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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.

Day 4 at UWC India began at an early hour.  Waking around 2:00 am I again went outside to observe my surrounding.  My body was quite sore from the previous days exercise so I did stretches to ease the stiffness and relax.  Back in my room I spent around 3 hours in practice working extensively on my classical music along with some singing and improvisational work.  I have begun to focus on reworking some older repetorie to bring it to a new standard.  Then back to sleep and getting up in time to have breakfast on campus.  After breakfast I spent time writing a blog entry.  Right after I downloaded my new entry I got a skype call from Jeremy, who was on line and noticed that I had posted a new entry.  He figured I was still online and so made the call.  It was my first skype phone conversation from India.  He still does not have his webcam set up so I couldn’t see him, but he could see me.  We talked about his travel plans to India and other things he is doing.  I look forward to more skype conversations with family and friends.  Once I am set up in my on campus housing I will have internet access in my apartment.  I also won’t be taking the time to go up and down the hill, sometimes twice a day. I ran into Jonathan Long and he showed me where I will be staying on campus.  I will be located in a small complex of 4 individual apartments.  I will be sharing a kitchen with Sumit, who runs the IT facility.  He told me I will among those who have the fastest internet on campus which will be good for skype calls.  I will be on a different network then the students who tend to slow things down when they are all back on campus.

After lunch I went back to my room and took a much needed nap.  Before heading up to dinner I got in a few hours of practice.  Then up for dinner… some conversation, and back down the hill.  I did some hand laundry, showered and then to bed early.  I was still somewhat sore from the previous days exercise and overall felt the need to catch up on some sleep.  The day was relaxed and restful.

It is Sunday morning here in India as I begin to write this.  Sunday is day 5 so it will take a bit of memory work to reconstruct day 3.  My intention is to put in enough time today to catch up on missed blog days.  This daily writing is a new form of expression for me, so I am looking forward to improving my skills and descriptive abilities as time moves forward.

One of my most important intentions during my time here in India is to keep my personal musical study as a core daily action.  As I move through my daily adventures, the process of personal musical study is my method of meditative practice.  It helps me to move through the many new situations and people I meet with grace and open perspective.

So my third day began as almost all my days for quite some years, with guitar study.  I awoke around 3:00 am, went outside, and spent some moments listening to the night/morning sounds coming from the surrounding countryside.  The occasional bird call, the stillness, the cool fresh moist air, and the stars overhead brought me into focused attention.  Back in my room I worked in my usual organic way…. just playing whatever came to mind.  On this morning it was mostly improvisational instrumental and vocal work.  I was very inspired by the concert just experienced and found that I was immediately exploring new approaches to form, vocal techniques and instrumental freedom.  The level of musical, technical and emotional skills that I observed at the previous days concert was a great gift.  It was exciting to feel a new growth in awareness transmitted to my playing.  I played for around 2 hours and then again went outside, did some stretching and watched two men go down to the river and do some early morning task with water irrigation.  It was still totally dark outside but they had a flashlight.  I had no idea what they were doing, but could hear them splashing around in the water and talking with each other.  I continued my stretching exercises and as they returned from their task, they spotted me, and with a complete lack of surprise at seeing me outside at this early hour, greeted with a good morning in Hindi.

I then went back to sleep until around 7:30 am.  I did my morning absolution, getting ready for the day, and headed up the hill to campus with guitar and backpack.  It is around a 2 km distance for the road to the campus, all uphill.  This morning I started walking and then got picked up by one of the staff heading up on his motorcycle.  I headed to breakfast at the campus dining area.  Many of the students and faculty have not yet returned from their holiday break so the dining options are still limited.  I have been told the meal options will be expanded by this coming Sunday when almost everyone will have returned to campus.

I had breakfast with Isis, a first year student from England, and her father, Dom, who she traveled with while on her break.  After breakfast I went to the IT area, checked my email and if I remember correctly did a blog entry on my previous day.  I then set up in front of the IT area and played guitar for around 2 hours.  (I have come to feel that one of my “jobs” as Artist in Residence is to hang out at many locations of campus and play music.)  I also ran into Jonathan Long, school president, and discussed when I would be moving up to campus.  It looks like it will be Monday.  I also called Ben Clark, the school music and drama teacher, and set up a lunch meeting.  He had just returned late on the previous day from his travels during the break.

From the first moment with Ben I knew that we would get along well together.  After talking about his program and exchanging some personal history, he took me on a tour of the art/music/theatre facilities.  He has been at the school for 2 years and has done a great deal to improve and develop the program and facilities.  We decided on a date and site for my first concert, which will be on Friday evening, January 15 at a beautiful outdoor location near the arts complex.  While on my tour, we ran into Isis and Dom, who were working on a sound collage project with recordings that they had made while traveling.  We decided to get together after I finished my tour and play some music.  They were working in the room where the school guitars are stored.  Dom and I had a good jam while Isis was off doing something else.  When she got back they were heading out on a hike in the surrounding countryside.  They asked me along, so off we went at a fast clip.  Isis is 17 and Dom 30 something, both in good physical condition, so as we headed into the hills I had to really focus to keep up.  We had a great long hike up to the top of a hill some 2 miles away.  There were some trails and some cross-country periods.  The view from the top was great with an almost 360 view of the surrounding countryside.  I could see a number of the small villages scattered along the river and really got a feel for the agricultural  aspects of the area.  I decided to explore the surrounding villages as soon as possible.  We arrived back on campus just as it was getting dark and they dropped me off at the arts area so that I could pick up my guitar.

With my usual lack of directional skills I proceeded to get lost, and by the time I found the dining area it had closed.  With many sprinklers turned on I decided to head back to the main entrance a different way, and again got totally lost.  After the long hike, and wondering around for another half hour, I was extremely tired and sore by the time I got back to my room around 9:00 pm.  I took a shower and once again hit the bed exhausted.  I am sure that in a couple of weeks I will be in much better physical condition then when I arrived.

Day 2 continued

Wow, so much has been happening, that to really get it down I can see that it will be best to do my writing on a daily basis whenever possible.  I feel like I can really get into this blog thing as a way of documenting this experience.  When away from internet access I will try and use my word processing program to write and then transfer it over to the blog when back online.

So back to recalling some of day 2…. At lunch in the dining hall I met the school biology teacher, Karen.  (I had read a brief comment about an annual Indian classical music festival in Pune in my India travel book “Lonely Planet” that was scheduled for sometime in December or January.  Pune is the closest large city to the college, about a 1 hour drive).  I had been asking about this festival with some of the others at the dining table before Karen arrived.  She said she was going to a concert that evening and wanted to know if anybody else was going along.  It turns out the concert was a part of the festival that I had read about.  The festival had been delayed because of the swine flu thing, so I was very fortunate to be able go.  Those going were Karen, a UWC student from Costa Rica, our driver and myself.  It was my first time hanging out in a big city since my arrival and it brought back many memories of my time in Lucknow, India with Ian some 12 years earlier.  It took around an hour to find the concert venue, but I loved hanging out on the street while Karen and our driver were trying to find out where we needed to go.  The traffic, sounds, people in all sorts of dress were all great to watch and hear.

Once we arrived at the venue I became fully aware of the size of this event.  A huge tent had been erected with food and tea stalls outside.  Karen had set up to meet another teacher (American teaching English literature) at the college who was staying in Puna, with a former UWC Indian student and her brother who was visiting from  southern India (more on that later).  By the time we arrived around 4:30 pm the concert had already been going for 1 1/2 hours.  The second set of musicians was about to begin.  Outside the tent there were hundreds of people sitting on huge rugs that had been put down.  They were watching the concert on large monitors.  Entering the tent, there must have been at least 2000 people and possibly many more.  We sat towards the back on tiered floors where rugs had been placed, very far from the stage, but again with many large monitors.  I could see the stage in the distance, but the camera work was very good, so I got to see the performers clearly.  The sound system was also excellent.  I was told that this festival is one of the biggest in India, so the artists performing for this days event were some of the best in India.  I heard 3 singers, each with there own group and a duo with santoor (similar to a hammered dulcimer) and tabla.  Each group played 2 ragas with each raga lasting around 45 minutes.  The concert ended around midnight so we sat through around 8 hours of music.  The quality and depth of all the performer was excellent.  I had read about this type of event so had some familiarity.  All the singers improvised extensively playing with words and sound vocalizations.  With one extraordinary female singer I was transported to hearing her singing English words (all my projection) like “time is dreaming away … I turn it away … winding away…. how is the ocean …. can we open up to it”.  These word sounds were repeated and varied in extraordinary ways.  I was very inspired and have been adapting and using some of what I heard in my own instrumental and vocal improvisations.  Arriving back at the school at around 1:30 am I hit my bed happy and very tired.  Day 2 was wonderful.

Oh yes! Between performers I spoke breifly with the brother of the former UWC Indian student.  He is a young musician who performs and is the administrator for a famous south Indian musician, who has a world music school in southern India.  It looks like there is a good chance I will be going there after leaving the UWC.  It sounds like a great opportunity to perform and meet great south Indian musicians.

New Mexico seems so far away.  After a great breakfast of locally grown fruit, I spent the early morning wandering around the amazing gardens here on campus.  I have been told that the campus has one of the largest collection of traditional Indian herbal plants in all of India.  When the campus began to be build 10 years ago the land that was purchased had been completely stripped  of all trees and many other plants.  Now, with a staff of around 30 full time gardeners, the place is a lush forest, with new areas being developed on a daily basis.  Also many of India’s endangered plants and trees are being planted as a major preservation project.  The approximately 200 acres provide ample room for continued plantings.  With the increased flora, much wildlife is returning and increasing in numbers.  I have seen many birds in my wanderings today and expect over the coming weeks to observe all types of other critters.

Being extremely tired from my long journey and first long day in India I went to bed early.  Waking up some 3 hours later, I went out on the front porch, where I am currently staying, and heard across the river the distant sounds of Indian tabla and singing.  It was so amazing, the power and intensity of the music, that I was tempted to wonder of in search of its location.  But having no idea of my local surroundings I contented myself with distant listening, but look forward to the opportunity in the near future to be more directly involved in many music happenings.  The music ended around 3:00 am, but during some of that time I, in my usual fashion, pulled out my guitar and did extensive nocturnal music practice of my own.  I am the only staying at this guest hotel/lodging so I could play and sing to my hearts content without disturbing any neighbors.  This process is my meditation, and is so helpful in helping me process my wonderful, new every changing situation.

As I write this I am sitting in the IT area on campus.  Faculity and students are beginning to drift back today and I am told will be back in full force by the Monday, to begin the new semester.  I have not yet met the music/theater teacher, Ben Clark, but I’m told he will be back this afternoon.  Yesterday I played after lunch for the college president, Jonathan Long and his family at their home.  He and his wife, Sue, are enjoyed having their 2 daughters visiting them for the holidays.  They have all been extremely gracious and welcoming.

Also today I have been meeting some of the staff.  I am at the very beginning of developing some basic language skills and look forward to learning more while here.  I am planning to perform a concert here within a week, but have not yet set a date.  Hopefully that will be worked out with Ben today when he returns from vacation.

I have not yet begun to take photos, but hope to do that within the next day or two.  I will be downloading a few to this blog and put others on my Picaso site

I’m off to India!

I’m just finishing some last minute errands, packing my backpack, and I’m off to India tomorrow morning!