Thursday 9th August
After my long journey to Ladakh from London I arrived at my home-stay in Shey. Paddy and Arlene the landscape architects who are working at DWLS also live there. The family were very welcoming and we all spent hilarious evening playing cards together.
The next morning I visited the school, which has been rebuilt and re-landscaped since the 2010 flash floods – I was impressed by the massive 1km long and 10ft tall granite protective wall surrounding the school and monastery. Some new classrooms buildings had been built as well. Everyone was very helpful and I’ll start properly on Monday as most teachers were away on a long weekend.
I noticed lots of broken chairs with chrome plated steel frames had been piled up near the unusable woodpile. So I bought a hacksaw and some metal files as I guessed these would might good glockenspiels.
Alyson and Hannah arrived and we had a quick visit to the school. They had brought 15 recorders and 10 penny whistles with them, as they are both woodwind specialists.
Over the weekend Hannah got her Bassoon out and we played some music together. Yangdol (the mother at our homestay) appeared dressed in a traditional Tibetan costume. Puntsog (the father at out homestay) then brought out men’s costume. We had great fun taking it turns to try them on.
Students from St Christopher’s (a school in Hertfordshire) were volunteering at the school for a couple of days - having done a trek in the area. I had several interested but Ben stuck at it and helped sort out wood from the rejects pile, and cut and tune chair legs. Hannah and Alyson arranged with teachers to do workshops from 3-3.30 then later at after tea and study hour at 5.30.
I continued tuning chair legs with Ben, and found out that for the low D and C we had to go around the bend of the chair leg but the sound was reasonable. Hannah and Alyson did a lunchtime music session in the circular courtyard and an evening session with some infants. At the end of my day I had two sets of tuned keys covering two octaves each from C5- C7.
It was India Independence Day today. I walked and hitched to a celebratory event at Chushot on the other side of the Indus. After some speeches, through an atrocious sound system, some lovely song and dance performances followed. Our Home-stay host was the MC. He did well as did Nilse his daughter who danced a vibrant dance with her troupe of boys and girls wearing sheepskin hats and turquoise shirts with overlong sleeves that they flung about artistically. Tea, almonds, dried apricots and biscuits were passed amongst the dignitaries – which we seemed to be included in.
Went shopping in Leh for materials, it is very hard to access good tools and simple materials – it makes life in the UK seem Leh is noisy and polluted with traffic dominating the streets. I spent the rest of the afternoon tuning some wooden keys – the good wood I found last week is all used up – so I searched the various wood piles for some more acceptable lengths for the last 4-5 keys needed. Later I watched the Druk school children playing at many different activities all over the site. They are really creative using long sticks to hit short sticks (instead of a ball), throwing stones, kicking around old water bottles, using poles to balance on, making seesaws, climbing in and out of holes in the ground, playing football, digging in the sand, and so on. There were some girls singing from a Hindi text as a way to learn it; others were washing their hair in bowls of water. There very little supervision and it is amazing that there are not more incidents.
I strung up the metallophone keys and making the frame from two chairs but used far more rope than anticipated. I will have to buy more. Seitan showed me the storeroom where two barrels I bought in 2010 were still stored. They will become part of a loud drum kit for the playground. Tsewong the store manager is going to find out about buying empty oil drums for this as well. After lunch Robert, the Dutch photographer, helped me carry the Xylophone outside and we instantly had a crowd of students wanting to play. I did some 1-1 call and answer then Robert played some good rhythms that I added to and we tried to get some students to hold down some basic patterns. The cook came out and played and sang with gusto. Had a great afternoon with lots of children coming to help me sand down the xylophone and make beaters. At 6pm I led a short rhythm workshop with beaters.
The Dalai Lama gave a Puja today In Choglomsar 5 miles down the road. He’s been on retreat in a monastery there for the last few weeks. We set out at 6.15am and the teaching started at 7.30. The road was flooded with traffic heading in one direction and we had to walk the last mile. Many of the people were in traditional dress. It was wonderful to see how keen local people were to be at this fantastic event.
I spent the morning splitting willow branches to make a small Xylofence to go outside the kindergarten.
Tansy and Tanzin visited this afternoon and filmed an impromptu workshop on the three chair leg glockenspiels and the xylophone. Five children had helped me sand down the willow keys I had split earlier in the day and did a quick workshop with them. This attracted more students and they then were offered turns to take part.
A frustrating morning not finding anybody I needed to in school, but some year 10 students came by at lunchtime to write Sa Re Ga etc in Hindi on the xylophone and they will also decorate it using the local style of painting. Mahua the art teacher brought them and is extremely helpful. Paddy and Prasad Eledath (the head) walked around the school site with me in and we agreed on locations for all the instruments to be positioned.
It was Hannah’s last supper so she asked if Yangdol could make us her delicious momos.
Alyson was really helpful today, finishing lots of small tasks on various
instruments. My throat is still a bit sore but I’ve got some ginger and lemon to make tea from that does soothe a bit. The 1st of two oil drums arrived today and I managed to buy a chain and padlock to hold the drums together.
Today was a big leap forward. Alyson helped me do a whole school assembly where we presented the instruments to everyone. We have created two panels with Rules of Play + Tips for playing together written on. So we demonstrated those and had 6 pupils come up and join in playing simple patterns on the instruments. It went down well with the teaching staff too. Then we set up the instruments in the courtyard by the art room. Later we fixed the Xylofence in place.
I gave an impromptu assembly for the infants today. I showed them ways of playing the Xylofence and the metallophone, with a teacher translating for me. Later I fixed the chain to the oil drum and other barrels and set them up in the adventure playground. After lunch some older boys started playing the drum set-up. They instantly had a typical Ladakhi rhythm going. At the homestay I measured the bamboo flute in G that Alyson had bought. Using some cheap plastic conduit tubing I had a go at making a flute to the measurements of Alyson’s Indian bamboo G flute. We were please with how well it played.
The school has been spruced up over the last week for today’s visit by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa to bless the new tree nursery. Despite a real sandstorm blowing Arlene and Paddy managed to give a good presentation about the landscaping and greening of the school site that they have started on. This event seemed like a fitting end to my stay in Ladakh.
I spent the last day saying my goodbyes and making sure that one teacher was going to look after the recorders, flutes and penny whistles would lend them out to pupils – as books are in a library. The art teacher agreed to look after the xylophone and the batonka and glockenspiels bringing them in overnight and during lessons. Lobsang the site manager agreed to keep an eye on the Oil barrel drum kits.
I left the school sad to be leaving but really pleased that on this visit I had been able to leave some musical infrastructure that would give opportunities for creative play to many students at DWLS. The instrument library could be added to in the future and hopefully is a model to give many students who board access to developing their musical abilities.