A Life of thinking globally, acting locally, and seeking peace internally.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hoping for "Hum Honge Kamyab"...

I recently talked about my article about Sacred Music that appeared in Vishwa Hindu. While I am sorry to say that at our most recent MLK Jr. Day in Troy, we weren't able to sing Hum Honge Kamyab, (the Hindi lyrics for We Shall Overcome – a song that became a key anthem of the US civil rights movement), we do sing many versions of the song - Hebrew, Spanish, English and Hindi - at the Troy Interfaith Group's National Day of Prayer. Troy lives up to its promise of engaging and embracing the diversity it embodies, at this simple event in May, and in numerous other ways. Hopefully we will sing Hum Honge Kamyab at the next MLK event in January 2010 and beyond. After all, given the state of our economy and our world, we really need to work on overcoming in as many languages as possible!

Sharing Sacred Music in the School

When my daughter was in elementary school, a "Holiday Sing-A-Long" was held – it incorporated Christmas carols, many of which were comic in nature, as well as a Ramadan poem, a Kwanzaa song and a dreidel song (from the Jewish tradition) that I had learned as a child growing up in NY. The president of my children's school PTO (which sponsored the event), asked me to help include a song from the Indian tradition. After consulting with the other Indian parents in the school (we have 10% Indian-American students in our district), we chose to teach and have the kids of desi origin – Hindus, Muslims and Christians – sing Raghupathi Raghava Raja Ram. The song was printed in the program and allowed others an opportunity to sing along.

Although this illustrates what we can do to have our voices heard (literally!) in a mainstream public school program, there is an official statement that supports this type of inclusion.

During its August 1993 meeting, the National Board of the American Choral Directors Association adopted the following position statement pertaining to music from a sacred tradition in the public schools.
"Any work of art studied or performed should be selected for its inherent beauty of structure and form. Its purpose in study should be learning for the sake of developing artistic understanding and responsiveness. Often artworks are related to a specific religious/cultural tradition. The study of such works of art can enhance one's understanding and appreciation of a cultural product which a particular tradition has fostered.
In no way should music be selected for study and performance in the public schools for the purpose of advancing or perpetuating a particular religious belief system. Rather, music should be selected first, on its own merits as an art form and second, as a cultural object for study which enhances the understanding of the cultural development of a particular movement in human civilization.
Problems of misunderstanding and intent seem to arise most frequently with solo songs and choral compositions which have a sacred text. While public school teaching objectives and criteria for repertoire selection should not include religious indoctrination, the selection of quality repertoire will invariably include, within its broad scope, music with a sacred text. To exclude from a public school curriculum all choral music which has a religious meaning associated with the text is to limit severely the possibilities of teaching for artistic understanding and responsiveness. Such exclusion has as its parallel the study of art excluding paintings related to the various religions of the world, the study of literature without mention of the Bible, or the study of architecture without reference to the great temples and cathedrals of the world.
Care should be taken in the performance of music associated with any religious/cultural tradition that it not be construed as a religious service or religious celebration. Whenever possible, a multiplicity of cultural traditions should be included in musical programming.
C. Typical educational standards should include a range and a balanced offering of music from various religions/cultural traditions. Music from a sacred tradition shall be created, studied, and performed as an educational experience that relates to achieving goals and objectives, and shall not be designed to foster a religious belief."

The entire statement is available at http://www.acdaonline.org/statements&policies/sacredmusic.shtml

While such a statement exists, and enables parents to ensure that suitable Indian music is included in the curriculum, limited resources are available to the mainstream community to use to achieve this goal. Most music books that teachers use nationally do not contain many Indian songs. Material can be found online, by going to music shops in India (books with Western staff notation for Carnatic, Hindustani and film songs), or by purchasing books such as the Unitarian Universalist hymn book Singing the Living Tradition (it has the words and music for Raghupathi Raghava Raja Ram, but not the translation). These materials can be provided as supplemental materials to teachers if they are unable to find something. The easiest thing to do is to give them the lyrics to Hum Honge Kamyab, which is sung to the tune of We Shall Overcome – a song that became a key anthem of the US civil rights movement.

Parents should work with their children's elementary, middle school and high school teachers, administrators and music directors to ensure that ALL children have an opportunity to hear and honor music from all traditions in a fair and equitable manner. Hindustani and Carnatic classical and Indian folk music traditions are wonderful, and our children can take pride in them. It is also important to create an awareness of the complexity and diversity of these traditions – not just Bollywood tunes and other pop music. After all, Beethoven is being taught more often in academic settings, not Britney Spears. It is our responsibility to ensure that we support our children's learning so that they can raise their voices in the music we hold sacred and dear – it will be melodious to all our ears!

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