June is always a special month for Child’s Play India Foundation, thanks to the World Busk initiative (www.worldbusk.org), in which we have been actively participating since its inception in 2009. This year we had two events, in Panjim and in Aldona, featuring the combined forces of our Suzuki violin children from both those locations. And our ensemble Camerata Child’s Play India comprising young musicians from the wider community performed as well. It was created in April 2013 with one of its goals being to eventually give a platform to our own Child’s Play kids to play in public some day. I was thrilled that Irfan Shimpigar joined the second violins for these concerts.

He played along with us at our well-received concert at Santa Cruz church in August too. Our violin kids stole the show again. One of the highlights of the programme was Georg Philipp Telemann’s famous viola concerto in G major (TWV 51: G9), played by Pablo Travé Gonzalez from Spain. It was Camerata’s twelfth concert since its creation, and it continues to enrich Goa’s cultural life.

Our young violin teacher Stefi Cruz did Child’s Play proud, representing us 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 as part of the build-up to the Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014. We were among just two institutions chosen to represent India in this partnership.

We have had a number of volunteers visit and work with us as well. In July-August, we were happy to receive again Santiago Lusardi Girelli and four young musicians (violins, viola and flute) from the University of Seville, Spain. In August we were also visited by Anya Hirdaramani, an Indian-origin Sri Lankan girl currently studying in the UK. She really helped us to strengthen our cello project at a crucial time for us. She taught me the rudiments so that I could work from scratch with a new batch of seven children, the youngest barely six. In a matter of weeks, they are able to play single-octave scales beginning from open strings (C, G and D) and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. A German volunteer is now working with them since early September, and will be with us for a year, during which time he will teach not only the children, but me as well and a couple of older children who have the flair for the instrument and could possibly become teachers. One of them is already working with the younger children to ensure that practice sessions happen daily.

India needs all the help it can get in developing pedagogy for strings, and it is even more acute for viola and cello. It is for this reason that I took up viola a few years ago, and now it is as a violist that I am more in demand, although the violin is still my primary instrument. Since June, I have begun teaching viola to three very bright, enthusiastic 11 year old girls at Child’s Play, and they are able to play scales and simple tunes with gusto. They played at their school on Teachers’ Day, something that gave them a tremendous shot in the arm.

We were visited in July by Avi Mehta, graduate of the Sistema Fellows Program at the New England Conservatory, and actively involved with Sistema USA in Boston. He flew into Goa specially to visit us at Child’s Play, as he has a keen interest in El Sistema-inspired programs around the world. His feedback to us was very encouraging. It was instructive to learn that many issues faced by music education programs (for instance, the struggle for funding, the shrinkage of time for practice and music lessons due to encroachment by mainstream school work) are common across the world. Avi’s observations helped crystallise in my mind what it takes to have a successful project. It is the magic combination of five ingredients: dynamic, inspiring teacher; enthusiastic and hardworking children; supportive collaborator (e.g. the principal of the school or supervisor at the place where the sessions take place); adequate space; and just as crucially, enough time every day spent with the instrument.

In Hamara School Santa Inez where we first began Child’s Play, we have the first three prerequisites. We are even gradually winning the battle for time, although it is still not enough. But the issue of space continues to dog us, and needs to be addressed very seriously as we grow.