Kirtan and the Handicapped Child

Gyanavati, Greece

Kirtan is highly recommended in handicap therapy. Having spent some time in Camphill, Rudolf Steiner Schools, Aberdeen, a community for retarded and maladjusted children, I noticed the importance of music in their curriculum and how much the handicapped children feel for music.

The music class was held in two ways: once a week with a skilled musician who played all kinds of lines, using different instruments; inviting professionals to show their skill adjusted to the listener's needs. In addition to that, everyday in their special school classes, their English teacher would sing with them a morning prayer and some songs. Also they sang a prayer before and after eating.

The idea was that the children would repeat together with the adults sounds or music with or without words. There was a joyful Scottish song called "The drunken sailor"; its tune very much resembled yogic kirtans. This song became my favourite and I sang it everywhere around the school.

Two children were influenced by this continuous singing and finally each sang at least one full verse of the song. One was mentally retarded, very shy and unable to concentrate, and the other one was an autistic child uttering only the word 'no'. I could not believe my ears when I heard the child singing.

Since kirtan's importance lies in the feelings of the heart and in personal expression regardless of the perfection usually required in singing, I think that introducing kirtan in special cases such as handicapped children is going to prove an indispensable asset in their therapy.