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SITAR Initiative

The hills were alive to the sound of music! For 4 days from August 16th to 19th, seven musician- teachers from the Temple of Fine Arts (Shivanjali), Coimbatore, under the auspices of the INTACH chapter of Kodaikanal, undertook to initiate student members of INTACH’s Heritage Clubs  into the ‘world of Indian music’.  This is (we hope) the beginning of the SITAR (Shivanjali INTACH Teach A Raga) Initiative!

The musician-teachers brought up with them an assortment of string, percussion & wind instruments like the veena, violin, sitar, guitars, tablas, mridangam, pakhwan, harmonium and a few more.  The idea was to introduce the children in an inter-active manner to Indian music & instruments via a series of workshops. Each workshop, with between 20 -45 students, started with a theoretical cum vocal introduction. This responsibility lay with a young lady who kept her young students thoroughly engrossed & participating. In fact, all the teachers had this great ability to keep the attention of all the students. Each musician explained his/her instrument in great detail & played on it too.

Lalitha began the session by asking the children about the various sounds they hear every day & asked them to identify which were pleasant & which were harsh sounds. The kids were rather enthusiastic in their responses. Through this, they were made aware of the different sounds they hear. She then sang two notes in two diff. tones………some children could tell that one set of notes sounded happy & the other sad.  She took them through various nuances of music to which the children listened with rapt attention. Then Lalitha and Tara, the veena teacher, demonstrated the difference between Hindustani and Carnatic music styles; how the same raga has a different name and is sung differently in each style. Tara then went on to talk about the veena-it’s beginnings, the way it is built and the material and the workings of the many strings.  Continuing on the strings was Lavanya with her violin. This instrument, she explained, was an European one but has been embraced by both Hindustani and Carnatic musicians a few centuries ago. But the way it is held in India is different from that of the West. Kedarji (the Guru) played the sitar and talked about it. The children learnt to tell the difference between sounds of different string instruments.

Guruji got the children to sing sa-re-ga-ma along with him while playing the notes on the harmonium and explained the workings of the wind instrument. Next in line was the tabla with Augustine playing, and both, him and Kedarji   explaining  various aspects of the tabla; like it is two drums with single heads unlike the mridangan or pakhawaj which are one but with two heads, one at either end of the instrument. Each of the instruments, when played, had a sound very different for the others. Rhythm is kept by the table for all the other instruments as well as for vocal music but it can also be played solo.

To end the session were the guitar players, Anand and Sridhar, who talked about the origins of the guitar and the different varieties of the instrument as also the construction of the guitar. They explained that although the guitar is essentially a European instrument it is now used in Indian music both, classical as well as light. They wrapped up playing a song from the Satya film ' Varnam Iram', "Nenjukkul......." which the children sang gustily!! The workshops were all repetitive but the musicians handled each school in the manner they saw fit.

The responsiveness of the children was absolutely amazing. We began the workshops with the P.U.M. school at Vadakavunji, a pretty little hamlet in the middle Palani range. It was so touching to see the enthusiasm of these children who surprised us by saying that they’d seen a couple of the instruments on TV and one or two even knew who the exponents of the instrument! We went into their lunch time but that didn’t seem to bother them……their attention was focussed on the musicians. And this after two concentrated hours! (each session was  at least of this length). The afternoon became quite an adventure as it was pouring by the time we got to KCS ( rather late) But the children were all there and waiting……..little ones to older ones and after an initial ‘quiet time’ they too started responding.

Day 2 and it was Satya Surabhi where although the children are from the villages nearby, they have had an introduction to music and have seen pictures of many Indian instruments and were smart enough to be able to recognise them in ‘real life’! . The children here were so eager to learn and curious that they asked many questions. They also shared with the musicians their own little knowledge………playing songs on the keyboard. Impressive! The afternoon was spent at Sri Sankara school where again the children listened attentively.

On day 3 we went to Bhavans   Vidyashram where on a request from the Principal, the Shivanjali group opened with ‘Swagatam’ by Pandit Ravi Shankar. The hall was full of children, about 120, for the initial part of the workshop but was later cut down to half the number. There was a good amount of participation and two children sang for the musicians too. Very  enthusiastic! The afternoon session was at St.Xaviers and we were all very impressed as the girls had notebooks with them and were jotting down points all the way! We had asked for write-ups from students as ‘feed back’ on the workshops and this schools has already submitted 30.

St. Thomas and C.S.I. Packiapuram had a joint session on day 4. Although most of them had never seen most of the instruments they were quick to grasp the knowledge presented to them. It is quite amazing how well children have responded to and participated in all the workshops. Kedarji’s dream is to take music to even more rural areas and we will work towards this. We hope to continue this initiative and you never know, there may just be another Rahman or Zakir Hussain or a Ravi Shankar amongst us!

We have now decided to take the SITAR Initiative to the next level. The Shivanjali musicians have agreed to take this forward in January 2011.  For the next stage we will shortlist 5 students from the 8 schools that participated in the first round of workshops. These children will be divided into smaller groups of about 5 each depending on the instrument/vocal that they would like to learn. It will be a one-day intensive course for the group of 5 with one teacher. During this session, the musicians will spot the children with real talent and will invite them, along with a parent, to spend a week at the Temple of Fine Arts, Coimbatore, during the summer holidays.

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