Gana Bajana – a piano book with Hindi songs

If you’re a Silicon Valley parent, chances are your child or a child you know is learning the piano. Evenings are spent listening to broken versions of Row, row, row your boat or, if it’s been a few years, Fur Elise and the Star Wars Theme. Suddenly you’re wondering if the only musical connection you’re going to have with your children is Bollywood.

Not to worry; mother–daughter team of Nikita and Natasha Parikh have figured out a unique way for your child to straddle two musical cultures. They have collaborated on a book of Hindi songs for the piano called Gana Bajana, childhood rhymes that should easily sweep you right back into nostalgic memories of your childhood.

The idea came about because Natasha, now 16, started learning Indian classical music when she was around 6 years old and later developed an interest in Western classical( she sings in the choir at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont.) Having the opportunity to experience both strands of music, she looked for similarities and fusion possibilities. Nikita, her mom, had also enrolled in the Music for Minors program, which brings music to public schools. “I was trained on Indian classical music,” says Nikita, “and never learnt to read sheet music.” She had run several music classes for the India Community center in Milpitas but the skills were all imparted by memory. “I started researching for ways to bridge the gap between Indian and Western music,” she says.

In her music classes at ICC, Nikita used bags of puppets, different instruments and Natasha accompanied her sometimes on the piano. When parents came to her asking for the notation to the songs so they could help their kids with the lessons at home, Nikita and Natasha decided to work on a book of popular Indian children’s songs with notations for the piano. They worked for 2 years, finding artists who would understand their concept and a format that would be accessible to both parents and kids.

The result is ‘Gana Bajana’ a book of songs like Jala Ki Pari and Chanda Mama, popular tunes you might remember from your younger days.

Or not. One problem Gana Bajana’s earlier readers faced was that they were not very familiar with all the songs. And as any parent who has helped out his/her child with piano lessons knows, it helps to know the tune. Nikita and Natasha have figured that problem out now by providing mp3 versions of the song on their website so you and your child can familiarize yourself with the song.  I tried out Jala Ki Pari with my kids and they were quite intrigued and interested that you could play a Hindi tune on the piano. The songs are simple and easy to follow though they follow a G-Major key and the Hindustani notations are provided on the facing page using ‘Sa, re, ga, ma pa,’. The songs are all written in English.

Sudipa, whose daughter Madhulika learns music from Nikita, had this to say: “Madhulika loves the book and in her free time she picks the songs out on her keyboard. She is familiar with the songs already.  I also think the book is very good. The cover reminds me of my childhood books.”

Says Nikita, “Indian music is open to interpretation and cannot be learnt without a guru. Through our book and future projects, we want to try to bring the essence of Indian classical music in a simple and easy way to second and third generation Indian Americans.”  Check out the songs and buy the book here. It makes for a great introduction to Indian music for young piano enthusiasts.

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