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Meher Marfatia: Thank you for the music

Riffs to ragas, music completes a child’s world as few other experiences can

Pure joy packed the theatre. It was as if the auditorium was warmed wall-to-wall by one big collective smile. Strumming, plucking, bowing, blowing into instruments twice their size, the children of a city music school performed virtuoso-like last week. Utterly endearing in their manner — bright of smile, jaunty of step, engrossed in the magic of the moment — their stage sparkle rippled contagiously across the concert hall.

Learning to play piano and guitar (but not part of the above ensemble) our own children surprise me and my husband. Generously introducing us to the music of their generation, they equally enjoy retro anthems from our campus years. They also never tire of hearing a pair of family anecdotes.

Representation pic
Representation pic

One is about their grandfather, my dad, beginning violin lessons when he was 75, with a 25-year-old teacher. The other describes their mother falling asleep as a baby in a pram parked beneath stacks of LPs, strains of Bach to Brahms her lullabies. Those timeless melodies swelling from a vintage Grundig system did make my eyes scrunch shut in mere minutes.

My father's favourites being Beethoven and wizard-of-the-violin Jascha Heifetz, he'd fervently hoped both his kids could share his heroes' birthdays. My brother obliged, coming in close, just a day after Heifetz's. I was doomed to more distance, rushing out to greet the world a whole fortnight before Beethoven's.

It wasn't enough having the maestros' marble busts placed benignly beside ancestral portraits in every room. Paying tangible tribute to mark those musicians' birthdays, we sat to festive breakfasts of sev and ravo, sweet dishes the Parsis traditionally tuck into on auspicious occasions! Ticking these red-letter dates on the calendar was my wonderful, encouraging mother who quite literally fed her husband's hobby.

Why harp on half-a-century-ago happenings? Because they have surely shaped my present and will indelibly stamp my kids' future. The power and positivity of music stir children and adults alike. The young intuitively grasp what psychologist Howard Gardner clarifies in his cult book Frames of Mind: the Theory of Multiple Intelligences: that music is an inextricable part of how we make sense of our world. Gardner writes: "I want children to understand the world because it is fascinating and the human mind is curious. We need to if we are to avoid past mistakes and move in productive directions."

Key to this understanding is to know who we are and what we can do. Gardner explores human cognition in its fullness, identifying eight intellects, one specifically musical.

> Verbal/Linguistic intelligence: propels reading, writing and speaking

> Mathematical/Logical: nurtures the left brain, enhances math skills

> Visual/Spatial: perceives space in three dimensions and directions

> Body/Kinesthetic: releases the energies of physical movement, dance and play

> Intra-personal: offers self-esteem and self (spiritual) awareness

> Inter-personal: builds communication and leadership qualities

> Musical/Rhythmical: fosters a love for song and rhythm patterns

> Naturalistic: recognises the readiness to appreciate nature

> The last two faculties — musical and naturalistic — raise sensitivity extraordinarily, yet suffer shorter shrift than the rest of Gardner's octet.

What a pity that music is dropped from several senior school curricula, though it offers amazing scope to apply math and science concepts. Music beautifully marries many disciplines. In a lecture I attended, nuclear physicist and musician R Vijayaraghavan, from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, explained the connections. With audio-visual examples of resonance, harmonics, tonality, sonic waves and pitch pacing, he showed the fascinating synthesis between music, mathematics and physics.

An interest in some form of music is a chance and choice gifted to us all. Here's a happy coda to the start of this story. After long years spent following his passion, my father authored a book on Western classical composers when he turned 90 two summers ago.

To his delight, Zubin Mehta graced it with a foreword. He is now immersed in writing a book on music appreciation for children, as well as compiling a vintage songbook for my son and daughter, actually singing out the old lyrics for their listening pleasure when they visit him. Mine is the privilege of witnessing firsthand an enduring love for music touch three generations so far. I celebrate it, I cherish it. And know it inspires my kids to rock on.

Write in to Meher at: mehermarfatia@gmail.com

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