Kirtan Space, an online educational effort that started in 2016, has been revamped and will offer a free ten-week foundational kirtan course on Youtube starting May 25th.
“During this time, when you may be not working and may be stuck at home, is a good opportunity to learn a new instrument,” says director Balaram Nityananda Das.
Balaram has been steeped in sacred music, or kirtan, since childhood, studying it while in gurukula in Mayapur, West Bengal, and later spending time with the renowned late kirtaniyas Yamuna Devi and Aindra Das.
In 2014, he began teaching at Bhaktivedanta College’s one-month-long Kirtan Course in Radhadesh, Belgium, and also held a seven-day Kirtan Connection retreat.
Teacher and Kirtan Space Director Balaram Nityananda Das
Then in 2016, Balaram – also a filmmaker and host of his own Youtube talk show, The Inspire Show – started Kirtan Space on Youtube and Facebook. The new project focused on the mood of kirtan, featuring interviews with many different kirtan leaders. The videos were popular, with some drawing about 200,000 views, and the Facebook page attracting 15,000 followers.
In the back of his mind, Balaram had also always wanted to produce a free online kirtan course. But his hectic city life in London kept him from finding the time.
Since losing his job due to COVID-19, however, Balaram is sitting out the lockdown at the Kirtan Sangha in the rural Lake District in Cumbria, North West England, with friends and fellow teachers Will and Susanne.
“As I’m not working, I get to be a bit more creative, and I feel like it’s the perfect time to do a little free kirtan course for everyone,” he says with a grin.
The Kirtan Space foundational course will be taught over ten weeks starting on May 25th, and will teach kartals, mridanga and harmonium using kirtans from the popular Radhadesh Mellows festival.
Teacher Susanne demonstrating the harmonium
Via a survey, students will be asked to pick their favorite melodies from Radhadesh Mellows, out of a list of simpler tunes by Agnideva Das, Badahari Das, Jahnavi Harrison and others.
Ten educational videos will be posted to the Kirtan Space Youtube channel every Monday, showing students how to play each instrument in the kirtan. Short three-minute videos of the first, second and third parts of harmonium melodies will allow students to quickly jump to each one for reference; while a six-minute video will feature a teacher demonstrating how to play it.
Lessons by Balaram, Will and Susanne will also help students to become familiar with how the harmonium and raga system work, giving them a basis by which to more easily pick up melodies just by listening to them.
Meanwhile, the team also want to revolutionize the way mridanga is taught. “Normally, when you go to Mayapur or Vrindavan to learn mridanga, you have to sign up to a six-month or one-year course, wherein you have to master some twenty practice mantras before you even learn a kirtan mantra,” Balaram says. “We want students to learn some of the beats from Radhadesh Mellows straight away, while simultaneously giving them some hand practice that will enable them to better play that specific mantra.”
Basic kartal playing will also be taught, including slow and fast beats, two- and three-beat, and how kartals can make or break a kirtan.
Teacher Will demonstrates the mridanga
Alongside the video lessons which will be posted to Youtube exclusively, regular content about Kirtan such as interviews with kirtaniyas will be shared on Facebook and Instagram throughout the week for inspiration.
Balaram hopes that as well as himself and his flatmates, expert kirtaniyas from around the world will volunteer to record videos teaching Radhadesh Mellows melodies.
The foundational course will remain free on the Kirtan Space Youtube channel, and will be a prerequisite for students wishing to progress further in their learning by taking a one-on-one class via Zoom with one of the teachers. These 1:1 sessions will be offered for a suggested donation, to compensate teachers for their time and effort, and help them to support themselves.
Balaram has already seen a lot of excitement for the course on social media, and hopes it will benefit many. “I’ve already done a couple of surveys on Instagram asking if people would like to have a Kirtan Space course,” he says. “Many have reacted enthusiastically, saying that they have been struggling to learn harmonium or mridanga for several years, and now that they have more time a course would be much appreciated.”
He adds, “This seems like the ideal time for people to shift their focus from all the negativity and onto learning something new – such as improving their kirtan skills.”
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Balaram welcomes any skilled devotee who wishes to join the Kirtan Space team as writer, teacher, or content creator/ editor. Those interested may get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
To access the weekly video lessons for free starting May 25th, please visit the Kirtan Space Youtube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyFWWpf7hylqxlAQJcn2RAQor type in Kirtan Space in Youtube and click on the first result.
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