On the one hand, the music tastes of younger Indians are shifting towards western music, while on the other, the Indian diaspora as well as westerners are increasingly becoming interested in Indian classical music. It’s this shift that has given rise to a number of interesting trends in the field of music education in India, reports Chiraag Sutar. In January 2011, one of the most iconic figures of Hindustani classical music, Pt Bhimsen Joshi passed away. His story is well known – a young Bhimsen left his home in North Karnataka in 1933 at the age of 11, in search of a guru. Fervent about learning music, he sang whatever he knew in trains, and moved from city to city doing odd jobs and learning music under different teachers. After months of search, his father finally traced him in Jalandhar, and brought him back to Dharwad. Seeing Bhimsen’s passion for learning music, his father finally relented, and allowed him to learn under noted musician Rambhau Kundgolkar alias Savai Gandharva.
Ironically, not much has changed in the attitudes of most Indian parents if their child shows any inclination towards pursuing music. Urban attitudes could be shifting slightly, but the encouragement if any, restricts the children to learning music as a hobby or co-curricular activity.
Internationally, most schools include music in their curriculum, and it’s believed that music helps in overall cognitive development – but in India, such a concept is yet to see the light of day. The parental hesitation is understandable in a country where making a living as a musician can be an extremely tough proposition, if one is not part of the Bollywood brigade.
There are several changes taking places in the music education space in India due to several socio-economic reasons. But the two key changes are –
1) The Indian youth is largely moving towards learning western music
2) More and more westerners and non resident Indians (NRIs) are getting attracted towards learning Indian music. Both shifts are having a significant impact on the education of both Indian classical music and western music. And both trends have opened up a lot of opportunities for those associated with these forms of music.
In some way the impact is good, but also worrying, especially when it comes to the popularity of Indian classical music among Indians. Meanwhile, the use of technology and internet to learn music is gaining unprecedented acceptance all over the world.
And why is the west turning towards India?
To a great extent, this trend shouldn’t be too surprising because a strong framework was laid by the likes of Pt Ravi Shankar, Ustad Allah Rakha Khan, Ali Akbar Khan and many others, decades ago. Their music made such a strong impact in the west that the popularity of Indian classical music has just kept growing since.
What attracts westerners to Indian classical music is its deeper association with Indian spirituality – say, singing bhajans and kirtans, and of course, the sound of Indian classical instruments which are known for their inherent tonal qualities. Interestingly, it is the NRIs who are turning increasingly towards learning Indian classical music or are exposing their children to it, as a way of keeping in touch with Indian culture and values. And there is also no dearth of those serious learners of Indian classical music who fly down to learn from the masters themselves.
Take for instance, Shankar Tucker, a 24-year-old American composer and clarinettist, and former student of the New England Conservatory in Boston who is now learning under maestro Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia. Tucker doesn’t play the flute, but he can ably play a few ragas on his clarinet. Extremely impressed with the Guru-Shishya method, Tucker attends Panditji’s lesson at Brindavan Gurukul – Chaurasia’s music school in Mumbai, where he teaches in the age old Gurukul tradition.
Tucker says, “First of all, Guruji’s commitment towards teaching is phenomenal as compared to western teachers. He takes two hour classes every day except when he is touring – that is unheard of in the United States. Some top teachers in the US get paid $200 or $300 an hour for one lesson per week. In the west, music can be like a service – ‘you pay me $200 a week and I show you what I know’ – but here it doesn’t feel that way. Guruji makes sure that everybody reaches the level they want to.”