Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guest Blogger.....introducing....my handsome husband, Randy

Some people have asked about my work at the music school and if it has increased since our director has had unexpected surgery in Korea. First let me mention that Gwangsu's surgery has reportedly gone well. However, he has to spend 24 hours a day facing down in order for there to be proper healing. He has to do this for three weeks. Then he will not be able to fly for about 3 or 4 months. Gwangsu is the director of AMI (Anglican Music Institute) as well as the choir teacher and conducting teacher. His wife, JungAh, does all the administrative work at AMI – bill paying, managing the staff, acquiring supplies, making sure the copier works, etc. So, their departure has left a big hole, yet most of what I do I would still be doing even if they were here.

AMI is primarily a school for adults. (Our students range from about 18 through 50-ish?) It is the closest thing here in Madagascar to going to a music conservatory. (We call it Ah-me not A. M. I.) But these adults mostly have full-time jobs. So, classes are held on Saturdays.

At 8 am on Saturdays we have chapel which includes a time of singing and some Bible teaching. Most of the teaching is a devotional given by different Malagasy pastors – in Malagasy. (This morning I understood the following words from his message - “Andraimantra” which means God, “fiainana mandrakizay” which means life eternal and “film” which means film – as in a movie.) Once a month I am supposed to give the devotional. I will have one of our students translate for me as many of our newer students do lots of head nodding but don't really understand English so well.

At 9 am we break into 4 groups by ability and have ear training and sight reading classes. I teach the lowest level class. I can relate. (I always did terribly in this subject.) Then at 10 I teach a beginning theory class. I am also in charge of an Independent Study Music History class that meets at this time. As the name implies they do all the work on their own. I just had to set up the class and will have to check the reports they turn in and give them a final exam.

After this, before lunch, we have Weekly Performance. During a semester each student must perform one piece of music from memory. Most of these are vocal solos – excerpts from operas or art songs. A few of the students will play piano pieces.

After Weekly Performance is lunch. All the students and teachers eat together. One Malagasy woman and her daughter cook for everyone. We eat typcial Malagasy food which means there is one giant pot of plain rice, a side dish that is cold which often has tomates and other such stuff in it, and a hot dish that goes with the rice. This hot dish usually has some meat in it and veggies and “juice”. Then there is sakay – which is like a condiment that is so spicy the students only put about a dime sized amount on their tray. (I stay very far away from sakay.) There are always bananas. I am known to be a picky eater, but I have really enjoyed the rice and the hot dish that go with it every week. The best part of lunch is the laughter. These students are constantly joking with one another. They mostly speak Malagasy during lunch so I have no idea what is so funny, but it is so much fun just being around them and listening.

During lunch I have begun handing out a half-sheet of paper entitled: “Speaking English as a Third Language – Improving Your English While You Eat Lunch”. The paper has some notes about Enlish mistakes that I hear throughout the week. One of the great parts of working with Koreans and Malagasy who are trying to speak English is all the fun mistakes they make. Like our director who has a habit of adding “the” in front of people's names occasionally. We had a visiting Korean pianist whose name was Bom – which means 'spring' in Korean. So, he called her “the Bomb” once which was great because she really was 'all that'.

After lunch I have a break while the following classes are being taught by other teachers: an English class, an art song class and a piano accompaniment class. This is followed by choir. It is so much fun to sing in a choir again – especially one with only about 9 women and 16 men in it. (Maybe this male to female ratio explains why there is so much laughter all day at school. It is mostly the men who are ndala - “crazy” - in a good way [very kind a gentle]. During the period when I am free and in my office working I often hear the students laughter and wish I were in the class with them.)

Gwangsu was supposed to lead the choir so now Oksun (the voice teacher who is also now the acting director) is leading. She asked me to help lead. We will see what that looks like. Right now I just do sectionals with the basses. (Oksun's husband is taking over JungAh's administrative role. He is a computer guy – not a music guy – but they are a wonderful family.)

When I came to Madagascar I brought with me choir books for Handel's Messiah. When we passed out the books for the first time the students were so excited. This was the first time they ever had a real music score. They have always only had photocopies of all the music they sang. And when we sight read “And the Glory of the Lord” it was very exciting – guess you had to be there.

The Saturday school day is supposed to end at 3 pm after choir, but this semester I have an extra class from 3:15 to 4. It is a theory class for the IPC students who wanted a second major. (Bascially they wanted to study music theory again from a native English speaker who majored in theory and composition. Prior to this theory was being taught by people who had other areas of specialization.)

So, what is an IPC student? Well, AMI is a 2 year program. So, there are first year and second year students. I have all the first year students in my beginning theory class. I don't have any of the second year students in any of my classes. Students can choose to return for a third year as an IPC student. (I think it stands for Intensive Performance Course.) All of these students wanted to take a second major subject in theory. So, I made an extra class for them.

Now every student has a major. We have about 25 students in all. Only four of them are piano majors. Two of them are theory majors. All the rest are voice majors. Every student has a 40 minute individual lesson in their major. Then the theory and voice majors also have a 20 minute individual piano lesson in addition to that. So, from Tuesday through Friday I teach 2 forty minute theory lessons, 2 forty minute piano lessons, 4 twenty minute piano lessons and need to accompany 6 voice majors for their lessons. (Unfortunately I am not as good at sight reading so I need to practice the pieces that I will accompany.) And also on these days I need to prepare for all the classes I teach.

On Tuesday morning there is also a staff devotional time and staff meeting. (On Friday afternoons at 3 pm we have our AIM (Africa Inland Mission) misisonary prayer time.)

So, that is AMI's main program. But there is a special program called APC (AMI Piano Class) that takes place on Wednesday afternoons. From 1 pm until 6 pm we teach piano lessons to about 45 children and teenagers. I am the director for this program this year. The students range in age from 6 to 19 (plus 2 adult students). They each receive a half hour individual piano lesson and a half hour of a Bible class. This is challenging because of the difference in ages and because of the variety of languages spoken. The main AMI program is only taught in English (except for chapel). But APC has students that only speak French or only Malagasy or only English. My ten piano students all speak English or French. I am quickly having to learn the French version of all the words we use in music. The teacher of the Bible class is actually one of our older Malagasy AMI students who speaks Malagasy, French and English. You go girl!

In addition to these tasks I am also the only native English speaker. So, I do a lot of translating … “Randy, how do you say...”, “Randy can you proofread this?” Fortuneately I love grammar and doing that sort of thing. So, I find it quite enjoyable. I love almost all the parts of all my varied jobs here. There are only two things I dislike about my work here. The first has to do with being in charge of APC and yet not being able to communicate with everyone well. There is no such thing as home mail delivery in Madagascar so you can't mail information out. When you send a letter home it has to be translated into at least English and French. So, much of the communication happens by our AMI secretary, Holy (pronounced Hoo-ley), calling people on the phone and speaking to them in Malagasy or French and sometimes English. The second thing I dislike is not getting home sooner and having more time with my boys before they go to bed at 7. Since many of our AMI students work, they cannot come to have their lessons or to practice until 4 or 5. After I leave school I have about a 30 to 40 minute commute. So, sometimes I feel like Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins who comes home from work just in time to kiss his kids and send them off to bed. Fortuneately I get to walk them to school in the mornings. That is a fun half hour.

But I do love teaching my students and I have several projects I would like to work on to improve things here at AMI as soon as I get a chance.

I will now turn the blog back over to my lovely wife. If my entry is too long I do apologize.
Velooma. (good-bye)


  1. Just knew this would be such a good fit for you. Sounds like you are doing an awesome job! Love that you are enjoying the laughter and interaction with students despite the language barrier! I am "chuffed" as our British friends say! =)

  2. Hey Randy . .loved the details and the craziness of it all . sounded just like you!! The piano, the choir,the english grammar, the lessons, the languages, lots to keep you busy and practicing your sight reading! I think the internet here at home spoiled you for communicating with lots of people easily at one time! I have been praying that your time with the boys will be fun and filled with dad/son stuff . .ya know . .wrestling,tickling etc. during the time you have with them. We miss all the Gehlerts!