Vaitari: A musical picture book from Kerala
With transcriptions of basic exercises in English and Malayalam
Amsterdam, Ekagrata Publications 2006
ISBN-13: 978-90-75785-04-3 (ISBN-10: 90-75785-04-6)
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Introduction This colourful book creates opportunities to enjoy making music together without any prior training in Indian music on the parts of teachers and their pupils. "Making music together" means nothing more or less than using half an hour in a constructive manner without lengthy preparations, equipment, or instruments. In our approach, the use of voice and hands are wholly sufficient to participate; and pictures serve to get children involved and motivate them to draw and paint themselves before or after each lessons. But if time is limited to a single session, teachers are offered plenty to choose from and make those shared moments memorable and enjoyable.
Dedication This book is dedicated to Kunjunni Master, the great writer of small poems (1927 - 2006).
The beauty of vaitari The Malayalam word denotes a wide array of vocal expressions from the spontaneous uttering over coordinated sounds for work or sports to commands to enable a group of students as well as specialists in the fields of music, dance, drama to perform together effectively. The specimens on which this book is based cover all these fields in order to suit different situations, age groups and temperaments.
Commitment The authors of Vaitari: A musical picture book from Kerala aim at making music also available to those children to whom musical participation is denied for a variety of reasons. The many benefits of music making have been the subject of numerous publications and conferences such as the biannual World Music Conference of the International Society for Music Education (ISME). At the same time, there is little progress on the grassroot level in many regions of the world due to lack of political will, lack of funds in public education systems, and inadequate training of teachers for this task.
While musical training is available to virtually all interested children belonging to the middle class of most countries, including India, a great majority of children all over the world have little or no opportunities to develop and share their musical talents.
For these reasons and motivated by the joyful response to the learning opportunities offered in the present publication on the side of many able children, those with special needs as well as their educators or guardians, we are committed to facilitating special training programmes for teachers. Donations and proceeds from the sale of this book in excess of funds needed for new editions will serve to make such programmes possible in and outside India on a not-for-profit basis.
About the hands-on concept underlying the Vaitari book Each page contains a picture relating to the artistic traditions and customs of Kerala together with a short series of syllables indicating the sounds associated with them. As the Malayalam word "vaitari" in the title of the book indicates, the pictures relate to familiar "sound patterns that can be produced with one's voice" straight from the page. Sound recordings supplied on the accompanying audio-CD demonstrate how these sounds are commonly produced in Kerala. But this book is not primarily about learning how to precisely reproduce sounds made by others or training to become a performer oneself: It goes without saying that this task must be left to qualified teachers and requires a far longer period of time than that available in the typical classroom situation for which this book has been created. What this book is really about is the sharing of the hands-on lessons that Kerala's performing arts offer even to beginners with the help of vaitari-syllables and simple hand gestures. These gestures were originally developed by John Curwen (1816-1880) and soon evolved into an internationally acclaimed learning method. Today it is also known as the Kodály method due to the success of the music education system introduced by the great Hungarian educationist and composer Zoltan Kodály (1882 - 1967).
Vaitari is a broad concept that includes spontaneous vocal expressions of moods, for instance those uttered by family members and friends during a marriage (fantasy icons on page 8) or by the cheering crowds during a boatrace (front cover page). Harvest songs (back cover page) also fall into this category. The beauty is that childrens' poetry and nursery rhymes in all cultures contain elements also found in Kerala's vaitari, just as the technical syllables (jati) used for notating, practicing and remembering dance movements (adavus) or drum strokes (Tamil "solkattu"). The word vaitari thus denotes a characteristic approach to learning and remembering involving body along with all the senses, emotional appeal and imagination. Hence the artist's visual references to all these arts, customs, mythology and folklore. The famous peace mantram (page 15) completes the picture.
The use of the hand gestures in learning singing seen on page 16 brings together the customary dance gestures (mudras or hastas) seen in Kerala's graceful Mohiniyattam dance (centre spread) and the century-old European tradition of teaching singing. The inclusion of this ingenious method, adapted in accordance with the gestures presently taught in the teachers' training programme of the Bern University of the Arts, is based on the experience that singing is often accompanied by initial bad postures on the part of learners that inhibit proper breathing and thereby free vocal expression. Using these gestures on the basis of the book's illustrations helps learners to free themselves from their physical and mental inhibitions and approach the singing of any series of notes from which an Indian raga can be formed either with the help of a recording or in the presence of an experienced Indian teacher.
Being designed for modern children and youngsters as well as their educators, the authors have brought in their respective experiences from different fields and arts to make the book an intercultural as well as an interdisciplinary experience. In other words, different people are bound to make different use of it, whether or not they follow the arrangement of the book's pages. There is, of course, a plan underlying the arrangement which should make a difference to educators seeking to make good use of that one "window in time" during which they can freely interact with those entrusted to them, including those with special needs, with the help of ideas from India.
Finally, a word about the didactic concept that teachers may profit from with the help of this publication: It is now news for an experienced educator to read that it is their innate curiosity that makes children concentrate and cooperate in a classroom. The artwork created for this book is designed to kindle their sense of wonder in order to get involved, become creative and, where time and environment permit, resort to peer teaching. In this sense it is indebted to Dr. Maria Montessori's method for teaching young children to become self-confident personalities valuing achievement as much as empathy. Her learning psychology and teaching ethics, which has gained an enormous following the world over and evolved over a period of over a century and even reached the true elite of the Indian subcontinent.
Three phases of involvement Without going into the details of the valuable Montessori method on which so much has been written by qualified pedagogues, let us consider three phases of involvement wherein our modest picture book can play a key role without much preparation or cost: (1) Starting from concentration based on the experience of wonder ("adbhuta" in Indian art theory), it becomes possible to become directly active by way of repeating the vaitari syllables accompanying the pictures seen on each page; (2) leaving one's inhibitions and fear of failure by epxerimenting with these syllables in a playful manner, exploring their "colours" and "textures" and asking how they might relate to the main subject of each picture, cooperation becomes possible in a lighthearted manner; (3) playful engagement with a particular page facilitates memorization as it takes away the monotony of conventional learning; young children in particular will delight in exploring some of the sound combinations by repeating and re-arranging them which, incicdentally, is also the key to the learning of India's sacred Veda scriptures that have been faithfully handed down for thousands of years.
Here it is worth recalling that the findings of modern brain science confirm that memory is based on a vast array of "synaptic junctions", expanded and maintained with the help of countless associations, movements, emotional responses, repetitions and permutations rather than in a straightforward manner in order to be lasting. Although the plan of the inside pages of the present book are broadly arranged on the lines of "Concentration - Cooperation - Memory" in that sequence, any particular page including the front and back cover pages could serve as starting point for a personalized route taken for one's personal journey through Kerala's vast and varied cultural landscape!
Credits The picture book and the accompanying recordings and texts have been designed by Arun V.C. (art and transcriptions), Ludwig Pesch (didactic concept), and Nirmala Paniker (performing arts advisor). It has been produced by Emanuel Wüthrich (Hochschule der Künste Bern HKB) and G. Venu (Director, Natanakairali) as part of a research project titled "Sam, Sammlung, Zusammen!" (English "Reflection, Gathering Together") www.sam.mimemo.net.
This production and the research project preceding it have been made possible by the Bern University of the Arts (Switzerland) in conjunction with Natanakairali Research and Performing Centre for Traditional Arts (India).
Contributors: P. Nandakumar (idakka), Kalanilayam Prakash (maddalam), Aparna Nangiar (Nangiar Koothu), Bindu Sundaresan and Bindu Sajeevnath (dance vocal); Thrikkamburam Krishnan Kutty Marar (Kerala tala vaitari); Emanuel Wüthrich (adaptation of Curwen/Kodály gestures for Indian music).
Special thanks to all the children at Natanakaisiki (Mohiniyattam Gurukulam), Nirmala Paniker's disciples and Sankaran Nair (hospitality).
For inquiries regarding teachers' training in the methods outlined in this publication contact:
G. Venu, Director
Logo and motto The sky is the limit! We have developed a logo of the "open-minded" child" as a way of paying homage to Maria Montessori (1870 - 1952). Her ground-breaking book The Absorbent Mind remains a valuable introduction into learning-psychology for the benefit of general readers interested in the history of modern education (Madras/Chennai, 1949; reprint 2002). She was a great admirer of India where she lived and worked for several years. We also wish to express our indebtedness to her work by suggesting that a child must no longer be constrained on the rigid cultural boundaries of conventional (music) education but needs congenial learning opportunities wherein making music together play a major role.
Getting into the flow The logo also encapsulates the concepts known as "flow" and "single-minded immersion" (*) that have enriched modern education; here expressed in the form of the Malayalam letters indicating "sam" (i.e. the waving line with a dot on the lower right side). Thus the logo is a visual counterpart for the motto of our educational research project Sam, Reflection, Gathering Together! wherein voice and hands suffice to explore new cultural horizons in a rewarding and exciting manner.
(*) Daniel Goleman. Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. Bantam Books. New York, 1996.
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