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The Youth And Classical Music

When I was asked to write an article titled Youth and Classical music  I told myself ten times over that I’m not going to write a piece about how the majority of the youth today have no interest in classical arts –  we’ve seen and read that over and over again.

Forget about dwindling audiences and a dangerous trend where people only want to see ‘popular musicians‘. There maybe an artist a hundred times more competent than a well established one – but he wont get even one hundredth the audience.  

Everyone wants to do the “in-thing” , unfortunately , classical music isn’t in. Or is it that unfortunate ? Take a look at the IIT’s – there are 7 already and more on the way – whats to become of the standard of such institutions if every single person who wants to, can get in – whether or not he’s deserving. Whatever happened to exclusivity ??? 

Think of classical music as an institution of high quality – it is meant for people who desire a true understanding of music – not for fakers who play violin or piano to impress some people here and there  – and put it on their college resumes! Forcing classical music on the youth is like military conscription – couch potatoes and drunkards alike –  running around with AK 47’s – population isn’t everything (despite our country’s obvious fondness for geometric progression in that direction ).

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23rd january 2010, after a long time I saw Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and Ustad Zakir hussain performing together in Chennai. For the first time The Tabla Maestro in Chennai, instead of playing to the gallery, played sublimely in true tradition and some fantastic aesthetic Punjab Gharana Tabla. Promptly I heard the “youth” in the seats in front of me saying “ Zakir has lost his flair “.

I ask you, does Classical music really need such youth, because honestly those of the younger generation who appreciate classical music are already properly and well and truly immersed in it. There are thousands of students of classical arts , pursuing it , many under a proper Guru – Shishya Parampara, having dedicated their life to the art – no want of money and fame, simply in the pursuit of excellence.

I see around me students of maestros of the calibre of T.M.Krishna, Bombay Jayashree, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Ulhas Kashalkar, Yogesh Samsi and many more artists, institutions such as Kalakshetra and the ITC SRA, Gurukul’s of Hariprasad Chaurasia and Suresh Talwalkar, where youngsters are learning classical music with that Sanskar, intensity and purpose. Indeed with such intensity that a student of Yogesh Samsi is actually undergoing a 40 day Chilla (an intensive 40 day process of isolation to foster creativity at its optimum) at the moment. 

I had the fortune to spend the last month in London with my guru and let me assure you, what I witnessed was something spectacularly unusual. In every Indian household, Indian music school and organization were Indians by race, by skin or by religion but British in every other way.

Yet, I saw them sitting there day in and day out immersing themselves in the strongest traditions of Indian classical music. I witnessed an atmosphere for music that I am quite sure I would not get anywhere else, even in India. Such respect & reverence for Indian culture and tradition, I had never witnessed. Such dedication to classical music, I had never witnessed.  

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Despite all of this, I’ m apparently living in complete denial. We live in a time apparently where it is acceptable to sing a traditional composition literally translated into english and finish a Carnatic music concert with what can best be described as a tribute to 50 years of Rajnikanth. If the most respected classical musicians can resort to singing film songs at the end of a concert to appease an audience, what kind of an example is that setting for the youth? 

As much as I’d like to take the high road and say that classical music is exclusive, it is in a sad state of affairs. These youngsters who make up the “immersed in classical arts population” are not even a fraction in terms of percentage. Everyone wants to be hip and happening and for that you it looks like you have to be at concerts where people (both audience and performers) are skimpily clothed or completely wacko or both.  

Yes, music must move with the times but at what cost? A well respected classical musician singing an entire Khayal in English (Raag Megh Malhar going – Rain is falling , flashes after flashes in the Sky … )- because English is the language of the day? Or should a female sitar player play her concerts dressed in a mini skirt ? Apparently even that is not enough to draw the majority of today’s youngsters to a classical music concert.  

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Here in India, we have classical music stuffed down our throats by our parents – here’s my question – are they into classical music themselves? Or are they putting you into it because their colleagues have put their children into it – peer pressure all over again..? 

So when someone suggested something along these lines : 

Dear Parents of Weird Children of Today, 

Don’t frown or make a face when we paint our lips black, have more artificial holes in our bodies than natural and sprain our necks while listening to music. Join us instead – grow a mohawk, wear black lipstick, leather pants and swear after every second word.

I assure you, the moment you do, your “troubled” teenager will drop it all and go join the Harekrishna movement. Because, he doesn’t want your approval – he wants your disapproval . She wants to wear mini-skirts because her mom only wears Sarees – try it the other way around .  

Dont you see- this is exactly why Indian children living abroad are completely taken by Indian classical music .  

Yours Sincerely,

Guy with a death wish.  

I protest – this is not about rebellion. Don’t force it upon us. Get us involved !  understand the difference between the two ! Create an atmosphere where classical music can be one of the In – things. 

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Yes , classical music is certainly about embracing a kind of  life style – it is not just about the music. Understanding and appreciating classical music is a strong indicator of someone who is strong in their values, and has a deep respect for tradition and culture.

At the same time, Not all classical musicians are fruitcakes and nerds. We don’t go to an Iron Maiden show dressed like were going to a T.N.Seshagopalan concert. Everyone imagines that someone immersed in classical music will talk all serious and boring, give philosophical lectures and eat curd rice at a bar. That is not what its about.

Ustad Zakir Hussain once said – “ You should have seen the shock on people’s faces when I turned up at a function wearing t shirt and jeans, listening to some good old Elvis Presley “ . 

At the same time – you will not and should not see a classical vocalist singing in Jeans and T-shirt – the respect and purity of the art should be maintained. And it has been- so far.  

Dont pollute it and certainly don’t try to modernize it  – you don’t ask James Hedfield to sing a thaan in Bhimplas as he sings nothing else matters – so don’t ask classical musicians to play film songs or sing english songs so that you will attend their concerts. Go for a Metallica concert but also spare a thought for Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar  – because when you actually pay attention – it is pretty damn cool!

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