China seems to be the only country in the region with a well-developed infrastructure for an education in music.
ISME, the International Society for Music Education held its first South Asia Regional Conference in Bengaluru, hosted by the prestigious National Institute of Advanced Studies. Co organisers were SaPa, the Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts set up by Dr L. Subramaniam, and Harmony, The Music School.
This was certainly a great initiative, but the conference brought out the woefully inadequate facilities for music education in all the countries of the region that participated — India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh. China seems to be the only country in the region with a well-developed infrastructure for an education in music, which is of course confined to western classical or Chinese music. Despite the entire region being so rich musically, it is sad that music as a career is not treated seriously. In India, a country with a billion plus people, there are very few Universities that offer Music as a subject to be taken up later as a career option; there are so few colleges devoted to Music, Bhatkhande in Lucknow, Goa University, Vishwa Bharati, Kolkata and Khairagarh University, amongst others, being the exceptions rather than the norm.
Perhaps this was why there was no participation at the government level at all — neither Central nor state. One would have hoped for speakers giving the government perspective, as well as decision makers participating as the audience.
The keynote speakers were Professor Higgins from UK, current president of ISME, Prof Graham Welch from UK, Professor Margaret Barrett from Australia, Prof Baldev Raj, director National Institute of Advanced Studies Bangalore, and internationally renowned artistes Bombay Jayashri and Ricky Kej. Erudite talks by guests of honour Dr T.S. Satyavathi and Padma Bhushan Prof V.S. Ramamurthy, though not related to the subject of music education were illuminating. Prof Baldev Raj put music into its correct context “70 years of being linked with science and technology made me realise there is more to Life, and that the Arts are equally important.” Prof Lee Higgins succinctly put it “Music differentiates us from other species”.
Dr Satyavathi, a Sankrit scholar and musician who has done her doctorate on an illuminating 12th century treatise on music in Sanskrit, in her Inaugural speech, established what music meant in an Indian context - Music is not to entertain, but to uplift us from the mundane. In India, from womb to tomb, music has had a role to play in our lives, and this has been so from time immemorial. Music enables 3 emotions – “druthi” (enabling our emotions to be released) “deepti” (energizing our emotions) and “shanti” (bringing about peace). In India the study of classical music is in transition, moving from personalised teaching to institutionalized teaching; this brings about both opportunities and challenges, she said.
The two and a half day intensive talks by various educators and stake holders brought out the importance of music in one’s life, at every level. From bringing down stress levels in day to day life, to medically helping children in the autism spectrum, the importance of music was spelt out in a series of talks by various speakers, as diverse as Dr Kirthana Kunikullaya, and Sharmin Sultana Sumi of the leading pop band from Bangladesh Chirkutt. Dr Graham Welch made the fascinating point “the architecture of the brain enables it to keep absorbing and learning, so music can make changes in the brain cells, and can be therapeutic.”
Other topics discussed were the techniques of teaching children specially, by speakers including Solveig Korum from Norway, Heidi Westurlund, Danielle Treacy and Vilma Timolen from Finland, Kieran Hurley and Andrew Beck from Australia, Maria Carter from United Arab Emirates, Maud Van de Worp from the Netherlands and Alice Bowmer from UK. Amongst other points made, a fascinating one was that studies revealed that exposing dyslexic children to rhythm actually helped them to read.
The Indian experience was talked about by Sandra Oberoi, Kanchana S Shrutiranjani, Bindu Subramaniam and violinist Ambi Subramaniam. Speakers from Sri Lanka, Nepal and China spoke about the ground realities of the issue in their own countries.
The importance of archiving our musical traditions, classical and non classical, were highlighted by Dr Vikram Sampath, and P.P. Sneha.
One of the areas of focus of the conference was how music can help children with autism – Smt Bombay Jayashri spoke of the experiences with children through the trust she has set up, Hitham, which has been working in the interiors of Tamil Nadu for many years.
Her emotion filled description of her experiences with children brought out the necessity for much more work needing to be done in the field. Dr Pratibha Karanth also spoke on the subject, and a workshop conducted by Deepa Krishnamurthy of the Tamahar Trust was revealing.
Ricky Kej, Grammy Awardee, revealed his core interest in the environment, through his music and music videos; the visual imagery of the Ganges under threat as part of the music video he screened was poignant. He spoke of his own experience in wanting to pursue a career in music, and finding no avenues at all.
What finally emerged after this intense sharing of thoughts from players across the globe, was the urgent need for a plan of action to bring about a comprehensive system of Music education in the region. The importance of India can be gauged from the fact that this is the 3rd event by ISME in India.
A 2nd Conference on the subject will be held in Kathmandu in 2019.