The School Drama


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Asia » Nepal » Kathmandu » Lazimpat
January 30th 2010
Published: January 30th 2010
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New Nepal- A school drama

This past Sunday, January 24, the students and teachers of Anonymous Nepali Higher Secondary School returned back to class from a 3-week winter break. We music teachers were approached by the drama and dance teachers with the fact that we would have to put on a performance for a big founder’s day/parents’ day extravaganza to be held the coming Friday—5 days in the future. Here’s the story about what happened; first in day-by-day rehearsals, then in a description of the drama, then thoughts about the drama, then thoughts about management and the whole crazy weeklong process. The writing is preserved in its original form as notes. As an anthropologist I realize the value of presenting culture with minimal personal judgment, and I know that just because something is different from what I’m used to it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily better or worse. This week stressed those values a little bit for me, and the account that follows isn’t entirely free of judgment. Forgive me.

Day 1:
This first day back from break had nothing to do with rehearsing for the performance. When I started teaching the class I didn’t even know that there would be a performance the coming Friday. The music class I taught was very small, and the students were all completely different from the students whom I taught before the break. I didn’t think the break was for changing classes, so I was a little bit confused. I was told that it’s usually much bigger, but that since it’s the first day back from break many of the students were absent. This was the explanation, and everybody seemed OK with it. I was fairly upset—being the first day back isn’t an excuse not to be back, and if we would only have 4 days to work up a program we would need every student every day. I taught some notation review in preparation to work on a harmonized SATB song with them—the administration asked me to teach the students some Western music to complement their usual dose of Eastern music—but the students were totally unresponsive the whole time. I finally succeeded in getting them to participate in clapping rhythms, but when I switched to pitch things went downhill again. I tried to get them to sing a scale, but it couldn’t sound good because a third of the students couldn’t match my pitch. I sang a pitch, played it on the keyboard, and had the students sing, and it was all over the place. Some students got it, but a large number didn’t. At this point one of the usual music teachers at this school interrupted and had the students one-by-one try to match pitch, and we heard clearly how much of a problem it was going to be, and I realized that I would have to start with simple pitch exercises in the coming days and weeks to get these students listening and singing. Some sang a third or a fifth lower than target pitch, and couldn’t change it even with direct coaching: ‘No, a little higher’ , and then . Unfortunately this is where we ran out of time, so I sent the students out with instructions to practice singing and to look more at the rhythms on the song I handed out. After the class is when the whole situation was really brought to my attention. We had a long meeting with the other arts teachers to hash out a plan for Friday’s performance. It was at this meeting that we decided on the songs to teach them, and on the layout of the performance. It was to be a drama about Nepali solidarity and cooperation, and we were to teach some patriotic songs about all Nepalis coming together and working together. We decided very easily that my SATB tune would not be prepared in time. I was frustrated and indignant over the whole situation—how do you prepare a quality performance in 5 days?—so I turned the teaching for the rest of the week over to the other teacher and made it an observation opportunity for myself.

Day 2:

When I arrived at school this day I met another music teacher. He said he works there, but this was the first time I saw him. We introduced ourselves, made some small talk, and waited for the main teacher to arrive. This new teacher was around for the rest of the week, but never did anything in class. I don’t think he even opened his mouth once during class-time. From this point forward he will be known as the ‘unknown teacher.’ This day we got started with the songs. We were to teach three songs (that the students already knew, of course): Jaga Lumka Chumka Hey, Paschim Kohi Purba Ghar, and Yo Nepali Sir Uchali. When class ‘started,’ or when it was time for class to start, the teacher proceeded to start writing all of the lyrics for one of the tunes on the board. The students were left to their own devices—to talk, play, fight, giggle, and generally do what kids do on the playground. I couldn’t stand by and watch this time being wasted, so I stepped in and had the students do some warm-up singing. We started with ‘Sa’ (‘Do’), and worked up a major scale one note at a time, stopping sometimes to play with volume. This was a general thing to get the kids thinking about pitch (and how bad it was the day before), and to be able to work on common issues like posture and tension and things. The group was much bigger on this day—students maybe realized that school is actually back in session—and the scales showed a marked improvement over the previous day. The kids who didn’t do well the first day either improved a little bit, or were covered up by the rest of the kids in the bigger group. Many things happened throughout this week that were very strange to me and wouldn’t fit within the US school culture that I’m familiar with, starting with the ridiculousness of scheduling a performance on the week back from a 3-week break. Something like that happened at the beginning of this class: right before class started, the usual teacher sent out a couple of students to go ‘round up’ some other students and bring them to class. Apparently these students have good voices, and they needed to be with us. A good enough reason, but where did they come from? How is it possible to just go and fetch the good kids from wherever they happen to be? They wouldn’t have come if they weren’t fetched—what would they be missing by suddenly being in music class? I went up the scale and down the scale, and when I finished the other teacher took over. He had the students sit down and copy all of the lyrics into their notebooks. No problems, except that in the middle of the copying all of the lights went out (we’re suffering from 11 hours of power cuts per day right now). The classroom is minimally lit from ineffective, wall-facing windows, so I volunteered to shine my flashlight on the board so the students could finish their work. When the lyrics were satisfactorily copied, the teacher had the students stand up and learn the song by rote mimicry—first the teacher would sing a portion, and the students would repeat it. After we went through the song a couple of times, another astonishing thing happened: the teacher picked out the students with good voices from the group, and had them stand up and move over to the other side of the room to rehearse. He then dismissed the rest of the class. Class-time was only half over—how could he just dismiss half his class? They left the classroom to go out into the unknown of the school, seemingly completely outside of responsibility. Where did they go? I asked the teacher what just happened, and he said he dismissed them—he needs to work only with good voices. This is something that teachers in the States dream about sometimes, but would never actually consider doing—just get rid of the students who aren’t performing well. It seemed to be perfectly normal; nobody questioned the action at all. The rest of the class was more listen-and-repeat, and I saw that this may actually succeed in producing an OK performance. During this ‘elite’ rehearsal another music teacher showed up—the teacher who usually does rhythm—and so we had a total of four teachers in the classroom: me, the main teacher, the unknown teacher, and the rhythm teacher. We had four teachers, and still half the class was dismissed. The rest of the class dismissed after another 20 minutes or so of listen-and-repeat.

Day 3:

When I arrived at school this day the students were already in the classroom, and there was no supervising teacher. The kids were going wild—beating the drums, banging on the keyboard, running around, shoving each other, having ‘see who can yell louder’ contests, and more. I immediately took control, calmed them down, and arranged them for a round of warm-up scales. We went up the scale, down the scale, and did some interval exercises. It went pretty well, and I was pleased to see that the group included some of the students who were dismissed early the day before. Halfway through the exercises the main teacher showed up, and when I finished he arranged the kids for more listen-and-repeat. The songs sounded much better this time, and I was a little bit confused until I found out that they had been rehearsing since 2 pm (class usually starts at around 3:15), and I walked in when they were taking a break! I felt bad for rehearsing them through their break, but more than that I felt frustrated at the whole system. How was it possible to suddenly start class an hour early? What were the kids missing this time? Where were the teachers during break? I don’t know the answers to these questions yet, but I’ve arranged an interview with the principal. The kids were in the process of learning the songs (lyrics, melody), but they were singing atrociously—some had their heads down and mumbled, some screamed, they all fidgeted, sometimes the boys pushed each other, and the girls couldn’t be heard at all. These things weren’t addressed because the class-time had to be used to teach the songs to the kids. Since it was done by rote by ear, the students didn’t have the option of going home and learning the songs themselves for homework. The forms of the songs are tricky, and they kept changing. That was probably the most difficult thing for the students—figuring out what part of the song to sing when. These are common songs, and the students have heard them before (and maybe performed them before) many times, but they still needed to learn where the repeats were going to be for this specific performance. On top of that, the form kept changing as the teachers got new ideas. Halfway through rehearsal the teacher would change it and add a small repetition in a place where it hadn’t been before. Toward the end of this class the students were singing the songs straight through (for the most part), along with the teacher and accompaniment on the keyboard. Sometimes the teacher would pick out students individually to sing and tell them simply if they were on pitch or not. The lights in the classroom flickered on and off during the whole rehearsal. Rehearsal lasted very long this day, extending maybe a half hour past the time I expected school to get out. Again, an impossible dream for US teachers.

Day 4:

Not once during the week up until now did I arrive to a classroom with a teacher in it, and this day was no different. The kids were there already, and I expected this time that they were on break, so I asked them where the teachers were and left class to find them. They were upstairs working on writing something down on a sheet of paper—I didn’t know what it was then, but now I think they were discussing the sequence of the drama to be performed in 2 days. I went back to the classroom and quieted the kids down. Rather than do the same scale exercise I did in the days past, I split the kids into two groups and had them do the scale in thirds. I wanted to introduce to them the sound of vocal harmony—something that doesn’t happen often in Eastern music. It went alright, and the kids took to it fairly well. Pitch was a big problem, but I expected it this time. There was one kid who liked to generally cause trouble and scream instead of sing, but he has a great voice and can hear pitch, so to shut him up I had him sing by himself and with one or two others for a few times. After the exercise I talked to the students a little bit about harmony and how I want to teach them a song with harmony after the performance is over. At this point the main teacher came in, along with the two other teachers (‘unknown’ and ‘rhythm’), and arranged the class for some more song rehearsing. The rhythm teacher had a few students to help him out with the drumming this time, and through the rehearsal the students became more and more confident in the songs. The main teacher could finally address singing technique issues (screaming or mumbling instead of singing). The forms became more solid during this rehearsal, and the drum accompaniment helped a lot to figure out which sections of the songs were coming up next. One part of one of the songs took some special attention (I don’t think the kids knew the words), so we had to go over that section in a few more listen-and-repeats. Other than that, most of the rehearsing this day was straight through the songs. About halfway through rehearsal the rhythm teacher and the main teacher had a discussion about how to start the songs and how to end the songs. They came to a temporary agreement, subject to change if necessary to fit within the drama. The kids all sang, gathered in a group around the keyboard, getting louder as their familiarity with these songs grew. To get something to change, the teachers would look severely frustrated, talk really loud and fast, maybe make a threatening gesture toward a kid, then finish with something funny to take the edge off. It was generally effective, at least for the repetition immediately following the outburst. Class ended late again.

Day 5:

Again I came in to a teacher-less class of wild students, and again I got them under control to do something musical. This time, instead of singing exercises, I did a small lesson with them about music theory. I explained half-steps and whole-steps, and why the keyboard doesn’t actually skip notes, though it looks like it does between E and F, and B and C. They responded really well, asking me questions and listening carefully when I had a student demonstrate the sounds on the keyboard. I couldn’t get very far in this lesson, unfortunately, because after 10 minutes or so one of the teachers came in from wherever he was before and moved the whole class to the dance rehearsal room upstairs. This would be the first drama rehearsal with everybody together. The scene was pure chaos. The dance room is about the size of two standard classrooms, covered in green carpet, and it has a big concrete pillar right in the center. There were maybe five large groups of students of all ages gathered in clumps near the walls of the classroom. All of the music guys were packed into a corner; the teachers were sitting down in plastic chairs, and the music students were squeezed into the tiny space behind the chairs and in front of the corner walls. The drama commenced rehearsing on this final day before performance. It wasn’t so much a rehearsal as it was a time for the teachers to figure out how it was going to go. Students were made to do certain things, then a teacher would change his mind and have them do something else, or arrange in a different place, or say different words, etc. The drama was not a fully formed concept going into this rehearsal. Especially with our music students—first we had them arrange in the middle of the classroom ‘stage’ to sing, then we had them on the side, then we had them march in from the side, then we had them arrange in the middle again (doing the best they could around the concrete pillar) and march away in a line, and finally decided that this last was the best thing. Then we had to change the ending of the song to a fade-out. The drama students talked way too fast and way too quietly, and they needed often to be prompted in their lines. One of the featured girls in the drama acted really shy and didn’t want to do her part. Among the different groups of students involved in the drama were my music students, the drama students with lines and parts, and two sets of dancers. In the course of the drama only one student group would be doing anything at a time, so during rehearsal the groups who weren’t involved in the specific part being rehearsed would play and talk and fight, etc., among themselves. The whole time was very chaotic. Teachers were no better about controlling themselves—the teachers with drums and keyboards played continuously, messing around and generally entertaining themselves when their services weren’t needed. Toward the end of rehearsal time we tried to do a run-through and time how long it would take, but this was really an absurd idea since the teachers didn’t even have a good idea of the whole drama sequence. Things that needed to be ready, like students in their correct starting places, and an understanding of how each section was going to start, were absolutely not ready. Despite this, we pressed on, and just dealt with each problem as it came up. The run-through was plagued with long interruptions between segments to get them set up. During the run-through we made another change to the singing performance, this time having them march off-stage while pumping their fists. When it came time for the group of young girl students to do a dance, the cassette tape with their accompaniment track wasn’t re-wound. When it was time for the singers to do their second song, they didn’t know that there would be dancers at the same time, so they went out on stage like before, only to be shepherded to the corner again to sing in the same little space where the teachers were playing instruments. When this was figured out, the beginning of the song became a problem, as the dancers didn’t know when in the song to start their dance. This was figured out, and the run-through finally ended. There’s another funniness in accepted behavior when students enter and leave a classroom. When they enter, they open the door, stand in the doorway, and ask ‘may I come in, sir?’ This can happen at any time during the class period. They also ask before they leave. They don’t, however, say where they came from, or where they are going. The teachers don’t seem to care, either, and usually grant permission as a matter of course. This became another big distraction during the rehearsal, as kids would show up at the door at odd times to interrupt the teacher to ask to come in. Then they would need to stand in the doorway for a couple of seconds to take off their shoes (students don’t wear shoes in class, but teachers do). Students address teachers by their first names followed by ‘sir’. I’m ‘Robertsir’. Teachers, however, don’t seem to address students by any sort of name. I don’t think I’ve heard the name of a single student since I’ve been there. It’s not that the teachers don’t interact with the students, it’s just that they get the students’ attention in different ways than calling out names. So, if you can imagine, this rehearsal happened in the midst of 4 self-entertaining groups of students of various ages, constant door interruptions, constant sound from teachers messing around on instruments, and constant halts as the teachers figured out what would come next. When class finally ended I was in for another shocker—the meeting of music and dance teachers with the principals. This meeting, the day before the program, was to figure out the program. The principals had absolutely no idea what we had been working on all week. They asked what we would do, and we told them what we had been working on. This was a really nerve-racking, frustrating, and nearly unbelievable situation—if the principals didn’t like what they heard, they could conceivably try to change things. On top of that, the program was to happen the next day, and they had no idea what it was going to be! They didn’t know the order of speeches before the drama, they didn’t know what the junior section had been preparing, and they didn’t even know what time of day the program was going to start! This last-minute meeting was to cover all of the information that in my experience should be covered in the very first program concept meeting, ideally to happen a month or so in advance. We told them about the program drama, and they didn’t look terribly excited about it. They nearly criticized it, and if they had gone through with comments that I saw written on their faces I would have launched into the discussion with some tidy criticisms of my own. Being mainly an observer in this whole program process, however, I kept my peace. Then the principals wanted to know if they could show me off. The plan 3 months ago was for me to teach the kids how to play trumpet, and they would play during this show. Maybe some of the principals still expected that to happen. It was a nice dream, but in reality those three months were plagued with holidays, bandas, and vacations too numerous to establish any kind of sequential teaching. After the plan was conceived it took 3 weeks to even get a class together. On top of that, the students were not to be trusted to take instruments home, so even if the schedule allowed class-time for trumpet instruction they wouldn’t have been able to practice on their own outside of class. As a result the students still haven’t seen a trumpet. Back to the meeting, they wanted to show me off to the parents who would be at the program. The principal asked (again, the day before showtime) if we could work up a fusion performance with me playing some Western things on my clarinet along with some Eastern things from the other teachers. I was generally indignant, and nearly refused, thinking, ‘this isn’t how it’s done!’, but then I caught myself and realized that this is, in fact, how it’s done here. I agreed to go along with an attempt to throw something together, generally in keeping with the spirit of the whole program. The outrageous meeting ended, and I left.

Day 6:

Show day! At the meeting the day before the performance was scheduled to happen at 1 pm, so I showed up at 10 for rehearsals and last-minute preparations (I only say ‘last-minute’ for my Western audience—here it would just be ‘preparations’). I arrived at the start of more full-drama rehearsal, and was surprised to see some new adult musicians in the crowd. They played synth pad and bamboo flute, and the school hired them to help with the show. Unfortunately for the synth pad guy, power was out and there was something wrong with the generator. He didn’t get to play until halfway through the rehearsal. More props entered the performance this time—there was a big map of Nepal, some toy guns, and many Nepali flags. The chaos from the day before continued fairly predictably. We did a couple of run-throughs, and they got smoother and smoother. It looked like all the rote teaching and rehearsing was going to pay off with an adequate (non-disaster) performance. The students delivered their lines better, the dancers and singers had a better idea of how they were to start each segment, and there were less interruptions to make changes. The musicians and some of the teachers were to provide background music and sound effects, and that was put in place fairly quickly. After a few run-throughs, each with its own separate issues, we had to call the rehearsal and prepare for the actual performance. Students again started running wildly around the school, finding costumes, putting on costumes, moving instruments, etc. I went with a couple of other music teachers to the ‘canteen’ to eat some school daal bhat for lunch. This performance was being held in conjunction with an outdoor science fair on the school grounds, and it was really fun after lunch to take a break and look at some of the exhibits. I have a feeling that the science students prepared for a little bit more than 5 days, but I could be wrong. In the general education hierarchy in Nepal, science and math are on top, followed by social science, followed by literature (English and Nepali), followed distantly by fine arts. After lunch and science fair fun, I went back to the music room with the teachers to throw together a last-minute fusion performance, as per the principal’s request. I had an easy song in mind (a Nepali folk tune that I had played in fusion style before), and the school’s music teachers are very good music performers, so we very quickly were able to work up the tune to last-minute passing standards. At long last it was approaching show-time, so we went to the auditorium to see what would happen.

The performance:
Despite the general chaos that prevailed throughout the performance making process, the drama itself is a powerful, thought-provoking, nearly satirical portrayal of Nepal’s unfortunate recent history and present situation, with a strong, heartfelt push for a peaceful future. The drama starts with a group of children dressed up in many different folk outfits representing a variety of Nepali ethnic groups greeting each other peacefully and getting along just fine. They used the very polite ‘namaskar’, and presented each other with ceremonial katas for friendship. After this, the group of music students comes to the middle of stage and sings ‘Jaga Lumka Chumka Hey!’—a call to stand up, go out, and unite as Nepali citizens. It’s a nice, rousing song, and they finish by marching off the stage pumping their fists. They are followed by a group of small girls performing a dance to a very nice folk song. Maybe I’m not so critical of dance here because I’m not as familiar with it, but I am generally very very impressed with how Nepali schoolchildren dance. I’ll have to discuss that in a different place, but I again was impressed with these young girls and their Nepali-style choreographed dance. The dance is very pleasant and the song is a lovely folk song about doing chores and having a sunny outlook, but it is interrupted toward the end with the sound of gunfire and explosions. The girls cover their ears and duck and rush offstage, and they are replaced by some kids dressed up like Maoist soldiers walking guerilla-style onto the stage. They are confronted by Nepali army soldiers and have a fire-fight, the kids shooting each other on stage with plastic toy guns amid raucous war sound effects from the synth pad. Two of the kids are hit—one from each side—and die slowly and dramatically. When the shooting stops, the soldiers’ families find them dead on stage, and commence a drawn-out mourning and wailing. The bodies are carried off by aid workers. At this the stage is cleared and chanting commences—the Maoist banda chanting: ‘Hamro party! Jindaabad!’ from students and teachers offstage. Then the chant leader calls ‘Tok! Tok!’ and we hear sound effects of glass breaking and big things falling down and being destroyed—just like during the bandas we had last month. This finishes with the yell of ‘School Banda!’ At this a group of schoolgirls in uniform come on stage and have a conversation—and I think this is the most powerful part of the drama—one asks the others, ‘where would you like to be?’ and they respond, sadly, in unison, ‘we would like to be in school.’ They talk a little bit more about how the bandas are hurting them, and then they are replaced on stage by students dressed up like the party leaders. There’s a Maoist leader, a Nepali Congress leader, a United Communist leader, and another leader I can’t identify. They each argue (ridiculously) why their party is the best, and they end up getting into a big (ridiculous) fight. This is where we are right now in Nepal. At this point there’s a big sound of thunder, and the party leaders all fall down. The map of Nepal on the stage backdrop falls down to reveal ‘The Mother Spirit of Nepal’—a wise, stoic schoolgirl in a beautiful sari with the Nepali flag draped like a sash in front. She takes a clay jar, sprinkles something on each of the party leaders, and they get back up in a daze. She then comes prominently to the middle of the stage and gives a speech about how much the conflict is hurting her and all the Nepali citizens, and she makes it known that the only way to the future is to cooperate. She prescribes that the party leaders behind her embrace each other, and they finally do. This group then moves out of the way, and the music students, now offstage, begin to sing ‘Paschim Kohi Purba Ghar’, a song about how all of Nepal belongs to all Nepalis, together. Now a group of older girls start a dance on stage to the music, again in costumes representing many different Nepali ethnic groups. When the song ends they all form a big semi-circle and everybody sings and dances spontaneously to ‘Yo Nepali Sir Uchali.’ During this song a big peacock comes on stage (a dancer in an elaborate peacock costume), and entertains everybody. This song is the finale of the drama.

Thoughts about the drama:
I think the whole performance was an excellent concept that was severely held back by planning, management, and rehearsal chaos. Despite all of these problems it was adequately performed, and well received. I loved watching it, and I have a much better appreciation now of how much can be done by rote in one week. It was wild to see kids shooting each other with toy guns on stage during a school performance, and it was even more wild to realize that everything they did on stage happened within the last 12 years. Not only that, the end of the drama hasn’t happened in real life yet. We do dramas about the Civil War in the States, but that ended 150 years ago. This drama portrayed what’s actually happening now, and with an edge that only schoolchildren can give it. The Maoist banda chants, striking fear in the streets only a month ago, sound absolutely absurd coming from a group of school kids. The current political fighting between parties sounds equally silly coming from 12 year-olds. It was a satire, a parody of real life to get people thinking about what’s going on, and how far away that is from Nepal’s actual needs. Kids need to go to school! Nothing brings that home more than kids stuck at home because of a banda, and shown explicitly on stage with a conversation between kids about being stuck at home because of a banda. These kids know exactly how ludicrous the real situation is, and it came through famously in their performance. The final cooperation came as a matter of course, like it’s the only thing that can possibly happen in a world that makes any kind of sense. Pushing aside momentarily the poor management that these kids are no doubt continuously learning, I see some great hope for the future if these values of peace and cooperation can stay with the kids as they become influential adults.

Management:
The management and execution of the whole program, beginning to end, was atrocious. You’ve already read about the rehearsal process, so now consider the management of the actual performance. It was decided (the day before) to start the program at 1, so at 1 the auditorium was well-filled with parents. There was a big break between the rehearsal in the morning and the performance, and the teachers at the school shed responsibility for students during breaks. As a result, all the kids had to be rounded back up again, in their proper costumes, and put in place for the performance. This was done word-of-mouth by groups of students going and finding all of the other students. No adult was really in charge of organizing and executing the program, so at 1 there were many adults running around attending to their personal agendas in the pursuit of getting the thing started. All of the little things like microphone placement and sound check and where in the audience to put the principals and how to exchange microphones between actors backstage and where to put the singers offstage were beginning to be figured out by whoever happened to be interested in each of the problems, starting at 1. The curtains were closed for this whole process, and there was no acknowledgement that the program would ever start until about 1:20. The curtains stayed closed, but at this time some of the bigwigs at the school gave speeches. Up until this time they were just sitting down, and the podium was empty. I have no idea why they couldn’t give speeches while everything else was happening around them. After the speeches, there was a long stretch of nothing happening, the audience had to entertain themselves so it was really loud, and apparently there was another big confusion backstage about which performance would be next. Being part of the ‘senior’ block, I dealt with the drama and its rehearsals, but unbeknownst to me there would be an entire ‘junior’ block performance at this program. I doubt that I was the only teacher surprised by this news, and I imagine the delay was caused by senior and junior block teachers talking about the program for the first time (I might be wrong, and I mildly apologize to the teachers if you had been talking already and this particular delay was caused by something else). After too long, the young students did little song and dance programs. They were fun to watch, and I’m interested now in meeting the junior block arts teachers. Irritatingly, though, the delays between performances were longer than the performances themselves. Also irritatingly, somebody thought it was a good idea to set up lasers and a strobe light on stage, and these accompanied all of the folk songs and dances that the little kids performed. I felt sorry for them—strobe lights and lasers can be distracting and potentially dangerous—but nobody treated them like a big deal. I was terribly distracted. These finished, it was finally time for the drama. The drama went just fine, except for some sound problems—I have some choice words coming up about sound systems—and an unfortunate power cut right at the climax of the performance. It lasted for about 5 minutes, during which the curtains closed and the audience got really loud and started moving to leave. It came back on just in time to prevent anything drastic, and the drama finished well. During the drama the lasers came on periodically and indiscriminately. During the chatter between principals and teachers at the end of the performance it was regarded as a great success, and the higher-ups left generally satisfied.

Sound systems:
It is my personal opinion, based on extensive observation, that sound systems were introduced to Nepal by an evil malignant force bent on causing trouble. First of all, they never work. The sound is always terrible. They are plagued with feedback and static, and half of the time they don’t pick any sound up in the first place. In order to use a sound system there needs to be a person with knowledge of how it works, and that describes maybe 5 people in the whole country (this may be an exaggeration—I mean no offense to those hardworking, proficient Nepali sound guys, one of whom is a good friend of mine). Once a system is configured during sound check (if there is a sound check), it’s treated by the poor, uninformed worker as a bomb that can’t be touched lest something bad really happens. The problem is that during a performance like this (or any performance), adjustments need to be made, sounds need to be brought out, balance adjusted, feedback prevented, on a continuing basis. This doesn’t happen. When each new group of students came on stage during the drama to do their part, there was about a 20 second delay between the time they started and the time the soundguy was convinced to change the settings to allow them to be heard. We had to nearly wake the soundguy up to get him to bring us cables to plug in the keyboard before a major singing number. He wasn’t a soundguy, he was a guy to change dials and settings as we yelled at him. This is common—I’ve encountered it at many bar and restaurant gigs, culture programs, and official functions during my five months here so far. Another problem is that they take forever to set up at the start of a performance. Microphones have to be set up on broken stands, broken microphones replaced as the knowledge of their brokenness comes up, cables untangled, plugged in, and figured out, speakers set up, and more. This all happens time after time as any tiny part of the set-up has to change for any reason. As the system isn’t known very well by anybody, problems take forever to be understood and solved. I think that sound systems have introduced way more problems than good for performers in this country, and I would be happy to see them disappear forever. I went to a high profile Eastern Classical concert last week, and during the entire performance the sound system picked up a faint FM signal. I was trying to enjoy a special raga performance by a trio of a master vocalist, sitar player, and tabla player, and I was plagued the entire time by the faint sound of commercials and pop songs coming through the speakers along with the performed music. Sound problems were a huge part of the ridiculous delays in the school drama performance.

Potential:
I can’t help but think what these kids could do in a well-managed, well-prepared performance. They were able to perform—something—after only 5 days of inchoate preparation, and with just a little bit more organization and a little bit more time I think they could polish up for a really incredible show. The drama concept was great! It’s a shame to see such a great concept and such talented kids bogged down with disorganization. Ultimately it’s the kids who are suffering. They’re hard to control in class, and part of the reason is that they can never believe the teachers when they say it’s time to start. Anything. They’ll believe it when they see it, and until then they’ll continue with whatever fighting, giggling, whispering, etc. they’re doing. I would hate to be a kid during one of the drama rehearsals when everything is changing and they’re trying to figure out what the right thing is to do and being pushed and shoved all over the place on the changing whims of the teachers. There’s little dedication to making something really good because there’s no idea of what’s worth making good. Music classes are especially doubtful to students because the teachers themselves often don’t have a plan. They teach every lesson separately, and there’s no expectation that the students will have any measurable musical improvement at the end of the year. Why should they try to learn something that is scattered and seemingly doesn’t make any sense? The teachers need focus before the students can focus. Teachers are aware of the problem, and they are also frustrated at the lack of organization. I have less sympathy for them since they are adults and should be capable of solving these problems, but I understand that they get absolutely no professional support. There’s no widely available curriculum or set of standards for music teaching for them to go to for reference, and when they try and step up and fix some organizational problems in their schools they can be pushed down and potentially punished by administrators. The other music teachers involved in this program were supremely frustrated about the organization and execution of the whole program, and told me that mismanagement and disorganization is a way of life for school programs. They were incredibly frustrated about the institutional side of the organization—the last minute program meeting, the sound problems, the delays getting started, the speeches, the confusion about who goes when, etc.—and given the circumstances I totally agree with them. I was frustrated also at the non-existent teaching mechanisms within the classroom leading up to the performance, but I didn’t criticize them too much at the time—they did, after all, put together a passing program from start to finish in 5 days. What did the students learn during these five days? The music students already knew the songs, so they didn’t learn much there. They didn’t learn much vocal technique since a lot of the class-time was focused on drilling form. They didn’t learn harmony or balance since it was all unison and they would be singing into an volatile sound system. They learned the forms of these songs, and they learned what to do specifically during the drama performance. Not much else, and certainly not anything that they can take with them and apply to future music lessons. I witnessed a sadly funny and telling exchange between one of the music teachers and a dance student in the hallway while the dance student was in her costume. The music teacher asked, ‘what’s this? What group do you represent?’ referring to her outfit, and she looked a little confused, shook her head, and said, ‘taaha chaina’ (I don’t know). These things can be so much more meaningful for the students’ arts education, but because of the stress of the entire situation and the habituation from having to do it like this many times in the past, neither the concept nor the motivation is there to make it that way. The next program at this school will be led by me, and will be a showcase of the Western music things I will have taught these students. I don’t know how the administration will be, but it will be a huge priority for me to set an example for how organized and how productive a music performance can be for everybody. I feel like the students at this school have been mistreated in their whole music education environment, and I’ve been a part of that. The students are really a fantastic group of kids, and in the coming months I’ll try to give them something worth believing in.


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