Hamsakutira, a non-profit organisation based in Bengaluru, has been transforming lives through the right music intervention. It was started by music therapist and veena artist Geetha Bhat in 2003. The organisation aims to promote Carnatic music as a means of healing and uses it to correct and improve learning capabilities of children, with a special focus on special children. Many students have benefitted from learning music here, their creativity and academics have improved. Adults also come here to learn the nuances of raga and tala for relaxation. But the beauty of Hamsakutira lies in what it does with those who face bias and discrimination from the society.
Aims & activities
"Music is universal. It can be used to promote emotional intelligence, as a means of self-expression, and to promote self-growth and analysis. In special children, music therapy works wonders. Here, a special child's or adult's baseline ability is assessed and subsequent intervention is provided. Their attention span increases and some of the behavioural problems like temper tantrums come down. Even parents of children with the disabilities report a reduction in their anxieties after listening to music. Music is also known to reduce other psychiatric symptoms. Effects of certain ragas on our emotional state are well documented," says Geetha.
Hamsakutira also wants to change the mindset of the music community regarding the abilities of people with special needs. Children with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and learning disabilities receive music therapy from Geetha and her team. She believes that it is easier to teach musically gifted children, but challenging to impart musical training to those without that specific talent. Dr Meenakshi Ravi, also a music therapist, says, "For those with high levels of stress and suicidal tendencies, music therapy is enormously beneficial." She wishes to see music therapy reach greater heights through such efforts.
Training & therapy
Which form of music is better for those with special needs - vocal or instrumental? "Instrumental training involves multiple senses and the sensory integration brought via musical training." At the same time, Geetha points out that there is no standard template for music therapy.
Each student is different. Sometimes training begins with Tibetan bowls or drums that are less noisy. Naveen, a child with dyslexia, was introduced to musical notes through Veena and then went on to singing. Aditya, a 14-year-old who always had a liking for music, has improved in other areas subsequent to music therapy. His father, Rajashekar, says, "Earlier he would hardly speak to me on the phone, now he can carry on a conversation. His tolerance level has improved so much that they have started him on computer training in the school."
Geetha adds that her special needs students are empathetic as well. They sense a performer's stress before a concert and show kind gestures like bringing the participants some water.
Her special students have performed at prestigious platforms like the Academy of Music at Chowdaiah memorial hall and Karnataka Fine Arts Council.
Terminally ill patients in Karunashraya, a hospice, have listened to Hamsakutira students' soulful music and thanked the performers for taking them to the divine. Residents of old age homes have also had the joy of listening to a Veena recital by Geetha. Their performances were appreciated by veteran musicians like Suma Sudhindra and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. "It was transformational in a sense. Our children performing at prestigious platforms meant that the community was becoming more accepting," says Geetha.
Hamsakutira also conducts Naadaprayatna, an annual inclusive event where all the students of the organisation showcase their talents. Geetha has given several lectures regarding music therapy at hospitals, at non-profit organisations and holistic medical centres to educate people. Hamsakutira wants to groom more people in the field of music psychology and therapy as there are only a few organisations and individuals across the country doing this work.
At grass-roots level
Anasooya Vasudevan, a student of Geetha, is one such socially inclined person who carries out music therapy for children. Krithika was a child who hardly spoke, but after months of training learnt to sing a devotional song, much to her parents' delight. Hamsakutira is also looking to do collaborative research with others to scientifically advance the field of music therapy.
It also works with slum children by offering them counselling, by creating awareness about various forms of abuse and conducting personality development programmes for them. It wants to start a vocational rehabilitation centre for those with special needs. "We want music and movement to become part of academics across all schools. Our education system should also sensitise children towards the needs of those with disabilities," says Geetha.
For more information, log on to www.hamsakutira.in.