Author and storyteller Shyama Panikkar takes children on a hopscotch game of music

Storyteller and author Shyama Panikkar seeks to address the gaps in Indian classical music education for children through her books and music enrichment programme

Published - April 04, 2022 09:00 pm IST

Author and storyteller Shyama Panikkar, founder of Sur, Taal Aur Masti

Author and storyteller Shyama Panikkar, founder of Sur, Taal Aur Masti | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

"Music and maths have an unbreakable bond. A song is a melody, composed into a rhythm pattern. Understanding beats and the maths behind beats is very essential in music education," says Shyama Panikkar, author and storyteller. 

The Mumbai-based artiste recently hosted an online musical storytelling session narrating her recently launched book Bounce, Hop, Raaga Pop. The event was held as a part of an initiative by Librarypreneurs of India to raise funds for a community library in Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh.  

Trained in Carnatic and Hindustani classical music, Shyama realised the gaps in music education for preschoolers when she could not find any age-appropriate book for her three-year-old son to introduce him to Indian classical music. "I knew I had to change that," says Shyama. This led to her first book A Musical Road Trip in 2020. It is a story which takes the readers through the origin of the seven notes of Indian music and their significance. "Ancient music literature written during Vedic times mentions that the notes are derived from animal and bird sounds. This information would never be available to children. So I made it into a book," says Shyama. 

Her second book that was launched in January this year narrates a story about children and their discovery of music through the popular maths game of hopscotch. What follows is a game of making musical patterns with an orchestra of bouncing balls, squawking parrots, cycle bells and anklets. 

"The main objective is to break the perception that classical music is dull and difficult. The book aims to show how music and maths are related and a simple game of hopscotch can be thoroughly enjoyable while singing and jumping through the chart," says Shyama.

In her endeavour to make the learning experience of classical music interactive and fun, Shyama has been running an Indian music enrichment programme ‘Sur Taal Aur Masti’ for the past three years. The pandemic came as an opportunity to reach out to children across the shores when she started taking the classes in the online platform. “The pandemic has been physically and mentally draining for the children. Music, I feel, is a great source of calm and positive energy for children,” says Shyama. 

Author and storyteller Shyama Panikkar, founder of Sur, Taal Aur Masti, during a session with kids

Author and storyteller Shyama Panikkar, founder of Sur, Taal Aur Masti, during a session with kids | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A telecommunications engineer and a management graduate, Shyama was always fascinated with music. So much so, that she quit her corporate professional career to take up music as a full-time occupation. "The relationship between music and math has truly intrigued me. Even in my classes, I highlight the mathematical elements to the kids along with the creative elements. I encourage kids to make their own tunes as well,"  says Shyama.

“They first decide on a rhythm structure, put notes into the structure to make a melody and then add their own words. It is an exercise with a lot of creative and intellectual benefits.” To keep the lessons engaging and experiential, Shyama brings all kinds of props to explain to children that music is versatile. “We use kitchen utensils, shakers, spoons and all kinds of metals to demonstrate that music is everywhere,” she says. Shyama also incorporates other forms of art in her music lessons. In one of her online classes, the children learnt a thumri in Raag Hamir. The thumri described the beauty of Radha in Krishna’s eyes. “At the end, the children where asked to make the image that came to their minds and they made their own versions of the Radha on paper,” recalls Shyama.

She feels that Indian classical music is often under-appreciated in early childhood years with most children introduced to western nursery rhymes and children’s songs. “Kids grow up listening to and singing ‘Wheels on the Bus’ and ‘Baby Shark’. But Indian music is considered complicated and boring.” According to her, making learning interactive and introducing children to books on music with colourful illustrations and a storyline works as an effective medium to inculcate musical interest in kids and a curiosity to learn. 

Shyama takes online music lessons and can be contacted at her Instagram page @surtaalmasti

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