I arrive to the sound of nervous, excited chatter. The room is filled with boys ranging from 11 to 18 who are pointing and patiently waiting for the unveiling of a few instruments that have been generously donated by Instruments of Joy, a Nashville-based ministry. When we finally pull out the instruments, the boys erupt in excitement. This is the first time they have ever held flutes or guitars.
What may seem to be a typical middle and high school music class is in this case much more than that. These boys come from very poor environments where access to instruments, let alone music education, is out of reach. As I asked them questions about their interest in music, they revealed the universal desire to play music as an outlet to express themselves.
Art is often restricted to the upper echelon of society in India, while those in the lower economic positions struggle simply to meet their basic needs. Most of these boys’ parents are day-laborers; their fathers are rickshaw or taxi drivers and their mothers work as cooks or maids. Teaching these students how to play an instrument may seem like a small thing, but this simple act of care is a way to dignify them; giving them the opportunity to express themselves and teaching them that their voices and perspectives are important.
Their teacher, Manohar Paul, knows the impact of these moments, having himself come from much the same place. In an interview, Manohar reflected on the role of music in his own life and the hope he has for his students.
What role has music played in your personal life?
While learning I never thought that music could shape me as a person, but it did. It helped me to get rid of other addictions that I had. It helped me to be at ease with others and in difficult situations. I was very impatient, which would affect my personal life and surroundings. But playing music taught me to be patient, because if you rush you will be frustrated and never learn, so I applied the same principle in my relationships with others. I think now I connect more with friends and family members than ever. Playing music has taken my shyness away and made me more sensitive to others, which helps in relationships.
I’m so thankful that I have a sense of music and I can also play a bit of guitar during personal devotion times. I feel that this is one of the best ways to express yourself before the Lord, and I connect with him deeply while I’m playing for him or even when someone else is leading.
How have you seen your APS students benefit from music classes?
They are young, talented, energetic and have a lot of time. I think introducing music to them helps them to explore the talent within them and also its a better way of using their time, compared to just doing nothing.
I already see some of them are composing songs all the time. Nitin (10th grade) is always busy playing his groove in his head and thinking how he can record it and take it to the next level. Which is such a beautiful feeling for me to see their enthusiasm to learn more and grow in this field.
What are some goals you have for the students and the class in general?
Our goal for the year is to see the two bands be able to perform a whole song for their school at the next all-school assembly celebration. Also I want to see the students playing on track as individuals, and enjoying this creative expression.
How have the students enjoyed this class?
One of them told me that he didn’t know that he would ever get to play any instrument. They are extremely happy that they got this opportunity and enjoy every class.
The first semester we held group classes all together, to teach music theory and rhythm. So after that, the day that we announced to the students that classes would be split up into bands and begin practicing together, the expression on their face was priceless. They had wide smiles like never before and some of the boys were also shouting. “Oh yes!” A couple of weeks prior to this announcement we had showed them a video of a band playing together. After seeing that, they knew that this is what defines us as good musicians: if we learn how to play together in a band.
What I witnessed that day was the fruit of God’s work in Manohar’s life. God has given him a love for youth and music that is so evident in his service. As he ministers to these youth each week, his lessons go beyond music and into their life and character. The boys each listen to him with the reverence due a teacher, but simultaneously, the camaraderie achieved through genuine care.
Our hope for these boys is that they would grow not only in their knowledge of music, but in confidence of their value as human beings and in their depth of character.
Please pray that our efforts would communicate God’s love for them and inspire them to use their lives in service to others.