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Bollywood helps Indian classical music in South Africa

By Fakir Hassen, IANS

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Music teacher Yashwantbhai Harikisson has a unique class where three generations of students learn to sing and play the harmonium - with a little help from Bollywood songs!

Despite having very little formal training, Harikisson's passion for playing the harmonium resulted in his offering lessons to others interested in playing the unique Indian instrument.

He went on to run a formal weekly class for 15 students at the Mayfair School of Music here. Students range from five-year-olds to grandmothers!

"The school needed a teacher desperately to fill a gap after the previous teacher left. They wanted somebody who could teach them not only the technical aspects of playing the instrument, but also devotional singing, so I joined them last year," said Harikisson, a South Africa-born Indian.

Harikisson is determined to get children, usually pushed into studying Indian music by their parents, to develop a love and passion for it on their own.

One of the ways of doing that is using Indian film tunes which are usually much more popular with children than classical tunes.

It serves as a way of making the class more interesting and getting students to realise that film songs and classical music come from the same source.

Commenting on the large number of children who are showing interest in playing the harmonium, Harikisson told IANS: "All parents look forward to their children in some way getting back in touch with their culture.

"I suppose learning to play an Indian musical instrument is one way of doing that. If the interest sticks, their involvement in cultural activities will continue."

Harikisson developed a syllabus based on the one taught in high schools in India, starting from a basic level.

"The course is structured in such a way that each student is treated as an individual and progresses through graded lessons. Whether it's an adult who is 60 years old or a six-year-old, they will still start with lesson one. Obviously the older students will probably progress quicker through the lessons, but the direction is the same."

Each student is allowed to progress at his or her own pace, with no undue pressure, but this poses a problem as they only attend class once a week.

"It can take up to 15 years to become a trained musician through fulltime study in India, and here we are trying to train them with two hours a week, divided between 15 students, so each one unfortunately gets very little time."

Harikisson also places a lot of emphasis on making the students' music learning part of a lifestyle, so lessons always end with prayers.

"Purely learning ragas and other things without that translating into something more meaningful in their lives is not worth it. Whatever they learn, they must be able to put into some form of practice and we started off by teaching them basic prayers because we found that some of the students were incapable of even doing this."

"From this, we want to advance to teaching them poetry and other things."

Most students also join Indian language classes so that they can understand the meaning of songs they learn.


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