He was conducting an ensemble class, or at least trying to. He instructs the students which part to play, at what point, on their respective instruments. Two brothers were seated at the organ. He instructs them on their part and turns to another student. They start pressing all sorts of buttons on the organ. The teacher turns back and says, “please don’t press anything until I tell you to.” He turns back to rest of the class and a storm of notes escape from the organ, again. He turns back to them and asks, “do you know where you start playing?” “yes, here,” chirp the brothers simultaneously with their fingers on a key in the organ. “No, I mean where you start playing the music,” the teacher repeats. Such was the plight of the music teacher at Musicmatters, 141/6A Vauxhall St, Colombo. But none of the teachers would trade their job for a desk job, because as the name suggests music does matter to all of them.
The sound of music greets anybody who enters through the glass double doors. A repertoire of muffled musical notes that escaped from the closed doors floated in the air. Musicmatters, it says on the wall that faces the entrance, and so it does.
Founded in 2010, by the ethnomusicologist Dr. Sumudi Suraweera and the concert pianist and music director Eshantha Peiris, the school offers a unique combination of music programmes. “I always felt that there was a gap in terms of music education. Eshantha and I started Musicmatters to fulfill that gap. The most important thing we teach our students is how to interact with others musically, to make their own music. We aim to give them practical exposure, experience and soft skills that could be transferable to other aspects of life,” explained Dr. Sumudi Suraweera.
For smallest children they teach the basics, from do, re, mi to nursery rhymes. For the rest, there are combined lessons of theory, instruments and ensemble classes, guided by a teacher. “We teach them theory in such a way that it helps to compose their own music. We encourage originality and creativity through ensemble playing. The lessons are interwoven so that theory and instruments is used in the ensemble class,” says Sumudi. The teachers include a panel of experienced and talented local and international musicians.
They offer a range of lessons in drums, piano, guitar, voice, violin, saxophone, thabla, trumpet and flute, to both children and adults.
Sarani perera, the gifted musician from the rock band Thriloka, was teaching guitar to a student. “I love teaching because it allows me to give back to people what I learned. It was a joy for me to learn and I want others to have the same experience,” he says. Sheranga Perera, the voice teacher shared Sarani’s views. “The relaxed atmosphere helps students to really tap into their music. I love the kids and they are very passionate about learning music.
Teaching always keeps me on my toes because the students always give a lot in turn to what they receive.” She analyses the students level before bringing in the vocal techniques such as breathing, voice projection and articulation. One of her students, Ama Jayasinghe, sang a part of the song, Dancing on my own by Calum Scott, which would have stunned the audience, had there been one.
Yohan Jayasooriya, who first joined as a student and went on to be a teacher, speaks about his music experience, “I play drums and piano. I grew up with piano since my mom is a piano teacher. Then, I wanted to explore different kinds of music on piano and have both technicality and musical expression, like Jordan Rudess. I started drums because of my brother.
Although he is a guitarist, he used to compose songs that ranged from jazz to metal and write the drum part as well. I always wanted to tap into his powers and to have a glimpse of what is going on in his mind and I am getting there with all the experience I am getting
Uvindu Perera, the base guitarist from Thriloka enjoys teaching at Musicmatters. “A lot of things made me want to teach,” he says. “The kids are very mischievous and fun to work with. I have so much fun playing music; I just want everyone else to have the same experience.” There were three parallel ensemble classes going on and two of them were making songs. “The ensemble classes are grouped according to age and skill level,” says Sumudi. The ensemble class led by Yohan played the maroon five song, Sunday morning. The students played drums, organ, base guitar and guitar to compose beautiful music.
Imesh de Silva, student and aspiring drummer says, “Musicmatters is probably the best music school in Sri Lanka. I like the sound of drums and I want to get more into music. Since I am with Sumudi, who is very talented, I get very good exposure.” Basho Jayawardana plays piano and guitar. “When I teach, I learn much more music,” he shares.
A term at Musicmatters is usually three or four months. During midterm, there is a miniature concert for the benefit of parents. “There are solo performances of kids and sometimes parents are very impressed as they could still follow the beat after attending only three or four classes,” says Kristina Fernando, the Secretary.
Children love the environment because they are not restricted to books and they are given freedom to learn, what they actually want to learn. “Some parents tell us that this is the only class the children look forward to, that they actually remind parents of it,” confided Kristina.
Musicmatters has a mission of its own. “Building a healthy art scene has partly to do with artistes, as well as the audience. We hope to produce creative musicians plus an appreciative audience, in the long-term,” shares Sumudi.