The foreign connection
By Kaviya Sanjeevi, Parvathy Nambidi
05th November 2012 12:00 AM
Knowledge transfer and learning have no limits. This has been proved by academicians who have entered the country to teach Indians. Students are not only exposed to different styles of teaching, but get a global perspective. Edex spoke to four expat professors who are gung-ho about their Indian assignments.
Steve Zerlin, bass faculty at Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (SAM), Chennai, is thrilled to be in India. Every visit is a lesson in ‘humility, appreciation and gratitude’. “Whenever I return to USA after visiting India, I feel that all people in the West should have the experience of a culture that has not had the privileges that Westerners tend to take for granted,” he says. This is his third teaching assignment in SAM. Zerlin, famously known as Z-man in the music circle, teaches bass-the related theory and technique, western music theory including jazz, harmony, ear training, composition and arranging, as well as leading ensembles. “Prasanna, the president of SAM, got to know about me through a common friend. When my friend could not come here to teach, I was requested. I have also done some music shows in Chennai and Prasanna realised that he already knew me. He didn’t even ask me for qualifications. He just trusted me. He said I don’t want somebody from the teaching industry. I need someone who has been performing music,” he says.
Zerlin finds the students at SAM extraordinarily challenging. “The approach here is not like a conventional institution. They tend to set into a structure over time so you have to do it that way, but here things are ever-changing. In the first year I came, we just took out samples, but the second time, Prasanna gave us a list of songs, some of which I had not even heard before. This allows a greater creative demand. I don’t get to do the same thing all the time. I improvise. This gives them (students) a Western background, which they have little exposure to and will open them up to a lot more opportunities,” the 58-year-old explains.
Zerlin’s love-hunt for fresh coconuts keeps him occupied but that’s only when he takes a break as Zerlin works well beyond the allotted hours. “Students here are enthusiastic, extremely bright and respectful. My learning still continues. I am learning how to have a fresh mind again. I was stunned at the beginning as these students pick up everything quickly. I was not sure what to teach them next. But now I took them back to the basics and am thinking of how to streamline my methods so they can connect to what I teach,” says Zerlin, who is loving it at SAM.
When Fjoralba Turku signed her first recording contract with Traumton Records in Berlin at the age of 24, she did not know that it would lead her to Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (SAM), Chennai. “Prasanna first heard my CD during a flight trip and immediately sent an email requesting me to come and teach here. I accepted it and am here now. The experience is just amazing,” says Fjoralba, an Albanian who emigrated to Munich, Germany, in 1992 when she was nine years old. The vocalist teaches voice technique and different genres of music.
At SAM, she leads an ensemble, gives classes in song writing, ear training, piano basics, sight singing and a customised elective about Albanian music and its influences. “The students here appreciate everything in a different way. They believe in what they do. They are eager to learn and if they don’t have classes, they just come in to show me their new compositions. They appreciate music here, more than the other places I have been too,” she says.
Fjoralba is planning to take the students through the basics first, move onto the techniques involved, get them to think out of the box and try a fusion of various music genres. “We (Prasanna and the other teachers) decided to teach them the basics and literature and also keep their mind open. Let them experiment with new things and discover something and at SAM, things don’t work in a structure,” she says.
Fjoralba is all praise for the infrastructure at SAM as it houses so many studios and a lot of instruments are available under one roof. “Teaching is a great experience for me but at the same time, I need to keep myself updated to ensure I am equipped to teach,” she says. In her free time, the 29-year-old discusses music with her wards. She recently visited Pondicherry and is keen on discovering the rest of India. She quips, “I have very interesting and deep conversations with the faculty and students (of SAM) and learn more about life. l am also learning a lot about Indian music and I appreciate this experience. There are similarities with Albanian music as some influences have definitely come from here.”
Terry Converse, Emeritus professor of Theatre at Washington State University, USA, has been quietly imparting the nuances of contemporary world theatre to dramatists in Kerala. Converse, who came to Kerala in July to research on ‘Innovative mask characterisation exercises in plays’, is collaborating with Kochi-based Lokadharmi theatre group.
He describes his stint with the state as an ‘overwhelming experience’. “The actors are more naturally inclined here. With their rigorous movements, they can exert more physical force than the American actors, who stick to Kitchen Sink Dramas, which are more stylised,” he says.
Along with Chandradasan, artistic director of Lokadharmi, Converse is directing two plays — The World Renowned Nose (It is based on a short story of the same name by Malayalam writer Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer) and The Elephant Man (an adaptation of the famous play of John Merrick about a disfigured man).
Converse plans to use masquerading and gibberish language as major acting tools in these. “Acting with mask helps actors sustain their stylistic imagination because it enables them to shed away their original identity. It is a device with immense possibilities, which the actors in Kerala are yet to familiarise themselves with,” he says.
Converse, who read for his PhD in Theater Arts at the University of California, Los Angeles, feels Keralites genuinely appreciate art. “Watching plays is a high-price affair in the US and is usually enjoyed by the elite class. In Kerala, I got a chance to see a few excellent plays. More than the plays, it was the excitement of the audience, which comprises people from all walks of society, that interested me. Here even common people have the aesthetic sensibility to understand art. The root cause of theatre is to bring together people of all classes, which is happening here,” says Converse.
Converse graduated in MFA-direction from the University of Minnesota, USA, and has written several books on theatre.
The 66-year-old has produced notable plays like Tale Of The Lost Formicans, Death And The King’s Horseman, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth and Dancing At Lugnasa.
A man of few words, Terrence Seet, director and general manager of Raffles Millenium International, Chennai, feels that international faculties provide local students a global perspective. “Presently local education is trying to catch up with the international standard but it will take time to progress. With international faculty, students have better exposure in terms of learning and it will also help them understand upmarket trends, which does not happen locally,” he says the Singaporean.
Terrence, who has been in India since 2010, has a sales/marketing/management background, which enabled him to develop a cost-conscious marketing strategy. He completed his bachelor’s in marketing and an executive MBA programme in Templeton University, USA, and went on to pursue a diploma in marketing at Wigan and Leigh College, United Kingdom. He then enrolled for an advanced diploma in management from The International Professional Managers Association in United Kingdom.
Terrence is not the only foreign face in Raffles, which focuses on practical training. The eight foreign faculties at Raffles are Edward Varies from USA and Sara Bearzatto from Italy for interior design, Lori Aguilar from Philippines, Simone Za and Davide Tripoli from Italy for product design, Pamela Gallegos from Mexico and Amal Bouazizi from Holland for fashion design and Chaity Tan from Singapore for graphic design. “We will start three more courses next year. They are furniture design, animation design and game design. Faculty from abroad will be roped in for these courses too,” says the 42-year-old.
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