Ragas, rhythms and arithmetic: The Rhapsody story

Pianist Anil Srinivasan takes music to a new level by pioneering the idea of (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning using music and arts-based interventions
Pianist Anil Srinivasan
Pianist Anil Srinivasan

Pianist Anil Srinivasan is tickled more than the ivories. And justifiably so. Besides the recognition he has received as a pianist and as a collaborator with top artistes of various genres, his work has won another honour. In December 2021, his initiative Rhapsody was chosen 'Number 1 in Asia in the K-12' (school education) space with a special commendation for innovation in learning.  

Srinivasan's brainchild also was ranked 'Number 1 worldwide in the Arts and Humanities' space. The honour comes from the Wharton Learning Lab in association with a UK-based higher education network, Quacquarelli Symonds. Together, every year these two entities recognise organisations worldwide for innovative approaches to education.

Rhapsody is an education initiative to impart learning by inter-weaving the arts and sciences in school. It reaches out to nearly four lakh children across southern India. “Rhapsody, founded in 2013, has pioneered the idea of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning using music and arts-based interventions,” says Chennai-based Srinivasan. Rhapsody’s mission is “creative intelligence for every Indian child”.

“I feel we undervalue the place of the arts in curricular design and tend to look at it as an escape from learning instead of being the point of learning. In many Indian educational institutions, music and art are extra-curricular or co-curricular. I wanted to change that,” says the pianist trained in Western classical music which makes him a rarity among Indian performers.

How does Rhapsody benefit its students? He explains, "By using music and visual art, we actually teach children foundational numeracy and literacy. We have commissioned independent data which has audited this from 2017 to 2019, and it has shown that maths and literacy scores have seen an increase -- both in their native language as well as in English thanks to the Rhapsody intervention. Using music and visual art, we make children creatively learn foundational numeracy and literacy as well as subject-related concepts."

This intervention has reached over 400 government schools in under-developed areas which translates into an outreach of about two lakh children. So, how and when did Srinivasan's journey as a musician begin? "When I was three years old, apparently I walked over to the piano in my school and asked to play -- and when granted the chance, did precisely that. At 44, I still walk up to pianos and ask to play, and it still fills me with the same delight," he says.  

Srinivasan has hundreds of widely appreciated solo performances to his credit and collaborations with top Indian musicians of both the Hindustani classical and Carnatic streams such as Sikkil Gurucharan, Jayanthi Kumaresh, Mandolin Srinivas and Rajesh, besides the dancers Dhananjayans, legendary playback singer SP Balasubrahmanyam and guitarist John Mclaughlin.

"There is a wrong notion that the purpose of learning an art form is in order to perform or showcase it. Music unlocks cognitive capacity and is neurophysiologically beneficial to development. If we can map music to core academics, for instance, STEM education, we will be seeing better learning outcomes.  We will have a generation of student learners more open to such new ideas and alternative learning methods." Indeed, these are thought-provoking ideas and should serve as an inspiration to others.

Touching Young Lives

Rhapsody has worked with nearly four lakh students all over South India and caters to a wide variety of demographics - from the poorest schools in Tamil Nadu to some of the more affluent private schools. Over 200 teachers have been trained to cater to a growing student base. It has become online as a response to the pandemic and has a dedicated student base of 17,000. It works in collaboration with the state government and major private organsations to reach students in remote areas. For the online medium, celebrities like Sikkil Gurucharan and Madhan Karky are involved in creating content.

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