Bonding with the Gifted
The Hitham team was part of a unique festival held in the last week of July. Organised by Velvi, Madurai, this event is a one-of-its-kind Arts for Autism festival held every year. Velvi 2017 was held in Whitefield, Bangalore and saw children with autism, their parents and professionals who work with them, come together along with trained and experienced facilitators in different art forms – music, theatre, movement, art, story telling, comedy, fashion –for three days to immerse themselves in an atmosphere of art.
The festival was inaugurated by Hitham Founder and Managing Trustee, Bombay Jayashri. In her opening remarks, she spoke of the need to move away from the ‘correctional’ approach to handling autism to looking at their strengths and building on it. She shared her experiences of presenting music to children with autism as part of Hitham and how that has added a new meaning to her engagement with music. She spoke of how gifted, nunaced and discerning many children with autism are when it comes to music.
The Music Workshops were facilitated by the young team from Hitham comprising of Abhinaya Shenbagraj, Sathva Srinath, Aishwarya S, Anjana Muruganandam and Tanvi Kamat. For many of them, it was their first experience of facilitating and for some it was the first exposure to an Event of this kind.
Velvi festival was truly an extraordinary experience. It was a congregation of different art forms under an umbrella, which took a beautiful shape at the end of 3 days. The children absorbed everything that was taught to them like a sponge, and could reproduce them beautifully on the final day. I also loved how artists from different genres came together with a theme and worked around it. I personally, learnt a lot from each one of them.
The team was inspired and enthused by their experiences at the Festival. The depth of children’s talents in music and how quickly they grasped complexities of melody and rhythm, left a deep impression on our team.
At the workshop, when we all started singing “Om” , the effect was musical and magical! Music connected us at once.
Very soon, all the children were enthusiatically singing Radhe Shyama. What surprised me was when one child, Pranav, tried the Kinnaram and understood a complex beat in a fraction of a second. Damini, another child, enjoyed playing the Tambura and did not want to let go of it for the rest of the session.
It was so beautiful to see how all of them wanted to show us what music meant to them. It could be anything from a Gananayakaya – Sanskirt Sloka to a Tamil song, a fast English melody or Bum Bum Bole a Hindi movie song. Each of them sang so effortlessly and needed no help on lyrics from start to the end. I was overwhelmed as their talent was far beyond the mean.
These children have an instinctive mind for art, they are so true and uninhibited in expressing it. My mind is constantly asking the question- what can I do with the beautiful world of music to make a difference to them?
Initially, I felt unprepared for the workshop as it was the first time for me. But once the music started, what I felt is indescribable.
Jahnavi singing Ghananaayakaya (with the Sanskrit pronunciation being impeccable!), another kid singing Bum bum bole without one mistake in lyrics, Aditya, who took so much of effort to learn the Nila and Mazhai song – it was all overwhelming.
The way these special ones connect to music is something truly divine. Being in a space with them, a space so full of music and JUST music, left me in tears and I understood that they all are way ahead of us. Even the so called “non-verbal” kids just wanted to listen to us sing and they responded by clapping along and doing some actions. They could connect with the sounds of the manjira, the tambura, some of them had a super good sense of rhythm too!
Somewhere along the way, I found that I wanted to be a part of their musical world for the rest of my life. I feel extremely blessed to have been a small part of Velvi 2017, taking back so much with me in terms of learning and lovely memories.
Every child we met at Velvi had something special, and left an imprint in our hearts. We shared music sessions with them and as they sang, they were showing us something they loved, and something which was their very own. In just a few minutes, they took us along into a beautiful world of music, as they saw it.
Mithilesh rendered a Tamil film song with such beauty, almost making us hear the background track as he sang. We taught them some songs too, and the children really enjoyed, their eyes twinkling as they sang along. It was magical to see Harikrishna working to get his lyrics right. Vinay soaked it all in, and quietly copied the lyrics into his notebook, after everyone had left.
Where words couldn’t speak, music did.
They also got a wonderful opportunity to meet and learn from professionals working with other art forms.
I was in complete awe of the facilitators who were professionals in various forms of art and shared their valuable experience of working with special children. Attending Devika Mehta’s session of modelling, that taught the participants confidence and poise and Sowmya Ayyar’s session on theatre to help children express themselves creatively, were a big learning experience.
All the professionals had a tremendous aura of confidence. The way Devika made the children walk on the ramp, teaching them to show attitude, to pose.. Andrew Nelson’s sense of comedy, Sowmya’s insistence on making the kids imagine and think out of the box, it was the biggest learning I could get in a span of just two days. I was awestruck!
While we learnt so much musically we spent every free minute participating in all the other sessions of Art, Modelling, Drama, Comedy, Movement.
Devika’s persistance in making the kids stand straight and be confident or Sowmya’s insistence on the kids using their imagination were a few take-aways from the wonderful sessions.
Every form of art is interdependent on each other and they all help the children in some way. But I always feel, the children have way more to offer the world of art and creativity then we ever will be able to offer them.
The team could see links between what they did in their sessions in Chennai and what happened at Velvi 2017.
Being fluid and adaptable in our sessions helped us to adapt to all situations in our workshop. We learned how to think out of the box and express what we do in our classes and put across our views when it came to sharing our point of view to parents’ doubts. Every obstacle was taken as a learning and every complex emotion felt on seeing the magic of the kids was converted into a new-found energy to share even more beautiful music with the children.
All in all, it was a rich experience for our team and they have all come back full of renewed enthusiasm and commitment to continue their work of taking music to the children at Hitham.