CHENNAI: Being on a stage is a dream for everyone. More often than not, the disabled are left in the fringes to just applaud and watch. Despite promises of space, real-time participation of those with special needs in performative arts continues to be a rare sight.
Prabha Gurumurthy, a Bajans and semi-classical music teacher from Mylapore, who spent 20 long years teaching music to children, knows this well. Her recent decision to provide music classes for children with disabilities stems from that realisation. She recalls the moment of inspiration for inducting differently-abled children into her music school, Suriya School of Music.
A 24-year-old man with autism approached her during one of her classes and asked her why he never got a chance to perform on stage like the other kids. The thought provoked a million emotions in her which later guided her to the idea of starting separate tuition for children with disabilities and forming a team that can perform together at events.
For over a month now, Prabha has been teaching music to at least 15 students with disabilities at the PS Higher Secondary School in Mylapore. Parents were overjoyed and it was nothing short of impressive when the children sang movie songs in perfect unison at a recent event in the city.
“A majority of my students have autism or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) while there are two blind students attending the classes now. My second son has ADHD and my attempts to teach him music came to nothing due to his lack of interest. And since I’ve been cautious about choosing only kids who are genuinely interested in music. I conduct auditions in singing before I admit the kids into my classes,” says Prabha.
One of the students who performed at the recent event in the city says how wonderful an experience it was to be seen and heard by the audience. “I know how to play the keyboard. But it was my first-ever singing performance at the event. Although my classmates and I were nervous to be on the stage, we were able to sing well. I am really enjoying Prabha ma’am’s music classes,” says Pragadeesh Thiagarajan, one of the students who counts Sirkazhi Govindarajan as his favourite singer.
The parents of the students attending Prabha’s classes are incredibly grateful and happy to be witnessing the change in the children’s lives. “When the classes began, we assumed it would be impossible for them to sit through the classes. However, they started enjoying the classes, even on weekends when they had to sit through some five hours. My son could never sing along with karaoke before, but he is now slowly learning the skill. All students are enthusiastically attending the classes and there are evident changes in their behaviour and speech as well,” says Mangai Alwar, a parent whose son AS Prem Shankar goes to Prabha’s classes regularly.
Prabha wishes to cherish her dream of giving more stage time to these children. Her next move is to rope in more musicians who can teach musical instruments to the kids. “We charge a modest fee. Once we have more students, we are planning to rope in musicians to start teaching mridangam, keyboard, and tabla,” she says with hope in her eyes.