Bringing music education to Nepal

Jennifer McDonel with a group of students in Nepal.

Debate has raged in America over the value of the arts education for years. In some districts, music and arts have been long-shuttered to save costs.

What's undeniable is that Americans are at least familiar with the concept of an arts education. Halfway around the world, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sumit Pokhrel is fighting to even introduce that idea to his homeland.

Jennifer McDonel, assistant professor of music education at Radford University, has followed Pokhrel's work for several years. When she got the chance earlier this year to join him in Nepal, she took it.

"Sumit has been trying to get people to support his mission to bring better music education for the children of Nepal," McDonel said, "and he's been looking for people to support him outside of Nepal. That's something I was fortunate to be able to do."

So McDonel flew halfway around the world to Kathmandu to a joyous welcome from Pokhrel's family.

"They really took me in while I was there," McDonel said.

While there were opportunities for McDonel to act as a tourist – she was particularly taken with the Himalayan views seen from Kathmandu – the trip was about learning the musical landscape of a new country and helping augment it.

"In Nepal, and many countries in that part of the world, music isn't offered as part of an overall curriculum," she said. "It is taught in a master-apprentice model. If you want to learn, you need to find someone to teach you."


Pokhrel's MusicArt Society hopes to change that. Pokhrel and other teachers maintain a space where children can take lessons after school or during their free time. There are instruments they can borrow during their lessons and Pokhrel and staff make sure as many get the chance to study as possible.

"He's interested in bringing music education to students who can't afford to pay for lessons," McDonel said. "He works with orphans. That struck a note in my heart to help him with that mission."

In addition to teaching some children herself, McDonel gifted the society with a number of recorders, a simple instrument, but one from which children can learn the fundamentals of music.

McDonel also ran workshops for music educators, teaching some of the basics of western music pedagogy and allowing these teachers to then use those lessons with their students.

McDonel's trip was made possible with a McGlothlin Faculty Travel Grant. These grants, for up to $2,500, are awarded to supplement international travel with the hope that faculty can bring back new ideas for a more globalized curriculum.

Faculty members often use these grants to enhance international dimensions of their classes or to investigate sites and do preliminary planning for potential study abroad or exchange programs.

Indeed, McDonel hopes to continue her relationship with MusicArt Society and hopes to rally others to the cause.

"I learned as much as I taught over there," she said. "Hopefully, we can continue this and make this a bigger experience. I want to continue to support the mission of bringing music education to Nepal, which in turn brings joy and happiness - all good ideals."

Feb 8, 2016