The schools in India that derive their inspiration from the philosophy of Krishnamurti are different from the mainstream schools in many aspects. One primary difference is in the predominant wisdom that the real potential of a child has nothing to do with 'how well he fares' in the 'subjects' offered in school. We tend to agree with theories that suggest the multi-dimensionality of a child's intelligence. Defining 'intelligence' has been a very interesting process. There are several definitions for the word, and many people have formulated interesting theories about it. Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, for example, suggests that an individual can have any of the nine different types of intelligences (linguistic, musical, logical, spatial, kinaesthetic, personal, social, natural and spiritual intelligence) in different combinations.
Almost always, however, there are semantic constraints in giving an accurate definition for 'intelligence'. The closest I have come to it was back in college when my physics professor, while discussing artificial intelligence, said, 'Intelligence is pattern recognition.' I had not heard about Gardner back then, but this seemingly technical, computer-age definition was very appealing to us science students. It makes even more sense today when I think of this definition in the context of Gardner's theory. But what thrills me themost is that it makes perfect sense in the realm of music!
Good Earth School presented me the rare privilege of introducing Western classical music to children of all levels, from kindergarten all the way up to class 12. Here, the word 'Western' alludes to the methodology of learning and practising to sing, read, write, compose, interpret and analyse a piece of music in accordance with the Western classical music tradition. What most people may not know is that this is the same methodology used in the composition of almost all popular music (both Indian and foreign) that originated after technology (gramophones to iPods) made it possible for an ordinary music lover to listen to music without attending a live concert. And, needless to say, this music also includes all the regional movie songs of India, which most young people enjoy. This article is the result of a search for reasons to promote this new venture at Good Earth and, in doing so, also peek intosome of the interesting features of Western classical music.
The first reason was a firm conviction among some teachers that learning English songs with the right pronunciation would be an effective way to improve the diction of children who had a strong influence of their mother tongue when they spoke the English language. Apart from poems, stories and plays, songs can also help just as much in learning and memorizing strings of words, and in improving diction and vocabulary. All of us can remember the words of Twinkle, twinkle little star or Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool? or the alphabet song A - B - C - D - E - F - G. We may not remember who taught us these songs; we may not even have made any effort to learn them by heart.Yet those strings of words seem to roll off the tongue so easily because they are attached to a melody.
Surprisingly, most of us overlook the fact that these three different nursery rhymes have (if taught properly) an identical melody and almost identical rhythm. In fact, the slight variations in rhythm are only to accommodate the word or syllable count into the song metre. This famous tune is adapted from the melodic theme of Mozart's Zwölf Variationen in C or Twelve Variations in C. When I heard this classic piece for the first time it kept me wondering for days about the genius of the composer.
The second reason was to introduce children at a young age to a very interesting concept that is absent in the Indian tradition of music: harmony. Harmony in the musical context means to play or sing at more than one pitch simultaneously, causing a pleasant effect in the listener. In the Indian tradition, when a singer sings a melody, the accompanying string or wind instrument also plays the same melody. Such a rendition in the Western tradition is called playing 'in unison'. The only exception to unison music in the Indian tradition is the tambura that consistently plays the 'sa' throughout the song (a 'pa' or a'ma' may also be added to this). No matter what note the singer sings, the tambura always plays the 'sa'. In the West, such a perpetuating note is called a 'drone'. An ancient European stringed instrument (a cross between a violin and a sewing machine!) called the 'symphony' was designed for creating drones. The more familiar Scottish bagpipes also do the same thing.
Musicians in the West found that certain notes (two or more), when played together, created a pleasant effect. Very appropriately, they termed this concept 'harmony': one note 'harmonizes' with another. The above mentioned example of the 'drone' is a simple one. The first note of a scale (the Indian 'sa' of sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni or the Italian 'doh' of doh, re, me, fah, sol, la, te) harmonizes with any other note in the scale in a very distinct way when played simultaneously. Although the musicians of India may have discovered the secrets of harmony, the difference lies in the fact that the Westerners employed it very seriously in their music writing. Indians, meantime, focused so much on melody that today their melodic renditions are far more complex than those the West has to offer. Here, however, I will concentrate on the different aspects of harmony.
A single musical note (or pitch) may not create any sense of emotion in our brain. The progression of various single notes in time, commonly known as melody or tune (and musically the horizontal motion of notes in time) does produce a sense of emotion, like that of a song sung by a soloist or a tune played on a flute or a violin. On the other hand, a simultaneous combination of two or more different notes producing harmony is also called a 'chord' (which then becomes the vertical arrangement of notes at a time). A chord creates a sense of emotion even though it is static, without any movement in time: plucking multiple strings on a guitar or playing two or more keys on a piano simultaneously would be a simple example.
To understand this, try playing the notes C, E and G simultaneously on a keyboard or a guitar (You can also try this with 3 violins or 3 flutes.). You will notice very distinctly that it represents a feeling of happiness. Now, play the notes C, Eb (pronounced 'E flat') and G and you will immediately find that it depicts a feeling of sadness. As mentioned before, such a simultaneous combination of two or more notes is called a 'chord'. The first one here iscalled a C major chord and the second is called a C minor chord. The difference between the C major and the C minor chord is just one (themiddle) note: an E or an Eb . Also, try C, Eb and Gb : it will depict fear (this iscalled a C diminished chord). Let us stop here for a minute to understand that the E note can be produced if a string or an air column in a flute vibrates 659 times in one second. In other words, it vibrates at 659 Hertz (Hz). Similarly, the Eb is 622 Hz. So it would seem that for the brain (and this is amazing) the difference between human sadness and happiness is a difference of just 37 vibrations per second!
The pedagogy in Western classical music has defined over 15 to 20 chord types built on a single note, and each of these will depict a very distinct feeling or emotion. There are 88 such notes on a piano. Now, if we can get certain carefully selected chords to move in time, it can create wonders, emotions beyond what words can express! Beethoven (1770–1827) did so in his 3rd Symphony (the Great Eroica in E-flat), which was such a bold expression of emotionalism that this single piece of music marked the beginning of an all new era, the Romantic era, in the history of Western classical music. Mozart (1756–1791) did so too, and hence all his piano concertos are perfect! If all this is too much musical jargon, let me put it in a different way. There are 88 keys on a piano. Playing just one note at a time, it can be mathematically shown that one can compose more songs than there are stars in the known universe! Imagine how much we can express if we play two, three, four or even eight notes simultaneously, and how wonderful it would be to be part of such an expression.
The third reason for promoting this form of music at Good Earth was to make the most of a universal written form of music. In the Indian tradition, songs and tunes are passed on from generation to generation by singing, playing and listening. This tends to cast doubts on the authenticity of the original tune as it was imagined by the composer. A good example is how we often come across various versions of the same song sung by different artists. Although this may not be a crisis, it is both valuable and an interesting experience to know what went through the mind of the composer when he thought of the music. In 200 BC, a man named Sekulos wrote a song for his departed wife and inscribed it on her gravestone in the notational system ofthe Greeks. Today, after two millennia, it can be sung exactly the way he wrote it!
Yet another advantage is that learning to read, write and hence think music can be an extremely powerful tool. All of the music one imagines can be written down in pictorial form. So, apart from the auditory effect, one can also go by the visual feel of the music to enhance the composition. This is especially so in the correlation of the words with the music. In Western classical theory, this correlation of music and words is called 'painting a picture with music'. Observe in the example below (one note for every syllable) how the notes of the music move up or down in pitch, correlating with the words. For those who understand this musical notation, notice that when 'he walked', the music also 'walks' and when 'she runs', the music also'runs'! (The numbers above the notes denote how the rhythm progresses.) This visual advantage can be further used in many different ways to make the music very interesting.
While a few of us would prefer to play or sing a song, most of us just enjoy listening to it. However, what we often do not understand or even think about is why a particular song is enjoyable. To understand this in all its glory and fullness, in my opinion, one must learn to read, write and think music. Reading and writing music can be learnt easily. But 'thinking' music is not a very easy process. It usually comes with experience or with the understanding of the relationship between one musical note and another. In the process of learning Western classical music, I have come to understand that although music is widely considered an art, the 'art of composing' good music is essentially a science. There are strict rules that one needs to follow in order to make music enjoyable for a listener. Being primarily a teacher of physics and an ardent fan of mathematics gives me the substantial advantage of understanding music from a scientific point of view as well. There are very clear mathematical patterns that govern a given composition. I call it mathematical because of my training in science, but for a pure musician, they are musical patterns. We both mean the same thing.
Let us now go back to the initial discussion about intelligence being 'pattern recognition'. There are two sides to the coin: pattern recognition and its obvious counterpart, 'pattern prediction'. This means that mathematical intelligence, say, demands not just recognition of mathematical patterns but also prediction of mathematical patterns. Again, in the light of Gardener's theory, a person with, say, spatial intelligence is not just someone who understands spatial patterns around him but is also one who can predict and imagine how a space would look if something was added or removed. Therefore, musically speaking, understanding and recognizing musical patterns, and the rules involved in making these patterns, lead to a greater appreciation of a song. A good musician does not just appreciate these patterns but can also predict what will come next in a song even though he has not heard it before! So, reading, writing, hearing and, most importantly, thinking music can be a very useful tool.
Bach (1685–1750), one of the greatest creators of Western classical music, was also a man who built organs that were as big as churches themselves. He used to carry with him a roll of leather that had a keyboard painted on it, and he practised playing on it. Of course, no portable Yamaha keyboards existed during his time! But the question is, what music did he hear when he moved his fingers over this painted leather keyboard, looking at the music score in front of him? Bach said music would flow from a magnificent organ but the sound it created was limited by its size and shape. However, the advantage of playing on the roll of leather that could be stretched over a tabletop is that he could imagine the sound to be that of the most magnificent organ ever built! My music teacher once told me that it is a great sense of absolute understanding if one can hear what one sees on a sheet of music in the written form and vice versa. He said, 'A good musician is one who can hear what he sees and see what he hears.'
But how does one learn to read, write and think music? The answer is simple. We do it just as we learn to read, write and think in language. Let us now find out how well our brain processes the English language. Hold a book upside down and try to read the contents. You will see that you can read it easily. I am also sure that you can spot spelling mistakes in a text and yet understand the meaning of it just fine. 'Tihs is besuace it deos not mettar in what oedrr the lerttes of a wrod are arrngaed, the brian usullay lokos olny for the fisrt and the last letrtes to idneitfy the wrod as a whloe!' It doesn't matter what font, size or shape the material is written in, either: our brain has become so familiar with the vocabulary that it can process the information without any problem. Make no mistake, this works just as well in music. Basically, it is a matter of familiarity, conditioning and a good musical vocabulary. And all this can be achieved by developing a culture in music.
Great ideas and concepts that changed the world always originated from within a group of dedicated people who created a certain culture around them. When we talk of institutions, we often come across places that have a culture that produces new things, which inspires the people around them. This could be a hospital with a group of great doctors and administrators. It could be a school or a college that has good teaching and non-teaching staff. Music too has the ability to emerge from institutions and places that have a musical culture built into them. When you think of Africa, for instance, you think of drums and drum beats. The people there do have an elevated sense of rhythm. Similarly, if you go to North East India, to places like Mizoram, Assam or Nagaland, you will see that two things matter to them: football and music! As a result, most people you meet from these north-eastern states have a good sense of pitch and rhythm. Building a healthy culture, therefore, whether in music or anything else, becomes a very important process, one that will define the quality of all dimensions of an institution.
How do we build a culture in music? One way is to impart an appreciation for it. The formal Western music curriculum in all Western universities in the world has a course in 'Music Appreciation' or in other words 'what to listen for in music'. How can one listen more carefully to music? The practical things one might listen for include the following:
- Rhythm (is cyclic and therefore repeats itself in time)
- Melody (the horizontal movement of pitches in time)
- Harmony (the vertical arrangement of different pitches at a time)
- Dynamics (how loud or soft the various sounds are)
- Tone Colour (what kind of voice or instrument is used in the song. The tone differs from person to person and instrument to instrument)
- Texture (how many different notes and/or instruments are playing simultaneously) and
- Form (the musical structure of the piece).
The above-mentioned points will help us become closely attuned to what is going on in the music and to hear more of the finer details. Studies have shown that there are two main factors that lead a person to appreciate a certain kind of music. First, if there is a person in your life who loves a certain kind of music, just being with them or listening with them, or just listening to them talk about the music, will give you the urge to listen and appreciate it. The second is repeated listening. Our favourite songs are the ones we listen to, over and over again. The more we listen to them, the more the finer aspects are revealed and the more we appreciate the music. For those of you interested, one of the first books written on this topic was Aaron Copland's What to Listen for in Music (1957). It was never intended as a textbook in music appreciation courses but was often used as one and is still in print today.
A final reason for introducing Western classical music at Good Earth: Steven Mithen wrote an interesting book, The Singing Neanderthals in which he explores the origins of music and language in the human mind. In theintroductory chapter of this book he says:
In this book I am not concerned with the specific music that we like but with the fact that we like it at all—that we spend a great deal of time, effort and often money to listen to it, that many people practice so hard to perform it and that we admire and often idolize those who do so with expertise, originality and flair!
Music does seem to have a profound effect on our lives whether we are conscious of it or not!
A wise teacher recently told me, 'Music or Art or Science, all arise from the same sense of wonder, wanting to understand the world through our senses, and meet nature with one's own madness, sensibilities and seriousness.' The questions therefore are posed to the educators: Do we as teachers watch a child wonder limitlessly? Do we lead them to imagine boundlessly? Do we show them they're alive? Do we let them ramble, follow traces, jump up with joy, get lost, be surprised, amused and inspired? Do we let them search for the'whats', the 'hows' and the 'whys' of life? Do we randomly hum a tune and ask them to hum the rest of it? Do we lead our children into the self-discovery o ftheir madness, their sensibilities and their seriousness?
Anthony de Mello said, 'A bird does not sing because he has a statement. He sings because he has a song.' The added responsibility of a teacher is to impart this truth to children: that the song is more important than the singer and that, therefore, when we sing 'we' must disappear, leaving behind only the song!
Suggested reading: http://www.bostonconservatory.edu/music/karl-paulnack-welcomeaddress
Suggested video: http://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_ passion.html