The city of dreams and the music hub of India — Mumbai — recently welcomed 30 children from a distant town called Kalimpong in Darjeeling to display their musical talent to Western Classical lovers in the city.
Gandhi Ashram School in Kalimpong is a unique Jesuit school, which caters to the poorest of the town and yet, these students have managed to master the art of producing exquisite music on western stringed instruments.
This school places emphasis on learning at least one instrument, and its students are trained in Western Classical and traditional folk music. The 245 students of the school — all of whom are day-scholars — are given lessons in violin, cello, viola and at times piano as well. “Keeping education in mind we also stress on music as we realised that these children are highly talented in music and are now, proficient in producing a tone by vibrating strings,” says Fr Jeyantilal Patel, Headmaster, Gandhi Ashram.
The students are taught music twice a week on normal days and for an extended period prior to a concert. Fr Patel says, “We have two trained music teachers in our school. Besides this we also get teachers from Germany to teach music to our children.”
The group being trained in Western Classical Music also performs Bollywood and Nepali folk songs. In order to appeal to the Indian audience, the group plays more of Bollywood numbers than other genres. “The Indian crowd seems to like Bollywood music more than any other genre,” says Fr Patel also conveying, “For the kids, music is their life.”
Wherever they go, according to Fr Patel, the students enjoy maximum attention. “Besides grabbing attention, these children also get an opportunity to meet veteran musicians and singers from the industry. In Mumbai, they met singer Shaan and they wasted no time in conveying this exciting anecdote to their family back in Kalimpong,” says Fr Patel.
Gandhi Ashram has not only managed to raise funds for the school and the children because of their musical talent, but the students themselves have experienced the advantage of passing out from a music oriented school. “First, their musical talent has rewarded many scholarships to these children. Second, there are students who enter colleges through the music quota,” expresses Fr Patel.
The school was founded in 1993 by Late Jesuit priest Fr Ed McGuire with the aim of doing something for the underprivileged children. “Fr McGuire used to visit houses and interact with families just to bring children to school. Since then, we successfully follow the same tradition of going house to house to encourage children to come to school. We provide these children complete financial support,” says Fr Patel.
However, this is their first time to Mumbai, relates Fr Patel. He also says that this trip was a dream come true for the young musicians. “Mumbai means Bollywood and they just wanted to meet people from Bollywood,” says Fr Patel, adding, “They strongly believe that Mumbai is indeed the city of dreams.”
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