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Preserving Indian music and culture through education

The curriculum at B.D. Somani is not just about math and science and the arts and all the life skills we work on inculcating in our students. We place equal emphasis on respect for Indian tradition and culture, and one of the ways we do this is through including Tabla and Kathak in our curriculum.

Tabla and Kathak teach focus and discipline while working on strength, dexterity and expression, as well as giving students an understanding of Indian music and its relationship to tradition.

At B.D. Somani, both Tabla and Kathak start in Grade 3. Students learn Tabla in one term and Kathak in the other in Grades 3 and 4. In Grade 5, with a better understanding of both art forms, students decide their preference and choose between Tabla and Kathak for the whole year. In both disciplines, students progress through the basics with hour-long classes every week.

Tabla lessons in Grade 3 begin without students going anywhere close to a Tabla. They follow the beats played by the Tabla teacher by replicating them on the floor or even their laps. Over the next few sessions, students are introduced to the Tabla, learning the name of each part and its significance. When lessons begin, they learn how to play nursery rhymes, or other tunes they may be familiar with. This use of familiar tunes and rhythms makes it easier and faster for students to pick up the nuances of the Tabla.

For the most part, Tabla instruction at B.D. Somani follows an 8-beat structure. This symmetric approach allows students to adapt easily between formats and instruments. They understand the hand placements and the sounds and how to recreate them. They learn the aksharas and gradually experiment with them to create their own expression. Students are encouraged to practice, even at home, using any hard surface.

By the time students reach Grade 5, they are able to string together longer beats and akshara combinations. Some can even create their own rhythms and beats.

Kathak is performed at three speeds – slow, medium, fast – and Kathak instruction at B.D. Somani takes our students through these varying levels. Grade 3 focuses on the basics – handwork, feet movements, spinning. This allows students to develop a comfort level with the art form. These movements also serve as exercises for dexterity and hand and foot strength which students need as they progress in Kathak. As students advance to Grade 4, Kathak instruction moves up a level, and students begin practising small pieces also. By the time they move up to Grade 5, our students can execute proper Kathak performances.

While Kathak helps with building physical strength, coordination and balance, Tabla teaches dexterity and structure. Students can hone their concentration, focus, discipline and perseverance. Both encourage collaboration and self-expression.

Tabla and Kathak go hand in hand, allowing for a lot of jugalbandi between the two. In classes, we often see students practising together. Even at our events and performances, Tabla and Kathak often complement each other, and our students enjoy both equally. Most importantly, both Tabla and Kathak help our students form a perspective on Indian culture and music, a vital step in their development as well-rounded, curious individuals.

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