The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music!
Music Education Professional Development in India
By NAfME Member Virgil Vihaan Sequeira
This article first appeared in the Western Music Education Association magazine.
The hills of Darjeeling and Sikkim have had a very vibrant music scene over many decades—predominantly that of traditional folk and rock music. Over the last decade, hard rock bands like Girish and the Chronicles have achieved a ubiquitous appeal while bands like Sofiyum and singer-songwriters like Bipul Chettri have been able to repackage traditional music for a younger and discerning audience. At an amateur level, school choirs like the ones at the Dr. Graham’s Homes, Kalimpong and St. Paul’s, Darjeeling and school orchestras like the one at the Gandhi Ashram School, Kalimpong have toured nationally and internationally. On one hand tradition propels the school bagpipe band at the Scottish University Missions Institution, Kalimpong, opening every football tournament in town; and on the other hand, young artists seek to present fresh music at new performance spaces like Thuendel Food and Spirits and Gangtok Groove and also go on to make it big in metro cities and on reality shows on television.
A host of music teachers also engage in private practice for a variety of instruments either individually or through their music schools, making the hills an important destination for examiners from both the Trinity College London (TCL) and Associated Board for the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM). This, coupled with my exceptional musical experiences with friends from the village at neighbours’ porches during the tihar (diwali) festival and the impeccably on point musical responses during my voluntary sessions at the school there, should be enough evidence for what an acquaintance once said about North East India, “Music is in their blood.”
In order to keep this legacy going, broaden the minds of music teachers, inspire students to engage with music in a deeper way and to formulate possible future projects of artistic, social, and cultural value, I took up the offer by Ursula Raab to collaborate with the Himalayan Institute for Living Ethics (HIGLE) and Darjeeling Goodwill Centre (DGC) to give Music Education Workshops. The workshops took place over four weekends of May 2018 in four towns—Kalimpong, Darjeeling, Gangtok, and Kurseong—reaching 79 participants: 31 music teachers, 43 students above the age of 16, as well as five musicians who were interested in music education. Among those who attended were veteran music teachers who were a little more than twice my age yet very passionate to collaborate, which was very heartening. I was also able to address a few questions during the breaks with students and teachers on their everyday challenges and sometimes frustrations, as well as discuss their dreams and visions for the future. I was invited to conduct demo lessons with students at St. Cecilia’s Music School in Kurseong which helped further the impact of the workshop.
The six-hour long One-Day Intensive Workshop had something for every kind of music educator. It started out with choral warm-ups—physical and vocal, then proceeded to the raison d’etre of music education—its psychological and social benefits as well as a close examination of expectations from all stakeholders, including themselves, something that most of the participants never gave a thought to before. Once these objects were clarified, various popular and not-so-popular learning theories and music education methods were presented to guide the educators to create their own style of music education. After this, two sessions dealt with teaching concepts related to time and pitch to toddlers right up to adults in a systematic way. I took them through the activities that I have either learnt, borrowed, tweaked, or created myself, using various classroom instruments and aids like scarves and a softball as well as pen and paper. This experiential part of the workshop appealed very much to the participants who said that they were looking forward to implementing some of these activities in their classes. They were particularly interested in the colourful classroom instruments which they all agreed would enliven their classes.
The workshop concluded with two sessions on how to teach composition and improvisation as well as teach students to become successful performers, touching upon the expectations from the examination boards and tricks to prepare students for their exams and still keep classes engaging and conducting technique for ensemble work. The workshop delivery was a favourable balance of the lecture method, interactive activities, audio visual and written resources, as well as individual work and group discussions. A lot in the workshop was to be “caught”—a demonstration of the reality that the contemporary music educator is called to be a facilitator rather than just a teacher.
“The contemporary music educator is called to be a facilitator rather than just a teacher.”
The feedback presented to us after the workshop was understandable—there was a lot covered in a very short time, some of which did not appeal to every participant. However, the workshop was successful in many ways. First, an in-road was made with a large number and background of people due to its wide range of topics. Second, the need to give students something out-of-the-box and rooted in local culture and experience was understood and some possible tools were imbibed. Third, a community of musicians was created to channel the common passion and pave the way for the future. Focused workshops, facilitator support, and performance collaborations are already in the pipeline for 2019 when I move base to Kalimpong, taking over as the Music Program Director at the Gandhi Ashram School and starting up my own venture for the promotion of the arts.
About the author:
Virgil Vihaan Sequeira is a Kalimpong-based Music and Drama Educator, Choral/ Orchestral Conductor, Composer/ Arranger, Baritone Vocalist, Anthropology enthusiast, and Social Entrepreneur. He is currently the Director, Music and the Arts at the Gandhi Ashram School where he teaches Music and Drama. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Art Mile, an arts organisation based in the Himalayas. He channels his passions and experiences and brings people together through various projects. He is a member of the Western Music Education Association and NAfME.
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