The month of April has flown by quite rapidly for us at Child’s Play India Foundation. We have been thrilled to have, for the first time in our history, a comprehensive teacher training programme for our violin project.

Clare Raybould from the UK is an accomplished orchestral musician, having played (and she continues to play) in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia, Northern Sinfonia, etc. And she’s an experienced violin teacher spanning several decades, and an accredited Suzuki teacher in London.

We first heard of each other through David Juritz from Musequality (www.musequality.org), the charity that encouraged and helped us to start Child’s Play. Clare had begun working with underprivileged kids in Goa last year, and in a short span of just a few weeks, not only introduced them to the violin, an instrument that had no prior familiarity with, but also got them to play Suzuki tunes with admirable tone, intonation and bow control. The children were ragpickers and vendors living rough on Goa’s beach belt, with no background in western music whatsoever. Yet they were able to play with such poise, confidence and enthusiasm.

I watched the videos in disbelief, and finally met up with Clare in England last year. She came out to work with our children over the Christmas break last year, and got a first-hand idea of the issues we face at Child’s Play. She proposed a teacher training programme which would not only work with our kids, but with our existing teachers at Child’s Play and in the wider community as well.

Six of us, including myself, were the trainees for the first component of this training programme that will be built upon regularly every few months. The hallmark of it was the buzz and excitement the injection of new ideas created not just among our kids but our teachers as well. It has been a shot in the arm for all of us.

The training sessions were quite intensive, several hours each time, and it helped us crystallize in our own minds the learning points from the quite cleverly composed Suzuki melodies. There are learning points in each of them, and each successive melody builds upon what has been learnt previously.

Implementing the learning points in our teaching sessions with our kids was a revelation. The kids lapped up the learning games, and the improvements made in just a few weeks as a result of learning through fun have been nothing short of remarkable.

Thanks to the training programme, our kids’ individual and group lessons have much more thought and structure, and we have a clearer idea of where we are going and what and how much we are able to achieve.

We were also able to have a parent-teacher meeting at one of our four locations (Auxilium School, Carona-Aldona) where after a screening of the film “Nurtured by Love” (which touches upon the life, work and philosophy of Shinichi Suzuki) we had an interactive discussion with the parents of our children about our music project at their school.

It is wonderful to see the penny beginning to drop, in slow motion, among our children and their parents and guardians, about the value of music education, the dividends it pays, in terms of lessons for life. Bemused passersby on the street stop and stare at the sight and the sound of our children circling the main building of Hamara School Santa Inez, working on the fingering and string crossings of Suzuki’s ‘Allegro’ from his Book 1. The element of fun as they do this is readily apparent from the twinkle in their eye. It could be a coincidence (but I do not think it is) that many of our children’s school grades are getting progressively better, and that they are aiming higher, and dreaming more boldly, much beyond the sphere of music.

It gives me great pride to be told by the likes of Clare, and independently by others like our recent volunteer teachers from Oberlin, that our children are quick learners, far quicker than their Western counterparts. Their intelligence and avidity have truly astonished our visiting teachers, setting to rest the carping critics that India’s disadvantaged children will not “get” the nuances of western music. Indeed Clare said to me that her experience has made her push the envelope for her own private pupils in London. If our kids here can make such amazing strides in such a short time despite all their disadvantages, so can their more privileged counterparts.

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