A tanpura inside a stuffed panda is just one of the many innovations SaPa is employing to engage toddlers in Indian classical music and give them an early introduction to this fascinating world. Founded in 2007 by violin maestro Dr L Subramaniam and his wife, the popular singer Kavita Krishnamurthy, SaPa dreams of being a global music hub for youngsters in India.
The clever abbreviation reflects the gaiety the company aims to project to its main target audience - young children. Through school programmes, workshops and special sessions as well as regular weekly classes at its centre in Sanjaynagar, Bengaluru, SaPa wants to make classical music more accessible and less threatening to the younger generation.
"We want to tell them in their language that classical music can be exhilarating: it is a living, breathing entity that can bring a lot of colour into their lives, and is not something that only thathas and ajjis listen to in their spare time,” says Bindu Subramaniam, daughter of the maestro and an accomplished pianist and songwriter herself. Bindu heads SaPa and works along with her brother Ambi to "make music education more holistic.”
Show and tell
As ambitious and noble as their goals sound, I express skepticism about how well it actually works on the ground. Bindu explains to me how it is done. "Our first technique is to not force the music down the throats of little children. We let them walk around and breathe in the atmosphere. We let them meddle with the musical instruments, pick whatever they wish, feel its strings, strum, sing or simply look. We start with simple melodies in Raaga Shankarabharanam, which closely resembles the tunes of popular nursery rhymes, and then slowly we lead them into the foundations of laya and shruthi.”
Bindu says Dr L Subramaniam firmly believes that once a strong foundation is laid in classical music, a student can sing and play any music under the sun. Which is why he has created special technical exercises to suit each level of learning. These include rhythm sessions, group playing, activity-based learning, music appreciation lectures and most excitingly for the students, special workshops by visiting global artistes.
Recently, a series of such special workshops were held in several leading schools in Bengaluru by renowned percussionists G Satya Sai and Satish Pathakota. Satya Sai primarily plays the morsing and holds the Guinness World Record for playing the morsing non-stop for 24 hours 11 minutes at a performance in 2009. Satish, meanwhile, specialises in the kinjara, a hand-held tambourine, and has collaborated with many global artistes, including master percussionist Glen Velez.
Interacting musically with children still in kindergarten was as rare and enriching for the artistes as it must have been for the children. "We had to rearrange our thought process. We were initially wary and first brainstormed on how to have percussion sessions with such young children. What will they understand? Will they be bored? How will we make them sit?” laughed Satish when I asked him about his experience. He told me they had decided to improvise and conduct sessions depending on the children’s reactions. "This felt tougher than improvising musically on stage,” joked Satya Sai.
At the actual sessions in the schools, many surprises awaited them. Satish narrates that in one such school, they began with basic rhythm sessions of taka dhimi taka jhanu and encouraged the kids to clap periodically.
This was a huge hit, so much so that both the percussionists and the children all ended up dancing together. "It was wonderful to see children and their schools respond so positively to the basics of classical music. We did not go there to teach them the intricacies of percussion…that comes much later. How many children have actually seen and touched musical instruments? All we wanted to do was to let them know that magic can be created with instruments; music can be fashioned from these and one day, they could too, if they so wished,” says Satish.
The children were so enthused that in many schools they lined up to just feel the kinjara or try to play the morsing. "It was rewarding and educative for us,” says Satya Sai and expressed regret that so little importance is given to professional music education in our school curriculum. He expressed hope that schools of the future will be more open to making music a regular part of the syllabus and not relegate it to an odd music class or two, or an occasional workshop.
Bindu seconds his opinion. "We are always trying to convince schools that classical music is not just a hobby but also a great tool for cognitive development and a deeper understanding of world culture. It is a long journey of learning and persuasion, but we have strapped our bags,” she smiles. A journey certainly worth going on. Even if it means taking along a few musical pandas and teddy bears.
First published in Sunday Herald on
18 December 2016. Read it here: http://m.deccanherald.com/section.php?url=/content/587144/music-young-ones.html&secid=48&p=1