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Getting Back In Sync

Getting Back In Sync

May 13, 2010

It’s time we resurrect the great tradition of Indian classical music into our cultural ethos.

As we waited for the symphony to begin in that richly adorned, packed Opera house in Vienna, I couldn’t help but recall the many Indian classical concerts I had attended back home in Mumbai and Pune. Shoddy open air amphitheatres, dysfunctional audio systems and errant maestros of rare brilliance vying for thinning audiences, too Americanized in their musical taste to lend an ear to the scientific intricacies of Indian classical music. Vienna on the other hand, where the sounds of Mozart and Schubert still reverberate on every street corner, seemed like a world apart. Nowhere else had I witnessed such dedication to the classical form of music, on the verge of disappearing from mass consumption amid the emergence of international music labels and a plethora of rock bands and pop artists occupying mindspace. Austria as a whole surprised me with its commitment towards marketing its musical legacy to tourist groups. Museums, chocolates, operas, mementos, t-shirts – everything with a Mozart tag is available to commemorate his genius and keep his memory alive. The Austrian reverence for the composer is almost equivalent to other countries’ deference towards important political figures or freedom fighters. And that is perhaps why classical music still thrives in the country, countering the winds of American popular music that has so powerfully crept into the fabric of today’s youth culture globally. As India battles a similar scenario, that of the ‘bollywoodization’ of music (a term that to me personally denotes everything easy, popular, wannabe American, mediocre and superficial), the rich history of India’s classical musical tradition, acknowledged by many as the most complex system ever to have developed is slowly being left to rust. It’s pretty much a mirror image of what’s happening with our heritage sites and monuments – being disregarded and left to die so that one day we forget that such a thing existed altogether. It would be foolish to expect classical music to ever become quite as popular as a chartbuster from some latest Bollywood flick. It will always remain the pursuit of the classes & not the masses. But it is shameful that concerts by some of the greatest legends of our times go unheard in empty halls, that tickets have to be sold for subsidized rates in order to ensure a respectable number in the audience. It is also disgraceful that people like Ustaad Bismillah Khan for instance, the great Shehnai maestro, die in penury ignored by the government while it mulls giving a tax free status to more popular forms of entertainment like the IPL. But blaming the government is the easiest thing to do. As the last remaining patrons of this great tradition slowly depart, it remains the collective responsibility of the present generation to ensure that we keep what is probably our most priced inheritance alive for the generations to come. After all, this is the real stuff, made eternal by years of painstaking rehearsal, not the club chartbuster that we dance to, as ephemeral in its distinction as the flickering disco light.


  • esh
    21.12.10 07:35 PM
    nice article!!
    now a days ppl want rock music or ANY MUSIC WHICH ENDORSES THEIR COOL ATTITUDE OR GRABS ATTENTION!! they dont play for the sake of their heart!!
  • Blue Lotus
    Blue Lotus
    17.10.10 06:28 AM
    Hi Nikhil,

    Nice article.I cannot sing.But I attend South Indian Classical music classes because I'm bewitched.I should say that in the younger generation I doubt whether the interest is genuine or parents induced.
  • radhika
    15.10.10 06:39 PM
    I was amazed to see that a westerner who doesn’t even understand Indian languages was such a passionate about Carnatic Music, but our people are slimy attracted toward the western music
  • Christine Ghezzo
    Christine Ghezzo
    17.08.10 01:25 AM

    I agree with you. In the West there is more preservation of musical culture. It has been systematized in a way that makes the process easier. And due to the improvisatory nature of Indian Classical music, the system of preservation is tricky. But don't despair! I have been fortunate to have attended numerous Indian Classical concerts that were packed - in both the United States & India. I believe that both traditions will find their way into the future.
  • Nikhil
    16.08.10 09:49 PM
    Christine - I agree with you. The larger trends with regards to music are the same the world over...but in the west there is a general attempt to preserve and encourage the arts (whether it is music, architecture or fine arts) for their heritage value at least. That is missing in India and there is a sense of apathy about these things both with the authorities and citizens alike...
  • Christine Ghezzo
    Christine Ghezzo
    16.08.10 09:21 PM
    Very interesting opinion article...the writer claims that Europeans hold on to their classical traditions and Indians do not. I am not sure that either is true. When I was in India 2 years ago, I attended a few classical concerts in Delhi & Varanasi which were well attended, as well as a music dep't at Delhi University which was bustling with students studying ICM. In the meantime, my parents are both European Classical musicians who feel that their tradition of music is not being carried forward by the younger generations. Maybe classical traditions go in cycles of popularity? Or it is a being at the right concert in the right place? Also, there have been a number of famous European Classical musicians that were abandoned and who died in poverty. I don't think there is a big difference in these 2 tradions. I think the younger generation all over the world prefer "popularized" music.
  • Himanshu
    21.05.10 12:06 PM
    A very nice article. But I, for once, believe that classical music is on its way up. Youngsters like us are now more keen on knowing what it is about.
    I totally agree with you when you say blaming govt. for everything is not the solution.

  • Apratim Majumdar
    Apratim Majumdar
    16.05.10 08:57 PM
    I am a classical Musician - professional Sarod Player.While going through your article I felt your agony about Americanization of Music in India.
    I am performing concerts professionally for last four years.During the period I performed well over hundred concerts at different places (over 15 concerts at Mumbai)in India and from my experience I can say that interest in classical music among youth is increasing in India.
    Let's hope for the best.
  • Lakshmi Rajan
    Lakshmi Rajan
    14.05.10 10:07 PM
    We can't say Indian classical music is ignored but then there is an irony here. With what I have seen more and more parents send their kids for classical music training but strangely that interest does not translate to appreciation of classical music as a pure listener.
  • Gyanban
    14.05.10 05:25 PM
    not many understand or follow classical music in India, however I see some enthusiasm with the NRI crowd

    Soemwhere, i feel it is also upon the masters to make their music more reachable and understandable.

    Raag bhairavi in sitar, vocal or sarod is something out of this world..sadly very few get it..
  • BullsEye
    13.05.10 03:25 PM
    I won't say i am an ardent classical fan or even a mere listener..But i do recognize the immense effort and dedication that goes into learning classical music. But in fast food culture, patienece is a rare commodity, hence the ignorance. But i do think this art should be preserved at all cost. Nice post Nikhil.
  • LEB
    13.05.10 10:22 AM
    So true. But indeed there is a whole generation of people who will still vouch only for classical music. Bollywood music, just like you said is "wannabe" and is annoying to anyone who cherishes classical magic. Great topic and insight.

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