Kalashree’s first

Kalashree’s very first music therapy session!

Patient – 2.5 years old boy

Location/Mode – Skype

Persons present – Patient, patient’s mother, Kala,  Annada

Session time – 25 min

Patient was a 2.5 year old boy, undergoing intense cancer treatment. He just got home from a long four-month hospital admission, which was a rough period for him medically. Now he is in and out of the hospital.

Patient was in the hospital when we began the session. He stared at Kala, her violin and what she was doing. Kala played Raga Natnarayan, a raag that soothes. His face was curious but puzzled. His mother said that he liked nursery rhymes. So Kala started playing “Old McDonald” and his face broke into a smile. He was very interested in pig, duck sounds that the violin was producing and you could immediately make out that he was absorbed by sounds and music that he recognized. He did not seem drawn by the two ragas that Kala played and it primarily seemed to be because he did not know/recognize the music. Then Kala asked what else he would like and she said he liked “Wheels on a bus go round and round.” She recited that poem and Kala played it on the violin. Again the child broke into a smile. He also seemed mesmerized when Kala showed him her violin front and back.

Mom was happy that her son had sat still for 25 min without fidgeting and Kala has to brush up on her nursery rhymes!

The patient’s smile was the best!

The why, when and the how of Kalashree in the US

“Kala” means “art” in Sanskrit. And “shree” means “auspicious.” And there is no better way for art to be auspicious than in the service of the sick and the needy.

Kalashree Foundation was set up by Kala Ramnath, the famous violin maestro of Indian classical music, in February of this year. The impetus for this decision came from Harindra Rathi, Kalaji’s student since 2008. Harindra underwent a stem cell transplant in August 2011 to treat his acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) relapse. After a prolonged treatment and severe transplant-related complications, Harindra passed away in January 2013. Seeing how Harindra had suffered during the treatment, Kalashree came into existence to use Kalaji’s skill and the unique qualities of Indian classical music to help critically ill children get some physical, mental and emotional succor.

Kalaji asked me to come on board right after she set up Kalashree. Being Harindra’s mother, I could not say no.

Kalashree’s vision is to introduce Indian classical music into music therapy, which is the use of music to achieve a specific medical outcome. We believe that introducing Indian classical music into music therapy has the potential to revolutionize music therapy.

Ragas (melodies) are the foundation of Indian classical music. The word “raga” is derived from the Sanskrit word “raga” which means “color or passion.” So raga is thought of as an acoustic way of coloring the listener’s mind with an emotion. The most important function of a raga being to invoke a particular mood, feeling or an emotion in the listener, it becomes a critical tool in the arsenal of Indian classical music as a member of the music therapy.  Taking the function of a raga a step further, believe it or not, there is a “raga” to counter a specific ailment. To give a brief example, raga Nat Narayan helps alleviate headache, Bihag and Bahar can produce sound sleep and Darabari Kanara eases tension and provides relaxation. Raga Chandrakans fights diabetes and Bhairav and Bhopali are effective against high blood pressure.

During treatment, Harindra suffered from pain and high blood pressure. The doctors could treat both these issues only marginally, by taking care of them at a time for a few hours. If Harindra had access to non-medical therapies like Indian ragas, first of all, it would not have done him any harm. Secondly, and more importantly, it would not have led to any side effects and thirdly, it would have brought a smile to his face.

And bringing a smile to a child’s face pretty much sums up the reason for Kalashree’s existence!