By Abish Shakya
Photos by Anup Ale Magar
Nepal is a culturally-rich country, and our traditions are very important for our identities. In such festivals and celebrations, music holds high appraisal. However, all musicians—the creators of such music—do not receive the same regard. Not making music as an academic subject is the main reason behind this, experts say.
“Unless music is not included as an academic subject, the earning prowess of musicians is not visible and musicians will not get the respect from the society,” claims Iman Bikram Shah, principal of Nepal Sangeet Vidhyalaya, who is also the leader of curriculum development team.
Since the inclusion of music as an academic subject holds such significance, music has been included as a compulsory subject in schools in the west. Ujjwal Bomzon Tamang, keyboard and music theory teacher at NMC says, “Music is a compulsory subject from the elementary level in the West, and most musicians who had studied music from such an education level has evolved as a creative and profound musicians today. So, if one wishes to make a career in music, it is necessary for him/her to develop their knowledge and skills from the roots and start making music from a tender age.”
Understanding the importance of formal music, music—along with dance—is included under Sarijantmak Abhibyakti Kala, a vocational training, inside the Social Studies subject from Grade I to V, but it only carries 25 marks. So, someone serious in making a career in music would definitely want to explore more.
The first-ever approval to include music as a formal subject came in 2010, under which, children from Grade 6 to Grade 8 could take music as an optional subject which was implemented in 2011. As this was not enough, concerned authorities advocated with policymakers to formulate a policy that allows including music as a formal subject. Finally, in 2016, approval was provided.
Dr Bal Krishna Ranjit, Director of NMC and retired deputy director of Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), was able to persuade policymakers to include music as a part of the educational curriculum in the technical and vocational stream. In 2016, the perusal was approved by the Ministry of Education and NMC emerged as the resource centre to put forward the pilot project. Today, music is listed in the same bracket like other technical and vocational subjects such as civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, livestock farming, and agriculture.
By including music in the educational curriculum, Nepal has become the pioneer country in the SAARC region to make music a part of the formal education and is the first among the 38 Asia-Pacific countries to take music as a major subject.
The syllabus of the music course has been meticulously put together by collaborating with music experts and academicians from Nepal and University of Arts Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy, Finland. NMC—formed in 2006 with a goal to make music education formal—had held expertise exchange programs from 2007 to 2012 where Nepali musicians had gone to Finland and Finish musicians had come to Nepal to learn the culture. Even today, professors from Finland annually—twice a year—visit Nepal for their Global Vision project. These programs have helped NMC to create teaching and learning materials such as text-books and hand-books as well as to do a literature review of the curriculum they are creating.
Besides these, refresher classes for teachers take place frequently at NMC, and these refresher classes help teachers to setup questions and marking scheme for evaluation of students. Moreover, refresher courses have been enhancing the competencies of teachers in developing and updating newer strategies and curriculum as new concepts in music keep on arising.
Though teachers are updating the courses through such refresher classes, the resource centre has developed a curriculum with six core music subjects and they are: 1) Fundamentals of Music (Gayan Badan Nritya: vocal, instrument studies, and dance), 2) Music of Nepal (Nepali instruments, cultural studies), 3) Keyboards, 4) Music technology (arranging, recording, mixing and mastering), 5) Music Business and Event Management (copyright law, publishing, stage and artist management, music marketing and social media), and 6) Elective (vocal, instrument of choice or dance). Each subject gets five-hour class every week (2 theory and 3 practical), and each subject is graded with ‘40 marks’ for theory and ‘60 marks’ for practical. While a regular Grade IX students study eight subjects, students in the music stream study 10.
“Students here are extremely talented. They’ve started recording and mixing sounds at the school. Compared to what I was doing when I was their age, they are miles ahead,” expressed Deepak Moktan, guitar instructor at NMC who also wrote class 9-10 text-book for guitar.
In 2017, the first batch of students appeared in the Secondary Education Examination (SEE) exams—erstwhile SLC—with impressive results: an A+, A, 2 B+ and a B. SEE-passed music students Sushant Gajurel and Manoj Khadka are currently enrolled in Grade XI, and they revealed that they could play an array of musical instruments such as guitar, violin, keyboard, and percussions (dholak, madal, tabala, dhime, drums), along with doing vocals.
The students have a unique understanding of instruments, technology, music theories, and both Eastern and Western cultures. They expressed, “We want to become music producers in the future, and what we have learned here will make us a unique commodity in the music industry.”
“The government of Nepal offers scholarships for various subjects of technical and vocational streams. The government should also support music in similar approach.”—Dr. Bal Krishna Ranjit
The curriculum for Grade XII has been completed and approved by the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), and the classes have already started. However, only those who have studied music as a technical and vocational stream are eligible to further pursue music education in high school. On the other hand, those who appeared for the SEE in the musical stream have the liberty to join a regular stream if they decide not to pursue music as a major subject.
The students in high school study seven subjects with four music subjects: 1) Sastriya Sangeet (Eastern Classical Music-Raga Based music), 2) Nepali Lok Sangeet (Nepali Folk/Ethnic Music), 3) Western Music, and 4) Elective. The compulsory subjects taught are Nepali, English and Computer.
As soon as the students complete their high school, they will be able to pursue their undergrads in the Bachelors level with a 4-year Bachelor in Popular Music Performance program in 2020 without any educational break. The Bachelor’s course will have six modules: Language studies, and five music modules: 1) Main Studies (instrument or vocal), 2) Theory and History of Music, 3) Creative Working Skills In Music, 4) Pedagogical Studies, and 5) Elective Studies.
As many people might be interested in studying music in Bachelor’s level, NMC has thought about the possibility of a ‘Bridge Course’ and audition-based entry for those who do not have a musical education background. There are other options to study music as well with TU and KU also offering Eastern and raag-based music education and ethnomusicology.
The NMC Trust might have been providing the necessary resources to proceed with music education but they are lacking funding.
“The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. He suggests musical intelligence is one of the eight kinds of intelligence.”
There is a requirement of having a minimum of 15 students in a class, but NMC is not being able to fulfil this, The total annual fee for both secondary and high school students is Rs 76,000 (as of October 2018), and the less occupancy of the classes do not accumulate enough funds. Moreover, NMC currently hosts students from all seven provinces and have provided free education, lodging and food for marginalised and deprived students with funds from their trust.
The reason for a small turnover of students in the music school is the fact that many young people still are not self-assured if music can be taken as a career. If they are self-assured, they then have to persuade their parents that music is more than just a hobby. Until the parents are comprehensive that there is a feasible career in music, it will be difficult to recruit more students into this field.
With every passing day, it is more evident that music can be taken as a career because there is an increasing demand music-related talent such as sound engineers, music arrangers, music producers, session musicians, performers, etc. However, Moktan cautions, “You can definitely make a career in music but you have to be good at it.” The music curriculum provides the necessary foundations for the development of knowledge and skills, but how the things students have learned is entirely up to them.
“We are preparing the students for life, not for exams. Music is not just about performance. If you think about industry as a whole, you need more manpower such as music lawyers for copyright issues, booking agents, band managers, event organisers, film music, or anything to do with sound from acoustic designs and treatments to big arena concerts.” —Iman Bikram Shah
Developing music formally is a common vision held by many people at NMC and what they are working on is achievable. However, just because someone is a musician does not necessarily posses the pedagogical skill to be a good teacher; so NMC plans on having capacity building and competency development training to develop music teachers. With pedagogy studies included the Bachelor’s degree, students who pass out with the degree will hold the competency to teach music.
Making formal music education available in every school in Nepal is going to be a great challenge as there are around 40,000 primary schools in Nepal—including private—most of which do not have the necessary equipment, infrastructure or teachers ready to teach music. However, as for now, NMC is working on their small goals of their long-term vision to develop music education in Nepal. A degree certainly makes a difference, and we hope that the curriculum development team can further develop the music scene of Nepal.