Rest of Asia

Indian music icons Kishori Amonkar, AR Rahman featured in UK school curriculum

Prasun Sonwalkar/London
Filed on April 1, 2021

British-Palestinian musician Reem Kelani's Sprinting Gazelle is part of curriculum's diverse musical genres.

School children in Britain will soon be able to listen and learn about music from the work of Indian legends like the late Kishori Amonkar and A R Rahman, besides Western exponents such as Mozart, The Beatles, Whitney Houston and historically-important composers such as Vivaldi, as part of a new Model Music Curriculum.

The diversity of music genres to be taught includes those identified with the Middle East, such as Reem Kelani’s Sprinting Gazelle and Ilgar Moradof’s Sari Galin from the Grammy-nominated Endless Vision album in 2005.

The Department of Education (DoE) said pupils at Key Stages 1, 2, and 3 would learn about the great composers of the world and develop their knowledge and skills in reading and writing music. They will be taught about a range of genres and styles and be introduced to instruments and singing from Year 1, it announced last week.

The Indian music traditions in the curriculum include Amonkar’s Sahela Re, several artistes performing Rag Desh, Rahman’s Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire, Anoushka Shankar’s Indian Summer and Bollywood number Munni Badnam Hui composed by Lalit Pandit.

The curriculum document says that the inclusion of Rag Desh is due to a large number of learning resources already in place in many schools. The different recordings enable pupils to learn the nature of how a ‘rag’ relates to Western conceptions of melody as well as how performance can be exploratory instead of cleaving to a fixed original, it adds.

Also included is Bhangra Bhabiye Akh Larr Gayee, by the United Kingdom (UK)-based Bhujhangy bhangra group. The document states: “This track marks a momentous step in the development of Bhangra – a style which originated as a folk dance celebrated during the time of the harvest. The current style and form of Bhangra formed together in the 1940s, although historical records of it can be seen from the late 1800s”.

Bhangra Bhabiye Akh Larr Gayee combines traditional Asian sounds with modern Western musical instruments and influences. It was created by the world’s longest-running Bhangra band, the Bhujhangy Group, which had always been interested in Western music as well as traditional Punjabi music, learning to play the guitar, banjo, and accordion as well as the dhol, tumbi, and dholak”.

The document notes that Moradof’s Sari Galin is a Middle Eastern folk song of unrequited love with contested origins, reflected in the use of Azeri, Armenian and Persian lyrics in the recording.

It says: “The mode used is similar to the Western minor scale and reflects the theme of rejection in the song. This could initiate an interesting discussion about the universal nature of some musical features: why do minor scales evoke sadness? Is this universal? If so, why were the verses of some trance anthems (e.g., Aurora’s Ordinary World or Oceanlab’s Satellite) popular euphoric dance tunes?”

On Kelani’s Sprinting Gazelle, the curriculum document explains: “Kelani collected and arranged songs from Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora including from her maternal family in Nazareth and women in the refugee camps in Lebanon. As well as traditional music, the album includes her own settings of contemporary poetry. The title track is highlighted on the list for core listening but the whole album will provide pupils with opportunities for further listening”.

The DoE said the curriculum had been developed by a panel of 15 music education specialists led by Veronica Wadley, a member of the House of Lords. The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music was contracted by the DoE to draft the curriculum under the guidance of the panel.

Britain’s Minister for School Standards Nick Gibb said while releasing the curriculum: “Music is a hugely important part of most people’s lives. This is especially true during the lockdown period, in which music has been used to inspire, soothe and energise us”.

“A rich variety of music should be part of the daily life of every school. We want all schools to have a rigorous and broad music curriculum that inspires their pupils to love music, and stands alongside high levels of academic attainment,” he added.

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