Published: 19th September 2018
How a Canadian couple set up a school that teaches Hindustani music to rural kids in Dharwad
Why would a couple from Canada want to set up a residential music school in rural Karnataka? Adam from Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya talks about thier journey so far and future plans for the school
Located 16 kilometres away from Dharwad, in a lush green forest, with only mud roads for access, lies Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya — a residential music school that is truly one-of-a-kind in Karnataka. One cannot imagine that there are hundreds of children who come to learn music from different parts of the state in this remote place. Unlike other music schools, this school is open only to children who come from underprivileged families.
Spread across three acres of land, the school is not like those formal ones with concrete classrooms, cupboards, benches and desks. The classrooms are inside small huts, with walls covered with mud and a ceiling layered with red tiles and doors made of bamboo sticks. Children sit on the floor for their lessons. The specialty of these classrooms is that they are named after Indian rivers — Cauvery, Ganga, Yamuna and many more. Similarly, the hostels are named after Hindustani singers. Truly rustic, isn't it?
All smiles: Adam Woodward along with other teachers spending leisure time with children after school hours
Now, this may make you curious about when this school was established and by whom. The answer dates back to 16 years ago. In 2001, Mathieu Fortier, a citizen from Canada flew to India with the zeal to learn more about its rich heritage, culture, languages, Hatha yoga and particularly Hindustani music. During his visit to Varanasi, he and his wife Agathe Meurisse-Fortier, a fine arts student, discovered that Karnataka was the place to be at as far as Hindustani music was concerned.
However, on arriving in Bengaluru, they learnt that it was Dharwad that has been home to many of the famous Hindustani singers like Gangubai Hangal, Sangeetha Katti, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva and Mallikarjun Mansur. In October that year, that they got in touch with Ustad Hameed Khan, who was the then head of the Music Department at the Karnataka College.
KSV has a small hut called 'Bobo House'. Bobo is a French word which means injury. People who have studied medicine come here to volunteer for the school and they treat children for various diseases or injuries. There are still 40 children who need someone to sponsor their education, health, medicine, music and food
Talking about why Mathieu and Khan choose Kalkeri to establish this school, Adam Woodward, Director, Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya says, "My friend Mathieu thought that the opportunity to learn Hindustani music should be given to children who come from poor families because they cannot afford to learn it by paying huge amounts of money. When he spoke about this at Karnataka College, they pointed out that starting this kind of school in the city would be a problem for rural students, because of the distance. Hence, they choose Kalkeri. In 2002, a small piece of land was leased and they started an informal school in a small hut with 12 children and only two teachers. As the word spread, the number of students increased to 40 and many more came from the villages around here to learn music. They would come in the morning to learn music and go back home."
The villagers soon recognised the good work done by the school in educating children who would otherwise not have had access to education. Without a second thought, the villagers came forward and donated three acres of land to the school management so that they could expand. "The founders, along with volunteers, built a residential school with small bedrooms, classrooms and other infrastructure like toilets, a kitchen, a playground, a library, a music gallery and a small office room," he adds. The Canadian founder-couple spend 6 months a year with the kids in Kalkeri and the rest of the time back home.
Playing it right: Based on their interest, some students take up vocal music and the others are trained to play sitar, tabla and harmonium
While it primarily started as a music school, the school teachers and founders also realised that children should not miss out on an academic education. Hence, they introduced classes to teach the state syllabus in Kannada medium and now the children get to study from Classes I to X. "Once the children pass their Class X boards, they can stay with us in the hostel but they have to continue their academic studies in various colleges in Dharwad," Adam explains.
At present, there are over 20 teachers and 200 students of age groups ranging from as young as six to eighteen. With the school's increased focus on teaching music, the students start their day as early as 5.30 am and perform yoga with Adam and other volunteers. After forty-five minutes of yoga, they get ready for music lessons.
Ananya Kundagol, studying in the Class VIII is from Hubballi. She joined this school a year ago and couldn't be more at home. She says, "From 8.30 to 11.20 am, we all have our music classes. Our academic studies start at 11.30 and goes on till 5 pm. We have free time from 5 and 6 pm for tea. From 6 to 7.15 pm, we dabble with the arts. We have various clubs like French, Spanish and Nature clubs. Volunteers who come from different countries come here and teach us different languages. In Nature club, every student has to prepare to speak on different topics related to nature."
Children studying in KSV are very lucky as they get an opportunity to learn music, dance, and drama apart from their academic studies. Apart from vocal music, students also learn to play the sitar, harmonium and tabla. By learning music three hours a day from professional teachers, they become accepted members of the musical lineage of their mentors. Our students also attend music examinations conducted by Karnataka Secondary Education Examination Board and also Gandharva Mahavidyalaya
Adam Woodward, Director, KSV
On Saturdays, like all the other schools, the students here enjoy having half a day off. But the most interesting activity the school has inculcated in them is 'Green Time'. "Every Saturday, we have Green Time which we utilise to take care of plants, trees, and animals in our campus. We plant new saplings and each of us has to look after them. Apart from this, if we find any plastic or any waste in Kalkeri Village, we pick it up and dump it in dustbins," Ananya explains.
Founders' visit: Mathieu Fortier and Agathe Meurisse-Fortier visit the school once in a year to spend time with children and organise school picnics
While the number of students has been increasing every year, gathering funds for their food, medical expenses, and many other needs is becoming a tough task for the management. Santosh Pujar, HR Executive and Fund Raiser for KSV, says, "There are 235 children in our school and although it is residential, we do not charge them a single rupee as they come from very poor backgrounds. The total cost of educating one child for a year is Rs 20,000 and this includes food, health, music, education. At the end of every month, we have to get groceries and also pay salaries to our teachers and people who cook food. Till date, around 195 children have got sponsors but the remaining are yet to get the funding. It will be of a great help even if someone can sponsor three meals a day to these children."
When the work they do is music to our ears, perhaps the least we can do is ensure that their bodies are healthy enough to serve us the food of love!