World Music Day 2010 Special: The Sound of Music

Monday, June 21, 2010

Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water bath is to the body, once said the 19th century US author and physician Oliver Wendell Holmes.

FĂȘte de la Musique or World Music Day was conceptualised in the year 1976 by American musician Joel Cohen and was taken up by French musician Maurice Fleuret. The idea of this day is to promote music and it was first celebrated in the year 1982.

Music unlocks our emotions, purifies the soul and heals us from inside but while music as therapy is well accepted in Western countries; in India it is still not too publicised.
But one organisation led by a few committed individuals is making all the difference as they spread the therapeutic value of music for a good mental and physical health of the people.

Pune-based World Centre for Creative Learning Foundation (WCCLF) came about when three individuals – Zubin Balsara, Aanand Chabukswar and Asha Pillai – gave up their different careers and decided to work on arts-based therapies, something that was 50-years-old in the West but new to India.

Arts-based therapies like music, dance and drama are used to treat de-addiction, mental illnesses, cognitive disabilities and other psychological or psychosomatic illnesses in which there are no clinical cures or drugs available.

wcclf Zubin Balsara, who was working with a multinational, found he was more in sync with a very different beat. He gave up selling packaging machinery and turned to the drums he had played since very young.  

Eventually he tracked down Arthur Hull of the Drum Circle Facilitation; a pioneer in technique training for music therapists and psychologists, and having scraped the money flew to Hawaii to learn under him.

On his return, he continued to explore how drumming could help people. In 2000, with a car-full of drums he drove up to the Muktangan De-addiction Centre and under Dr Anil Awachat’s cooperative stance began drumming circles for those suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms. As the patients danced frenziedly, Balsara was struck by the way the music altered states of consciousness – affecting them physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Zubin Balsara began exploring the medium of facilitating human potential through rhythm. Via e-mail he kept in touch with Heather Mactavish in the US who had Parkinson’s disease and had begun a foundation for fellow sufferers and other cognitive disabilities.

She found that the rhythms energised them. An excited Zubin flew out to the US and learnt from Heather the basics of setting up an NGO organisationand collating data. In 2002, he returned to set up the WCCLF along with his wife Asha Pillai who quit her job as a corporate training counsellor.

They were joined by Aanand Chabukswar. Once a teacher and later working in the Education Research Centre in Panchgani, Chabukswar’s passion was experimental theatre. He was struck by the way in which it affects emotions and even grades.

But funding posed a big problem for WCCLF.

“We approached so many funding agencies but no one was interested in art as therapy,” says Balsara.

It was only the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust that supported their beliefs, in this innovative form of healing, with an initial grant of Rs 2 lakhs.

WCCLF's chief challenge is that whilst arts-based therapies (ABTs) are accepted in the West with degrees given in colleges there is no such recognition in India where a special population could benefit by it.

Ironically in a nation where music and healing has existed since Vedic times and where concepts of ‘Om’ chants, shaman drumming and sound vibrations have been borrowed by the West, there is no systematic approach and no research.

“So if we need trained music therapists it would mean looking to the West to get a degree and to have to spend huge amounts of money for these courses,” rues Balsara.

The answer, Balsara says, therefore lies in building up our own systematic approach of ABT that can be followed in special education and development disabilities and innovatively adapting them to Indian cultural conditions.

WCCL has trained employees from various NGOs and there are many project sites where ABT is part of the rehabilitation/therapeutic programme.

For WCCLF the musical journey thus continues. Visit www.wcclf.org for further details.

: : by Sujoy Dhar : :

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