Spotted in Manila, 2014

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

About Shanti Bhavan

As the students arrive on campus (!!!!!!!!!!) I am beginning to understand what an incredibly special place Shanti Bhavan is. This school is a beautiful bubble, that serves children born into the lowest, "untouchable" caste in India's ancient, illegal, and still quite-present caste system. Sent by their families from their homes to this boarding school to receive and excellent education, these students begin their studies at age 4. They continue these rigorous courses (as well as eat healthy meals three-times a day, drink clean water, play sports, sing and learn instruments, celebrate holidays, have access to free healthcare and constant safety and security, and open their minds to staff and volunteers of all cultures, languages, and beliefs) until they graduate at age 18. At this time, their excellent test scores and language fluency in both English and various Indian dialects earns them enrollment at the best higher institutions in the country, funded by Shanti Bhavan and its George Foundation, preparing them for jobs with India's best companies and corporations. In this way, in just one generation, the caste system is completely reversed, and eliminated. This place is absolutely a dream come true.

Possibly the most exciting part, though, is that every student and graduate of Shanti Bhavan is excited to voice their ideas on how they will change the world upon their graduation. Each one has thoroughly thought-out plans about founding their own Shanti Bhavan in their home villages, to spread the mission of the school, and pay-forward the incredible gift they have received. These young people are going to be the ones that save the world.

For more information about SB:

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Arriving at Shanti Bhavan

I am writing this brief entry by the light of my flashlight, and periodic lightening strikes that illuminate my room during an evening power outage here in India. I arrived in Bangalore on Wednesday morning at 4am from a long flight from Houston (via 23 hours in London, and 22 hours in Frankfurt!). It was an exhilarating adventure that I lived to the fullest, thanks to a 3 day adrenaline rush. So of course it felt amazing to collapse onto my scratchy, creaky, musty, and GLORIOUS bed.

Since our arrival on campus at Shanti Bhavan, our bright-eyed, and inspiring team has worked together to prepare our lessons, classrooms, and brains for the teaching-weeks to come. As wonderful as it is to spend time getting to know each other and this new country, we are anxious to get into the classrooms with students. Luckily, it begins tomorrow with our opening performance and welcome!

That's all for now, as I try to conserve my computer battery (since who knows how long the power outage will be!)

Found in my diary from 2 days ago:

First impressions of India and Shanti Bhavan:
I'm hot. This means cold bucket showers feel good. 
How refreshing, to be woken up by birds outside my window that are not grackles and pigeons (see quickly-growing bird count on next page)
OBSESSED with the jackfruit tree.
Still haven't seen a scorpion... Waiting, wishing
There's no way I will get sick of this food.
How will I ever capture the beauty of all of these flowers in just a photograph?
Glitter all over--saris, bangles, sandles, why don't we all try to put this much bling in our lives?
COLORS!!! Clay-red soil, every-shade-of-green palm trees, ocean-blue sky, pastel-purple houses
How am I so lucky to be here?!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Shanti Bhavan and India!

I'm so anxious/excited/thrilled/nervous to be only 10 days away from my departure for India! From May 20 to June 13, I will be in Bangalore, India working with other volunteer teaching artists in many different disciplines at the Shanti Bhavan Children's Project through Artists Striving to End Poverty. This is a country and a project that has been calling me for many years, and finally my schedule and finances allow for me to participate. I feel so fortunate.

My travel time will take about 3 days to make the trip to India (via 24 hour layovers in both London and Frankfurt), and on May 16, I begin this journey. I look forward to tracking my work and progress as a teacher here for the few weeks I am on site at Shanti Bhavan. These kinds of outreach experiences are so valuable to my growth as a musician, teacher, ambassador, activist, and human. That is why I'm so hooked on using my musicianship to take me around the world, and meeting all kinds of beautiful people in doing so.

Let the adventure begin!!!

On a darker note, here's a shot from the preparation I've been doing for the trip.

The realism of traveling...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Trash Pick-Up in Austin

Our ASTEP in Austin chapter kicked off the semester with a trash clean-up in East Austin this weekend! It was a beautiful day and this was a fun and productive way to spend time in the sun with friends. Overall, the 8 volunteers collected more than 60 pounds of waste and recyclable items, and we plan to make a banner for our chapter out of the recycling we collected!

Picking up this much trash in just a 2-block section of Austin makes me realize that the work we did was just a tiny drop in a giant bucket. But it is a relief to know how simple it was to organize a neighborhood clean up like this. Thanks to Keep Austin Beautiful, we were supplied with free trash bags, first aid kits, and gloves. I look forward to doing it again soon!

Thanks to Keep Austin Beautiful and these rockstars!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Trade Winds Featured Members-of-the-Week

Other the past several weeks, we have been featuring the members of Trade Winds on our Facebook page to show our "likers" more about us and why we do Trade Winds. The words of my friends and fellow members remind me how lucky I am to work with all of them, and they inspire me to keep doing this work. I've copied the posts from our Facebook page below. If you haven't liked our page already, HERE's the link! 

We will kick it all off with our amazing oboist, Ellen Hindson. Ellen lives in New York and works at a tech company that aids arts organizations. She also teaches oboe at the Long Island Conservatory. Here are some of her thoughts on being in the quintet:

What did you learn in Kenya?I'll never forget the responses we got from our students when we asked them questions like "How do you feel when you hear a sad song?" or "How about an angry song, does that make you feel mad?" and expected them to say their feelings matched the mood of the music. But the constant response they gave was "music makes us happy. Never angry or sad." I learned so much in Kenya, but what I think about most of all after our exchange is the joy -- I feel like we as musicians often get so fixated on improving our technique and become so weighed down by the pressure of auditions that we sometimes lose sight of that joy. Remembering our students in Kenya helps me remember to let that feeling in.

What is your favorite Trade Winds memory?Oof, that's such a hard question! One of my (many!) favorite memories is the day we gave masterclasses at the Nairobi School, because being there the whole day and ONLY for one day made it really special. The kids were so shy when we first arrived, but as we danced, conducted, played games, and made music together, everyone -- Trade Winds members and students alike -- began to open up to one another and I loved that feeling; we were all learning so much. Then, at the end of the day, Trade Winds clarinetist Brian and I joined a spontaneous jam session with some students, which was pretty awesome.

Why Trade Winds?To perform music, teach, learn, and constantly grow. To play music with my friends, to challenge myself as a teacher and a performer. To go more places (both literally and figuratively) with music, and to connect to communities in a meaningful way through music

This week, we're talking about our favorite clarinetist, Brian Gnojek! Outside of Trade Winds, Brian has volunteered with outreach projects in Chicago and The Philippines. Now, he teaches clarinet and freelances in Austin, Texas. 

What did you learn in Kenya?
I learned that some of the people who have the very least in the world
have the best attitudes. I'm not sure I've ever taught such an enthusiastic, eager, smiley, and silly group of students. Working with
them it was easy to forget that they came from such poor conditions,
but at the same time, they made me forget the conditions that were
right next door even existed.

What is your favorite memory of working with Trade Winds?
My favorite memory was probably the first day at Rise and Shine, when they performed for us. In just a half-hour, we were shown just how excited they were to work with us, but also how talented they were. It was a little disconcerting, because I started to doubt if we had
anything to teach them! It was such an amazing experience hearing
their poems, songs, and plays in both English and Kiswahili.

Besides that, my second favorite memory was probably Nick and I trying to get the recorders to make funny noises by wedging them against our bellies.

Why Trade Winds?
I have gravitated toward projects that exist in countries that seem
remote from the U.S. Latin and South America seem very close (though not out of the question for a future trip), and Europe is culturally similar to the U.S. in many ways. I have done a project in southeast Asia, and Africa seemed like a logical next step. Kenya has the worst poverty I have ever seen, but they also have a lot of music in their lives. We wanted to work with that musical background and use it to teach them a way out of the poverty in which they lived, even if it was just learning how to express their pain, or to share their happiness.

Trade Winds is an amazing group of people. The other members were so much fun to spend time with, and each brought a huge variety of talents to the table as both teachers and performers. I am excited to work with them in the future!

Today, it's all about our flutist, Christina Hughes! As a 2nd year masters student at the Yale School of Music, she is a theory teaching assistant and private flute instructor. She is also freelancing and pursuing an orchestral career. We love you!

What did you learn teaching in Kenya? 
I think the biggest thing that I learned from teaching in Kenya is that it is possible to have a truly happy life even when you live in impoverished conditions. It may seem impossible to us to be able to lead a life and find happiness if we have to survive on a dollar a day and struggle to feed ourselves and our families, but it is possible to be deprived of what we may view as necessities to life and still have joy and content in one's life. This was most striking to me when we would read the journals of the students at Rise and Shine and across the board they would express that they like what they have in their life.

What is your favorite Trade Winds memory? 
It is so difficult to try to pick just ONE memory! I really loved sitting around with the group while reading the Rise and Shine journals and just unwinding (with a Tusker!) after a day of teaching. It was really special to be able to connect with the students on an individual level while during the day at times it was hard to feel like you could reach each student, maybe because they were hungry and distracted, or just because of the mere number of students we were teaching at once.

Why Trade Winds? 
I wanted to join Trade Winds because I felt that it was a really special group of people. Everyone is so passionate and brings something unique and spirited to the group, and I couldn't imagine a better set of individuals to go across the world with to teach, learn, share, and grow.

Here is our bassoonist, Midori Samson! Outside of Trade Winds, Midori is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, runs the UT chapter of Artists Striving to End Poverty, and volunteers with Project Philippines.

What did you learn teaching in Kenya?
I learned how truly lucky I am to play music; that very few people are lucky enough to pursue a career in self-growth, expression, and fulfillment; that every note I play is important because getting to play music is everything I could ever want.

What is your favorite Trade Winds memory? 

My favorite memory is the day we arrived for our first day of teaching at the Rise and Shine Academy and the students presented a welcome concert for us. They sang the most beautiful Swahili song that captured me from the beginning even though I had no idea what the lyrics meant. I realized then that it would be our job to show them that this kind of singing--this art that they casually make every day--matters and has value.

Why Trade Winds? 

Volunteering and traveling 100% feeds my music making, and my bassoon playing is so much more meaningful when I tell the stories of my students through music--stories that otherwise may never be shared with an audience. Being a member of Trade Winds satisfies my cravings for seeing the world, sharing my love for the arts, and making unforgettable musical connections with all kinds of people. It makes my heart and artistry full.

Introducing the newest member of our mission, Prema Digrazia! She is a film student at California State University--Northridge and will be creating a documentary about Trade Winds after our next trip to Kenya. Welcome, Prema!

What inspires you to do your art? 
My inspiration to make art is to enhance the way people see the world. It is a chance to understand perspectives and interpret new cultures and people, all while applying the artistic talents given to each person.

Why Trade Winds? 
Trade Winds has a meaningful mission to help the less fortunate. I'd like to help communicate the group's goals to people interested and those unaware of this amazing project.

Can you send a few pictures of yourself in action? 
My work is behind the scenes! There for, I have no pictures!

Monday, September 29, 2014

First ASTEP Meeting

We had a great inaugural meeting for Artists Striving to End Poverty in Austin this weekend! Visual art, theater, creative writing, and music were represented, and so many ideas for projects were shared. I can't wait to continue working with this group of people!