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Midweek Review

A group of university Students who made history:

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A Nostalgic Note on that Distant November Day

BY Liyanage Amarakeerthi
University of Peradeniya

November has already arrived, and COVID-19 has restricted our movements at campus. I am in the middle of a research project related to 1956. During the months before November that year, University of Peradeniya was not under the attack of any virus but it was busy getting ready for a landmark event. Those who were in the midst of it perhaps did not know that they were creating history. They were attending to the routine activities of the campus, which was a vibrant place anyway. E.F.C. Ludowyk in English, Raplh Pieris in Sociology, Senarath Paranavithana in Archaeology, D. E. Hettiaracchi in Sinhala, K. Kanapathipillai in Tamil, K. N. Jayathilake in philosophy, among others, were renowned scholars and they were making Peradeniya a world class university. That was in the Humanities. Other faculties were equally vibrant, too.

At the faculty of Arts Dr. Saracchandara, who had just returned from a year-long stay in Japan, was busy directing a play in the months leading to that November. Siri Gunasinghe, Gunadasa Amarasekara and some others, who were later to become major literary and intellectual figures in their generation, were eagerly helping the Doctor, keeping him company nearly always.

A set of brilliant young students were attending to everything related to producing the play. Many of them were the members of Drama Soc, and had some previous experience of reading or producing plays with professor Ludowyk. As Dr. Ranjini Obeyesekare, recently told me, Professor Ludowyk used to read aloud plays with students at his office. “If you are free, come and let’s read a play,” he would say. Students would happily oblige. Those days, English students interacted with other students. And ‘other students’ could interact with their cohorts in English. There was no or little gap among students in different subjects.

Inherit the Wind

Although that is not the case today, we, in producing Inherit the Wind in Sinhala, were making some bridges across the language gap. During this November, wearing a face mask, I was busy at the library reading about that distant November in 56. If COVID-19 had not hit us, we at the faculty of Arts, would have been putting the final touches on our own production of Rala Nagana Minissu, a Sinhala translation of Inherit the Wind, a brilliant American play. Priyantha Fonseka, a senior lecturer, and the Department of Fine Arts were in the middle of directing the play when Corona arrived. Our cast included students studying all kinds of subjects in all three media of instruction. One aim of that theatre activity was to build bridges. But Corona came and burned all those brittle bridges- an additional reason to be nostalgic about that distant November in 1956.

Years later, Indrani Wijesinghe reminisces:

“After the annual vacation, we returned to the campus, for the second academic year. There was good news awaiting us that Dr. Sarachchandra was going to produce a drama and anyone interested could meet him at an audition. Once inside the audition room I was at complete ease, when I discovered that all who had gathered there were in the same boat- Trelicia, Hemamali, Trixie, Swarna, Lionel, Pastor, etc.” These students, along with so many others, did not know that they were making themselves immortal by being a part of that group.

 

Corona and Maname

Following the arrival of Corona, it has dawned on us that universities are not universities without students. And reading about the history that group of students who were together producing history, I wanted to pay my tribute to them once again for being part of Maname, the play. According to many who remember that day, November 3rd of that year, a miracle happened on stage. A few days later Regi Siriwardena was to announce to the world through Ceylon Daily News that Sinhala theatre had produced a masterpiece and, along with that, a great playwright. Although he had written some favourable reviews of Pabavati, (directed by J. D. Dhirasekara), Siriwardena was amazed by the spectacle Maname created on stage in Colombo. On that November 3rd, Trilicia Abeyrathne was the princess Maname. In the second show in Kandy, Hemamali Gunasekara played the princess. Professor H. L. Seneviratne, who was also a student member of the crew, recalls Hemamali as a unique Maname-Princess. Hemamali herself tells us how she entered the world of Maname in that historic year, 1956:

“So one damp and drizzly Saturday afternoon, Piyaseeli Sirisena and I walked up Sangamitta Hill, past Sangamitta Hall, to the secluded B Bungalow that was the Sarachchandra residence. It is funny how little details retained in your memory suddenly spring to mind when you try to reminisce. My most vivid image of that rather hesitant walk up to the Sarachchandra door is of a rain-drenched Thumbergia creeper, its few remaining blossoms, beaten down but bravely glistening with raindrops trembling upon the velvety petals like dew. Even the drizzle outside, the door was open. Shaking the raindrops off our hair and clothes, we entered a world of chaos and buzzing activity ….”

Hemamali and Trilicia both played the role of the Princess Maname. After a few years, however, Hemamali was taken away from the world of Maname by the makeup artist of the very play, Siri Gunasinghe. Looking at photographs of that celebrated event in 1956, I can imagine Dr. Gunasinghe putting makeup on Hemamali’s face and looking at her beautiful big eyes. Perhaps, the already trend-setting poet had just enough time to utter a line of ‘free verse’ to her. Now the poet is no more but Hemamali is still translating Sinhala literature into English.

 

Drama Soc Crew

In addition to those students in the Maname cast, some other students were instrumental in getting the play on stage on November 3rd, 1956. One of them was W. Arthur Silva. Professor H. L. Seneviratane believes that it was Arthur’s perseverance that pushed the production forward. Although he had finished writing the script, Sarachchandra was not all that enthusiastic about producing the play. He did not receive the expected support from the university, and he did not think he would be able to find actors with required skills from among students. Arthur ran about and got things moving. Saracchandra himself came out of his semi-hibernation, and the rest is history.

During these Corona days, living at a beautiful university park with no students, I want to pay my tribute to that group of students who joined with one of their beloved teachers to give us a classic work of drama. In the process, they made their teacher immortal as well. Shyaman Jayasinghe, Ben Sirimanne, Trilicia Abeykoon, Hemamali Gunasekara, Edmand Wijesinghe, Lionel Fernando, Piyathilaka Weerasinghe, M. B. Adikaram, D. B. Herath, Karunadasa Gunarathne, Trixie de Silva, Indrani Pieris, Swarna Mahipala, Pastor Pieris, Nanda Abeywikrama, P. W. Sathischandra, Daya Jayasundara, Ramya Thumpela, H. L. Seneviratne, Kithsiri Amaratunghe, S. Edirisinghe, L. R. Mudalihami were students in the Maname original crew. In addition to them, office bearers of the Drama Society also contributed to make this historic achievement. K. D. A. Perera, Wimal Nawagamuwa, Rathnasuriya Hemapala, Sumana Gunarathne, Amaradasa Gunawardhane, and Indrani Pieris tirelessly worked for the first Maname production. Showing the cosmopolitan nature of Peradeniya those days, Peter La Sha, an American student residing at the campus, contributed with the management of the stage lights!

Maname, the play has now become a classic, and it is part of everyone’s cultural heritage. For some, it is part of what makes us Sinhala. For some the play signifies a revival of Sinhala art and culture. For me, it is a great artistic expression about the value of female voice and agency in postcolonial Sri Lankan society. ‘Without opportunity to intervene in making crucial ethical judgments, women in independent Sri Lanka are not really free’, the play seems to say among other things. And being a true work of art, it is open to multiple interpretations.

Being at the same university that produced the play, reflecting on the meaning of a university without student, I wanted to pay this tribute to that dynamic group of students who worked to give us a great play, on that distant November day.

(To write this essay, I consulted Home and the World: Essays in Honor of Sarath Amunugama. Ed. Varuni and Ramanika Amunugama and Maname in Retrospect. Ed. K.N.O. Dharmadasa and P.B. Galahitiyawa)


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Midweek Review

‘Professor of English Language Teaching’

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It is a pleasure to be here today, when the University resumes postgraduate work in English and Education which we first embarked on over 20 years ago. The presence of a Professor on English Language Teaching from Kelaniya makes clear that the concept has now been mainstreamed, which is a cause for great satisfaction.

Twenty years ago, this was not the case. Our initiative was looked at askance, as indeed was the initiative which Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare engaged in as UGC Chairman to make degrees in English more widely available. Those were the days in which the three established Departments of English in the University system, at Peradeniya and Kelaniya and Colombo, were unbelievably conservative. Their contempt for his efforts made him turn to Sri Jayewardenepura, which did not even have a Department of English then and only offered it as one amongst three subjects for a General Degree.

Ironically, the most dogmatic defence of this exclusivity came from Colombo, where the pioneer in English teaching had been Prof. Chitra Wickramasuriya, whose expertise was, in fact, in English teaching. But her successor, when I tried to suggest reforms, told me proudly that their graduates could go on to do postgraduate degrees at Cambridge. I suppose that, for generations brought up on idolization of E. F. C. Ludowyke, that was the acme of intellectual achievement.

I should note that the sort of idealization of Ludowyke, the then academic establishment engaged in was unfair to a very broadminded man. It was the Kelaniya establishment that claimed that he ‘maintained high standards, but was rarefied and Eurocentric and had an inhibiting effect on creative writing’. This was quite preposterous coming from someone who removed all Sri Lankan and other post-colonial writing from an Advanced Level English syllabus. That syllabus, I should mention, began with Jacobean poetry about the cherry-cheeked charms of Englishwomen. And such a characterization of Ludowyke totally ignored his roots in Sri Lanka, his work in drama which helped Sarachchandra so much, and his writing including ‘Those Long Afternoons’, which I am delighted that a former Sabaragamuwa student, C K Jayanetti, hopes to resurrect.

I have gone at some length into the situation in the nineties because I notice that your syllabus includes in the very first semester study of ‘Paradigms in Sri Lankan English Education’. This is an excellent idea, something which we did not have in our long-ago syllabus. But that was perhaps understandable since there was little to study then except a history of increasing exclusivity, and a betrayal of the excuse for getting the additional funding those English Departments received. They claimed to be developing teachers of English for the nation; complete nonsense, since those who were knowledgeable about cherries ripening in a face were not likely to move to rural areas in Sri Lanka to teach English. It was left to the products of Aluwihare’s initiative to undertake that task.

Another absurdity of that period, which seems so far away now, was resistance to training for teaching within the university system. When I restarted English medium education in the state system in Sri Lanka, in 2001, and realized what an uphill struggle it was to find competent teachers, I wrote to all the universities asking that they introduce modules in teacher training. I met condign refusal from all except, I should note with continuing gratitude, from the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, where Paru Nagasunderam introduced it for the external degree. When I started that degree, I had taken a leaf out of Kelaniya’s book and, in addition to English Literature and English Language, taught as two separate subjects given the language development needs of students, made the third subject Classics. But in time I realized that was not at all useful. Thankfully, that left a hole which ELT filled admirably at the turn of the century.

The title of your keynote speaker today, Professor of English Language Teaching, is clear evidence of how far we have come from those distant days, and how thankful we should be that a new generation of practical academics such as her and Dinali Fernando at Kelaniya, Chitra Jayatilleke and Madhubhashini Ratnayake at USJP and the lively lot at the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University are now making the running. I hope Sabaragamuwa under its current team will once again take its former place at the forefront of innovation.

To get back to your curriculum, I have been asked to teach for the paper on Advanced Reading and Writing in English. I worried about this at first since it is a very long time since I have taught, and I feel the old energy and enthusiasm are rapidly fading. But having seen the care with which the syllabus has been designed, I thought I should try to revive my flagging capabilities.

However, I have suggested that the university prescribe a textbook for this course since I think it is essential, if the rounded reading prescribed is to be done, that students should have ready access to a range of material. One of the reasons I began while at the British Council an intensive programme of publications was that students did not read round their texts. If a novel was prescribed, they read that novel and nothing more. If particular poems were prescribed, they read those poems and nothing more. This was especially damaging in the latter case since the more one read of any poet the more one understood what he was expressing.

Though given the short notice I could not prepare anything, I remembered a series of school textbooks I had been asked to prepare about 15 years ago by International Book House for what were termed international schools offering the local syllabus in the English medium. Obviously, the appalling textbooks produced by the Ministry of Education in those days for the rather primitive English syllabus were unsuitable for students with more advanced English. So, I put together more sophisticated readers which proved popular. I was heartened too by a very positive review of these by Dinali Fernando, now at Kelaniya, whose approach to students has always been both sympathetic and practical.

I hope then that, in addition to the texts from the book that I will discuss, students will read other texts in the book. In addition to poetry and fiction the book has texts on politics and history and law and international relations, about which one would hope postgraduate students would want some basic understanding.

Similarly, I do hope whoever teaches about Paradigms in English Education will prescribe a textbook so that students will understand more about what has been going on. Unfortunately, there has been little published about this but at least some students will I think benefit from my book on English and Education: In Search of Equity and Excellence? which Godage & Bros brought out in 2016. And then there was Lakmahal Justified: Taking English to the People, which came out in 2018, though that covers other topics too and only particular chapters will be relevant.

The former book is bulky but I believe it is entertaining as well. So, to conclude I will quote from it, to show what should not be done in Education and English. For instance, it is heartening that you are concerned with ‘social integration, co-existence and intercultural harmony’ and that you want to encourage ‘sensitivity towards different cultural and linguistic identities’. But for heaven’s sake do not do it as the NIE did several years ago in exaggerating differences. In those dark days, they produced textbooks which declared that ‘Muslims are better known as heavy eaters and have introduced many tasty dishes to the country. Watalappam and Buriani are some of these dishes. A distinguished feature of the Muslims is that they sit on the floor and eat food from a single plate to show their brotherhood. They eat string hoppers and hoppers for breakfast. They have rice and curry for lunch and dinner.’ The Sinhalese have ‘three hearty meals a day’ and ‘The ladies wear the saree with a difference and it is called the Kandyan saree’. Conversely, the Tamils ‘who live mainly in the northern and eastern provinces … speak the Tamil language with a heavy accent’ and ‘are a close-knit group with a heavy cultural background’’.

And for heaven’s sake do not train teachers by telling them that ‘Still the traditional ‘Transmission’ and the ‘Transaction’ roles are prevalent in the classroom. Due to the adverse standard of the school leavers, it has become necessary to develop the learning-teaching process. In the ‘Transmission’ role, the student is considered as someone who does not know anything and the teacher transmits knowledge to him or her. This inhibits the development of the student.

In the ‘Transaction’ role, the dialogue that the teacher starts with the students is the initial stage of this (whatever this might be). Thereafter, from the teacher to the class and from the class to the teacher, ideas flow and interaction between student-student too starts afterwards and turns into a dialogue. From known to unknown, simple to complex are initiated and for this to happen, the teacher starts questioning.

And while avoiding such tedious jargon, please make sure their command of the language is better than to produce sentences such as these, or what was seen in an English text, again thankfully several years ago:

Read the story …

Hello! We are going to the zoo. “Do you like to join us” asked Sylvia. “Sorry, I can’t I’m going to the library now. Anyway, have a nice time” bye.

So Syliva went to the zoo with her parents. At the entrance her father bought tickets. First, they went to see the monkeys

She looked at a monkey. It made a funny face and started swinging Sylvia shouted: “He is swinging look now it is hanging from its tail its marvellous”

“Monkey usually do that’

I do hope your students will not hang from their tails as these monkeys do.

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Midweek Review

Little known composers of classical super-hits

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By Satyajith Andradi

 

Quite understandably, the world of classical music is dominated by the brand images of great composers. It is their compositions that we very often hear. Further, it is their life histories that we get to know. In fact, loads of information associated with great names starting with Beethoven, Bach and Mozart has become second nature to classical music aficionados. The classical music industry, comprising impresarios, music publishers, record companies, broadcasters, critics, and scholars, not to mention composers and performers, is largely responsible for this. However, it so happens that classical music lovers are from time to time pleasantly struck by the irresistible charm and beauty of classical pieces, the origins of which are little known, if not through and through obscure. Intriguingly, most of these musical gems happen to be classical super – hits. This article attempts to present some of these famous pieces and their little-known composers.

 

Pachelbel’s Canon in D

The highly popular piece known as Pachelbel’s Canon in D constitutes the first part of Johann Pachelbel’s ‘Canon and Gigue in D major for three violins and basso continuo’. The second part of the work, namely the gigue, is rarely performed. Pachelbel was a German organist and composer. He was born in Nuremburg in 1653, and was held in high esteem during his life time. He held many important musical posts including that of organist of the famed St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. He was the teacher of Bach’s elder brother Johann Christoph. Bach held Pachelbel in high regard, and used his compositions as models during his formative years as a composer. Pachelbel died in Nuremburg in 1706.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D is an intricate piece of contrapuntal music. The melodic phrases played by one voice are strictly imitated by the other voices. Whilst the basso continuo constitutes a basso ostinato, the other three voices subject the original tune to tasteful variation. Although the canon was written for three violins and continuo, its immense popularity has resulted in the adoption of the piece to numerous other combinations of instruments. The music is intensely soothing and uplifting. Understandingly, it is widely played at joyous functions such as weddings.

 

Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary

The hugely popular piece known as ‘Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary’ appeared originally as ‘ The Prince of Denmark’s March’ in Jeremiah Clarke’s book ‘ Choice lessons for the Harpsichord and Spinet’, which was published in 1700 ( Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music ). Sometimes, it has also been erroneously attributed to England’s greatest composer Henry Purcell (1659 – 1695 ) and called ‘Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary (Percy A. Scholes ; Oxford Companion to Music). This brilliant composition is often played at joyous occasions such as weddings and graduation ceremonies. Needless to say, it is a piece of processional music, par excellence. As its name suggests, it is probably best suited for solo trumpet and organ. However, it is often played for different combinations of instruments, with or without solo trumpet. It was composed by the English composer and organist Jeremiah Clarke.

Jeremiah Clarke was born in London in 1670. He was, like his elder contemporary Pachelbel, a musician of great repute during his time, and held important musical posts. He was the organist of London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the composer of the Theatre Royal. He died in London in 1707 due to self – inflicted gun – shot injuries, supposedly resulting from a failed love affair.

 

Albinoni’s Adagio

The full title of the hugely famous piece known as ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’ is ‘Adagio for organ and strings in G minor’. However, due to its enormous popularity, the piece has been arranged for numerous combinations of instruments. It is also rendered as an organ solo. The composition, which epitomizes pathos, is structured as a chaconne with a brooding bass, which reminds of the inevitability and ever presence of death. Nonetheless, there is no trace of despondency in this ethereal music. On the contrary, its intense euphony transcends the feeling of death and calms the soul. The composition has been attributed to the Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671 – 1750), who was a contemporary of Bach and Handel. However, the authorship of the work is shrouded in mystery. Michael Kennedy notes: “The popular Adagio for organ and strings in G minor owes very little to Albinoni, having been constructed from a MS fragment by the twentieth century Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto, whose copyright it is” (Michael Kennedy; Oxford Dictionary of Music).

 

Boccherini’s Minuet

The classical super-hit known as ‘Boccherini’s Minuet’ is quite different from ‘Albinoni’s Adagio’. It is a short piece of absolutely delightful music. It was composed by the Italian cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini. It belongs to his string quintet in E major, Op. 13, No. 5. However, due to its immense popularity, the minuet is performed on different combinations of instruments.

Boccherini was born in Lucca in 1743. He was a contemporary of Haydn and Mozart, and an elder contemporary of Beethoven. He was a prolific composer. His music shows considerable affinity to that of Haydn. He lived in Madrid for a considerable part of his life, and was attached to the royal court of Spain as a chamber composer. Boccherini died in poverty in Madrid in 1805.

Like numerous other souls, I have found immense joy by listening to popular classical pieces like Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio and Boccherini’s Minuet. They have often helped me to unwind and get over the stresses of daily life. Intriguingly, such music has also made me wonder how our world would have been if the likes of Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert had never lived. Surely, the world would have been immeasurably poorer without them. However, in all probability, we would have still had Pachelbel’s Canon in D, Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary, Albinoni’s Adagio, and Boccherini’s Minuet, to cheer us up and uplift our spirits.

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Midweek Review

The Tax Payer and the Tough

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By Lynn Ockersz

The tax owed by him to Caesar,

Leaves our retiree aghast…

How is he to foot this bill,

With the few rupees,

He has scraped together over the months,

In a shrinking savings account,

While the fires in his crumbling hearth,

Come to a sputtering halt?

But in the suave villa next door,

Stands a hulk in shiny black and white,

Over a Member of the August House,

Keeping an eagle eye,

Lest the Rep of great renown,

Be besieged by petitioners,

Crying out for respite,

From worries in a hand-to-mouth life,

But this thought our retiree horrifies:

Aren’t his hard-earned rupees,

Merely fattening Caesar and his cohorts?

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