Next Step of the Project

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November 18th 2009
Published: November 18th 2009
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It’s time to start a new chapter for my work here in Kathmandu. Since returning from my trip to Tengboche I’ve had the opportunity to reexamine my project, evaluate what I’ve done so far, and prioritize my actions for the coming months. My conclusion is that after these past three months of learning, observing, and thinking, it’s now time for some participating—‘digging in,’ as my esteemed friend and former professor, the Director of Bands at Baylor University likes to say. Over the past months I’ve taken many lessons, learning how to play madal, sarangi, tabla, classical music on clarinet, and learning how to speak Nepali. I’ve observed some music classes, conducted some interviews, and spent much of my time experiencing and integrating into the Kathmandu-Nepali culture throughout the Dashain, Tihar, and Jazzmandu festivals. I am only beginning to penetrate into the world of music schools and music classes at grade schools here, and so far much of my ideas about the system have been based on cultural observations and deductive reasoning. I have spoken at length with some Nepali music teachers, giving me new and relevant insights and perspectives, but these reflect only a small part of the larger music education picture.

To avoid spending my whole grant as an aloof observer, my music and language learning will now be joined by some music teaching and music education activism. On November 19 I will start teaching western music at Whitefield Higher Secondary School here in Kathmandu to prepare the students for a ‘Parents Day’ concert that will feature some western instruments and melodies in addition to familiar Nepali folk tunes. I am very much looking forward to working with young students again and immersing myself in the lifestyle of a Kathmandu music teacher.

I will also be working to revive the latent Nepal Music Educators’ Society, recruiting members, hosting discussions, and hopefully building a common interface between music teachers and music teacher employers. The kick-start event for the society will be a four week professional development workshop at the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory campus, running from December 21 to January 15, and stressing subjects like lesson planning and curriculum, rhythmic and melodic notation, and preparing for contests and other public performances. At this workshop I hope to meet and interact with many music teachers, learn about their schools, students, and attitudes toward the profession, and brainstorm ideas about things the society can do to be a valuable resource in the future. I’m in a position in which I have the freedom to bring together resources that may benefit these teachers—resources that they may not have the time or energy to search out on their own.

At this point I’ve noticed two big obstacles in the way of the development of music education as a solid, institutional force. The first is that there is no standard music curriculum for grade schools, and that public schools do not teach music. As a result, there are no expectations that graduates will have any kind of musical knowledge, and those students who want to study music at university level will start their university coursework as beginners—far behind their contemporaries in other countries. The second is that there are no courses of study specific to music education—only music performance—and there are no reputed resources or professional development opportunities for current music teachers. University-level teachers are required to hold masters’ degrees in music, but masters’ degrees in music are not offered anywhere in the country, resulting in a situation where upper-level music teacher candidates must complete their education abroad. These are large, complex problems without easy solutions, but I will seek to help solve them during the rest of my grant period. One Nepali university is currently considering developing an MA program in music, and at the moment I am working with one of the professors to write the program proposal.

Through these projects I hope to get a closer perspective on the practice of music education in Kathmandu, moving (anthropologically speaking) from just ‘observer’ to ‘participant-observer.’ Through participating in these projects I can build a larger body of raw knowledge from which to make inductive and experience-based connections, observations, and conclusions, adding depth to my final and overall project that would be unattainable otherwise. Please, if any of my readers have relevant ideas or suggestions, share them with me by comment or by email.


23rd November 2009

Hey, bud. I just played an Irish session with Jessie Burns, the fiddle player from Gaelic Storm. Thought you might like to know. :)

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