Music has so many benefits for children – it facilitates brain development, making them creative, innovative, and collaborative while also being a source of fun and relaxation. So, naturally, as a parent, you will be interested to know what kind of music your 8 year old or 12 year old or even your infant should be exposed to. And do you have any influence on your teenagers’ tastes in music? Dr. Bindu Subramaniam, Dean of SaPa Music Academy, answers all these questions while sharing what music she grew up listening to, and what she considers the best music for a child or teen.
What music did you learn growing up?
We learnt the Indian violin from my dad (Dr. L Subramaniam). And a Western voice, Western violin, and piano from external teachers.
Is there a connection between Western and Carnatic music?
If you look at the foundation of the notes and you look at certain ragas corresponding to certain scale patterns…there are definitely a lot of connections.
Was learning all these forms of music your choice?
We never asked ourselves whether we wanted to learn the violin. It was just the right thing to do! So, we all learnt the violin because we come from this lineage of violinists. But I always felt more like a singer.
Of course your mother was a singer, so genetics…
Well, genetics does not really appeal to me. I felt I could express myself with my voice. I feel that nature vs. nurture stuff, people use nature to hide behind a lot of flaws. People think that unless you are born with it, you will never get it. You should not think that they need to win a biological lottery to achieve something. It negates the need for hard work. To me, hard work is everything.
How important is it for children to be exposed to music?
It’s really important for all children to have music exposure early in life. So much research is there to prove how useful it is for children. I have not yet come across a child who, when introduced to music in the right way, and by that I mean in a way that is meaningful to them, that still won’t like music. It’s very natural for children to move to a beat, to respond to sound. Even babies do it. They express joy when they listen to music. When we say kids are not inclined to music, in my personal experience, it is that they are not inclined to the methodology that we present them with. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with music as such. If kids are not engaging, we should look at the methodology and not the music first.
What were your influences growing up?
Pop was encouraged. My parents are extremely open-minded and so, my mother had done a degree in world music, which was African and Indonesian music. My dad had been writing for orchestras. His first orchestral commission was around the time I was born in fact. So, I have been listening and being in the US, (of course, it’s the same for kids in India today), you have access to pop and contemporary music. So, in the morning, on the way to school, there would be MS Subbalakshmi. I don’t think they ever said…’This is not good music’ or ‘You can’t listen to any music’.
So, is it okay for kids to listen to hard rock and heavy metal? As opposed to classical music?
Any music that resonates with you is good music. And when I say good, it doesn’t have to be technically perfect but one of the really important things with music is that it makes you feel things. Whatever music makes you feel something is good music to you. However, it’s also a good thing to always look at expanding your horizons. Even as adults, we can be pretty closed-minded about what music we like and don’t like. So, we expect kids to mimic what we like but we don’t necessarily like what our parents liked!
All of us think that the pop music of our childhood was great music and the pop music of the current generation is garbage! So, it’s about us being open-minded but also being open-minded enough to realise our kids can and will appreciate different styles of music as long as we can get them to be open-minded listeners. Then, that’s enough.
So, it’s okay for children to not want to learn Western classical, Carnatic, Hindustani or any other classical music of the world?
There’s actually research that shows that we like music that we are familiar with. I think the study was with Native American and Japanese music to kids in a US elementary school or something like that…after listening to music 3 or 4 times, you start developing a taste for it. And this has been proved many, many times in different circumstances. It’s also the reason why a pop song on the radio will have the same hook line come like 6 or 8 times in the same song. After you’ve heard the song once, the second time you’ve heard it, you’re already so familiar with it that you’re singing along. So, I think that before deciding that you don’t like something, you need to give it a real chance which means listening to it in small doses multiple times and seeing if there is something that you like about it.
So, parents can play the music that they would like their kids to listen to and over time, they will start liking it!
Yes! Shantanu Moitra always tells this beautiful anecdote, which I think is so powerful. He says that when (Rabindranath) Tagore was in Europe, he went to an opera and he wrote back home to someone saying, ‘I went to the opera and I wasn’t really that impressed. I didn’t get it. But I sat through the whole thing and at the end of it, everyone around me was so moved. Some people were crying and clapping and cheering. It was an overwhelming experience for everybody but I felt nothing. So, I have decided that I will be going to the opera every day for the next one month so I can understand what it is that they feel.’
Absolutely. And that’s mind-bending in a way.
Dr. Bindu Subramaniam, Dean of SaPa Music Academy, wears many hats in musical and non-musical circles – a singer-songwriter, author, entrepreneur, and educator. She has been performing on stage since she was 12, and her first solo album was critically acclaimed and nominated for a GiMA (Global Indian Music Awards).