How one school's music lessons is transforming the lives of children in Mowach Goth
Nations have transformed themselves through the promotion of music and arts.
Standing out among the many music training initiatives in Karachi is The Dream Model Street School in Mowach Goth, its construction advocated by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and supported by none other than superstar Madonna by way of raising funds. The school has been a model of experimentation and excellence since.
Music has always been a key component in the school. Now with its formal music education programme conducted by guitar virtuoso Asif Sinan, it aims for an even higher challenge.
“You've probably heard of New Orleans. We know it as the birthplace of Jazz. But do you know that New Orleans also has one of the highest crime and homicidal rates in the US? The more challenging the circumstances, the more original and beautiful will be the art form emerging from it.
"Recently, the crime and homicidal rates are reversing in New Orleans. How? The state’s economic well-being now depends on music which brings in tourism and inflow of money. Hence, everyone makes a concentrated effort to push for peace and harmony. Hence, the second takeaway is that music makes a concrete difference in societies.
“The Dream Model Street School is open to innovative ideas. Inspired by various education models in the US, they have had music classes and related activities in the past, but nothing sustainable. My plan is to teach music as a formal subject. I still remember my first board meeting with them. I had gone armed with studies, successes and scientific insights into the importance of music but the board simply said, ‘You are trying to convince the already convinced’.
“My programme is special because it is tailored to the challenges of Mowach Goth. Given time and education, the potential for serious music to emerge from there does exist. Plus, through the programme I have not created ‘students’ but ‘music mentors’ who can disseminate knowledge, and teach others.
“We concentrate on the history of music, its adaab, the theory of Eastern classical music, the connection of music with nature and the role of rhythm and melody in everyday lives.”
Challenges in music
“I realise that I am not there only to teach music. I am there to give them a lesson for life. To enable them to think for themselves and not just accept things at face value. Some have resisted while others have opened up. There was an incident where a student sneaked in after school hours and broke a table, all because his teacher told him so.”
The upside to teaching music
“About 70pc of my class comprises girls (how’s that for girl power!). A 15-year-old girl in my class actually runs a shop after school hours. She fought with her mother to attend my music classes and on the day of her performance, she shone like a star on stage. Her mother is now so proud of her!”
Not your average music class
“You can’t study music in isolation. To really understand music and appreciate its subtleties, you have to take a holistic view of it. Music is the highest form of the arts. It is intricately connected with mathematics and architecture. People who study music start excelling in subjects like grammar and science. Music is magic in more ways than one.”
“Among the highlights for students was a music studio visit where they recorded a song on professional equipment, and the other was their finale performance for the community.
“The music studio visit was a game changer. They recorded a song at Emu’s studio and bombarded me with questions in the class following the visit. They also became dead-serious about making a professional presentation in front of their community.
“The music students are completely in love with Coke Studio. In fact, many told their parents that they were preparing for it (that’s probably the only way their parents understood what they were up to in school). So, when I asked them what their ensemble should be called, they said they wanted to call it ‘Dream Studio’. And guess who enjoyed their performance the most? The mothers of not only the performers, but also the ones who had pulled their children out or who hadn’t allowed their children to take the music classes to begin with!
“Music needs to be become a part of our formal curriculum. Many schools say they have ‘Music’ as a subject but it’s just a teacher on a keyboard who plays random songs, and makes children sing. More than half the time, even the chords of the songs are all wrong. It pains me to see tone-deaf and rhythm-less children. We need to change that. I envision a harmonious society — and for me music education is the only way we can bring about that change.”
Originally published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 17th, 2016