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.”
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)