In June, when 10-year-old Neha Petardeshi was selected by her teachers at St Stephen’s municipal school, Kemps Corner, to join cello classes at the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation nearby, she had no idea what the instrument looked like.
Now, Petardeshi and her five classmates from the school can move their fingers from one string of the cello to another, while bowing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and other simple tunes. “We come directly after school twice a week and are now learning how to read notes,” said Petardeshi, a Class 5 student. “I love the classes.”
The free cello classes for the six children are a part of a programme that the Foundation started this June to take music education to the underprivileged. The programme includes training 25 other children from St Stephen’s in the basics of music through their ‘Discover Music’ course, and training 35 municipal school teachers in techniques of teaching English through music.
The Foundation has been organising Western classical music concerts and conducting private music classes ever since it was established in 1995. “We now felt the need to reach out to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds who have no access to it,” said Mehroo Jeejeebhoy, a trustee of the Foundation.
Introducing young children from non-English speaking backgrounds to an unfamiliar discipline of music is difficult, says Jeejeebhoy, but the Foundation’s teachers have learnt to be patient.
“In the beginning, they had trouble catching up with other children in the integrated batches, but they are doing much better now,” said Nicole Fernandes, a teacher in the Foundation’s Discover Music programme.
For the teacher training programme, the Foundation has tied up with non-profit organisation Muktangan, which runs seven English-medium municipal schools in the city. “The teachers themselves were not very strong in English pronunciation and grammar, and through music, we help them improve their language,” said Kamakshi Khurana, a vocalist and Foundation teacher-trainer for Muktangan.
For Vandana Sonkar, a teacher in Khurana’s class, the training has changed the way she approaches students. “Ever since I started using songs to teach English, my accent has improved and the children, too, are learning faster,” said Sonkar, 37, a teacher from Prabhadevi.