Building a Future – III

This is perhaps the final, but in some ways the most crucial instalment of spin-off articles following upon Karl Lutchmayer’s insightful article “The Way Forward” in the October issue of NCPA Mumbai’s ON Stage magazine. It addresses the topic of music pedagogy.

Lutchmayer starts this segment of his article by asking us this question: “Did you know that there are possibly fewer than 50 teachers in the whole of India who have a music degree?” To put this into context, he continues: “That’s for over 1.3 billion people.”

CPIF Violins rehearsal

This is indeed a fact not too well-known beyond the circle of the stakeholders in music education in India. A shortage of this degree would have been deemed a crisis in any other profession. “It would be simply unthinkable to employ someone in England who didn’t have a [music] degree”, says Lutchmayer. “How can we possibly expect to have wonderful students if we do not have trained teachers?” How indeed.

This is a realisation we came to grips with at the very genesis of Child’s Play India Foundation. If we truly want to build a sound, robust music pedagogical tradition in India, we have to start from scratch. What does this mean? Lutchmayer asks us to look to the Russians for a template: “The only solution, as the Russians realised, is to invest in importing teachers wholesale from other countries.” It is obviously not a small undertaking on account of its financial implications, but to quote Lutchmayer again, “It will cost dearly in early years, but as Russia found out, in terms of national pride and international visibility, will pay back richly.”

If one examines the today-legendary “Russian school of violin playing”, for example, one will be able to trace it back to a long tradition of prominent foreign musicians working in Russia. Famous European violinists such as Pierre Rode, Louis Spohr, Charles de Bériot, Henri Vieuxtemps, Heinrich Ernst and Henry Schradieck, Henryk Wieniawski and Leopold Auer all spent some time working in Russia.

India needs to do in the 21st century what Russia did in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries stretching into the last century. India has perhaps never been in a better position to achieve this, and perhaps such an alignment of the stars might not come again for a long time.

Much has been said and written about India’s economic boom, now apparently surpassing China. As Nandan Nilekani explains in his book “Imagining India: the Idea of a Renewed Nation”, which was also the basis of his brilliant lecture so many of us attended at the D.D. Kosambi lecture series a few years ago, India is just beginning to experience its “demographic dividend”. This refers to a period – usually 20 to 30 years – when fertility rates fall due to significant reductions in child and infant mortality rates. It also means that the share of the working-age population (15 to 64) is larger than the non-working-age share of the population (14 and younger, and 65 and older). Although the focus of the discussion centred on economic gain, it offers huge opportunities for building infrastructure in all fields, including the arts, and therefore, music. Add to this the economic slump in the western world, the shutting down of several orchestras and other music institutions and the general shrinkage of patronage to the arts, Brexit, and we find there is no dearth of highly qualified music professionals and teachers actively seeking work in parts of the world they wouldn’t have considered before, such as India.

Investing in music pedagogy now would be a sound investment. As Lutchmayer argues, it would “raise standards and competition in the marketplace, but would require long-term planning, vision, and, deep pockets.” All the three are crucial; investment without a comprehensive long-term vision would be a waste.

This is why Lutchmayer thinks (and I am inclined to agree) that our government is an inappropriate investor: “Should the government be involved? Personally, my experience, both historical and contemporary, is that governments seldom offer long-term vision and support in the way that a foundation with a large corpus can.” Furthermore, he acknowledges that music would obviously not be a priority for the government “in a country where a clean and ample water source, sewerage, food and affordable medical care are not always available to significant parts of the population.”

But the government could help in other ways, he says, “by simply lowering the earning requirements for incoming music teachers and abolishing some of the red tape that currently stifles private entrepreneurship in the field.”

This is a major hurdle that Child’s Play India Foundation faces in employing foreign music teachers, even though it would surprise many to know just how many highly competent, motivated and qualified professionals earnestly would like to establish themselves in India, and how many email queries we field almost on a daily basis. For instance, it is our objective to address the lower strings crisis, specifically cello in India. Importing even one cello teacher would help not only with the instruction of our children, but in the longer term would help create a cohort of teachers and achieve a multiplier effect.

Furthermore, these professionals would also be able to play concerts, and enrich the cultural life of their city (and further afield if they went on tour) immeasurably, something just as important as teaching to musical development in a community.

But Government of India regulations stipulate that “the foreign national being sponsored for employment in any sector should draw a salary in excess of US $ 25,000 per annum.” It makes concessions for ethnic cooks, language teachers (other than English language teachers)/translators and embassy staff etc, but not for music teachers.

US $ 25,000 translates to over 16 lakh Indian rupees per annum, or over a lakh a month. It is proving very difficult to find Indian corporate sponsorship for such an amount. It is hard enough to explain to CEOs and donors why a foreign music teacher is needed in the first place, and when this steep price tag is then mentioned, smelling salts are often necessary.

The irony is that music professionals are willing to relocate here for less than half this amount, but unless the government regulations change, we are at an impasse.

Another potential source is foreign donations, but the FCRA (Foreign Currency Regulations Act) permission for this is even more notoriously difficult to come by.

If this can be resolved, either by the government relaxing its regulation or by actually finding the sponsorship (let’s face it, even this sum pales in comparison to the amount spent by football teams and premier leagues in importing star sportsmen), then India would really be on the road to building a robust pedagogical tradition. As Lutchmayer says in his closing paragraph, “Ultimately, if India wants to have a world-class musical life, it needs investment in that musical life.”

(An edited version of this article was published on 23 October 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Yet Another Side of Bob Dylan?

I was not yet born when American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s epic albums “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” (1963) and “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (1964) burst upon the music scene and captured the world’s imagination. But I remember growing up to those songs in 1970s Goa.

The beauty of his songs lay in their simplicity. With no frills at all, with just his guitar and harmonica backing his vocal line, they were searingly honest, unpretentious and direct. The chord progressions were simple, the verses ballad-like. You could literally just pick up a guitar and learn them in a few minutes. Unlike his rock star peers, he was a wandering minstrel, a troubadour. And like those itinerant musicians of yore, he sang, sometimes in riddles, but about contemporary issues that were raging. And that seemed to appeal to his generation, jaded as they were by the diet of lies and subterfuge by their own government, and in America in particular that was reeling under protests over civil rights, and a mounting death and casualty toll (high enough on the American side, but of genocidal proportions on the ‘other’ side, civilian and military) in a disastrous Vietnam war to which there seemed no end in sight at the time. Is it any wonder that his songs became the anthems of that age, almost the soundtrack to both, the civil rights and anti-war movements?

One of his most iconic songs “Blowin’ in the Wind” (from his 1963 album) even made it into our hymn books and church services. And his 1964 title track “The Times They Are A-Changin’” is thought by many to have at least some of its lyrics inspired by the Bible. The lines in the final verse “The order is rapidly fadin’/ And the first one now/ Will later be last/ For the times they are a-changin’” resemble closely Matthew 20:16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Numerologists will probably find some significance in the fact that 2016 is the year in which Dylan gets perhaps the crowning accolade of a lifetime, the Nobel Prize for Literature. Yes, not for Peace, but for Literature. And he makes history in being the first songwriter ever to receive such an honour. The justification? It is in acknowledgment of his “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

For all my admiration of his music and lyrics, I must confess to having mixed feelings on receiving the news. But first let us examine the case for the proposition that he well deserves a Literature Nobel. One could argue, as Sean O’Hagan has done in the Guardian (Sunday 16 October 2016), that it is his personal voyage of discovery as a songwriter that is being lauded through the Literature Prize, having stretched the genre –“and himself” in the words of O’Hagan- “almost to breaking point”.

This personal voyage unsurprisingly was not without controversy. Born Robert Allen Zimmermann (Jewish name Shabtai Zisl ben Avraham) to Russian Jewish parents, and whose grandparents had fled to the US from the 1905 anti-Semitic pogroms in Odessa in the erstwhile Russian empire, he changed his name to Bob Dylan in the late 1950s. His explanation was enigmatic: “You’re born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”

Why Dylan? Although in his memoir he gave credit to the influence of the poetry of Dylan Thomas, he also told biographer Robert Shelton, “Straighten out in your book that I did not take my name from Dylan Thomas. Dylan Thomas’s poetry is for people that aren’t really satisfied in their bed, for people who dig masculine romance.” 

In the late 1970s, Dylan embraced the ‘born again’ sect of Christianity, mystifying and alienating some of his fans and contemporary musicians. But perhaps it was a logical culmination of a journey that had begun much earlier. Perhaps I am reading too much into his lyrics, but what is one to make of “I dreamed I saw Saint Augustine” from his 1967 album “John Wesley Harding”?

But let us return to the current issue of the Nobel Prize for Literature award for the first time to a songwriter. Why now, and why Dylan? If the yardstick was creating “new poetic expression within the great American song tradition”, why did Cole Porter or Irving Berlin not qualify in their time? Or Billie Holiday or Nina Simone? And if for the social activist content of the lyrics, why not Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez?

Furthermore, as Anna North wrote in her op-ed “Why Bob Dylan shouldn’t have gotten a Nobel” in the New York Times (13 October 2016), one could take the view that by awarding the prize to Dylan, “the Nobel committee is choosing not to award it to a writer, and that is a disappointing choice.” Not everyone would agree with this, of course. Because, aren’t lyricists writers too? But if one eyeballs the honours list of Nobel laureates for Literature since the inception of the award in 1901, I find it hard to put Dylan’s lyrics, heartfelt and soul-stirring as they might be, up there with the writing of Rabindranath Tagore, Romain Rolland, George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Mann, Pearl Buck, Herman Hesse, André Gide, T. S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell, Ernest Hemingway, Boris Pasternak, Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Octavio Paz, Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney, Günter Grass, V S. Naipaul, Harold Pinter, or Orhan Pamuk, who in fact I am reading right now. Perhaps it is a reflection of my own immaturity or ignorance, and this award has certainly spurred me to pay closer attention to Dylan’s lyrics.

Ms North makes the point that apart from significantly boosting the sales of literary works, far more importantly the Nobel Literature award sends out a powerful message that “fiction and poetry still matter, that they are crucial human endeavors worthy of international recognition.”

There already are platforms for recognition of songwriting (the Grammy awards, for example). Bob Dylan is already celebrated in his own field, so to me, awarding a Nobel Prize for Literature to him is overkill, and bizarrely generous. I find it hard to believe that there were no contenders among poets and writers around the world to pip him to the post. Perhaps the awarding committee wanted to shed its stuffy image and appeal to a younger audience. And if one puts Dylan’s winning of the Nobel Literature prize in perspective, and contrasts this with the wisdom of choice in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize in the last few decades in some cases, for example, then yes, Bob Dylan is far, far away the more deserving.

(An edited version of this article was published on 22 October 2016 in Goan Observer, Goa India)

Building a Future -II


In last weekend’s column I discussed Karl Lutchmayer’s thoughtful article “The Way Forward” in the October issue of the NCPA’s ON Stage magazine.

Lutchmayer begins by giving us a little historical background to the evolution of patronage for music in Europe, and pointing out the ‘ringing bells’, the similarities between the factors that brought about the democratisation and extension of the reach of classical music in 18th– and 19th– century Europe and England, and in 21st-century India. Lutchmayer asks “Why not Mumbai?”, but this question could well apply to Goa, and indeed to the rest of the country.

I would like to continue the discussion of concerts from the last weekend. I had discussed the logistics of organising live concerts, the financial costs involved, choice of venues and the need for community support in various forms, not just financial.

Lutchmayer makes another important point when he says “India has to find ways of promoting performances by as many Indian performers as possible.” This is something that Child’s Play India Foundation believes as well; performance opportunities have to go hand-in-hand with music education. Lutchmayer continues: “Above all, far more opportunity must be given to young musicians at all levels to gain experience at performing.” The young Indian musicians he meets at auditions have hardly played a few concerts in their entire lives, while “the international students against which they compete will have played in public 10-20 times a year for many years.”

This is why in addition to offering our children performance opportunities at least twice a year at our monsoon and Christmas concerts, we endeavour to widen the platform even further. Since its inception in 2013, Camerata Child’s Play India has offered a platform not only to young musicians in the community for ensemble playing, but offered solo opportunities to many of them as well. Ashley Rego and Maria Sancha Pereira played the much-loved Bach Concerto for two violins (D minor BWV 1043) under the baton of Pheroze Mistri at Caritas St. Inez in June 2013. Ashley also played the hauntingly beautiful John Williams theme from Schindler’s List at that concert. Joanne D’Mello and Andrea Fernandes, visiting home from Europe kindly contributed to our Kala Academy concert in August 2013, with Andrea playing continuo in Bach’s fourth Brandenburg concerto (G major, BWV 1049) and two Bach arias sung by Joanne. In January 2014, Chernoll Mendonca and Dwayne Fernandes performed the Vivaldi concerto for two violins (A minor RV 522) at the Goa State Museum Patto. And at the Monte Music festival in February 2014, Ashley Rego (violin), Elvina Fernandes and I (violas) and Leo Velho (cello) played the solo parts in Bach’s second Brandenburg concerto (G major BWV 1048) along with visiting musicians from Oberlin Conservatory of Music USA and from Canada.

At each Christmas concert, Camerata Child’s Play India has so far played Christmas concerti (Corelli, Torelli and Manfredini), which are essentially concerti grossi with solo opportunities for section leaders. At the last Christmas concert in December 2015, Chernoll Mendonca, Syanna Fernandes and Leo Velho were these section leaders.

This year, Child’s Play India Foundation inaugurated its Young Performers series, which gives a performance platform not only to our young teachers, but also to other promising young musicians, local and overseas. At our monsoon concert therefore, the stage was shared by not only our violin teacher Syanna Fernandes, but also visiting musicians from Purcell School of Music England Jenny Clarke (piano), Matthew Higham (flute), and from the Royal Conservatoire Scotland, Ed Cohen (piano) and Indian contralto Anckna Arockiam. Continuing this series, our Christmas concert will feature Leo Velho (cello) and Ingrid-Anne Nazareth (piano). Leo will also play cello duos with our visiting musician from Juilliard New York, cellist-conductor Avery Waite.

Lutchmayer makes the same point about the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), the orchestra-in-residence at the NCPA, and India’s only fully professional symphony orchestra: “The SOI, whether through education or financial incentive, has to have far more Indian players, and book far more Indian soloists.”

Looking at the roster of the SOI in the brochure of the 10th anniversary season concert I attended last month, only 10% of the orchestra’s members are Indian. Interestingly, over 50% of the Indian contingent is of Goan extraction. This is why I have lobbied for an SOI outreach programme in Goa, where I am confident it would be most likely to yield the greatest dividend compared to anywhere else in India. Furthermore, by working with the disadvantaged and lower middle-class sector, there is much higher likelihood of these children wishing to enter the ranks of the SOI than the well-heeled sector, whose parents are more likely to nudge their children towards higher-paid, ‘more respectable’ professions.

julian clef

Lutchmayer’s comment on booking more Indian soloists applies not just to the SOI, but to impresarios and concert organisers all over India. Take the case of Julian Clef, arguably India’s biggest rising name in classical music right now. He has been handpicked by Sir András Schiff, and been lauded by Benjamin Frith, both giants in the piano pedagogy sphere. He has performed at the prestigious Dvořák music festival in Prague in 2012, sharing billboard space with the top guns of the classical music world, from Zubin Mehta and the Staatskapelle Dresden to Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.  BBC Music magazine earlier that year hailed him as a “Rising Star”, a “Great Artist of Tomorrow”. His stunning Gold Medal-winning performance at the Royal Northern College of Music Manchester in 2011 got him snapped up by the leading international music management company Hazard Chase, which represents the world’s renowned artists and has on its roster Piers Lane, Benjamin Grosvenor, and Martin Roscoe (piano); Pinchas Zukerman, Viviane Hagner, Jennifer Pike, and Anthony Marwood (violin); Julian Bream (guitar); and the Brodsky and Endellion string quartets. Yet bizarrely, even this does not guarantee a booked-up concert tour in India. I was flabbergasted to hear an impresario counterpart in another state say to me on the phone, “Clef should not think he can command a performance fee as high as a foreign artist.” Why shouldn’t he? What he brings to the performance arena is just as priceless. The same impresario would probably not bat an eyelid at paying a higher performance fee to a lesser artist as long as s/he has an exotic European or South-East Asian name. Why are we among the last to value the accomplishments of our own people? When will our sense of national pride be more than empty flag-waving, sloganeering and jingoistic chest-thumping?

I am however delighted to report that Kala Academy and ProMusica have responded promptly to the news of Clef’s current concert tour of India (he also performs in Mumbai, Delhi and Trivandrum) and graciously hosted his piano recital at short notice. Clef had inaugurated the Kala Steinway piano, and has given several memorable concerts upon it at return visits, so it will be a homecoming of sorts. He will play works by Chopin, Rachmaninov and Scriabin on 17 October 2016 at Kala Academy’s Dinanath Mangueshkar indoor auditorium at 7 pm. Entry is free.

(An edited version of this article was published on 16 October 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Building a Future – I

I was thrilled to read in the October issue of the NCPA magazine ON Stage an extremely well-written article “The Way Forward” by my friend Prof. Karl Lutchmayer, in which he discusses what can be done to create more awareness of western classical music in India.

It was heartening to find that he so passionately echoes so many of my own views on the subject, that I have touched upon often, in this column, in other sections of the press including ON Stage magazine and elsewhere, and in my blog. There is so much food for thought in his article.

I’d like to focus in this column upon concerts. Lutchmayer stresses the importance of live concerts and public performances, how a vibrant concert calendar has so many benefits, in cultivating an ever-wider audience, providing inspiration to youth, helping mould teachers and performers, or in his words “a powerful breeding ground”.

This is certainly the motivation of Child’s Play India Foundation in regularly organising not only performances of our children and staff, but also young musicians from the community and visiting overseas performers and teachers as well. Our own concert calendar has two steady fixtures namely our monsoon and Christmas concerts, and we avail of creative opportunities in between as well when visiting musicians come by. They often come to Goa to observe our work and offer assistance. This takes the form of pedagogical sessions with our children and faculty, but quite frequently we get a concert or two out of them in the bargain as well. We endeavour to get as many of our children to quality performances as we can, even ferrying them to and fro if needs be, because a good live concert can hugely inspire, and the performers become positive role models to emulate. It also widens their horizons, in opening young minds and ears to new sounds and repertoire.

Goa has a more active concert calendar than most other parts of India, but there is still much more work to be done to make it even more robust.

Virtually all performers who come to Mumbai would love to come to Goa as well. But there are three big questions to answer. Who will take the trouble to organise it? Where can a suitable venue be found? And lastly, perhaps most crucially, who will pick up the tab?

Organising concerts can be a thankless task, especially if it comes down to just two or three people taking care of the logistics. It takes a cascade of small tasks from booking a venue, creating passes and publicity, putting up posters, flogging the passes, and taking care of hospitality, meals, travel tickets, airport transfer and so much else. They become too onerous when it falls to the lot of just a few; but many hands make light work. It is incumbent upon more members of the community to take the responsibility for little tasks and ensure they are done. If parents could help for example with just putting up posters and ensuring that they, their children and their social circle came to such concerts this would, in an upward spiral, make it easier to organise far more concerts.

A suitable venue can be a major stumbling block. Any performance involving a piano narrows down the options to either a venue namely the Kala Academy which already has a magnificent Steinway grand piano in situ; or one has to transport a grand piano (no mean feat even in the best of weather) to an alternative site. Given that the Kala Academy is more often than not booked-up, and on the rare occasion it is available, the rental cost has become even more expensive, this is a huge challenge. Even more tragically, the Steinway, procured at such great cost, gets underplayed, making its mechanism stiff and unwieldy for those few performers that do ultimately get to play on it. The Steinway deserves to be played more often by the high-calibre performers it was built for.

If a piano is not needed, there are more creative possibilities for choice of venue. Lutchmayer asks us to rethink where concerts are held, and take them where they can be more accessible. This is why, in addition to the ‘usual suspects’ like the Kala Academy or the Menezes Braganza, Camerata Child’s Play India has also performed in a church, in the backyard of a restaurant, in museums, art galleries, schools, and in a village hall. The feedback we got from the last option (the Aldona Institute) was really heartening. Many residents told us it was the first time a classical music ensemble had played in their village. There are several issues we have to address when going on the road, which include transport, making the arrangements at the venue, and spreading the word, but it is something we’d certainly like to do more often.

Lutchmayer also writes: “The flourishing of music is always accompanied by its democratisation, and there can be little room for elitism.” Hear, hear. This is why I am so vehemently opposed to the regressive trend of ‘chief guests and ‘special’ guests and ‘reserved VIP seating’ at concerts, an antiquated ego trip long-since discarded in enlightened society. Everyone in the audience should be valued equally at a concert, not some more than others. The only ‘chief guests’ should be the composers and the music itself. There is nothing more dispiriting than a procession of ‘babus’ and entourage, almost always not even having the courtesy to arrive on time, strutting to take their seat in some prominent position in the front row which ironically can be one of the worst seats to be in if one truly wants to savour the music. Even more ironically, in a venue like the Kala, the music would also quite literally ‘go over their heads’. There ought to be a clue in this year 2016; Matthew 20:16 states “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

Financial support is crucial especially when the concerts are played by visiting performers of high calibre. If a solo performer, the cost, inclusive of airfare (usually one-way either from the previous Indian city or to the next on their concert itinerary), stay, meals and a performer fee, to say nothing of the rental of the venue, can work up to around Rs. 50,000 to 60,000. It is hard, if not impossible to recover this from sale of donation passes alone. If the number of performers is higher, the cost goes up even further; if a cellist is part of the ensemble, the cello requires yet another airline seat. So a string quartet performance (bearing in mind a respectable ensemble could easily command a performance fee of 1000 euros) takes the cost to the six-figure range in rupees.

So steady patronage from corporations and philanthropists is a necessity, but each concert-goer contributes hugely by their presence, and conversely adds to the financial loss incurred when they don’t attend. It is everyone’s loss, especially theirs.

(An edited version of this article was published on 9 October 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

The Arabian Knight


From my internship year onwards, as soon as I got my salary, I’d literally sprint straight from work to VP Sinari and buy at least one audio cassette, sometimes two, every month. And the range was necessarily eclectic, because there were comparatively few classical albums available, and much more in the popular repertoire.

One of these purchases was titled “Music for an Arabian Night” featuring Ron Goodwin and his Concert Orchestra. It caught my fancy as much for the implied exoticism of the music it contained as for the pretty dark-haired girl on the cover, seated crosslegged on a diwan and looking intently at me. I was sold.

But the music was remarkable; played by a ‘western’ ensemble, it was unmistakably Eastern, with tracks titled ‘Bazaar’, ‘Old Beirut’, ‘Arab feast, and ‘’The cedars of Lebanon’. It evoked an old-world, innocent Lebanon before war and divisionary forces tore it asunder. The pieces were composed by names I had never come across before: Rahbani brothers, Filmon Wahbi, N. Al-Basri. Each tracks had percussion and rhythm at the fore, clearly music meant to be danced to, in some cases gradually accelerating to fever pitch as in ‘Arab feast’. It was my first taste of ‘Arabian’ composers, albeit of light music.

marouan benallah arabian knight

Pianist Marouan Benabdallah’s recital in the city recently reminded me of this. With his French-Hungarian-Moroccan descent, he thoughtfully included all three strands of his heritage in his programme. So we had Claude Debussy (Reflets dans l’eau from his first book of Images; Clair de la lune from Suite Bergamasque; and all three movements, Pagodes, La nuit dans Grenade and Jardins sous la pluie from Estampes); and for the Hungarian component Béla Bartók’s Hungarian peasant songs (and Franz Liszt’s La Campanella, the third of his six Grandes études de Paganini, as the much-clamoured-for encore).

But occupying the very heart of the programme was for me the highlight: the focus on the Middle East and Africa. And what made it even more significant was Benabdallah’s eloquent speech introducing this segment. It was his contribution in countering the barrage of negativity and Islamophobia we are bombarded with in a relentless media storm, and his attempt to open for us a window to the region’s soul, its creative pulse.

First we heard ‘Night of Destiny’ (1978) by Syrian-French composer Dia Succari (1938-2010). The title refers to Laylat al-Qadr, the night when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Mohammed. It is the night angels are believed to descend from the heavens. And as Benabdallah explained, it is a wonderful example of pluralism and syncretism, as Succari was himself not Muslim. The piece has a central improvisatory (taqsim) section (evocative of descending angels?) where the piano almost becomes a percussive santoor-like instrument before returning to an altered version of the opening theme, and concluding with an elaborate trilling run (or should that be a running trill?).

Next up was Algerian Miniature no. 2 (Zaydan Dance) by Algerian doctor-turned-composer and ethnomusicologist Salim Dada (b. 1972), followed by Mouwashah no. 3 by Lebanese pianist-composer Zad Moultaka (b. 1967). Mouwashah refers to the characteristic form of Andalusian poetry, recited and sung, and still alive today in the Arab world.

Benabdallah concluded the first half of his programme with his own arrangement of French music doffing its cap to Africa; Camille Saint-Saëns’ Fantasy Africa, begun by the composer in Cadiz in 1889 and completed in 1891, while on a recuperative cruise (recovering from illness and the death of his mother) that brought him as close to us as Ceylon.

This work was originally scored by Saint-Saëns for piano and orchestra, and arranged by Benabdallah for solo piano. For all the breath-taking pianistic brilliance of the piece, and the Oriental references and quotations (the climax is based on a Tunisian folk tune), it still sounds very much like what it essentially is: an European taking a metaphorical ‘cruise’ into Eastern waters, skirting the coastline occasionally but not alighting long enough to really experience the ‘other’ perspective. So many sections of the composition could have easily fitted into, say, another piano concerto, without seeming at all out of place. It is as if Saint-Saëns has to occasionally remind himself to insert an African motif in the orchestral interludes. It is a ‘Fantasy’ in more ways than one. It is a great work, to be sure, but it has much less authenticity than the works of Succari, Dada and Moultaka, and understandably so.

But here is the interesting thing: all three, Succari, Dada and Moultaka could also be said to represent the ‘French’ part of the programme as they all have some French connection. Succari and Moultaka studied at the Conservatoire of Paris, where Succari counted Olivier Messiaen among his composition teachers. Dada is more of an auto-didact, but between 2002 and 2005 he studied music writing (harmony, counterpoint and analysis) through distance learning with French composer Jean-Luc Kuczynski. All their websites are in French. This is not surprising, given that all their countries (Syria, Algeria and Lebanon) have had a French colonial past. Indeed, this is the reason why Saint-Saëns visited the Middle East.

It is worth remembering the past very much in the Middle East in general when wringing our hands at the present turmoil in the troubled region. Many of the present problems can be traced back to their root to this past, when borders were summarily drawn by imperial and colonial powers when carving up the region, with no regard to the wishes of the people. Those arbitrary ‘lines in the sand’ continue to keep the whole region ablaze, lining the pockets of the weapons industry that fuels all sides of any conflict. It is easy to conveniently blame a people or a religion without remembering this. This was once the cradle of several of the world’s earliest civilisations. These are the lands of the Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates. To think that such a fertile region could ever be bereft of culture, or that the unhappy violence that currently pervades it is its only notable feature is absurd.

As I joined the small but fortunate audience in giving Benabdallah a standing ovation, I realised I was applauding not only his staggering technique and phenomenal musicianship in the final pieces on offer, the formidable Variations (25 of them!) and Fugue on a theme by Handel opus 24 by Johannes Brahms and the Liszt-Paganini Campanella. Benabdallah had just joined the hallowed ranks of Shostakovich, Casals, Rostropovich and Menuhin in using his music to make a wider socio-political point.

Benabdallah has been able to find seventy composers from the Middle East, composers of what could be considered ‘serious’ music in the classical music idiom. He plans to devote more of his focus to showcasing their work, a project he has aptly named ‘Arabesques’. We have heard Benabdallah several times before, as a Chevalier for French music; it is so wonderful to hear him now, as an Arabian Knight.

(An edited version of this article was published on 2 October 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Baayen Haath ka Khel

The inexcusable delay in commencing Maxime Zecchini’s piano recital did not eventually detract from what he had to offer.

Works for the left hand featured prominently in his recital programme. This is perhaps not surprising, if one realises that Zecchini has released no less than five CDs devoted solely to works for the left hand (‘Oeuvres pour la main gauche’).


It is telling that the word for ‘left’ in French is ‘gauche’, which can also be taken to mean ‘unsophisticated’, ‘awkward’. The Italian word ‘sinistra’ for left can also mean ‘sinister’. Conversely the word for right, ‘droit’ in French can also mean ‘straight’, or ‘law’; ‘destra’ in Italian also means skilful, from the Latin ‘dexter’ which also has both meanings.

In Hindi, ‘baayen haath ka khel’ is an idiom used to describe something ridiculously easy. All these historical and linguistic biases are certainly not applicable when it comes to piano compositions for the left hand.

What led Zecchini on this journey? He explains on his website: “I had the idea of exploring the left hand repertoire a few years ago when I first studied Ravel’s Concerto pour la main gauche. The idea that the playing of just five fingers could sound like two hands seemed like an extraordinary wonder to me. But a number of composers have managed to take up the challenge with exceptional talent. These works display the left hand’s vast capacities. At its best, it can make the piano sound like a full orchestra, by using the positioning of its fingers, its natural flexibility, and its powerful range in the keyboard’s low notes. I am delighted to be able to introduce the poetic breadth of this unusual repertoire, which is in equal parts technically challenging and spectacular.”

But why would composers even bother with such a nice repertoire in the first place? Keith Porter-Snell, pianist, piano teacher, and writer of educational music for piano students, lists four reasons: 1. technical 2. injury or disability 3. virtuosic display and 4. compositional challenge.

Hans Brofeldt, an expert on piano music for the left hand, in his website which has a comprehensive catalogue of all the known piano music for the left hand alone, divides this piano literature into two broad categories, the first being injury/disability (the “tragic background”, as he calls it), and the other he calls “musical-intellectual gymnastics” (reasons 1, 3 and 4 listed by Porter-Snell fall into this category).

Porter-Snell explains that his own “particular interest in piano music for the left hand alone began with the onset of focal dystonia in my right hand; but my passion for left hand alone music grew from my need for self-expression through music.”

The work that began Zecchini’s exploration of left-hand repertoire, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D major, also came to fruition due to injury: it was commissioned from the composer by the Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961), who lost his right arm during World War I.

Wittgenstein’s steely determination to pursue an international career as a concert pianist despite having only one arm enriched the piano literature with many great works and has been an inspiration for later pianists who suffered similar disability. Other famous composers such as Benjamin Britten, Paul Hindemith, Erich Korngold, Sergei Prokofiev and Richard Strauss also wrote works especially for Wittgenstein. And Wittgenstein paid handsomely for these commissions.

I picked up volume 3 of Zecchini’s anthology (“the first one ever realized”, according to the liner notes), of works for the left hand, and his CDs span an eclectic mix as well. Some are bespoke works for the left hand, while others are transcriptions from the mainstream repertoire for the left hand. I was pleased to find such a transcription by Wittgenstein himself (Liszt’s operatic transcription of Wagner’s ‘Death of Isolde’ from Tristan and Isolde) in the CD.

Works for the left hand use the aural equivalent of “smoke and mirrors” to conjure up the illusion that the music is being performed the “regular” way, by both hands. Ravel said as much, when elaborating on his Piano Concerto for the Left Hand: “The listener must never feel that more could be accomplished with two hands”. It is this that makes the performance of such works so challenging. “The point where true art and the illusion begins, is when you can make the melody sound as one long smooth phrase and at the same time make the impression that the accompaniment is played by the other hand”, says Brofeldt.

One might be tempted to ask: why not works for the right hand as well? I think the reasons for this again, could be many. For one, living as we do in a right-handed world, accidents and injuries are more prone to occur to the dominant hand. There is actually some repertoire for right hand alone, but not as much as there is for the left.

Secondly, when seated at the piano, it would be awkward to try and play the lower register with the right hand, while still having the ‘leading’ finger (in the case of the right hand, this would be the little finger) picking out the melodic line. Far easier for the left hand to stray into the upper reaches than vice versa with the right hand.

And Brofeldt further explains in his website: “The left hand is just better ‘built’ for playing alone – especially when you consider the way traditional classic or romantic music is constructed. In its simplest form there is a melody with an accompaniment some tones lower. This is in fact just as if it were created for the left hand: the thumb of the left hand takes care of the melody, and the other four fingers take care of the accompaniment.”

With the help of photographs, he shows how the ‘reach’ (ie the maximum keys on the piano spanned) between the first and second fingers (the thumb and index finger) of his left hand is so much greater than that between the fourth and fifth fingers (ring and little finger) of his right hand. The wider reach in the former case facilitates this separation by a few tones between the melody and accompaniment, which would be awkward (should we say ‘gauche’, even if it is the right hand?) with the right hand.

Brofeldt also got introduced to the left hand piano repertoire after his right hand was partially paralysed for a year and a half in the early 1970s. His catalogue of composers for this niche repertoire is surprisingly long, listing over 700 names. It opens up a whole exciting new aural world to explore.

(An edited version of this article was published on 25 September 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

The ‘Goanese’ musician in Bombay

Those of you who came to Child’s Play India Foundation’s annual monsoon concert on 20 August 2016 at the Menezes Braganza hall will know we had visiting musicians from the Purcell School of Music and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland with us for a brief stint.

Some of them (Matthew Higham and Jenny Clarke) were keen on familiarising themselves with local music during their visit. At our concert, they were introduced to ‘Sobit amchem Goem’, the much-loved paean to Goa, with lyrics penned by the famous Goan poet Manoharrai Sardessai.

I also decided to take them to a screening of Bardroy Barreto’s ‘Nachom-ia Kumpasar’, which has twenty of the legendary Chris Perry-Lorna cantaram.

Even so long after the film’s release, it still draws a near-full house each time, with many in the audience returning (as I was) to see it more than a few times. The film is not subtitled, so I sat myself between my guests and translated wherever necessary. But the songs were a different matter altogether. My guests were spell-bound through all of them; no translation required in the universal language of music. They admired the verve-filled playing and singing in the film soundtrack, but also the beautiful craftsmanship in the score-writing and orchestration of the songs. For days afterwards, I’d catch them jauntily humming to themselves a snatch of the melody from the songs.

As we walked home after the late show, they pressed me to explain portions they hadn’t fully understood. At the beginning and end of the film, as well as when Vijay Maurya’s Lawry Vaz pensively polishes off his trumpet before returning it to its case, the narrative touches upon the ubiquity of the Goan musician in Bombay’s music scene, creating history but being airbrushed out of it.

As the film’s Facebook page states, it is as much about the Goan musician in Bombay as about the protagonist couple (Lawry/Donna; Chris/Lorna): “Nachom-ia Kumpasar is a nostalgic musical tale set in the times these musicians lived and died in – unrecognized, unappreciated…and unsung.”

This month also happens to be the tenth anniversary season of the Symphony Orchestra of India in Mumbai. To mark this milestone, my friend Hannah Marsden wrote a piece titled “A Symphony Orchestra in Bombay” in Serenade, “India’s first online portal dedicated to the promotion, growth and awareness of Western classical music”.

Marsden is a PhD student from London, writing her dissertation on western classical music in Mumbai. She has spent much time collating material that produced her article. Just going by the photo credits, her sources include the Jules and Olga Craen Foundation, the Bombay Chamber Orchestra, the Symphony Orchestra of India archives, and the Mehli Mehta Music Foundation.

According to her research, the first orchestral venture in the “city that never sleeps” began in 1920, the initiative of Edward Behr, “a German citizen educated at the Royal College of Music London” who at the time was conductor of the Governor’s Band and leader of many light opera productions in Bombay. She quotes his June 1920 letter to the Times of India elaborating his idea of commencing a symphony orchestra: “….the orchestra would be for the people, it should be of the people also – that it should consist of Indians. Mahomedans, Hindus, Parsis, Goanese, Anglo-Indians, in short, of any musical talent to be found in this country strengthened by capable European players in different sections of the band.”

I found it interesting that the “Goanese” should find mention as an entity in their own right, and at the very birth of such an important musical endeavour in by then the most important city on India’s west coast.

Marsden points out the significance of the formation of such an eclectic ensemble: “A mixed religion, mixed ethnicity, mixed gender [Behr had also indicated in his letter that he “should take women as well as men”] orchestra would have, for its time, been a highly controversial and progressive notion. This level of cosmopolitanism was unheard of in European orchestras, and would certainly have been groundbreaking in Mumbai.” 

Behr’s initiative, the Bombay Symphony Orchestra, died out due a lack of funding in 1928, only to be revived again by virtuoso violinist Mehli Mehta (father of Maestro Zubin Mehta) and Belgian conductor Jules Craen in 1935.

Marsden’s article has a mention of the Goan contribution again in her reference to a contemporaneous local newspaper report: “The Bombay Symphony Orchestra, in which Parsis, Muslims, Hindus, Goans, Hungarians, Frenchmen, Germans, Austrians and Englishmen combine to produce harmony. Mon. J. Craen the conductor claims to lead the most cosmopolitan orchestra in the world.”

Reading both accounts (Behr’s letter and the above newspaper quote) however, I was aware of a curious pecking order, where “Goanese” or Goans feature third or fourth in line, in the description of the various groups that made up the orchestras. Could this really reflect the numerical strength of these component groups in descending order?

If the programme of the Symphony Orchestra of Bombay concert in 1952 (featuring Yehudi Menuhin as soloist, performing both, the Mendelssohn and Beethoven violin concertos in a single evening) at Regal Cinema is any indicator, Goan musicians formed a sizeable proportion of the ranks of that orchestra. I was able to count 30 names that were almost certainly of Goan origin among the 81 orchestra members.

As part of the research for her thesis, Marsden contacted me for information on Vere da Silva, Goan solicitor as well as violin virtuoso and conductor, who was a relative, and a huge influence on my own musical upbringing. I put her in touch with his family, and furnished whatever material I had at my own disposal.

Vere da Silva finds mention in her Serenade magazine article as well: “By 1955 the second Bombay Symphony Orchestra had fizzled out, as had its namesake before it. In 1957 it was briefly reformed by a Goan lawyer named Vere da Silva, under a new name, the Bombay City Orchestra, but again faded when da Silva left to pursue a career in law in the U.K.”

In this column two years ago, I had described the historic 1957 concert of the Bombay City Orchestra under his baton featuring the famous American contralto Marian Anderson. There is rare film footage in the University of Pennsylvania archive “Marian Anderson: A Life in Song” of an aria (‘Mon couer s’ouvre à ta voix’ from Saint-Saëns’ opera ‘Samson et Dalila’) performed at that concert.

Marsden’s general comment that “the story of the Symphony Orchestra in Bombay was one of passion but also one of frustration” and that “dedicated amateurs always played in Bombay’s orchestras for love rather than money” applies just as much to the Goan musician.

There are no further overt references to Goan musicians in Marsden’s article, but the Goan contribution in both the existing orchestras in Mumbai, the Bombay Chamber Orchestra and the Symphony Orchestra of India, continue to this day.

(An edited version of this article was published on 18 September 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Bailey and Love and the Goa Stone

Among all the textbooks one had to read in the course of one’s medical studies, Bailey and Love’s ‘Short Practice of Surgery’ stands out as a literal heavyweight. I remember my first thought after reading the title: “If this is what a ‘short’ practice of surgery is like, I’m relieved we don’t have the ‘long’ practice on our curriculum!”

Anyone familiar with it will know what a formidable tome it is. I’ve seen it used as a door-stop in the students’ hostel, and it would probably be an effective missile if dropped from a sufficient height. It also added to one’s gravitas as a scholar, to say nothing of its benefits to the upper arm muscles, if one carried it around the college campus.

But it was a very readable text, in contrast to so many others. And often its little footnotes and asides in italics were so much more interesting than the rest of the textbook.

One such footnote, which appeared under “special types of mechanical intestinal obstruction”, described “trichobezoars and phytobezoars”, which according to the text, are “firm masses of undigested hairball and fruit/vegetable fibre, respectively.” In case you’re wondering about the hairball bit, the text helpfully explains it can happen “due to persistent hair chewing or sucking, and may be associated with an underlying psychiatric abnormality”.

In both words trichobezoar and phytobezoar, the prefixes trycho- and phyto- were previously known to me and pretty self-explanatory i.e. pertaining to hair and plants respectively, and derived from the Greek. But ‘bezoar’ was new to me. I assumed from the context that it must be an exotic term for ‘stone’, and quashed any curiosity I might have had for its etymology with this explanation. I had enough –ologies to deal with in my medical years without needing to indulge my passion for etymology as well. We couldn’t Google things then, but an old (1964) edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary we had at home told me that the word was derived from the Persian word ‘pādzahr’ which apparently meant ‘antidote’. This made no sense, but as it hardly seemed like a viva question, I put it out of my mind. I might have seen a bezoar in a pathology specimen jar, but there my experience of it as a medical student or doctor ended.

I didn’t dream that there’d be a Goa angle to the ‘bezoar’, but apparently there is one. I realised this after my first visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York. On view in gallery 463 is a stunning exhibit titled ‘Goa stone and container’. The description dates it to the late 17th to early 18th century.

Working Title/Artist: Goa stone container with stone and standDepartment: Islamic ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: late 17th-early 18th century
photography by mma, Digital File: DP116021.tif
retouched by film and media (kah) 02_05_14

It further explained that Goa stones were manufactured by Jesuits in the late 17th century, and were ‘manmade’ versions of bezoars, “gallstones from ruminants” such as sheep, deer, antelope. Reassuring to note that no humans were harmed in the process. Bezoars were apparently highly coveted for their supposed medicinal and talismanic powers, especially their believed properties as a universal antidote to any poison, which is therefore how it got its Persian name.

Prior to stumbling upon this exhibit, I had not heard of the Goa stone before. The literature about it is pretty sparse and scattered, with curiously a disproportionate amount of knowledge gleaned from American sources.

The Goa stone apparently was initially made from genuine bezoars, but became so popular that when naturally occurring bezoars from animal sources became scarce, they began to be fashioned artificially by mixing them with other elements such as shell, amber, musk, resin, and crushed precious stones. They were ingested by scraping them and mixing the scrapings with tea or water. They were highly prized for their properties and were worth literally more than their weight in gold, and often encased in elaborate, ornate, hand-crafted containers made of gold (as in the exhibit at the Met) and exported to Europe. Another surviving specimen of the Goa stone was made for the Duke of Alba in the late 16th century and now resides in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, while another was auctioned at Christies London for an unknown sum. The specimen at the Met was brought to England in the 18th century by a British officer in the East India Company.

But do we know how effective such cure-alls really were? There is an intriguing story from 1575 when the celebrated French surgeon Ambroise Paré wanted to publicly prove that bezoars were ineffective as antidotes. A cook in the royal court had been caught stealing and sentenced to death by hanging but Paré apparently persuaded him to agree to death by poisoning instead. Despite administering the supposed antidote, the hapless cook died horribly many hours later.

But recent experiments show that when crushed bezoars are mixed in arsenic-laced solutions, the toxic compound arsenite does indeed get removed by binding to sulphur compounds in the protein of degraded hair, a major component of bezoars.

For those interested, there is an informative short video about the Met Museum exhibit titled ‘Paradox’, by curator Maryam Ekhtiar. It allows you a close-up look at the exquisite filigree craftsmanship of the 20-carat gold case, teeming with mythological creatures, such as unicorns, griffins, as well as more earthly ones. “Works of art aren’t always what they seem”, says Ekhtiar in the video. “The dissonance between the case which is so elaborate and so extravagant, and what’s inside, which is creepy and unexpected; that, I think is the most amazing attribute of this work. It’s the paradox that it presents that totally surprises you.”

Interactive technology on the website of the Metropolitan Museum allows you to examine the exhibit at even closer quarters, from every angle, virtually turning it round, lifting the lid, in a way you would not be able to handle the actual exhibit.

Just as I was preparing to send this into print, my son indicated to me that he already knew about bezoars and their believed powers. When I asked him where he learnt this, he called my attention to page 147 of J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’. It is a topic that Severus Snape puts up for discussion to his class during their Potions lesson in their first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Who says children’s books cannot be educational as well?

(An edited version of this article was published on 11 September 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Boyd meets Girl!

We do not often get a cello recital in Goa, much less a cello-guitar duo. So it gives me much pleasure to announce the ProMusica concert ‘Boyd meets Girl’ featuring Laura Metcalf (cello) and Rupert Boyd (guitar) on 7 September 2016 at 6.45 pm, at Menezes Braganza hall Panjim. Donation passes are available at Furtados Music stores and at the door just before the concert.

Boyd Meets Girl

The husband-wife duo has already given concerts to wide acclaim all over the United States and in Australia, performing an eclectic blend of transcriptions and original works from the baroque through modern day. Boyd Meets Girl plans to record its debut album later this year, with a release scheduled for mid-2017.

Laura Metcalf, noted for her “gorgeous cello legatos” (Washington Post) and her “sensitive, melodic touch” (BlogCritics Magazine) is known for her compelling solo and chamber music performances worldwide. Her debut solo album, “First Day” debuted at #7 on the Billboard classical chart. She is the cellist of acclaimed string quintet Sybarite5 who won the 2011 Concert Artists Guild Victor Elmaleh Competition. Sybarite5’s album “Disturb the Silence” recently reached the Top Ten on the Billboard Charts. Metcalf’s has performed as soloist with the Zagreb Philharmonic, One World Symphony , Laredo Philharmonic, the Ensemble 212 Orchestra and the Orquesta Sinfonica Sinaloa, and has repeatedly been invited to perform with renowned international artists at the Newport Music Festival. She has given concerts in nearly all 50 states, as well as Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Haiti, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Mexico, UAE, Japan, Austria, and Canada.
Metcalf was appointed to the Malek Jandali trio in 2015, a trio with piano, cello and oud dedicated to new music and humanitarian causes. The ensemble has performed twice in Carnegie Hall, has toured to the UAE, and has been featured in National Geographic and BBC World News.
Laura has also been a member of the Tarab Cello Ensemble, a group of 8 cellists with whom she has performed in the U.S. and Mexico. She has appeared on the Festival Chamber Music series at Weill and Merkin Concert Halls, and with the Elysium Chamber Ensemble at the Tenri Institute, collaborating with members of the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Currently she enjoys a regular collaboration with pianist David Oei and violinist Eriko Sato as the LED trio.

In 2009 Metcalf formed the Ansonia Trio, who won the Grand Prize in the 2009 Rutenberg Competition at the University of South Florida. Prior to this, she was a member of the Stella Piano Trio, who were the top-ranked North American Ensemble in the 2007 ARD Munich Competition and won the Artists International auditions.
Metcalf is a regular visitor to the IMS Prussia Cove in Cornwall, England, where she is routinely invited to take part in the Open Chamber Music Seminar. Other festival appearances include the Aspen, Taos and Sarasota Music Festivals, the London Masterclasses, and the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau (France). She has performed in masterclasses for Bernard Greenhouse, Ralph Kirshbaum, Colin Carr, Pamela Frank, Paul Katz, and many others.
Outside of the classical realm, Metcalf has appeared on the David Letterman Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the Today Show and The View with such artists as John Legend, Donna Summer, Clay Aiken, Chromeo and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics.

Metcalf received her Master of Music degree in May 2006 from the Mannes College of Music, and was awarded the James E. Hughes award for excellence in performance. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, where, as recipient of the prestigious Trustee Scholarship, she won the 2003 Solo Bach Competition.
A devoted educator, Metcalf has given career-guidance presentations at the Eastman School of Music, the Hart School of Music and Oklahoma State University. She served on the faculty of Opus 118 Harlem School of Music from 2006-2011, through which she also founded the first-ever cello program in New York’s Public School 129, and is currently a private cello teacher and chamber music coach for students of all ages as well as a faculty member of the New York Summer Music Festival. Metcalf is frequently engaged by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center for outreach performance work in public schools in the New York area.

New York-based Australian classical guitarist Rupert Boyd is acclaimed as one of the most talented guitarists of his generation. He has been described by The Washington Post as “truly evocative,” and by Classical Guitar Magazine as “a player who deserves to be heard.” His performances have taken him across four continents, from New York’s Carnegie Hall, to the Barcelona Guitar Festival Spain, Strings-139 Festival (China), Festival de Musique Classique (France), Gharana Music Festival (Nepal), and every state and territory in mainland Australia.

In addition to his Carnegie Hall debut as part of the D’Addario Music Foundation’s “International Competition Winners in Concert” Series, Boyd’s recent performance highlights include the Newport Music Festival, Music in the Strathmore Mansion, Marlow Guitar Series, Grand Canyon Guitar Society, Boston Guitar Society, University of Denver, University of Hawaii and concerts in India and the Philippines.

He has released two solo recordings. Fantasías was released this April, and has been described as “a high quality achievement” by The Canberra Times, “compelling ‘can’t put it down’ listening” by the Canberra Critics Circle, and “a ‘must hear’ experience” by Minor 7th. His debut recording Valses Poéticos received the following review in Soundboard, the Guitar Foundation of America’s quarterly publication: “Boyd’s playing is beautifully refined, with gorgeous tone… musically and technically flawless… the album is first-rate.”Soundboard also described the eponymous work by Granados as “one of the best recorded performances of this work on guitar.”

Active as both a soloist and chamber musician, Boyd regularly performs throughout the world as part of the Australian Guitar Duo with guitarist Jacob Cordover. The Australian Guitar Duo was a prizewinner of the Chamber Music section of the Australian Guitar Competition, and its debut CD Songs from the Forest was described as “wonderfully entertaining” by Classical Guitar Magazine, and “very impressive” by Soundboard Magazine.

Boyd holds a Bachelor of Music (First Class Honours) from the Australian National University School of Music, a Master of Music from the Manhattan School of Music and an Artist Diploma from the Yale University School of Music. In addition to winning the Andrés Segovia award from the Manhattan School of Music, Boyd was also a winner of the Lillian Fuchs Chamber Music Competition and the Eisenberg-Fried Concerto Competition.

Their concert programme in Goa includes works by Bach, Fauré, de Falla and Piazzola.

(An edited version of this article was published on 4 September 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)

Music and the Brain

The annual BBC Proms festival is on, from July to September, and since my return to Goa, I’ve been listening to all the concerts on internet radio. The “Listen Again” feature allows one to listen to a concert at one’s convenience, for upto 28 days after the concert. In Goa, the internet connection gods have to smile benevolently upon you as well.

The Proms Extra programmes, aired in the interval of the concerts, are often just as interesting as the music. For instance, there was a brilliant programme highlighting recent medical research into the modifications in the human brain following musical training.

The programme was chosen to accompany The Ten Pieces Proms, a concert chosen specially for secondary-school pupils in the UK. In it, BBC Radio 3 presenter Clemency Burton-Hill spoke to one of the world’s leading experts in neuro-education, cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Sylvain Moreno from the Centre for Brain Fitness, University of Toronto about the impact musical study can have on the brain structure and function of children.

Neuroscientific research over the last few years suggests that children who study music and perform music in school ensembles perform better in core subjects (including English and maths) than their peers.

Moreno’s research reveals an exciting causal connection between music education and cognitive growth. “One of the main hypotheses right now is the music training tends to improve the inhibitory mechanism in your brain. These are mechanisms you use in everyday activities”, he said on the programme.

His team conducted a study in 2011 in which they selected a population (children aged four or five) that had had no prior musical training. They showed that after just four weeks of musical training, there were changes in the brain (brain ‘plasticity’, as he termed it), in I.Q. testing and in the performance of cognitive tasks, and attention. A follow-up study showed that these changes persisted even a year later, even though they received no further musical training after the four-week intervention. And although he admitted more research is needed, they observed that the “developmental trajectory” of the children had been favourably altered by the intervention of musical training. “Basically, their brain was developing faster, and for the better”, said Dr. Moreno. Just four weeks of music education had essentially ‘rewired’ their neural pathways in a very positive way, much to the surprise of the research team.

This is heartening news, as the widely-held belief until now has been that one needs to study music for several years for it to have beneficial effects upon the brain.

Moreno added that the research findings would trigger further research into how music training could help those with disabilities, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and older populations with stroke and dementia. The evidence so far suggests that even a little music training in early life can have benefits that last into old age. So music could actually be seen as a form of ‘preventive medicine’, if you like, to stave off some of the problems of senility and the ageing process.

Those involved in amateur music-making, singing in choruses and playing in ensembles might have already known this instinctively, but now there is a body of clinical evidence accumulating to scientifically back it up.

What about the idea of coming from a ‘musical background’? Are children of ‘musical’ parents at an advantage? Moreno answered in this way; “The more activity you are exposed to that can enrich your life experience, the more it has a positive effect on you. Music is one of these activities. I would encourage any parent to involve their children in music class, learning an instrument, or just learning to sing. I always say that the voice is the cheapest instrument you can find, because you already carry it with you.

Group lessons or one-on-one sessions? One-on-one sessions seem to have a stronger effect, but Moreno says there is a trade-off, because there is more fun to be had in group learning, and the fun element could have its own benefits. Taken out of the laboratory setting and into the real world, group learning would make more sense on many levels, including the financial consideration, with group lessons likely to be cheaper than one-on-one sessions, and providing benefit to more children within a teacher’s working hours.

“What is great about music is that you can learn, and improve your brain skills, with a very engaging and motivational type of activity. For kids it is fun. This is the main point why it is so important.”

Also, it was thought in the past that music targeted mainly the auditory areas of the brain, ie the temporal lobes, the brain areas around the ears. “But neuro-imaging has shown that music is stimulating almost every area of your brain… So it is very easy to conceive that music is going to have a very general benefit on every processing that we manage during our daily life.”


The link between music and motor processing is complex. The corpus callosum, the part of the brain linking the two cerebral hemispheres, is involved in this process. “We know for instance that a pianist has more grey matter in this part of the brain, because they use both hands so much.” The brain is deeply impacted by the type of training. “If you play trumpet or you play violin, your auditory cortex will be modified differently.”

String players have a bigger representation of the fingers area in the brain. And this can continue to happen in adult life. This is a research area of interest to neuro-scientist Gottfried Schlaug at Harvard Medical School Boston. “This has been a revolution in brain plasticity and in neuro-science”, says Moreno. “Before these discoveries, we didn’t think that the adult brain could be modified. We had this pre-conceived notion that only children could modify their brain through learning, and once you became an adult, your brain was pretty much ‘stuck’ in what you had done before. But recent findings show that this is actually not true. You can modify your brain at any age. Your brain keeps its plasticity properties until very late in life. I remember testing a ninety-year old with our musical training software, and she showed incredible change after just a few weeks of training.”

He concluded the programme by saying “Music can be really beneficial for education. It should be part of every school curriculum. This is the expert consensus in our scientific community.”

(An edited version of this article was published on 28 August 2016 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)