Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Music. And kids. - Part 2

(I know it's been a while since I put up part 1. As usual, couldn't find the time to edit Part 2.  By the way, this piece became too long and spilled over to a Part 3.. Knowing my great sense of punctuality, I hope to put that up before these musical kids become adults ;) :P )

When I was 5 (and probably for most of my school life), everyone around me hated math. Sadly, I loved it, or worse, was in love with it. By the way, notice I didn't talk about aptitude. I used to think I was good at math until I talked to a real mathematician in grad school and truly understood the phrase "it's greek to me"! Anyway, this star-crossed love for math often put me in a bad spot on friend-group-hierarchies, but more importantly, it surprised my kid-brain a great deal. Here was a subject that needed minimal studying/memorizing effort once you got the idea and I dared not tell reveal this to any soul in school because they seemed to share a singular hatred for it. Of course I hadn't heard of "Damnant quod non intellegunt" at that time.
Like that proverb effectively states, the reason people hated math (and the reason I didn't care too much about music classes) was fear.

In one of my first few music classes (I changed teachers quite a bit, partly because my family moves around every few years), the teacher just opened the contraption called shruti box and said "What shruthi should I keep? 5?" For all you know, I might have thought shruthi (scale) was another synonym for age. As any nice Indian kid was taught to, I politely agreed. Nobody actually told me what an octave was, what pitch meant and how it was different from loudness/volume until we studied high school physics. I know some of these sound too basic to be explained. And they are basic, but not to a 5-year old. And of course, a few years later, I was taking way more advanced lessons and it was too late to ask what pitch meant.

You might argue that Carnatic music, like most traditional Indian arts is taught by the ear- you hang around for sometime and you learn to identify when you are singing out of scale. Fair point. In fact, I even think that music teachers expecting kids to pick up stuff on their own is fine if they would also encourage questions just in case. Did I just say questions? I was in the heart of conservative India.. who am I kidding? Obviously, if you do not know something (even when you are 5) and dare to ask, the teacher would scornfully announce you are not only too stupid , but also too impolite. Lest you think I am exaggerating, one of my music teachers actually lamented to us about how "kids these days" come to music class without even knowing what "mela kartha" means. You can imagine a 5-year old mustering the courage and pointing out to her that it was part of her duties as a teacher to spread that light of knowledge...

Wait.. you say.. that's just a lot of regular Indian-education ranting. After all, if all you wanted to say was that there is no freedom to ask questions in India and people use your lack of knowledge (or your thirst for it) as their own power, why bring up Carnatic music?

And yes, you are right. All of that applies as much to math as to music. But there is more to this tale that might apply to math but is mostly particular to Carnatic music...

(To be completed..)

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