Special children compose hour-long opera
By Sonali Shenoy - CHENNAI
15th November 2012 10:16 AM
It was an unlikely concert setting at the Vidya Sagar hall recently. Orange-red fire headbands sat on the heads of one section of students. At the centre of the hall was a table with three stainless steel containers of water, each of a varying size. On a separate table sat a colourful looking instrument that resembled a very large and spongy rubik’s cube. “It’s called the Skoog,” said Nigel Osborne, former Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh. It is an instrument specially made for people with multiple disabilities to create music. He added, “In India, this is the first time that we’ve had a public concert using this instrument.” The performance was set to be a culmination of a week-long musical residency for the students by ‘Opera Circus,’ a classical music group from the UK, led by Nigel and opera singer Darren Abrahams, along with their team.
“It’s been wonderful watching our students prepare for this show,” said Rajul Padmanabhan, director of Vidya Sagar.” We’ve seen them not just ‘press’ and make music, but actually create music,” she added, smiling proudly. For students with cerebral palsy, autism and mental retardation, some of whom were even non-verbal prior to this experience, this was a rare feat. The best part? “Every note, every word has been composed by the children,” Nigel gestured toward his young stars.
They were, however, led by him and the rest of the team through the performance. But watching their jazz fingers go up high in the air for the ‘fire’ song, the resounding ‘I like water’ in unison for their ‘water’ tune and one very enthusiastic little girl pounding with glee on her tambourine – it was evident for all to see that the music was indeed their own. “We chose the five elements as a theme – earth, water, fire, air and ether,” explained Nigel.”We chose Indian music and wanted to do it in Tamil to make it easier for the children,” he stated. “But they said they would do it in English,” the music therapy expert seemed clearly impressed by their resolve.
So how long did it take for a special child to compose his or her own melody? “Oh about 20 minutes,” responded Nigel. The process is simple, he explained. “One of the educators will play a note and the child is asked to stop him if they want to include the note in their melody.” He elaborated, “This continues for a while, with different notes, and different scales – sometimes the child even spontaneously hums along a part of the melody that has not been played for him yet!” Group exercises of ‘call and respond’ with melody, beats and rhythm were also conducted as part of the composition experience.
The final song of the concert was a surprise for everybody. “I propose that instead of ending with the national anthem, we sing a new one,” announced Nigel. It was a patriotic composition, composed by 17-year-old Suriya. As the audience joined in with the simple lyrics: “I love my India. Where is my India? I love my India,” there were a few tears shed among the staff. Their children were after all, making music.
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