This incident happened many years ago when I used to have a small teaching practice for children at home. As a side occupation to my music education, I would take classes for adults and children alike who wanted to learn classical music. Most of the time, the children didn’t quite make the choice to commence learning classical music by themselves. They would be thrust into learning by their eager mothers who dreamt of somehow steering their kids away from the over-Westernised milieu. The kids would land up grudgingly to learn what they thought would be ‘boring’ music, especially when compared to Bollywood or light songs that they otherwise liked to sway to.
It was one such day when the usual batch of five-year-olds came for their session, giggling and squealing away and trying hard to convince me that jumping on the sofa would be a much better idea than teaching music. I sat for a few minutes wondering how I would be able to do justice to the fees I was charging the parents. Then I decided to simply sit with my harmonium and play the Aaron-Avroh of Raag Yaman. As I did that repeatedly, the squeals became less frequent and turned into curiosity. And then into intent attention. After a few minutes, one of the children looked at my face and after a few minutes of intently listening to the Yaman piece said ‘Aunty, this is beautiful!’ I was stunned. And heartened to say the least. It was the first of many such powerful testaments I was to receive on how classical music can penetrate children in such an easy organic way.
Children are pure-hearted and honest. So is classical music. Despite its reputation as complex and intricate, the essence of classical music is actually simple and pure, and therefore very easy for a child to sense and emote to. This, in fact, maybe something we all can easily use to help our children navigate the gamut of raw emotions they feel through their early childhood right up to teen years. Just as classical music can help even a musically uninitiated adult to feel calmer and happier.
But as a professional musician and educator, there is a disappointing trend I see among some classical music educators. I see in some of them a lot of reluctance to teach children and the uninitiated lay person. In fact, I remember a very saddening incident when a music professor called her musically challenged students ‘kachra’, or garbage, while openly envying another professor whose class supposedly had all the ‘gifted’ ones. Young children, or even the so called musically ‘challenged’ adults who are lay persons, are not incapable of understanding or appreciating classical music. They just need the right environment of inspiration and encouragement to nudge them to see the awesome beauty of classical music. Most children or uninitiated adults are put off by the often stern, judgemental and condescending attitude of some classical music educators. An educator needs to have patience to sit with a restless child to allow music to soothe and calm her, and compassion to teach a novice adult. Many educators want students who can bring them pride and fame, while actually music should bring peace, happiness and fulfilment to anyone who wants it.
If as classical musicians we can understand this and bring more sensitivity and humility to our practice, we can expand our musical reach to include almost all of humanity. The talented and the novices. The child and the adult. The old and the young. The sad and the happy.
Not only will we be doing humanity a great service but we will be doing ourselves a great service too. By growing our audience, by bringing more employment to musicians and widening their avenues of remuneration. We will also be soothing hearts and bringing peace to thousands who might have been excluded from the fold of classical music because they are intimidated by it. The satisfaction and fulfilment that comes from achieving such a feat is for all of us to enjoy.
Classical music is and should be for everyone. Who are we to be gatekeepers to decide who should learn and who shouldn’t? We should just be privileged to be gifted with an opportunity to just swim in the ocean of Ragas. We should feel even more privileged to be in a position where we are able to influence the lives of people who we teach or who we perform for. It is a gift to be cherished, and a responsibility to be fulfilled with integrity and humility.
It is time classical musicians open their doors for everyone—the initiated or the lay child or adult. Music is a gift from God. Like nature, it is meant to be enjoyed by every single being on earth. Classical Music is for everyone.
The writer is a vocalist of both Hindustani and Carnatic Classical music, with over three decades’ experience. She is also the founder of Music Vruksh, a venture to make classical accessible for its aesthetic and wellness benefits.
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