An account of Baithak’s workshop for iTeach teachers and staff – written by Gouri Bhandarkar
iTeach has been Baithak’s partner since its inception. It has always encouraged Baithak to run pilots of various programs, experiment with new concepts, and thus, it has greatly supported the idea of providing children exposure and access to Indian Classical Music (ICM). iTeach is also privileged to have teachers who love what they do. Teachers at iTeach are often looking for inspiration to find ways to enhance their teaching skills and strategies, thus transferring their enthusiasm and love for learning to their students.
In the academic year 2018-19, Baithak’s @ Classes program will be run at three iTeach schools. Baithak was also recently requested to organise a small lecture demonstration for all its staff and teachers. Though some of the staff members and teachers are aware of the ‘WHY’ behind Baithak’s work, this was indeed a wonderful opportunity to introduce Indian Classical Music and its multiple benefits to the teachers. Baithak hoped that the session would raise awareness about Indian Classical Music, its current state, its benefits and the joy of knowing this highly developed system of exploring and enjoying the element of sound.
After a long and tiring day, the teachers settled down in a small classroom of the Babu Jagjeevan Ram School in Yerwada. As a conversation starter, Mandar, the main facilitator for the day, asked the participants to mention one word that came to their minds when they thought about ‘Indian Classical Music’. In order to let their true feelings come out, he also mentioned that it would be fine if they said things like ‘boring’ or ‘slow’; no answer was to be judged as right or wrong. Participants immediately began saying – ‘peace’, ‘calm’, ‘technical’, ‘difficult’, ‘culture’, ‘soothing’, etc. Requesting the audience to keep their personal descriptions of Indian Classical Music in mind, Mandar sang Raga Bhoop. As the piece ended, there was silence for a few seconds, as if everyone was trying to soak in the melody that had lasted for a shorter while than expected. Calling the attention of everyone back to the words they had used to describe ICM, Mandar asked if they would still like to stick to their prior descriptions. This discussion left everyone thinking about their biases and judgements about ICM.
Then a teacher asked “Music, we agree is important and meaningful, But why classical music?” Another teacher questioned “Aren’t the pieces too lengthy, too sophisticated, too overwhelming and way too difficult to understand?”
Mandar patiently heard the teachers out and then put them at ease with a simple analogy. He explained that musical notes are similar to colours in a paint box. Once you are exposed to colours, the different varieties like oils, acrylics and pastels, the combinations you create when you mix them in your palette, the lines, the strokes and the various techniques you can use, you are well equipped to create a painting. How challenging can it be then, if you would like to choose to paint a child’s bedroom, or to decide when painting on a canvas, what kind of strokes you’d like to give a landscape with mountains?
The same applies to Indian Classical Music. A raga/classical melody can be simply interpreted as that which colours the mind. Once you have an understanding of the basic notes-swaras, the rhythm- taal, the speed-laya, the framework–raga, the lyrics- sahitya, the embellishments -meend, khatka, gamak, one can use this knowledge to enjoy the music during a performance, and one can also share that joy and perhaps leave its transforming influence on listeners.
More importantly, music is also like story telling. No matter how much you learn the technicalities and how much you practice, a musician must have a story to tell. This is similar to speaking a language – you may know the grammar and be skilled to use ornamental language but if you don’t have a story to write, what you write will just be gibberish. Also to understand a story, you don’t generally need to know the grammar. In the same manner, to enjoy music, you need not know the technicalities.
Importance of Indian Classical Music:
Dakshayani added that classical music has a certain peaceful and tranquillising effect even if one is not listening to it with full concentration and it is only being played in the background. It goes on to becoming more of an inward journey for the listener and also for the artiste who is rendering it. She stressed on the fact that, now, more than ever, children need to be exposed to classical music. They are surrounded by constant stimulation and distractions that are lowering their attention spans and making them grow into aggressive human beings. They are also losing their connect with nature. Classical music, as innumerable studies have shown, has an effect of calming the mind besides enhancing development and creativity. A child’s aesthetic tastes form very early and thus exposing children to the arts is key to creating a sensitive and joyful generation.
As the teachers got a chance to share their initial thoughts on classical music, Dakshayani went on to point out that it is also very important to let kids, as early as possible, develop and build the ability to focus. She added that it is not unusual for kids not to love classical music instantly. A teacher, who understands how valuable this music is for the child, will ensure that it finds its way back into the unwilling child’s life. All that is needed is a pair of ears and an open mind, which a child already has. Until a child doesn’t get enough exposure or hasn’t taken the time to listen to several pieces, he or she will not be in a position to make a comment or form the right opinion about it. Thus, along with learning to understand classical music, the child is also building two important life skills: one, to remain focused at a task and two, that of perseverance.
So how does a teacher who has attended a Baithak workshop on Indian classical music take this into his or her classroom? Teachers and educators who are exposed to classical music through the workshop can use it creatively. Classical music can become the core of a history lesson, or be played at a low volume during math problem solving, or a particular piece can be used to signal transition timings from one activity to another.
Impact of Indian Classical Music:
As the workshop progressed, the teachers wanted to know more, hear more! Mandar happily obliged and went on to sing a bandish in Raga Bageshree, following which a teacher requested him to sing Raga Yaman. Accompanying him on the tabla was Rohan Chinchore. As Mandar indulged the teachers with the different ragas, they got comfortable and felt relaxed. One teacher sprawled out his legs to relieve the tiredness of the day and to enjoy the music, another pulled out her doodle book and started to colour, enjoying the music in the background. A couple of them swayed to the melody and one enthusiastic teacher even tried to catch the taal playing on the tabla!
Imagine this scene happening in a classroom: the children soothed by soft music being played in the background; how easy it would then be for a teacher to introduce a new concept to their relaxed minds!
As the old adage goes, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. The workshop proved that classical music has a calming influence. In fact, Music is so influential on the brain that the type of music you listen to actually has the ability to change the way you think and look at the world. The workshop also provided an opportunity to discuss the myths and fears that surround ICM.
All that Baithak Foundation wants to do is to give children a chance to love classical music. The rest will follow.