Despite all the potential in the world, the current classical music scene in Goa is very much a case of the “glass half-full, and half-empty” at the same time.

Viewed from one standpoint, one could argue that things have never been bleaker. Classical music is struggling to stay afloat, and the threat from competitors for public attention from Bollywood, and contemporary popular music has never loomed larger than it does now. Music lessons now have to compete with school tuitions and an ever-increasing burden of exams and homework, longer school hours, tennis lessons, swimming, chess, etc. The constant pursuit of white collar professions and jobs and incomes has seen music fall by the wayside, and seem decidedly unglamorous and uncool. Even people who genuinely view themselves as “music lovers” tend not to turn up for concerts locally, even when the performers are very high-calibre. Even worse, they tend not to encourage their children to attend such events, so a crucial stimulus which might have awakened a dormant talent in a young soul is lost. It is not unusual to go to a piano recital for instance, and not find even a couple of piano students in the audience. There really cannot be a valid excuse for this. We as parents have to change this; our children deserve better. Music exams seem to have been dumbed-down, creating a false sense of complacency in successful candidates that they have “mastered” the instrument, even though they have barely skimmed the surface of the subject and the repertoire. And then they begin to teach music!

On the other hand, things have never ever been this good. Technology has made it possible to have information at one’s fingertips. It is possible to sit in the comfort of your home and research a music composition you are studying, and learn about it, the composer, the time he lived in, and what prompted the writing of the work. Not only that, it is possible to view on Youtube great masters of yesteryear, even those no longer living, and see and hear them play, watch their technical finesse, etc. It is possible to “attend” masterclasses in cyberspace, for free, as often as you like! Through internet radio (eg BBC Radio 3), one can hear live concerts, listen to learned discussions by musicologists with the latest thinking on music matters, and generally keep abreast with the rest of the world. All this was unimaginable in my youth.

A shrinking world has meant that high-profile concerts happen far more frequently than before. It is possible to hear high-calibre orchestral concerts, and even opera and ballet in neighbouring Mumbai, often for a few hundred rupees. India is increasingly in the world’s crosshairs, and this is true of music too.

There is a new generation of young Indians that are eager to know more about classical music, and this is visible in concert halls and other music venues.

Opportunities for young musicians keep emerging. The newly-formed India National Youth Orchestra has already given several concerts around the country, and players from Goa have made their presence felt every single time. Collaborations with countries like Austria, Germany and now Italy have widened our perspective, and given our youth a chance to look at a wider music world beyond our state boundaries.

That said, what Goa and the rest of India desperately needs is a resident body of high-calibre teachers, and a much, much more regular concert-going culture, so that classical music gets a truly firm footing that will grow from strength to strength. India desperately needs a world-class conservatory of music. Our youth deserve no less. Several experienced music pedagogues have noted what a high concentration of talent exists in Goa and elsewhere in India. We are squandering this God-given resource away. It is time to harness and channel it.

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Herald, Goa India on 26 November 2011)

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