Published: 08th November 2018
Through the concept of personifying music, these two music composers are teaching music to school children in India
Trying to introduce Indian classical music to the younger generation is this musically-gifted husband-wife duo, they have formed a platform called Sangeet 4 All. We talk to them to find out more
Although we say that music is an important part of India's culture and tradition, how many of us really know about the intricacies of Indian classical music? Thanks to our education system, where only subjects like English, Math or Science are considered important in shaping our careers, we are hardly exposed to music or dance as part of our curriculum. But hoping to change this is a husband-wife duo, Saskia Rao-de Haas and Subhendra Rao, who set up an organisation named Sangeet 4 All to promote their belief that learning music is the birthright of every child.
Saskia, a highly-skilled cellist and Subhendra, a famous sitarist started Sangeet 4 All in 2014 to provide children with access to high-quality music education right from the age of 7 or 8. To this end, Saskia and her team of seven youngsters (all from musical backgrounds) have designed books and games that will teach children about Indian classical music in the form of stories. But hold on a minute! How does someone from the Netherlands know so much about Indian classical music? Saskia's love for classical music is extraordinary. She has been trained by several music teachers in India and Amsterdam, including renowned flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia.
Life of musicians: While Subhendra Rao plays Sitar, his wife Saskia is a famous cellist. They have performed together in various shows across the globe
With a master's degree in Ethnomusicology from the University of Amsterdam, Saskia had observed that most countries had books and research journals to teach school-going children about the music of their own land. But India did not have any such resources. "When I came to India, I did not find any books or journals for Indian school children that can teach them about this land's music. That is when I felt that I must design an Indian classical music curriculum and introduce it in as many schools as I can. We need to rethink our approach to suit children of this time and age. This way, we can connect them to their roots and that can give them a sense of identity," says Saskia.
Unlike most other music teachers, Saskia did not advocate for 8 hours of practice every day. She believes that learning music should be made fun for children or else they will get bored of it. Spending no less than ten years to put together her ideas and bring them out in the form of books, she says, "I wanted to design the curriculum and content in a way that will interest children. It took a long time for me, my husband and our team to come out with these books and get them published as well because we wanted the best." True to her words, the books she has written develops curiosity and interest in both children and adults.
We want to make a difference by rooting children to Indian music. Once they are introduced to it, they have a world of music to learn from. I consider this work a movement towards contributing for Indian classical music
Subhendra Rao, Co-founder, Sangeet 4 All
Till date, Saskia and her team have launched seven such books. All of them are about Indian classical music, covering ragas and talas and introducing musical instruments. But it doesn't stop with that. "Every Indian state has its own type of folk music. What if we only introduce children to Indian classical and fail to introduce them to folk music? It will lead to incomplete exposure," says Saskia, who has also designed a book on the folk music of India. "My new book includes detailed information on folk music from Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and many other states," she adds.
Much to her surprise, when she approached various schools in urban and rural areas of Punjab, Delhi and Ahmedabad, they welcomed the initiative. At present, around 20 schools have partnered with Sangeet 4 All and more than 10,000 kids have benefitted from it. "Whenever we introduce our curriculum to new schools, we train the teachers on how to use our material. It's an on-the-job training where we demonstrate how to tell these music stories engagingly and how it helps children improve their listening and coordinating skills. We also provide them with specialised workshops for our books. While Swartarang talks about the musical instrument specially designed for children by Saskia, Bansi talks about a flute and his friends in the musical world," she explains.
Sangeet 4 All has divided their resources into two different categories — classroom resources and student resources. Things like games, flashcards, song recordings, posters and instruments are a part of classroom resources, while activity books, music literacy books and a bansi (flute) are the student resources
According to Saskia, music is not just for entertainment. She says, "It also helps children develop good memory and emotions, inter-cultural studies, improve reading and learning skills, hearing rhythms and responding to it, and concentration. Music is much more than a collection of sounds. We are just personifying music and bringing it closer to children."