When slum kids and city kids make music together

Nigel Britto
There’s the soft scent of a tango wafting through the corridors of Don Bosco oratory. In a small hall on its first floor, a bespectacled conductor, violin in hand, instructs 30-odd children seated neatly in rows. Lifting their bows, they begin to play again, a rhythm reminiscent more of the streets of Buenos Aires than of rush-hour Panaji.

They’ve constellated here for Goa’s first orchestral summer camp. And they’ve come from all over. Some of them are children of construction labourers, road workers, and balloon sellers. Their homes, in slums around the city and beyond, are a far cry from the lofty world of Bach and Beethoven. Yet, here they are, proficiently bowing their violins, maneuvering pizzicatos and fortissimos, and reading music straight off the score. In the orchestra, they’re playing alongside those you’d usually associate with violin lessons – the children of professionals, executives, bureaucrats, etc.

This camp is the brainchild of Luis Dias, a doctor who left a lucrative career in gynaecology in London to return to Goa and teach classical music to disadvantaged children. Many of the orchestra’s poorer musicians are students of his charity, Child’s Play (India) Foundation. “It’s important to give young musicians the chance to be part of a community,” he says.

Thus, this ensemble sees children who inhabit completely different worlds read music from the same score and create music together. “When children from disparate socio-economic backgrounds share an orchestra desk and a music stand, a unique magic begins to happen,” Dias says. “They probably would never have had an opportunity to sit and get to know each other before this.”

But here in the orchestra, there are important things to work together on – bowing changes, up- and down-bows, dynamics, bow lengths, breathing, etc. They share a pencil to make notes on their music score, share clips to hold the music down, and so much more. “It is the beginning of a friendship that will last a long time,” he says. “And they realize they are not so different, after all.”

As the hour wears on, the children are led through several pieces. Dias often insists on repetition till some semblance of perfection has been achieved. At one point, a violinist finishes a beat too early, prompting the conductor to quip, “There’s no prize for finishing first.” Humor is an integral part of the camp. An older kid who improvises on a few notes is told, “This isn’t a democracy. We have to do what the score tells us.” The corrections are always firm, but never minacious.

And while the intensity is up, it’s not unrealistically so. Between pieces, Dias gently chastises those children who haven’t furnished their parents’ contact numbers. “You’ll are members of an orchestra now,” he says. “There may be orchestral emergencies!”

During another short break, the entire orchestra applauds Irfan Shimpigar, a Child’s Play student who scored 89.5% in his Class XII exam. Irfan, who has studied the violin for several years and now also plays the cello, embodies the redemptive power of classical music. “It soothes my mind,” he says. “It helps me study, and it helps me excel.”

The scorching heat of the Goan summer doesn’t hamper the children’s enthusiasm. They play on happily. By the end of the session, the ragtag yet malleable bunch is substantially more canorous, ensorcelling the few parents and watchers hanging around the room.
At the stroke of noon, as the camp ends, it’s time to go home. The students pack up their instruments, and get set to leave. For some, home is a long way off. Laini Furtado, 14, and her father, Cris, strap on their helmets and embark on their 40-plus kilometre ride to Chinchinim. For the next one-and-a-halfhour, they will brave the blazing sun, dust, and construction-fuelled traffic diversions. For the opportunity to make music, it’s all worth it. Would she do it again next year? “Of course,” she says. “I would love to.”

(Times of India)

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