Baithak Foundation Annual Report 2018-19

The Annual Report 2018-19 contains details of all the initiatives undertaken by Baithak in the last financial year. It highlights the reach of our programs and the impact of the work. We thank everyone for generous support and encouragement! Please feel free to reach out to us if you wish to have a conversation about the report. Click on the link below to read the full report.

Baithak Foundation Annual Report 2018-19

The Joy Is Yours : Glimpses from an Indian Classical Music Appreciation Session

An account of Baithak’s workshop for iTeach teachers and staff

Background: 

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.

The Session: 

 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.

Indian Classical Music Appreciation session

Engrossed in Music

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!

Teachers exploring the instruments

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.

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Teaching Indian Classical Music to Kids : Some Insights from our recent workshop in Pune

Teachers who try to teach Indian Classical Music to kids, especially to the ones below the age of 10 to 12 years, find it difficult to keep the kids motivated and engaged. It is a common experience that after a few months of training, the kids get bored with just singing Sa, Re, Ga, Ma and eventually stop coming to the classes.

Baithak Foundation has been working with schools, construction sites and other venues and we keep experimenting all the time; just to find out how can Indian Classical Music be made interesting, engaging and enriching for kids at the same time. Recently, we happened to do a workshop at a stud farm for the kids of the staff working there. We consider ourselves extremely fortunate that we got an opportunity to teach Indian Classical Music to a bunch of 20 cheerful kids in the lap of nature. Here are some interesting thoughts and insights that could be used by anyone who wants to teach Indian Classical Music to kids as well as adults.

 

Make it short, make it rich.

Attention spans are going down sharply not only for kids but also for adults. While it takes a very long time to get even basic understanding of this art form, one has to ensure that one activity does not go on for a very long time. Just as an example, if you make kids sing Alankars for more than 15 minutes, they will be done with it. Instead, one could make them sing for ten minutes followed by some breathing exercise or physical activity for five minutes which will again be followed by singing practice.  It is very important to note that one needs a healthy body (SuSharir) for singing properly and hence, I would say it is responsibility of the music teacher to know and teach some basic physical activities to the kids. This will also solve the problem of short attention spans. Our music, Sangeet comprises of Gayan, Vadan and Nrutya (vocal, instrumental and dance) For young kids, it would be very helpful if along with their primary field, they are taught basics of other branches as well.

A ten minutes Djembe round in between Alankar practice kept students engaged.

For instances, for kids who are primarily learning vocals, teaching them basic rhythms or body movements will make the learning process more fun and will also enhance their musical expression significantly.

 

The kids are smart, always!

Instead of telling kids certain best practices just as ‘rules’, try explaining logic behind them. The young generation is very sharp and can easily grasp the concepts which other wise are taught as ‘parampara‘. For example, one of the most frequently asked questions from kids is why classical musicians are always doing ‘aaaaa’ (the Akar). At the workshop at the stud farm, when we were asked this question, I related it with drawing. If a sketch is drawn with shaky hands, how would it look? I asked the kids. They themselves told me the importance of swift, graceful and steady lines in sketching. Then I related Akar to the gracefulness in the lines. We also made them sing without maintaining constant profile of Akar and they got the point in two minutes.

Many times, we assume that many concepts in our traditional art form (like Raga, Alap, Laya) are very complex and cannot be understood by kids or novices and hence, we burden them with lot of jargon and theory. Kids and people in general are quite smart and explaining logic behind all the activities will certainly boost their participation and interest levels.

 

Take it close to nature.

Our music is inspired from nature and nature is what enriches it. In the workshop, when it came to explaining the concept of Laya (tempo) to kids, we just asked them to sit silently with their eyes closed and asked them to listen to as many sounds as they could. While discussing the difference between the way crows, sparrows, parrots and horses sounded, kids could themselves tell the difference between the Laya of sounds that these creatures made. Now our job was just telling them names of different Layas. They had understood the concept just by listening.

 

Poorva Shah taught kids basics of Kathak amidst trees and birds.

Dr. Poorva Shah, Kathak dancer and the facilitator who graciously agreed to come and take a session on dance, made the kids stand in front of gigantic trees and asked them to move their hands as if they were painting the trees. What an innovative and fun way of teaching hand and wrist movements to kids.

 

Make it a mix of learning and performance.

Kids naturally love presenting more than learning. Why don’t we use that positively to foster their learning? While teaching a song to kids, as soon as we told them that they had to sing it for a few visitors on the last day of the workshop, their involvement and interest simply doubled. We also invited a few artists to the workshop and organized a small performance. Kids simply loved it.

 

Ninad Daithankar reciting Santoor for kids, accompanied by Rohan Chinchore on Tabla.

Observing a performer from a close distance also makes kids aware of the long, long way that is still unconquered. The posture, the confidence, the stability and Sahajata of the artist certainly touch the kids.

While this list is not at all exhaustive, as one starts following some of the practices mentioned above, more will pop up intuitively. For me, personally, it was heartening to see that at the end of five days, kids could listen to Tanpura and sing Sa properly. At all the locations where we work, kids are always interested and want more music. As far as teaching Indian Classical Music is concerned, a lot of change is required in teaching methodologies. We are glad that Baithak is getting avenues to work with kids and take Indian Classical Music to them without making it boring and complex.