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Time is flying by since my last blog entry.  It was a busy week for me here on the UWC campus.  I also made a mid-week trip to Pune.  At this time my devotion to blog writing has slowed down… but who knows, that may change again.

On Monday morning I did my usual few hours of practice.  I am learning anew a piece that I have not studied or performed for many years.  It is interesting how connections from the recent past in New Mexico are springing up here in far away India.  One of the teachers here, Parag, spent 5 years doing his graduate work at NM State in Portales.  He sings North Indian Classical music and plays various instruments.  We have not yet gotten together to jam, but when I told him I would be playing a concert in Pune sponsored by the Pune Music Society, he asked me if I knew the “Tango” by Issac Albeniz.  He said that for some reason regular concert goers at the Pune Music Society concerts love that piece and that if I could perform it they would be very happy.  He said he had the music in the same edition that I had originally learned.  Just a few days before leaving for India, I had come across an old recording I had made of that selection and had played it for my musician friend Scott.  I was impressed with how good it sounded and mentioned to him that I would like relearn it.  Well, here I am learning the piece with a score provided by a local Indian teacher at the UWC.  I have spent many hours memorizing the piece and plan to perform it as a oncore for my Pune concert.

Monday, around 1:00 pm, I attended Ben’s second year music class.  They were having a discussion on improvisation and he asked me to talk about my recording “Rainbow Spring”, an ensemble recording all done with free improvisation.  We played a couple of selections and I explained some of the process used to make the album.  They had many questions and are all interested in improvisation.  They also had questions about my musical background.  They had all been to my concert a few days earlier.  Later in the afternoon I taught a guitar lesson to a student from Chekoslovia, who approached me about taking lessons.  She is an almost total beginner, but is very enthusiastic and we will be doing another lesson this coming Monday.  I told her, for us to continue her lessons she will need to do some serious practice.

Later in the afternoon I went to the library and checked out a book I have been interested in reading for many years, “Unfinished Journey” by the great violinist, Yehudi Menuhin.  It is his autobiography.  He has led an amazing life and there are many connections to India and its music.  Also now that I am starting to write a bit more I am also looking at the book as a fledgling writer.

On Tuesday I spent an hour in the afternoon with a German student who is a good cello player.  He was at the class the previous day and has never improvised.  We spent time together improvising, which we both enjoyed.  He is also going to look for some cello/guitar music that we can practice together. In the evening after dinner I got together with the guitar club, which had a huge turnout (15-20) and taught a group class.  It was very successful and they want me back every week until I leave.  There are also 4 more advanced players who have run the club who asked me to teach them a more advanced class.

Wednesday afternoon I went to Pune with Ben and Sindhu.  We had set up a meeting with Jehangir and Binaifer in the evening to discuss a date for my upcoming concert.  Ben and Sindhu had business of their own so they drew me a little map of places I wanted to go and dropped me off.  It was my first time wandering around central Pune (the 5th largest city in India) and I really enjoyed myself.  Amazing amount of people and traffic.  I needed a few shopping items.  I got some new Indian cotton pants and shirt, some other things and went to a music store to look for a new school guitar and get some strings someone wanted.

Busy..busy.  Crowded streets with people in many kinds of dress, beggars on every block, motorcycles, bicycles, motorized rickshaws, and in the midst of all this seeming speed and ,confusion a cow slowly crossing the street.  This in the heart of downtown Pune.  I had been very careful up to this point crossing the busy streets, weaving through the traffic and enjoying the process.  Well, just as I began to cross a busy intersection, I see this cow making his way across the busiest street in Pune.  My attention was momentarily distracted watching how all traffic shifted gear to create a flow around this ambling cow.  Well in those few seconds of inattention to my street crossing I was clipped by a bicycle.  The rider briefly lost his balance as he went by, but was quickly back in stride. I was not hurt, but I learned a very important lesson… never get distracted when crossing an Indian street.  Thank goodness it wasn’t a truck that clipped me.

Later I met up with Ben and Sindhu and we went to a restaurant to meet Jehangir and Binaifer.  We had tea while waiting and then went into a different dining area to eat.  A nice place where middle class Indians go.  I shared a food dish with Ben, whose name I can’t remember.  We talked business, the music life in Pune and some of J & B’s recent travels.  They had just returned from Poland.  They have arranged for some Polish musicians to come perform in India.  My concert is set for February 13 and I will be teaching a master class on the 14th.  They said I can likely expect and audience from 100-200 people.  I gave them a copy of my program and have since emailed them an updated biography.  Sindhu took a bunch of photos at my UWC concert so we will be sending them a few of those for publicity purposes.  They have also emailed me a contact in Mumbai and said they will be able to give me contacts in other cities for possible future concerts.  So I begin my concert performances in India and look forward to the opportunity for more as I travel around India.

On Thursday I booked my train ticket to Chennai (Madras) which is in the state of Tamil Nadu.  I got a sleeper, 2nd class, air-conditioned.  The distance is approximately 1091 KM from Pune.  I leave on March 4 at 6:10 pm and arrive in Chennai around 24 hours later.  The ticket cost me around $23.00 US.  To get a sleeper car on Indian trains you almost always need to book 6-8 weeks in advance.  They do have a limited amount of tickets reserved for foreign travelers, but you must go to the train station where you are traveling from to reserve a place, if available.

I also spent some time with Michael, who I have spoken of earlier.  He graduated from the UWC India last year and stayed on to work with children and adults in surrounding villages.  He has amazing language skills and has become very involved with local culture.  He is also very interested in developing his musical skills and we have spent time working on his flute playing.  Since I arrived he has purchased a bamboo flute and a book explaining the Indian musical system of scales and rhythms.  We are spending time going through the book together.  I am adapting the information to the guitar.

On Friday I had dinner at the home of Jack and Frieda, a couple from Australia, who have spent most of their life together traveling around the world teaching at various international schools.  They have one son, now 30, who grew up living different places.  They do have a home in a small village on the coast of Australia where they periodically return for a year or two.  Their son now lives in Australia and has an infant son.  They have been teaching here since September and have a lovely home overlooking the valley.  I had a great time conversing, eating and drinking Indian wine and the local hard brew that cost around 10 rupees a pint ($.25)  It actually went down quite smoothly.  They had spent a few years teaching in India around 20 years ago so have lots of interesting insights into Indian culture.  There also invited Shruti, an Indian women, who is now the student councilor.  She has been here around 2 years.  She studied in the US, traveled abroad with her parents as a child and speaks perfect English.  A very easygoing likeable person.

On Saturday I spent around 2 hours with Micheal as we continued exploring his flute playing and Indian scales.  On Saturday night I went to a student production of “No Exit” by Camus.  They did a very good job.  It was the first of a series of student productions over the next 5 weeks.  When I am around I will attend.

So the above is an outline of my weeks activities.  Around all this I continue to do many hours of guitar practice a day and I look forward to giving an exciting performance in Pune in February.  I enjoy getting your comments on my blog and any personal emails are welcome.

It’s late afternoon on Sunday and I am sitting down to do some writing after a few days break.  I spent a couple of days in intense practice getting ready for my Friday night concert at MUWCI (Mahindra United World College India).  I performed outside in a stepped area near the Fine Arts Complex.  The event started at 8:00 pm with a big crowd of students in attendance.  School president, Jonathan Long and his wife Sue showed up, but I didn’t notice other faculty, although some may have been present.  Ben Clark and his finance, Sindhu were there since Ben organized the event. It all looked beautiful with good spot light placement and some candles.  We picked the site because of its good natural acoustics.  I played a mixed program, with half original compositions and the other half from my classical repertory.  I was very focused and expressive and the students responded with youthful enthusiasm.  It felt good to play my first concert in India.

Since the kathakali performance, 2 days earlier was feeling slightly out of sorts.  At that performance, I had not yet moved up to campus and was not dressed in any warm clothes.  By the time the show ended, over 2 hours later I was extremely cold,  a cold that sank down to my bones.  On Thursday I took naps during the day, trying to hold off the ill feeling.  By Friday night the sniffles were increasing, although the adrenalin rush of performing kept me in focus.  After the show I went over to Ben’s house and had some dinner and conversation with Ben and Sindhu.  By Saturday morning I felt wiped out and spent most of the day in bed except to get up and do extended periods of guitar practice, which is my meditation practice, and do some yoga type stretching.  In addition to my physical down I was noticing my spiritual sense was feeling somewhat out of balance.  It was good to look at the thoughts that would pop into my mind and come to some new realizations about my stay here in India.

This morning, Sunday I arose around 7:00 am, showered and did some laundry by hand.  The Sunday brunch starts at 10:30 am and by that time I was not 100% but feeling considerably better.  After brunch I set out with my backpack for a walk through the villages near the campus.  All together I walked around 8 km.  By the time I started walking the steep 2 km uphill to the campus I was extremely tired.  After a brief deep nap I awoke feeling better and looking forward to this “cold” being a thing of the past.

The area around the UWC is entirely agricultural with many small villages scattered about.  As I walked along the road people were out in their fields plowing with oxen, irrigating, planting and harvesting.  In the area there are sugar cane fields, rice fields, various vegetables such as greens and beans, flowers and other crops.  At one point I stopped and talked with a family who was plowing and irrigating their field, getting ready to plant later in the day.  The people in this area don’t speak Hindi, rather their local language, Marathi, but there was a teenage boy working the field who spoke good English.  He goes to school in Pune and commutes the 3 hour round trip daily.  He told me his brother had studied at the UWC here and was now at a Lutheran University in the U.S.  There is a concerted effort by the MUWCI to include some local students in their regular academic program.  (There are 2 UWC students from one of the local villages studying at the UWC in New Mexico) The uncle of this high school student, was hanging out and not working.  He was quite  drunk and because of his looseness was the first to wave and talk to me. Eventually continuing on my way, I headed off the main road towards the river.  After walking in that direction for around 1 km the path ended at a house.  People, mostly women were working the fields dressed in their colorful sarees.  As I would pass women on the road almost none would make eye contact with me or acknowledge my greeting.  I expect this is very common throughout rural India.  The men were a bit more responsive.  The younger children were generally full of smiles and would sometimes try out their few words of English with me.  At this time of year many of the fields are green or prepared for planting.  I am told that over the next few months things will get continually drier and parched with fire danger increasing.  The monsoon season hits around May.  Then it is water, water, water everywhere.

Regarding upcoming performances.  This coming Wednesday I will be going to Pune with Ben and Sindhu to meet Jehindra, the director of the Pune Music Society.  In my communications with him before leaving for India I was lead to believe that I would be performing in Pune during the 3rd week of January.  That is not happening.  When we meet next week we will be setting a performance date in February.  Over the next few weeks I will also be playing at various local village schools, a home for the mentally handicapped, another local private college and possibly a hospital.  I am looking forward to all these opportunities to get involved, through my music, in the local culture.  I am also hoping that Jehindra recommends me and will put me in contact with other large urban music societies where I can perform.  Time is moving forward and it will not be long before I will be leaving the UWC and hitting the road.  Next weekend and during the coming weeks I plan to visit some towns  within a 5-7 hour train or bus ride.  From the readings in my travel book there are some amazing places to visit in the vicinity.

That is it for now.

Today begins the first day of my second week in India.  Since I have some free time I am starting todays blog in the afternoon of day eight.  At this point my life on campus seems to be falling into a more or less regular routine, but after my concert on Friday I am planning to start getting out and about.  Unless something else comes up I plan to do a full Saturday of hiking around the local villages in the area.  Then early next week a trip to Pune the nearest large town to do errands and met my concert organizers

The morning started with my usual exercise and then up the hill for breakfast.  Then some practice over at the music building.  I ran into Ben Clark and he printed out and gave me the first page of an original composition he wrote a few years back.  The guitar is a featured instrument and he would like to have it performed here on campus before I leave.  I think there are 8 or so instruments in the composition so he will need to round-up other players who can do the other parts.  The first page of the guitar part is quite challenging. I have started working out the left hand fingering on some chords with very big stretches.  After lunch I continued my practice at my favorite practice spot near the fine art complex.  Raj Kishor, who is the assistant for all arts related activities was hanging around, and after listening to me practice for a while went and got one of the schools movie cameras and filmed me playing a couple of tunes.  We talked about filming my concert on Friday and he suggested that I talk to Ben about that possibility.  After that a student I had not yet met came by.  He seems the best guitarist I have encountered on campus.  He played something for me and we talked about his taking some lessons and the campus guitar group which I will soon be attending.

Just today I am beginning to really feel a desire for a place of my own were I can retreat during the day for rest, practice, reading or whatever.  In that regard, the latest word is that I will be moving into my new place tomorrow.  We shall see.

After I finish writing this section of my blog I am going to go over to the area where the Kathakali Dance company performing tonight.  It takes the dancers over 4 hours do put on their makeup and costumes.  It was told this dance form is an incredible performance spectacle.  The show starts around 8:00 pm.

blog continued next morning: So I walked over to the multipurpose center to watch the dancer prepare their makeup and costumes.  When I arrived they were in the early stages.  The make up and costumes are incredible. This form of dance comes from the state of Kerala at the tip of southwestern India.  I spent about 3 hours hanging out while the 14 dancers and musicians were getting ready for the show.  I took some photos which I am determined to download today.

While hanging out I spent some time talking with a reporter, K.V. Rajasekharan, from a Pune newspaper who was covering their performance at UWC.  He explained a great deal about Kerala, Indian newspapers and the history of this particular dance group.  The main language in Kerala is Malayalam so few people in that state speak Hindi or Urdu.  He told me that the most common language used between the many different language groups is English.  I had just observed an interview that an Indian UWC student was having with the director of the group, who was also a dancer.  They were doing the interview in English which really surprised me.  The student, from northern India, could not understand Malayalam and the director could not understand Hindi so English was their common language.  The reporter explained that this is very common throughout India and was considered during the independence movement a way to unit the extraordinarily diverse areas of India with a common language.  The newspaper KV works for is published entirely in Malayalam, but distributed throughout India to the millions of Kerala natives who have moved to other parts of India.  The newspaper has branch editions and reporters who report on local events of special interest to the local community of Kerala natives.  There are many newspapers throughout India that do the same thing based on other language groups.

Kerala is the only State in India that has a communist party run government.  The condition of citizens from this area is far different that any other area of India.  There is close to a 100% literacy rate, no extreme poverty, universal medical care and great religious harmony.  It is also an area of extraordinary natural beauty.  I plan to head there after leaving the UWC as well as visiting the southern state of Tamil Nadu, in particular Chennai, which is the center of Carnatic music (south Indian Classical Music).

The performing group is one of the best known Kathakali dance groups.  The current directors father was a major figure in India’s independence movement as well as one of the great dancers in the Kathakali tradition.  The process of applying their extraordinary makeup, masks and costumes was amazing.  Listening to the musicians warming up was great.

Finally the show began.  It was outside at a stepped area was used for seating with the stage set up below.  It was dark outside and the lighting and sound set up was very good.  For this show they were using a modified Julius Cesar by Shakespeare as their script outline.  There is no speaking in this dance/drama except for a few occasional grunts.  The story is told through a stylized pantomime with incredible use of percussion and singing.  It was so powerful even though I did not understand a great deal of the storyline and none of the singing.  But the emotions expressed were very clear and the visual impact was amazing.  I have never heard drumming used like this.  It was so powerful.  What a great opportunity to see this event.  I hope to see more of this art form when I visit Kerala and maybe even visit with members of this company.

Once again I headed down the hill very tired.  I have been assured that I will be moving into my new apartment today around noon.

I am writing this blog on Wednesday morning while I sit out on the little porch of the IT center on campus.  I woke around 6:30 am and begin my day with some stretching exercise both in my room and outside, where I clearly hear and see the birds during their morning activities.  After getting organized, I headed up the hill to campus, had breakfast, and then went over to the administration building to check out progress on my housing situation and new cell phone.  Both are still in progress.  I was told that I wiil not moving in Wednesday and that my new cell should be arriving in the afternoon.  Ramesh Devmani is head of administration here at the college and is the person I deal with regarding all these issues.  He is a very alive, warm and efficient person who I liked from our first meeting.  While in his office I commented on some photos he had placed around his office.  He told me that they were photos of his guru, Sai Baba.  He is going to loan me a few books with Sai Baba’s writings and has offered to take me on a visit to his shrine which is around an 8 hour drive from campus. We will likely go in around 2 weeks, after life of campus becomes more regular and he has more open time.  When I finally move up to campus I will be living in a housing complex across the patio from his residential home on campus.  He, like many who work in administration have their family home in Pune.  Many commute daily, which during rush hour takes around 1 1/2 hours.  There are a few, like Ramesh who stay on campus during the week, and go home on weekends.

I then headed over to the music building and spent 3 hours in focused practice.  Musically I am feeling in peak shape and I’m looking forward to my upcoming concert on Friday.  Shortly before lunch a student showed up who wanted to talk to me.  He is from Kashmir and wants to learn to play the blues.  He has taught himself a little by listening to recording.  He told me he was learning to play on an instrument that he left at home because it was too large to bring.  I could not understand the name he was giving me and I thought it was because of his very strong accent when speaking English.  When he wrote it out I found that he was calling the instrument a “diddly bo”.  He told me that Lightin’ Hopkins played a diddly bo, which I did not know.  I described is as a single string instrument that is played by some contemporary blues players.  I just did a google search on the diddly bo and learned some new blues history.  I love the idea that a young fellow from Kashmir, at the UWC in India, is turning me on to new information about blues history.  Anyway, I gave him a half hour blues lesson on one of the schools guitars.  He already had a good feel for the blues sound and by the end of our time together was beginning to sound fairly good.  We plan to get together again.

Later in the afternoon I spent around 2 hours with Michael, a former student from Australia, who returned to the UWC to spend around a year working with various NGO organizations around India.  I don’t know all the details but he is working with local students and others in the area as well as doing some travel.  He has learned to speak very good Hindi during his time here,  eats his meals with his right hand (no silverware) and dresses in Indian clothes.  He is very interested in music and we have interacted quite a bit since my arrival.  Since arriving I have revived my original song “Far Off Place”.  Micheal has taught himself to play an Irish flute that he inherited from his father.  We went out to one of the many garden areas around campus and, using my zoom recorder, recorded the song so that he could practice it.  He is helping to arrange for me to perform at some of the villages in the area and I suggested that he play that song with me at those venues.  It will be interesting to see how quickly he can learn the song.

After dinner I went to a lecture given by one of the math teachers on “modern music”.  There were around 20 people present divided between faculty and students.  I was quite tired and was drifting quite a bit.  It was a full and interesting day.

Then down the hill to sleep.

It was a hazy overcast day when I awoke this morning.  After doing my morning stretches outside on my porch I decided to take some photos of where I have been staying.  I thought, now is the time because I will be packing up and leaving this morning.  Well I did pack up, walked to the road gate leading up to the college, and asked the gate guards to call for a car to come and get me.  After stashing my bags I went to breakfast, but was too late.  So back down to the administration building to find out that my new housing was not available until Wednesday.  Ah yes, I was advised by a number of folks before leaving for India, that rarely in India do things happened as expected or planned.  So I was ready for this change and later in the day moved my bags back to my old room.  I like it down by the river, but with the students back I expect to be much more involved in campus related activities and would rather be closer at hand.  We will see what happens on Wednesday.

All morning, until lunch, I went to one of my now favorite spots overlooking the valley and did 3 hours of guitar practice.  After lunch I again did some practice in a different location and then went to the first faculty meeting of the new year.  I was introduced and got a chance to see all the faculty together.  It is a mostly young group with a few older folks who have been on the international school teacher circuit for many years.  World wide there is a whole group of teachers who move from country to country living in many cultures, sometimes crossing paths with old colleagues. After the meeting I talked with an Indian teacher who had been at a summer teacher workshop at the New Mexico UWC and had attended one of my concerts at the Dwan Light Sanctuary. And then another Indian teacher, with a huge saggy beard told me he had spent 6 years doing his graduate work in mathamatics at New Mexico State University.  So these interesting connections are springing up.

After the faculty meeting I took my bags back down to my room and headed right back for the first student assembly of the new semester.  It was fun to see all the students together.  Both Jonathan Long and Ben Clark introduced me to the students and let them know about my upcoming concert on Friday.  Ben also said the would be an Indian dance company of 14 coming to perform on Wednesday evening.  He had told me a little bit about it before and it sounds like it should be quite spectacular.  I spoke to them about some of my plans while on campus.  So after the meeting I noticed the students were much more responsive to my presence than before.  I am looking forward to having a variety of interactions over the coming 2 months.

Well it is time for dinner so I am off.  My goodness, it is dark outside and for some reason today the mosquitos have suddenly appeared in mass.  I have been told it will get much worse as it get warmer.

Day 5 – continued

At 5:00 pm after finishing my latest blog entries I decided to take a walk around campus before dinner.  This place is really quite complicated to get around, with numerous paths, stairways, winding roads and unusually shaped buildings.  (Others here who are not directionally dyslexic, like me, have said that it took them some time to find their way around.)  I had a campus map, which was only fairly accurate, so off I went to explore.  When I arrived at the music building I heard music from within, so went to check it out.  Inside one of the large rooms was a student practicing violin.  He was reading through a composition by the Spanish composer Seresote [sp].  After he finished his run through we introduced ourselves.  His name is Andres, and he is a first year student from Spain.  After explaining why I was on campus we decided I would give him some musical suggestions.  We had a great lesson, and he is now my first UWC student.  There are almost no adjunct musical faculty like at our Las Vegas, NM UWC,  so he was very excited about having a teacher to help him out.

After finishing I headed out to the dining hall and on my way encountered 2 students playing ping-pong in a small recreational room.  I asked to play after they finished their game.  Wow, what a difference from my table at home.  The fellow I played had tremendous spin and wiped me out, but with more practice and getting used to his style I think I can give him a good challenge.  Then I continued on to dinner where I chatted with visiting parents and students.  Then down the hill to sleep.  Arriving at my room I noticed that there were lights in the next room, so I had neighbors for the first time.  When I awoke around midnight to practice I ended up playing in my bathroom, so as not to disturb them.

That’s it for day 5.

As usual I awoke in the wee hours, went outside for a while and then put in around 3 hours of guitar practice.  I really love this practice ritual and being down by the river.  Once again there was the wonderful night-time hindu temple music that went on for hours, although I slept through its early hours.  Last night there was flute as well as voice and tabla.  I am looking forward to getting down to one of these nightly sessions.

Breakfast at the UWC on Sundays is a brunch affair so it doesn’t get started until around 10:30 am.  So I had a leisurely morning.  I did some laundry and then went out on my porch and played guitar.  I was in the mood for just playing some of my old repetori that I had not performed since my last gig at the Plaza Hotel on New Years eve.  After around 20 minutes of this a blond-haired women appeared and told me she had enjoyed my music.  She and her family had moved in the night before in the large apartment above mine.  She, her husband and two young children were visiting India from Norway.  Their older son is a first year UWC student and they had come back with him after his Christmas holiday in Norway.  They had spent around a week traveling with him around a bit of southern India.  We talked a while and then I saw her again later at brunch where I met the entire family as we ate together.  They had hired a van in Mumbai and were heading back that way in the afternoon to catch their flight back to Norway.  Right after bunch their son was taking them on a tour of the villages along the river where he spends some time at one of the elementary schools working on English at the elementary school.  I asked if I could come along and thus had my first view of village life near the college.  I expect little has changed in these villages for many long years.  There is some motor traffic and other limited technology changes. I did take a few photos, my first so far, and intend to post a few here and the others on my Picasa site.  I also intend to take a full day walking tour fairly soon.  I will get more into what I saw and will see after my walking tour.  And I intend to take lots of photos which is another new thing for me.  We shall see how I like that.  It is now 5:00 pm and I have spent around 4 hours writing these latest blog entries.  I am going to post this day 5 now, and may add something tomorrow if anything significant happens this evening.  Otherwise I am caught up on my blogging for India.