A school that teaches Hindustani music to rural kids

About 16 km away from Dharwad, nestled in the midst of lush green farms is a residential school, Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya.

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You must go to Kalkeri,” a music enthusiast told me during a recent visit to Hubli-Dharwad region, the nerve centre of Hindustani music in the southern part of the country.

About 16 km away from Dharwad, nestled in the midst of lush green farms is a residential school, Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya. It was Mathieu Fortier, a Canadian, who came up with the idea of training poor children in music, and at the same time providing them with regular education free of cost.

Fortier came to India many years ago and ended up spending time at Shantiniketan in West Bengal, then at Varanasi, learning music. When he heard of Dharwad and its affinity to Hindustani music, he moved there and learnt music from Rajashekhar Mansur, son of Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur.

Sometime in 2000, Mathieu and his brother Blaise started free evening music lessons. Then, in 2002, Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya started its operation at a rented farm. Initially it was difficult to get students. Parents would rather have these children work at farms.
But the school built a relationship with the families from where the children were chosen. Today, there are 185 students and 43 full-time staff.

Inspired by Gawai
The inspiration for this project came from Veereshwar Punyashrama at Gadag near Hubli.  Pandit Panchakshara Gawai had set up this ashram for congenitally blind children and orphans way back in 1942. The ashram produced musicians like Pandit Basavaraj Rajguru, Siddharam Swamy, Panchakshari Matigati, Arjunsam Nakod, Somnath Mardur, Kumardas and BS Mutt.

In music, the children are trained in vocal, harmonium, table, sitar, violin and flute. A typical daily routine starts with one-hour music practice in the morning. After a break this is followed up with a three-hour music class and then full-fledged school that is based on the Karnataka syllabus in Kannada medium.

In 2011, Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya had 100% success in the tenth standard examinations. Largely dependent on overseas money, the school now wants to set itself free from external help and look for funding within the country.  Currently it is funded by money raised by Young Musicians of the World, an organisation set up by Mathieu Fortier’s brother Blaise in Canada.

“Once Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya is on its own, Young Musicians of the World can fund similar projects in other parts of the world,” said Adam Woodward, director of Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya.

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