On February 9th I landed in Bangalore as the last one of the “Crossing Boundaries Musically” Project to reach India. I arrived at the BSM when everyone there was in the midst of preparing the upcoming concert on February 11th, so I joined the Star Strings orchestra, coached by Fränzi, until the performance. From moment one I could appreciate the joyful atmosphere of working with the children. The same night of my arrival I rehearsed in a chamber music group with Fränzi, my study colleagues Leila and Shaina and some teachers of the BSM. I enjoyed that my first contact with Emanuel, Grace and Shyamal happened through the music, wordless, and we met each other by playing together.
My first assignment came on February 10th, with the Grade 1 workshop, which I held in the following week as well. The group attending this seminar consisted of very young and motivated beginners. We sat in a circle of colorful little chairs and played all together, one by one or in smaller groups. The exercises and games were about rhythms we could produce with the hands, the steps, or on our instruments; we combined that with scales, bow technique, dynamic, and then switched into easy sight reading pieces or improvisation. We had fun and I really saw the amount of attention and effort each child put into what he/she was doing.
The day of the concert was like a celebration day: the whole BSM (students, families and teachers) moved to the Cubbon Park, huge green area situated amidst the city, right at the heart of Bangalore. A section of the Park is specially dedicated to children: there is an amusement park and many activities and events for kids take place there. Indeed, it was where the BSM students performed – inside the Bal Bhavan auditorium. Before the concert most of the group was helping in getting the stuff ready: chairs, stands, balloons, instruments and snacks for the players. It seemed to me like if students, teachers and parents were working together setting up a party. I found it really beautiful, especially because, before a concert, kids might be stressed or nervous, but this cooperation in preparing the event helped them to familiarize with the new place and the stage. They were totally involved in the preparation process, which is something I had never experienced before from the students.
The concert was meant to demonstrate the collaboration between the BSM and the ZHdK. It left an evidence of the merry time the members of both institutions spent together.
When I came to BSM I’ve started from the end, jumping into this concert that marked the end of the stay in India for my professors and colleagues from Zurich. When they left, it was kind of my time there was officially starting: 2 more weeks. Things went the other way around for me: from the event to the daily life.
Alice used to organize my schedule every evening for the day after. Something I learned to love about the time perception in India is that things mostly happen in the present. People don’t plan very far but they are incredibly aware here and now. It had an influence on my way of teaching as well. Since I was there for a short period, I also couldn’t set the learning goals too far. With the exception of the cello class, I was never sure if I was going to meet again the students of the individual sessions. This way every lesson was unique and I always tried to conclude what I was doing before the student had to leave, so that he/she could take home something he/she really experienced, felt and understood. When it happened again to meet the same student, I was glad to see that what we worked on in the previous lesson was always (almost) completely absorbed.
Before meeting the cello students, I’ve been informed from their teachers Anup and Grace about age, level, elements I could work on. The class was really heterogeneous: from Neethi, a beginner who took with me her 7th cello class, to Grace herself, who is a professional violinist that now specializes in playing cello. Some of the students are preparing for the ABRSM exams, so we were focusing on analysis and execution of the pieces and exercises they have to prepare. With some of them I had enough time to lay the foundation for a new technical subject, like shifts, vibrato, new bowings or positions, harmonics. I adapted to what each student needed and showed my way of playing, encouraging him/her to look for his/her own one. All of them were open, interested in learning and ready to share their thoughts, ask questions and diligently practice. All of them undertook and improved.
I was really happy that Alice approved my idea about organizing a cello ensemble. I strongly believe that playing together helps developing skills we don’t always get to master when we only play alone. The importance of listening while playing is for example one of them. An additional advantage of being all cellists, is that the students start confronting each other with questions, advices or demonstrations. They understand the importance of their role in the context of the chamber music and gain confidence in their playing. I’m intentionally focusing on what the ensemble musically achieved, because I never had to work on social dynamics. Each student of BSM was extremely respectful with the others and with me. The learning environment was always perfectly calm and favorable. I’ve never experienced anything like that before and in every lesson at the BSM I felt lucky because of that. No distractions, no problems or fights, only the music – it was a dream!
I had the opportunity to coach violinists as well. Some of them came because they wanted to play their pieces for me, some others came to work on chamber music pieces. I’m not a violin player and I just know some basics on the violin, so we mostly took the way from the musical idea to the result we wanted to get, rather than the procedure of going from the technical problem through the correction until it gets to the desired outcome. Working with violin students on solo and chamber music pieces was new for me: before I only led some string orchestra rehearsals with the violin section, never one by one or in small groups. This experience put me in touch with a new repertoire and challenges that are completely different from the ones usually faced by the cello students.
Grace entrusted me with the Junior Orchestra, the string orchestra of the more advanced students. I’ve been thinking a lot about the program for them, when I came to the conclusion: I have to go for something that represents my culture. Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni… what else more than Italian opera arias?! I used some arrangements for strings; I really wanted them to discover this art form. Our project’s name mentions boundaries I never felt during my stay in India. But if there are still boundaries in the world, I guess nothing breaks them and goes straighter to the heart better than opera music. It approaches the human part of everyone.
Only few players of the Junior Orchestra already went to the opera once in their lives. During the rehearsals I told them the stories behind the music: some students were really curious about the plots and asked questions about the characters and the reasons behind their actions. With the limited time I had in Bangalore, I could only mark the beginning of this project. I know they’re still working on those pieces and that they will probably perform them in a concert in the near future. Grace promised me a video of that day and I’m really looking forward to it.
The BSM string teachers are incredibly versatile. Some of them can switch without too much trouble from the violin to the viola to the cello. I had a lot of fun playing with Alice, Grace, Emanuel and Anup in different chamber music groups. I was really impressed looking at them moving from an instrument to another, changing the seats and learning new scores. It showed me how essential it is to like every day what you do. Living the moment you make music and enjoy it for what it is much more important than struggling for the perfect performance. Before going to India, my idea of playing was slowly reducing to dealing with my worries of not making it good enough. I was so focused on maintaining some high standards, that for a very long time I almost forgot the easiest and most basic thing: playing the cello pleases me.
Without this exchange program I would never had the chance to test myself in such different context. I took part in the project with a lot of enthusiasm and all my expectations were largely exceeded. The boundaries I became able to go beyond were the ones I was building inside myself, made of fears and mistrust. Music is a medium of expression and people use it to communicate and connect. It may seem obvious, but so much of this meaning get lost every day under the pressure of living as a professional musician with a stressful routine of practicing and performing.
I don’t think I can ever thank enough the BSM people – students, families, faculty and staff – for my time there. Beside the motivating pedagogical experience, I enjoyed the most generous hospitality, typical of the Indian culture. People treated me with kindness and respect. I felt useful to the students, since they were so ready to pick up any instruction. Several families came to see me, wanted to say thank. It hardly ever happened to me before. Never as in that moment I thought that my job was precious to other people and I felt satisfied. The faculty and the BSM staff welcomed me like a family. To all of them I’d like to express my gratitude as a person and as an artist. I was halfway around the world and it felt like I was in my home region.