Soul Sounds Academy is one of Sri Lanka’s leading musical academies which was founded by its Music Directress, Soundarie David Rodrigo, a well-known musician within the island. Soundarie spoke to Daily Mirror about her experience with the academy and its growth.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
Soundarie was a pianist and a choral director at her alma mater - Holy Family Convent Bambalapitiya, when she started teaching small vocal groups at her home way back in 2006. With the eventual progress of these classes, she decided to break the duck by launching her very own music academy, which was also her lifelong dream, after completing her post-graduate studies in music at the Royal College of Music in London. Even while she was qualified as a lawyer specialized in Intellectual Property Law, her heart tugged her towards music and her working within the industry led her to build up a favourable environment for children of all ages and adults to provide them with the opportunity of learning music, voice, piano, violin and many other instruments that they offer while learning to love music and pursue it with passion. This message is conveyed from the motto of the Soul Sounds Academy, “Passion to Perform”. The academy currently accommodates over 500 students who are following vocal, piano, violin, guitar, drums, the theory of music, and musical theatre and the academy welcomes students as young as 4 to even above the age of 30, who are trained by qualified staff. All departments within the academy strongly believe that apart from classes, their students should be provided with an opportunity to perform for public shows and concerts, for studio recordings, or even at exams with a goal-oriented approach.
Digitalizing Teaching during Lockdown
Soon after the successful concert performed by the intermediate students, “In the Name of Love” held at the Russian Centre in March, the academy was awaiting the Annual Concert which was supposed to be held in May
but due to the pandemic and the lockdown which followed it, the concert was on hold. The experienced and the enthusiastic teachers in the vocal department of the academy were able to successfully rise to the challenge and promptly start virtual classes which were scheduled in three different phases, via Zoom.
Eventually, the staff of the academy realized the tediousness and the restrictions in voice training via Zoom as the voices were not captured clearly and they tended to explore new avenues to make their lessons as successful as possible, regardless of the circumstances. They decided to use Zoom as a platform for all their music classes, from voice to guitar, piano to the violin and students were also asked to send their voice recordings in separately so that the teachers could listen and comment. History of music and many other different aspects of music were illuminated through their teaching process, in addition to the practical aspects of music.
"The Virtual Concerts by the Soul Sounds Academy presented a concert every Friday at 8 pm, worldwide via Zoom"
“During our normal daily classes, we focused on teaching the students a song, apart from techniques or a piece they have to pay for exams. But virtually, myself along with my staff focused not only on getting ourselves
connected to music educators world over, but we also paid attention to the history of music, genres of music, music theory, sight-reading etc. So we aimed to use this period for intense learning of important details within music - something we would not focus much during our normal classes” Soundarie elaborated on how they focused on a more rounded approach to music while proceeding with voice training and performances on the piano, violin and guitar along with other instruments. Along with that, they invited many guest lecturers from Sri Lanka and overseas, who are professionals in the field of music as a whole new approach to share knowledge with these students. The academy also carried out several other engrossing pursuits such as;
- Online Original Singing Competitions where students were provided with an opportunity to present their originals on themes.
- ‘How I feel Today’ Project - A Project for the intermediate students of the academy, where they sent in a song about how they perceived things. These songs were uploaded on the social media platforms of the Soul Sounds Academy instantly.
- They uploaded videos onto their YouTube channel, specifical videos about vocal exercises and guitar basics by their teachers which allowed the students to access the videos at any moment.
- During the lockdown, 6 of their students were selected to be a part of an International Children’s Choir Project where they had the privilege of singing with children across the globe.
- The Intermediate Choir of the academy also entered a Virtual Choir Competition (World Choir Games) during these trying times.
The academy was committed as teachers to impart knowledge most finely, given the challenges of not being able to interact with the students in person.
“We did the best we could. It was indeed a learning experience for both teachers and students and the management of the Soul Sounds Academy were really happy that we were able to cover many areas in music and transfer new knowledge. We also had challenges, quizzes, essays, performances so that they would still keep practising. We were able to give individual attention to students. All departments were able to rise to the challenge
A young guitar player
of having to teach during these unprecedented times and for that, I am very grateful. I am thankful to all parents who supported us during these tough times. The Academy was also lucky to have logistical support from our administrative staff and teachers who were able to assist in some of the technical aspects of virtual teaching.” Soundarie merrily stated.
The Virtual Concert Series organized by the Soul Sounds Academy allowed each of their departments (Piano, Violin, Vocal, Guitar, Drums) to present a concert virtually on every Friday at 8 pm, which was open to an audience worldwide, via Zoom. “This was an idea given to me by one of my friends in Malaysia who also runs a Choral Academy. It was challenging of course, yet again, the sound quality was not the best in Zoom, and it can never substitute a live concert. But from sorting lights at home to set up a backdrop, to performing on a computer screen, it was a whole new experience, something our students and parents were grateful for” Soundarie said while speaking to Daily Mirror. After the completion of the concerts for each department, they continued with thematic concerts of Broadway and local music. There will be two more concerts subsequently in the form of a competition belonging to the genres of Pop and Disney, which will bring this virtual concert series which consisted of 6 concerts in 6 weeks with over 60 students, to an end.
The Soul Sounds Academy as a whole believes in providing every student with an opportunity to be a part of this pleasing environment of loving music, as every child is blessed and all it takes is a passion to perform.
Rumal Fernando, a parent of one the students of the academy stated:
“The extraordinary efforts taken by the teachers at the Soul Sounds Academy during these difficult times of social distancing, to virtually connect children with music is commendable. I thank Soundarie David Rodrigo and all the teachers at the academy for their amazing work and bringing children together with hope and positivity”.
The Future Ahead
As the country is slowly adapting to the ‘new normal” post lockdown, the academy is planning to open up their doors to students for their classes, while they continue with virtual classes as well. Further exams associated with the Australian Music Education Board, (AMEB) will be introduced to their students shortly while continuing with their usual ABRSM and Trinity- London Exams.
Soul Sounds Academy has several choirs in place, including their Children’s Choir which competed at the World Choir Games in South Africa in 2018, conducted by their senior teachers, Dinushka Jayawickreme and Amandhi Caldera and the Soul Sounds Intermediate Choir, directed by Soundarie David. The academy should not be confused with Sri Lanka’s premiere female ensemble Soul Sounds, who too certainly had won many accolades globally.