After a moment of deafening silence, the expectant air gently but rhythmically grew heavy with applause that filled the room like rainfall.
And then, there was music. Songs by Bharathiyar, Lalgudi Jayaraman, V.V. Sadagopan and Rabindranath Tagore rolled off young students’ tongues effortlessly; it didn’t seem to matter that several had stepped on to a stage to sing for the first time.
Right in the centre of the group was S. Swathi, a class V student of Chennai Primary School, Easwaran Koil Street. With her hair coiled up in a bundle and her gaze unwavering, she confidently sang Himero Raate by Tagore. From now on, Swathi and her friend M. Farida Begum, students of the school, will not just study, eat, and discuss math problems together, but also sing together at school.
The performance by The Rhapsody Children’s Choir along with students from Chennai Schools was only the beginning of the Music Literacy Project, the brainchild of Sriram V. Ayer of Nalanda Way and musician and founder of Rhapsody, Anil Srinivasan. The project has already taken a structured music curriculum to 45 schools in the city over the past two years. This year, it is being introduced in ten Chennai Schools, said T.N. Venkatesh, joint commissioner (education), Chennai Corporation.
“It is a specially designed curriculum that looks at tapping children’s cognitive and empathy skills, among others. Some children react to music by writing an essay, some through a painting,” said Anil, adding, “Initially it was a very classical-heavy syllabus. Now it embraces folk and contemporary music as well as indigenous instruments such as the Iktara,” he said.
The idea, said Sudha Raja, principal faculty, Rhapsody, is to use music as a tool for transformation. It also offers tremendous scope to make the understanding of concepts easier. “For a four-year old a square is just a shape. For instance, the concept of a square can be taught through music, through ta ka di mi. The child associates it with the four corners, learns the number four and also learns music,” she said.
Training for music teachers of Chennai Schools would be done four times a year through 20-hour modules apart from classroom teaching by some of the trainers, said Anil.
Initially, they would be focussing on classes I-V, said Sriram, whose Nalanda Way has been imparting arts education in select Chennai Schools for the past two years.
Musician Vedanth Bharadwaj played the guitar at the concert.