Another Kind of Practice

             This week, I performed my first concert in New Delhi with GMI director Tarun Balani and GMI bass faculty Hayden Farrar. I also visited the National Gallery of Modern Art. My first gig in India was a fantastic experience. The speed at which our trio has connected musically and personally has been pleasantly surprising. I can’t wait to see how this band evolves over the next 3 months.

 

            Although my first gig in India and my visit to the National Gallery were memorable individual events, I want to focus on something I have experienced daily since my arrival in Delhi. Every morning I have gone for a walk in a park near my apartment. Every day I have seen the same people meditating and doing yoga. What I have enjoyed the most to observe has been a group of men in their 60s who sit in a circle of benches after their morning stroll. Although I cannot understand a word they are saying it is easy to tell that this has been their routine for many years. Sometimes they laugh hysterically with each other. At other times they are in deep discussion. Regardless of the topic they are all completely engaged in the conversation.

 

            I feel that in the Western world we often forget or even reject the value of these congregations. We might think that at 8am we should be having our daily caffeine fix to get through the work day. Perhaps we should be getting in some last minute studying or in my case, practicing the piano. We do not realize that in order to be effective in whatever we do for a living or as a parent, spouse, sibling or friend we have to be mindful of the people and the world around us. This year I often reached my destination without recollection of anything that happened on the subway ride I took there. I sometimes heard the person with which I was conversing but failed to really listen to them. Watching this group of men day after day taking the time to hear each other’s thoughts, feelings and stories has reminded me of the value in being mindful in all activities and experiences. I have been inspired to stop worrying about the next thing I have to do and really be present in what is happening right now. This is the first time in the past 5 years (since I began my education at Berklee College of Music) that practicing the piano has not been my top priority. Through daily practice of meditation and yoga I have been strengthening my mindfulness in all of my daily activities as well as musical performances and workshops that I have presented.

 

            Any improvising musician will occasionally get in a rut of playing the same old licks in their solos. Composers in all genres will experience writer’s block. In such moments these artists must realize that music is a reflection of the world. We can find inspiration within ourselves and in the environment and people around us. We have to practice mindfulness just as much as we have to achieve technical proficiency if our art is to be relevant and relatable. Music does not define us. We define our music.

Sincerely,
Jacob

Ignorance is Bliss

              In my second week in New Delhi I went to my first Indian classical music concert. I also began teaching private lessons and theory classes as well as directing ensembles at the Global Music Institute (GMI). For the last seven days I was thrown into situations in which I was not experienced. I had (and still have) little understanding of Hindustani music. I had never taught college-aged students in a classroom setting. However, I made a conscious effort to embrace my lack of knowledge.

 

            I attended the Hindustani concert in an auditorium at the Indian Habitat Centre. The band consisted of a Tabla player, harmonium player and flutist who supported two vocalists (each vocalist performed a set by themselves). As the vocalist sang the melody of each piece in rhythmic phrasing that I could never notate, the harmonium player played the melody precisely in unison with him. The flutist would fill in the spaces in the melody with colourful embellishments. The Tabla player’s groove and perfectly placed fills created a feeling in my body that I often experienced listening to funk drummers like Zigaboo Modeliste and Billy Martin. Hayden Farrar, the fellow GMI faculty member with whom I attended the concert told me it was hilarious to watch me dancing in my seat every time the Tabla player would establish the groove at the beginning of a piece.

 

            My first week at GMI was rewarding. I was pleased to learn of my students’ wide range of musical tastes. They expressed interest in different styles of Western music including blues, soul and jazz. I taught one of my ensembles “I Heard it Through The Grapevine”. Once everyone had learned their parts by ear I felt a rush of happiness. I was overjoyed to educate and hopefully inspire the pupils through the music that I love.

 

            This week reminded me of the cliché “Ignorance is bliss.” My experience at the Hindustani concert was similar to the first time I listened to Oscar Peterson’s “Night Train” album, the first jazz CD I had ever heard. It was one of those lightbulb moments at which one thinks to one’s self, “I have no idea what is going on here but I know that I love it.” We should all be thankful for such moments. They are the times at which new doors are opened with no preconceptions to discourage us from going through them.

 

Sincerely,

Jacob

First Impressions

Dear Friends and Family,
A few months ago I was hired by the Global Music Institute (GMI) in New Delhi, India to teach piano lessons, ensembles, music theory and ear training during their summer 2014 semester. After much anticipation I am finally here. I will be posting a weekly blog discussing my travels and my work at GMI.

I was met at Indira Gandhi Airport by Tarun Balani and Pattie Gonsalves, the school's artistic and managing directors. These inspiring, dedicated and warm individuals have given me a fantastic introduction to the city. The culture shock I experienced was jarring but Tarun and Pattie have made the transition as smooth as possible. My roommate and fellow Torontonian Hayden Farrar arrived a few days ago. It's been a pleasure to get to know him and travel with him around the city.

The biggest leap of faith I have taken was my first ride in an auto rickshaw, the Indian version of a cab. This thing is essentially a box on three wheels. There are no seat-belts. No doors. The driver uses handlebars that resemble an arcade ski-doo game. To cap it all off, the concept of lanes is foreign to Indian drivers. It's every man, woman and child for themselves. With entire families (no exaggeration) riding on motorcycles and cars fighting for position, the roads of New Delhi are a cross between Mario Kart and Red Bull Crashed Ice.

I've seen some great touristy spots. The detail and precision in the work at the National Crafts Museum was eye-opening. I also enjoyed the historic structures at Lodhi Gardens and the vibrancy of the various markets around town. 

Finally, on Saturday I got to meet, hear and perform for the students at GMI. I am thrilled to be working with such enthusiastic musicians. The student's performances showed me that I will be learning from these kids too.

Thanks for checking in. This is sure to be an unforgettable experience that I look forward to sharing with you. Look for a new blog every Sunday.

Cheers,

Jacob