The month of May began for us with a concert by the Chamber Singers Pune led by Veronica Krishnayya and hosted by Pro Musica and The Performing Arts Trust Pune at the Kala Academy indoor auditorium Goa. The choir very generously dedicated the concert to Child’s Play India Foundation, and Ms. Krishnayya even suggested that we do a collection at the end of the evening. The concert was entitled ‘The Singing Heart’ and featured folk song-poems from across the world, including Argentina, Hungary, India, Israel, Russia and the United States. The programme was chosen with great thought and sensitivity, to reflect the mood of the writings of award-winning poet Randhir Khare, who narrated the poems himself between the choral works. The imaginative programming was much appreciated by the audience. The highlight was the entire second half of the programme, the Misa Criolla by iconic Argentine pianist and composer Ariel Ramirez, one of the leading figures of Argentine nativism. Misa Criolla celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and was one of the first Masses to be composed in a ‘modern’ language after the Second Vatican Council, which permitted the celebration of the Roman Catholic Mass in the vernacular as opposed to the Latin.

We were delighted to be informed that Child’s Play India Foundation was among the few institutions in the country chosen to partner in the Commonwealth Music Partnership, which has Queen Elizabeth II as Diamond Jubilee Patron, and Maestro Zubin Mehta as Music Patron. One of our young violin teachers Stefi Cruz was selected to participate in a fully-funded opportunity created as part of the build-up to the Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014. Stefi will play in the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra in three concert performances in the Royal Concert Hall Glasgow, and St. James’s Palace and the Commonwealth Secretariat, Marlborough House, London later in June. A flurry of document-chasing followed in its wake to enable Stefi to get her visa in time. Her selection is an exciting opportunity for her, and a great honour for us, and we wish her every success.

Stefi and I also enrolled in the Trinity Laban Summer Music Academy’s specialist course for music teachers, led by Tim Palmer and Karl Lutchmayer at the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation premises in Mumbai. There were participants from Mumbai, Pune, Goa, Surat and Delhi. And the teachers spanned the entire range, from private tutors at their own homes to teachers at schools, music institutions and projects somewhat similar to our own.

Several things stood out during the week of the course. So many of our children at Child’s Play have minimal or no parental involvement, something so crucial to the Suzuki pedagogical philosophy for example. Their parents are daily wage workers and labourers and not able to supervise their practice sessions or even take pride in their progress, although this is slowly beginning to change, with a few parents actually showing up for their children’s concerts.

Commitment to daily practice is a universal struggle for children and teachers across the socio-economic spectrum. But the distractions are so different. For richer children, it can be the internet, video games, eating out and movies and other pursuits. But for our kids it is basic issues like personal space, privacy, lighting that can come in the way.

It was interesting to observe how longer school hours, ever larger doses of homework, extra classes and tuition are eating into practice time and musical advancement across the board. It is a major problem. At El Sistema nucleos in Venezuela, children are able to put in up to four hours after school daily with their instrument, in ensemble playing and individual or group lessons. This is a huge factor in the amazing progress shown by the children there. It is difficult to imagine how one can get our school-children from any social stratum to spend even a quarter of this time every day, given the way our mainstream education system is constructed. Tim Palmer spoke of Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling book “Outliers: the Story of Success” and the 10,000-Hour Rule based on the famous study by Anders Ericsson which states that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in any field, including music. Whether you subscribe to the rule or not, there is no denying that one will only get better at an instrument if one works regularly, preferably daily, at it. This is increasingly difficult to achieve in India, and has huge implications for the future of classical music in India.