Monday, August 18, 2014

Music. And kids. - Part 3

(Continued from Part 2. Part 1 here.)

The reason most kids enjoy taking classes for a skill or a sport more than they enjoy school is because the rewards are quicker. Education seems pointless to most kids because it involves a great deal of effort for 10-12 years but does not seem to produce anything more substantial than smiling parents during that time. Winning a match or giving a good performance in front of people (even if they are just your neighbours) gives a sense of achievement.The problem for Carnatic music, of course, is that it is as much of a long-term penance as school education. With 6 months of cricket coaching, one would start playing small matches. With 6 months on an instrument like the guitar, one can play "Nenjukulle" when family friends visit. In comparison, Carnatic music is an anti-climax. In 6 months, one learns multiple combinations of SaRiGaMaPaDaNiSa on different scales and some geethams, which sadly do not even qualify as thukkadas in concerts. Any Tambrahm kid can tell you there is no applause for singing "Sree gananaadha".. in fact, the visiting maami/maama is bound to interrupt you during the anupallavi and ask their eldest son to sing a good pancharatna keerthanai preluded by a solid alapanai.

Oh, that reminds me. Most maamis/maamas would not condescend to making corrections in a film song. (In fact, I know some who would not even listen to light devotional music- "Too populist, I say"). But no self-respecting musical Tambrahm would desist the from making the most minute corrections in the Carnatic song a kid is singing. This, even if their own voices are no longer functional or they have forgotten most of the song and/or they have lost touch. The younger the kid, the more emphatic the corrections. I remember protesting to someone once with a feeble "But this is how our paatu miss taught us" and was snapped back with a stern "Unga paatu missku onnume theriyaadu". Of course, I was smart enough not to repeat that statement anywhere around said paatu miss.

Anyway, the point is that rewards are slow with Carnatic music, however sure they may be. And more often than not, a kid is bound to meet more obstacles than encouragement on the way. It should be no surprise then that many kids switch over to learning guitar/keyboard after 6 months of Carnatic. And might I add, thoroughly enjoy it. Of course, there is a "coolness" factor associated with the guitar, and new age tambrahm parents don't necessarily frown upon playing "kanda kanda cinema paatu". But that doesn't discount the fact that Carnatic music is, by design, complicated and more of a marathon than a sprint. 

Interestingly, that is precisely what makes it both beautiful and enjoyable. The inherent complexity, the structured approach to music theory and the strong emphasis on basic training makes Carnatic a pretty formidable tool in the hands of a good teacher. (Cutting the fancy MBA style sentence out, I just meant to say that I believe even donkeys can be trained to sing well with this disciplined an approach!) While some part of that journey requires innate talent, a lot of it is just grit.

Which means that there is a lot to gain from redesigning the incentive system of Carnatic music. Like most dieters and marathon trainers would say, focus on small wins. Music teachers sometimes teach small bhajans in the first year of training, but often they are too small/light for the kid to feel a sense of achievement. The key is to strike the balance between overstraining the voice (a serious debate among opera trainers that I won't talk about today) and oversimplifying songs. 
The other aspect to the "wins" is that adults around should encourage the learning process instead of using the opportunity to prove their own virtuosity. It might also do some good for teachers to admit that Carnatic music learning is a structured long-term effort and to reiterate that the rewards are at the end of the tunnel somewhere.     

As for the fidgety 5 year old kid who thought it was a chore to learn music, her parents persisted and encouraged her long enough for her to continue learning. But more than that, strangely (and somewhat luckily), something deep within her appreciated the beauty of the intricately interwoven swaras and made her stick to it till the end :)

Glossary
Unga paatu missku onnume theriyaadu- Your music teacher does not know anything!
kanda kanda cinema paatu- random(?) song from a movie. The "random" has a mild negative tone here. 


P.S: During the entire series, I have not talked about kids who actually did the fancy neravals :P Partly because their story was too obvious to discuss. But mostly because I believe that a few success stories do not imply that a system cannot be improved.

1 comment:

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