program, have been practicing for this big day. I have been assisting two of the choirs: Coxtown Government School (together with Becky) and the Sukrupa Choir (together with Sheba). As the event got closer, you could feel the excitement of the children in both choirs – And this excitement made me realize and remember, how these kind of performances are meaningful to a child. Of course it is an exciting outing for them: Gathering at the school, dressing up nicely and then driving by bus through the city to a big audience hall and getting snacks and a gift after the concert.


The children from Coxtown Government School waiting for the final rehearsal…


… and on stage performing three songs: ‘Salibonani’, ‘Si ma ma ka’ with claves and shakers and ‘I like the flowers’.

In a more reflected perspective, I suppose that there is one point, which is even more important: To be seen. To be the center for some minutes. To be rewarded for doing something good. Especially, if these situations don’t happen too often in everyday life – it just feels good to step on a stage and sing for the audience – maybe even sing some solo lines and than be proud to have managed everything well. These positive feelings will stick in the memories of our students and will be positive for their self-esteem and confidence. I am sure, you might have some similar memories, when you remember your childhood.
So, my point is: Of course, this event was also to demonstrate the effectiveness for the sponsor of the outreach program, it was also to honor involved faculty of the participating schools and to report about the year – but before everything it was an event for the children. Some days ago, the children of the Sukrupa Choir wrote some lines the meaning of being part of the choir means to them. Here shall be shared some insights into the child- or teenage opinion about music in their lives:

„I am part of the music class for the past two years. It is very useful in many ways. I had been to many concerts which have been very interesting. By going tot he music class I learn music and a lot of knowledge, but also I learn discipline, good behaviour and other qualitites. Also it is a good opportunity to show my talent and skills. In my life it is a lucky chance to be part of BSM. I will never forget this chance in my life. Thank you.“ – Tinitha S. – 9th standard

„It is a golden chance to go to the BSM. Not every child will get this chance in his lifetime. But I am blessed to be part of BSM. Before I didn’t know what I could sing, but when I joined the BSM I have learnt that I can sing in front of everyone. By singing I improved my language and my concentration.“ Maria Nelcy – 9th standard

„BSM is important for me for developping my voice. Before I joined the choir, I did not know any songs in English. After joining the music class, I have learnt many songs in English.“ – Karpagavalli D., – 8th Standard

„I like music very much – Music is my life. What I learn in the music class I can sing anywhere. I got the opportunity to go to the music class. When I sing a song I feel happy. Music is a GIFT for me“ – Likitha M.

„The music class is a gift form e and it is my future. I like to go to the music class. Through singing my voice gets good – and I love singing!“ – Nayana R. – 6th standard

„Singing is important, because it can take out the anger and fill you with new spirit – Singing helps the heart.“ Chethana K. S. – 5th standard

„I am proud to be in the music class – we are going to many places to perform. I got the good opportunity to be part of the music class. We learnt some african songs. I like my teachers and I like music class.“ – Deepak P.  – 5th standard

Being a student of Carnatic vocal music – Or: Music has many ways…

Apart from my activities as a teaching person at BSM, I have the pleasure to be a student for vocal Carnatic music. Of course: You and me know, that I will not end up being a great Carnatic singer – but these lessons give me a deeper understanding of Indian classical music and culture on the one hand. On the other hand, since the system of Indian classical music is quite different to the western system, it makes me experience once again how it feels like to work yourself into a new musical system. Just like my young students, when they learn the Western music notation.
My teacher’s name is Mythili, and she is actually the only teacher at BSM, who teaches Indian classical music. Our lesson takes part in her home in Malleshwaram, in a room full of Indian and Western instruments. There is a big carpet, on which we both sit. Mythili turns on the shrutibox – a box which actually looks like a radio of my childhood times – and it playes “Sa” and “Pa”, like a constant carpet of sound which gives you a pitch.

The Indian classical music is built onto the svaras (tunes) called: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni, Sa. It is an equivalent to the Western system of relative solmisation (Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do). But the main difference is, that there exist a lot more scales in the Indian classical music: The ragas. In fact there are 72 major ragas and thousands of variations, as Mythili told me. So in my point of learning, Mythili teaches me different ragas. And then I sing different exercises, the easier ones are just ascending or descending, the harder ones jump in bigger intervals between the different svaras. While singing the svaras, I have to tab a steady beat with my right hand on my knee, following a pattern of 4 – 2 – 2. This constant rhythm is called tala. Once you mastered an exercise, you will sing it in double time, while the tala goes on in the same speed. Then again you double the speed again or you sing an exercise in a-kara, what means I only sing an a-sound and not the svaras anymore. And the big difference to Western classical singing are the gammakas, the microtunes which are sang to connect the different svaras: Sliding, glissando-like tunes – to get a better impression, you might listen to a video on Youtube.


How you sit and tab the tala while singing exercises


 An example of exercises to get confident with a raga.

Even though I know, my career as a Carnatic singer won’t be very big, I wouldn’t want to miss this experience! Through comparing the Western and the Indian classical system, it makes me realise a lot about the characteristics and strengths of both of them. So for example: While reading the western classical notation, it always gives me information about the height of a tune, whereas in the Indian classical I have to have the Svaras internalised, to know how high each tune is. Also through the constant sound of the Shrutibox, I always hear the interval between Sa and the tune I am singing, what helps me control my intonation.
More than that I find it a mind-opening experience to get to know different musical systems: Because with time I got to realise, that each system seems to have some strict rules which cannot be broken. But if you get to know another musical system, exactly these rules are broken. Let me give you some examples: An Indian Classical piece always follows only ONE raga, tunes of the scale can NEVER be changed. Now if you compare it to jazz, changing of tunes and keys is what happens all the time. Or let’s look at the violin which is used in both Indian and Western classical: While in Western classical students are taught to hold their violins straight, the Carnatic violin players sit on the floor, their legs crossed, the back bended forward, the violin held under the chin and being laid on the knee. Or of course: While I try pitch tunes perfectly in a western aria, in a Carnatic piece microtunes and sliding tunes are a must.
Looking at this, it makes me realise that rules are something relative, something bound to their systems. While mainly we respect the rules in each system, we should also from time to time have the openness and courage to break rules, to allow ourselves the experience of where that takes us, in a sense of being open for innovation and creativity. Not only as a musician, but also as a teacher, because each system has its own ways of teaching and learning, which can be transferred from one system to another.

From “Gaia Preschool“ to „Coxtown Government School“ – Or: „From one reality to another“

Having already adapted a bit to the IST (Indian Stretchable Time), I arrive with a slight delay in front of a light green iron door. It is the door to the “Gaia pre-school”, which is just a 10 minutes walk away from the BSM and I can actually walk to work. That is rather unusual in Bangalore, where a lot of people spend a long time travelling through the huge city to their work places.
Anyway, I enter the door with a huge step over a little fence (also light green), which keeps the youngest students from escaping: Some are only one and a half years old, when they enter the pre-school. The oldest ones are around six years old.
So, entering the compound, a large and stimulating environment opens up in front of me: A playground with trees, little cars to cruise around, a trampoline, a slide and a climbing frame. Walking into the classrooms you would find shelves full with learning materials, toys and books for each age group, surrounded by the walls showing the art work of the children. And usually around three “Didis”, what the teachers are called here, in each class.

The gaia-pre-school indeed is a special place within Bangalore – I was told, that it is one of the top ten private pre-schools in Bangalore. And currently, I am the music teacher on Monday mornings. I teach music and movement to the children in different age groups, from the smallest ones to the six-year-old ones. What makes this place unique too is the teaching philosophy: Teachers are obliged to respect each child’s individuality – meaning: Don’t tell them off, don’t give them warnings or consequences for certain actions. What the child does is its own choice. This teaching style is very different to the rather strict style I have experienced in other classes. And of course – the teaching style and surrounding has an impact on the learning behaviour, as you may imagine.

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My teaching place at Gaia pre-school

Around lunchtime I head back to the BSM to catch an “auto” (a riksha) to get to Coxtown Government School. The ride takes about 30 minutes through the city and costs around 1.20 CHF. As I arrive at the school, the kids are all sitting on mats on the compound of the school having a bowl of rice and stew for lunch. They wear neat school-uniforms in light and dark blue. The girls wear their long hair in braids, kept together with ribbons. They wave friendly and say: “Good afternoon, Madam!”. And soon kids from first to forth standard would join together in a classroom, sitting in rows, chatting, but ready for the music lesson. In the classroom you can spot different works from the kids that are hanging on the walls and the beautiful letters of the “Kannada”-alphabet. (Kannada is the language spoken apart from English in Bangalore and in the state Karnataka).

But nevertheless the songs being taught in the lesson are mostly action-songs in English, which the children sing with a lot of enthusiasm. They attend the class with a lot of motivation and often want to sing a song over and over again, they say “thank you”, when they get a pair of claves or a shaker. In fact I guess these children are the first ones in my teacher life, that ever said “Thank you for the music lesson!”

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The children of Coxtown Government School

The music lesson at Coxtown Government School is a part of the BSMs outreach program – it is taught voluntarily in schools with fewer resources than other schools. So indeed the step from Gaia pre-school to Coxtown Government School is a step from one reality to another – they are kids with very different social backgrounds. And I dare to say, that I can feel this as a teacher also. I wouldn’t say, that the joy of doing music is any different. But clearly I feel that for the children in Coxtown this one music-lesson is special – you feel how eager to learn they are, how open their minds are to receive what you teach them, and how they appreciate it. None of the older students would pretend that the songs would be silly or to childish for them, how it sometimes happens at home.

Finally the image of “sponges” comes to my mind to describe the difference between these students: Sponges can hold a certain amount of water, if they are almost dry, they will suck in a lot of water, if they are already full, they cannot suck anymore. I think you can guess the correlation between that image and students with a different amount of input in their environment. The interesting question to think about further should be: What is the right amount of learning input for a child?

“Early Childrens Music Course” – Or: “Where do our ways in teaching come from?”

It is a Saturday in October, 3.00 pm. A bunch of 5 year old children are entering the classroom, some a little shy, some with big smiles on their faces and a lot of stories about what they have experienced that week: „Becky, on my way I came across a construction site, and the machine was working in a steady beat, bum-bum-bum!“. They put their chairs ready in a circle, as they do it every week.
The class starts off with an English welcome-song and a rhythmical activity as the children say their names according to a simple body percussion. Today’s class topic is „Ta“ and „Titi“, so the children go on with rhythmical activities, speaking, clapping, tapping and drumming different rhythms of „Ta“ and „Titi“. Then the class moves and acts with the sounds of the piano in the room, today it is a bunny-story with a focus on the musical parameter „high-low“. The children seem to have a lot of fun! Since it is the exam week, one older student of the BSM comes to perform her piano pieces she will play in the exam. Most of the young children listen up with a lot of focus, and clap their hands as the pieces are over. Everybody says happily: „Goodbye and until next week!“, as the class is over.
This is a description of the first class of the „Early children music“ I visited. It takes part at the BSM,  the teachers name is Becky, who seems to lead the class with a lot of energy and joy. The course is the Indian equivalent to my „Musigchindergarte“ – class that I have taught in Switzerland. There are a lot of similarities – yet there are some differences, Becky and I agree, as we have a chat after the class. Especially the music theory and its terms would be kept stronger in background in Switzerland, hidden and packed into images and playful activities – for that age group. Here, the approach could be described as more cognitive. Why is that so?
An answer could be found in a look onto the Indian education system: Here, the kids enter pre-schools even before they are two years old, and after a while they start to learn the alphabet. So – when they enter primary school, they are able to read and write, whereas the Swiss children would just start off with learning to write letters. So basically the approaches of teaching are different and the kids would be used to a different style of being taught.
I guess as teachers we are highly influenced by the values of our education system – voluntarily or non-voluntarily. Through growing up in an education system, being trained to be a teacher (through people who have experienced the same system), finally teaching in the same system.
So, I think it can be an interesting challenge for all of us teachers, to think about what are our values in teaching and where they might come from. Being in India and having the chance to teach in another education system, I am eager to develop a bigger understanding about this interesting topic, to cover up my own values in teaching and learn from my surrounding.