Tuning it rightJul 31st, 2009 | By editor | Category: City Culture, Delhiwaalah, Music & Dance, Newsmakers
RANA SIDDIQUI ZAMAN
Known as much for his Bharatanatyam, teaching and choreography as for his piano playing, Justin McCarthy is part of an increasingly rare breed of professionals who do not hanker after publicity. Over the past two decades the New Delhi-based artiste has built up an impressive body of work in his chosen fields. Recently he was in Nainital, where he gave a piano concert in commemoration of the 134th birth anniversary of legendary conservationist Jim Corbett.
As people poured in to greet him, McCarthy took out some time to talk on the current status of Western classical music in India. Excerpts from an interview:
How do you engage audiences who do not understand classical music?
The language of music is universal. It makes little difference to me if someone doesn’t understand Western classical music. At times, I do explain a bit while playing but I don’t exactly like it as it breaks my rhythm. But I make sure that I never ‘play down’ to the audiences.
Are you happy the way we respond to Western classical music in India?
There is a dwindling audience for both traditional and Western classical music in India. But it doesn’t hurt me. It never did. I take it as a historical phenomenon. It’s like a change in the food habits of the people with the change of the time. I draw my sustenance when I see audiences at least make attempts to listen to classical music calm themselves down. Otherwise, I play for myself.
Why do you think there are few schools in Delhi for Western classical music?
I must say that Western classical training is horrible. Ninety-nine per cent of the students are learning archaic Western music, whether in India or in England. The reason is the very archaic British exam system in the world’s most established schools of Western classical music, Trinity College and the Royal College of Arts and Music in London. They operate in all Commonwealth countries and are very expensive too. They make huge money from the students and teach them redundant music!
Are you doing anything to remedy this situation?
I teach a few students in Delhi in my own creative way but unfortunately, their parents demand the same exam system because these exams fetch them the ‘grades’ that help the students secure a few plus points when their mark/grade sheets are scanned for admissions in these music schools. The examiners don’t even test the students’ creative abilities. Instead they just see their ‘points’ and decide about their admission. I am an anarchist when it comes to teaching music. I don’t take exams. A few students and their discerning parents understand and appreciate that. I teach them to love music as it is, rather then learning it for exams (read profession)!
What can be done to improve the situation?
Abolish this exam system and teach students without the barrier of the examination. Let them be creative, teach them creative music. I am afraid this ghost of the British Empire has to be vanquished before we produce some serious, powerful and creative musicians.
Do you foresee any changes in the current scenario of music learning/teaching?
Not as much as required. There is a group in Bangalore which is trying to change the scenario but such groups are few.