This post is authored by Kavita Bafana, Co-Founder and Director at Little Ustaads. Little Ustaads offers play-based musical education classes for children ages 0-5 in the New York/New Jersey area and in Mumbai. The curriculum is designed to encourage children and parents to discover and appreciate the world of Indian classical music through rhythmic tunes, rich vocals, mini instruments and vibrant visuals. Currently, Little Ustaads has classes running in Jersey City and Hoboken.
Why is Indian classical music important for Indian children growing up in the West?
Surrounded by Western influences, we face a difficult task of raising children that will accept, appreciate and embrace our Indian culture. As determined parents, we may try many things like consistently speaking a native language, dancing to Bollywood tunes or serving children traditional foods. These and other activities are beneficial, but we still lack the ability to speak to them at their level and to make them feel that they are part of a larger community – that all the things they are doing at home are not just unique to them, but rather are followed by many other children like themselves. Indian classical music can be an amazing medium to captivate and connect our children to each other and their rich background right from birth.
I was fortunate to have parents that introduced me to the wonders of Indian classical music through Kathak, a North Indian classical dance. I learned language, culture and values that are core to our rich Indian traditions. Growing up in New York, the opportunity to excel in Indian classical dance allowed me to connect to my Indian community and be unique among my Western classmates. This hobby has shaped me into who I am today and I am excited to pass it along to my children.
After having twins, I wanted them to have the same upbringing I was lucky to have, but I found my options limited. With the prevalence of Western children’s music and Indian classical training beginning at age 6, I wanted to immerse them in sound patterns and melodies that children do not experience at school or at home such as the sitar or raag bilawal as early as possible. Fortunately, I was able to work with a friend on this need and we created a curriculum for children designed to teach Indian classical music through play and dance. I saw my twins build their Hindi vocabulary, develop familiarity with unique Indian instruments and train their ears to actively listen. As they have grown up, I can see the benefits: this early and sustained exposure has piqued their interest in pursuing different aspects of this art—primarily playing tabla and singing and dancing.
Another benefit of pursuing Indian classical music for children is to train ourselves as parents. For those of us that have not been exposed to Indian classical music, we have the opportunity to learn what is a raag, what is a sargam and how to count teen taal. For those of us that have been immersed in the art, it provides a time to focus on transferring that experience to our children. In our busy schedule as parents or grandparents, we need organized time where we are completely there with our children, and Indian classical music can be a medium to provide that focused time to bond, learn and communicate.
For me, it is not a question of whether Indian classical music is better than Western classical music. It is about speaking to children in a language they understand—music— while reaping the multiple other benefits to immerse them in their rich heritage.
© 2010 Little Ustaads