Raining saptaswaras

SHYAM G. MENON | Updated on September 15, 2011

Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya, near Dharwad (Karnataka), teaches and promotes Hindustani classical music. - Photo: Shyam G. Menon

In the wet, green countryside of Kalkeri, Karnataka, nestles an unusual school for music.

Our main aim and hope is to produce some great performing artistes from this school,” Adam Woodward said, voice losing out to the sound of torrential rain battering the roof of his office. The droplets fell as furiously as a percussionist on song. Everything outside disappeared behind a grey sheet of water.

Kalkeri was an unlikely location for a music school. It was an hour away from Dharwad. Wet, green countryside; lonely, winding road, a village, end of formal road, forest; and lurking, almost unseen, in there a unique school — the Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya (KSV).

The school was started several years ago by Mathieu and Agathe Fortier, a Canadian couple who had come to love Hindustani classical music. They chose this place because Dharwad in particular, and north Karnataka in general, has deep association with Hindustani classical, producing legendary performers and surrounding them with a very music-literate audience. The whole place was also delightfully removed from the hustle and bustle of big Indian cities.

The school started by teaching vocals, sitar and tabla to financially disadvantaged students hailing from the north Karnataka region. The teaching style was later patterned on the gurukul model and, befittingly, the school shifted to a farmhouse in the interiors. The school had two objectives: to support economically challenged students; to promote and disseminate Indian culture, especially Hindustani classical music.

For about 18 months from October 2002, the school operated from the farmhouse till the landowner decided to sell the property. By then, local villagers had developed interest in the eco-friendly school. The panchayat allotted three acres and KSV moved in.

Today it has full-fledged music and academic departments (you can do regular schooling alongside learning music), 185 students and 43 full-time staff. Additionally, there are overseas volunteers working on campus. For the students the education is free.

Music as education for the disadvantaged is not new in these parts. There is the much older Veereshwar Punyashram in Gadag. It produced great singers and musicians but appears to have gravitated towards a mix of religion, spirituality and music rather than music alone. KSV is different, although graduates from the ashram have found work as teachers here.

The school gets around 300 applications annually. After careful scrutiny, this list is whittled down to about 50-60. Interviews with the academic, music and health departments follow. The school inquires into both child and parental commitment. Among the challenging aspects in this regard is education for the girl child. In a region that is not only socially conservative but has problems like early marriage, it takes much convincing before parents accept that schooling — that too one with music in the curriculum — is relevant.

KSV currently has 14 college-going students, pursuing subjects ranging from science to music. All costs for their education are met by the school. The senior-most student is engaged in postgraduate studies. “He is an accomplished young musician,” Woodward said.

KSV is the beginning of what may be a series of music schools. Mathieu Fortier and his brother, Blaise, have founded an overseas organisation called Young Musicians of the World (YMW).

Every year YMW holds two concerts to raise funds for KSV. YMW is attempting to initiate similar schools in different parts of the world. Thus, it is in talks in France to start a music school for the Romany Gypsies, nomads who have a tradition of music but face hostility from settled communities. YMW also wants to start a school in Mali, the African country known for its wealth of music.

Currently KSV has an annual budget of close to Rs 50 lakh. In an attempt to wean off support from YMW and become independently funded, it has partnered the Deshpande Foundation — whose founders Gururaj and Jayashree Deshpande hail from north Karnataka. The foundation has helped KSV set up its own fund-raising department.

The rain abated. The sound of roof being pummelled was replaced by the pleasant sounds of individual droplets and escaping trickles of water. Visually it was life come alive in the forest — soaked red earth, freshly washed green leaves and moist ambience. A group of students put together a music performance.

Woodward said the school was looking for bigger premises in the Hubli-Dharwad region. As far as possible it would like to be in Kalkeri, where it has enjoyed support so far.

Published on September 15, 2011

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