While the First Lady Michelle Obama was harvesting vegetables from the White House garden with school children, last week, 400 students at Eisenhower Middle School learned learn about tabla (Indian hand drums) using vegetables in an assembly on Indian music by Taalim School.
As the main drum of north Indian music, tabla occupies a large space in the musical landscape of India, thus serving as the perfect gateway through which to understand Indian music, and the basis of Taalim’s school outreach program. Over the course of the assembly, students learned about the role of tabla, how it is constructed, and most interestingly how it is played and used in Indian music. Taalim artist Jin Won introduced the 5th graders at Eisenhower to the various forms of Indian music (folk, semi-classical, classical, contemporary) through the lens of rhythm, as fellow artist Kaumil Shah played different rhythm patterns on the drum so students could hear how the music changed from genre to genre.
Listening and seeing are great tools for learning, but diversifying the way information is taught only enhances a student’s learning and retention! Keeping this in mind, the students were led through a series of activities where they used their bodies and competed against each other to learn rhythm cycles and rhythm concepts like tihais.
Generally, tabla students, like our assembly’s special guest – Taalim (and Eisenhower) student Janak Munshi, learn compositions and patterns using tabla bols (tabla “words” that correspond to specific strokes on the drum), but newbies to the drum often get mixed up in the foreign sounds, making it difficult to learn the rhythm patterns. To circumvent the problem, connecting tabla and rhythm patterns with something the students were already familiar with, tihais were created from vegetable names, illustrating how numerical patterns and language interact in tabla. Soon the gym was filled with students speaking tihais made of broccoli and kale! Taalim strives to make Indian music enjoyable and accessible, and with the help of vegetables, we were able to do just that! After learning about tabla, hearing how the drum was used, and speaking the language of tabla, the assembly closed with Janak Munshi performing a small tabla solo, wowing his classmates with his musical skills. As the Eisenhower music teacher shared afterwards: Our students thoroughly enjoyed learning about the tablas and Indian rhythms. The presenters were wonderful with the children and helped them realize that Indian drumming is accessible to every person, regardless of cultural knowledge and background. The interaction during the assembly was not only fun, but also educational for our students.