Friday, February 25, 2011

Shankar Mahadevan Launches Online Music Academy (Article Reflection)

Shankar Mahadevan launches online music academy

Press Trust of India

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 (Houston)


I read an interesting article that announced the establishment of an online academy of music education. Indian composer and musician Shankar Mahadevan will be launching the Shankar Mahadevan Academy with the hopes of changing the music education of non-resident Indian residents living in the United States. His goal is to provide the NRIs "closer to their roots and impart structured education in Indian classical music simply from the convenience of their homes." The online academy will provide its students with the two items that Mahadevan deems as essential to any learning environment: a textbook and access to a teacher. The site will act as the text, and the online teachers will be available during specific, scheduled times throughout the day. According to Mahadevan, customarily within the culture of traditional Indian music, students are taught in a very informal and unstructured manner; his online academy is now imparting “structure” and “form” to classical Indian music, and filling this existing gaps, which separate this music from that which is learned in other institutes of music education, such as Berklee College or Juilliard School of Music. Additionally, the online music academy will also incorporate methods of using technology to make the act of acquiring a “high-quality music education” through a way that makes it “fun”, and available to NRIs worldwide. Courses offered through the Shankar Mahadevan community will unfold over a 12 week duration, and will be taught through a combination of the online music textbook OM (Online Music), interactive music lessons with a qualified music teacher, and assessments. Upon successful completion of these courses, students will receive a certificate in their area of study, including: Carnatic and Hindustani vocal courses or in one of the other individual courses in Bollywood, folk, religious chanting, and other styles of music instruction.


Through my first reading of the article describing Shankar Mahadevan’s online music education academy it sounds like the perfect solution, to a common, cultural musical problem. It’s eloquent wording and ease of global access that provides a “high quality Indian Music education” to learners, almost effortlessly, seems to be too good to be true. However, a closer review of this capitalistic venture highlights some of the shortcomings and contradictory aspects to this approach at providing a culturally-rich context of music education. For instance, Mahadevan emphasizes the “unstructured”, informal, yet culturally specific way in which Indian classical music is taught. In my eyes, I see this very mode of Indian classical music education as being one of its defining features, and one which should be preserved in order to fully engage in a meaningful, music experience, as per Indian cultural tradition. I see the very practice of music acquisition in a culture, be it Indian, North American, or any one of the global plethora of others, as being a crucial element of the music itself. This online academy has ignored this informally-learned aspect of the rich Indian musical culture, and has instead, transformed it into an economic commodity in order to generate a profit, in a musical style that is not Indian, but is instead, very much North American, in nature. When music stops being taught, learned, and experienced for its very sake, but is instead produced and sold as a consumer “good”, we have lost the essence of music. Mahadevan’s academy is one such case. Moreover, by reducing traditional Indian classical music from a musical experience that is learned by doing, observing, and participating in shared musical moments to that which is learned through reading, and practicing by oneself, it also shows a clear divergence from the music itself. When the purpose of music-making is no longer the experience and activity itself but it is the receipt of a certificate declaring one’s musicality, we must reevaluate. Traditional Indian classical music is lost in this online academy.

In my approach to music teaching, I try to hold the musical genre and the learner in close proximation. Thus, I attempt to keep the music within its most appropriate context, and try to ensure that the teaching and learning process is carried out in a way that remains true to the specific music that is being taught. All genres cannot be approached in a one-dimensional teaching model, nor do all musics fit all learners or audiences. I will emphasize musical understanding and technical proficiency, as, and to the degree that it applies to the music itself, but I will also try to ensure that the student does not lose sight of the larger musical experience; this happens when music becomes a joint experience between not only myself and my student(s), but with an audience of listeners to share in this musical event. While the pursuit of musical excellence and proficiency provides feelings of self-worth, and self-accomplishment, I see the act of music making as one that needs to be enjoyed in a social context, as opposed to isolation. This article reminds me how important the social aspect of music truly is, and makes me anxious to continue to seek out opportunities for both myself and my students to both listen to the music created and shared by those around us, and also, to share and participate in collective experiences of music.

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