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Updated: July 1, 2015 19:29 IST

A song for silicon city

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Singer Shankar Mahadevan. Photo: Special Arrangement
Singer Shankar Mahadevan. Photo: Special Arrangement

Shankar Mahadevan explains why Bengaluru is perfect for his virtual music Academy’s offline presence.

Shankar Mahadevan started his career as a software programmer. An online music school seems like a natural extension for the ace musician. The Shankar Mahadevan Academy, started in 2011, now has a presence in 47 countries with 5,000 students studying Hindustani, Carnatic and Light Music.

“Five years ago, I started this Academy to bring the ‘Joy of Music’ into the lives of the young and old. It is gratifying to see more than 300 virtual music classes going on every day,” says Shankar. “Learning music must be made easy and fun. In 2010 when I met my engineering classmate Sridhar Ranganathan, we both saw an opportunity to turn this into a reality.” The Academy is a joint venture with Clood On, a provider of an Intelligent Knowledge Delivery Platform founded by executives from Yahoo.

The Academy’s offline presence started in Bengaluru. The second edition of Sangam-2015, an annual global meet of the Academy’s diverse community of students, teachers, affiliate partners, associates and employees will be held in Bengaluru. Shankar spoke to MetroPlus, ahead of the Academy’s Sangam on July 4. Excerpts.

Why did you choose Bengaluru for the Academy’s offline presence?

The Academy could have been anywhere in the world as we started it as an online Academy. The combination of my partner Sridhar Ranganathan being in Bangalore and the fact that we would be able to get better technical leaders and engineers in Bangalore made it an obvious choice. Our team of teachers are spread throughout the world and are connected online. We have events like Sangam to bring us together at a social level. Now, as we are starting regular offline classroom centres, Bangalore is right up there, as the city is a melting pot with a huge influx of people from various parts of India and the world coming in. With the growth in the economy and MNCs mushrooming, we could not have chosen a better city than Bangalore to operate the Academy.

We have introduced music in schools and in local centres to bring in the social connect among students and teachers via Blended Learning. We believe that the online media is convenient for teachers and students as our broadband services and speeds are getting better, even as our roads are getting more clogged. And we believe, the arrangement of a blend of online classes and occasional in-person meets go a long way in creating optimal environments for melodic interactions.

What is your USP for success, the courses offered or the nuances of your curriculum?

We have just scratched the surface. Fundamentally, if there is any secret, it is about the need to find that peace and calm in our personal space with music, as most of ‘learning music’ is about listening to music and practicing over and over again. It is said that a couple of hours of performing brings about more than 10-12 years of listening, honing and practicing music. Our fundamental premise is to have our traditional classical music presented better to newer generations with the tools available. In fact, the radio, the microphone, ability to record and archive music and the television started the technological revolution about 75 years ago. We are just exploring the possibilities of the Internet in furthering this revolution.

The fact that we would be able to get better technical leaders in Bangalore made it an obvious choice. With MNCs mushrooming, we could not have chosen a better city for the Academy.

Your pedagogy is also in promoting creativity while encouraging students to create small compositions. The old school perhaps encouraged students to learn for a larger part from the available sea of compositions?

While promoting creativity may sound unique to the Academy, it is all around us. Can we ever think of all the movies having the same songs? Music is all about creativity. So, why would we not want the younger generations to create? In our curricula, we have adopted creative techniques where students are encouraged to compose music from day one. We often use the example of a child with a paint brush with colours and the child chooses to scribble, splash and just have fun. So be it classical or any form of music, we allow children to think of their ‘voice as the paint brush’ and allow them to ‘paint’ and explore!

What about the oneon- one music learning that yesteryear vidwans believed in for better bond, versus, learning in the virtual world?

We are creating multiple environments for teachers and students to interact offline as well as not miss out on ‘simple personal interactions’ with our ‘Blended Learning’ classes. SANGAM for one, is the annual "connect" platform and we plan to have SANGAMs across the world. We also have MILAN360 - an online recital between two cities or regions (for example, the Bay Area region and Bangalore or the TriState area around New York and Mumbai) where local students and teachers come to a physical location to interact and at the same time connect online with peers across the world. But I would like to add that online one-on-one interactions are many a times more effective than an offline class.

Online classes reduce the tutor-student ratio as we have no more than 3 students in a batch and in fact most students opt for a one-on-one batch with their teachers. Our model of teaching provides our teachers with a “Teach Kit” that lets them adapt the lesson to a particular student. Our entire curriculum is available in the form of an OM book or Online Music book. While a regular textbook gives you lyrics and notation, OM lets you see and hear the songs through our audio and video recordings of the compositions.

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