World Music Day: This band of hearing impaired girls from Chennai manage an unheard harmony
CHENNAI: If you thought music was only for the gifted — take a Do-Re-Mi course from these ladies. They can't hear, but that doesn't stop them from leading their entire school in perfect rhythm anyway.
Meet the All-Girl Marching Band of the Little Flower Convent Higher Secondary School For The Deaf who whip up a mean beat — be it for the march past on Sports Day or the National Anthem any day of the week. The group called the 'LFC Beethoven Band' is made up of 18 members who were chosen for their natural rhythm and musical leanings despite their disability, with the youngest aged 12 and the oldest, 16.
"We look for rhythm in their bodies and speech right from the pre-kindergarten (KG) classes," says Sister M Jesintha Rosalind, Principal of the school. Infact, she adds, in what will come as a surprise to most, "Drum kits are introduced in every class as early as the first standard!"
Of course you're probably still wondering how a hearing impaired child 'hears' the beat of a drum in the first place. The answer is, they don't. Instead, the orientation to music is done using touch (like a tap-tap-tap on the arm) and vibration.
This is not to say that it doesn't take double the effort for these students when they hit their practice pad for two hours every Wednesday. Fifteen-year-old M Aasifa Begum recalls, " When I started in the band three years ago, I tried every instrument before I settled down with my trumpet. It took a long 30 days of getting used to, my lips really hurt in the beginning from all that blowing. But now I would never give it up!" A marching tune that for a mainstream student would take two hours to get acquainted with, would likely take a hearing impaired musician two days.
Also, instead of one conductor, this band has three. "That's one for the trumpet, one for the bugle and one for the drums," relates Nirmala Rani, the teacher-in-charge of the band. She explains, "We do this to prevent confusion during a performance. As they cannot hear, our girls are completely reliant on watching the conductor who gestures when to start, stop and what the rhythm sequences are for each piece." In fact, she adds, "We actually march around the field with them so they can see us at all times when they are playing."
Here's the biggest irony of all — none of the the conductors who are involved in this programme can play an instrument. The teaching of music notes is actually outsourced to a music master who practises with these students for a month to get their basics in order, before he hands over the baton to these dedicated teacher-cum-conductors whose forte is teaching Maths and Science during the day. But it's all worth in the end when you look at the gleeful faces of these girls."The only feeling that is better than the slow, steady beat of my drum is watching the audience clap their hands at the end," beams C Divya, a ninth grader from the school.
The IFN Beethoven Band which saw its first batch of students in 2008, opens up to new students every three years. So far, there haven't been any boys in the group as they study in the school only up to Class 4. But with quite a lot of boys asking to join, Nirmala ma'am let's on, "We're considering getting of inducting a few boys into the band with our fresh batch of students in July."