I don’t often watch TV. This is because we try to keep our son Manuel’s TV watching to a minimum, and if it’s switched on, it triggers some sort of Pavlovian reflex in him. So we all watch less TV than we did before Manuel made an appearance in our household. And a good thing it is too!

But today I happened to catch an interview on Prudent Media with Rohan Ricketts, a footballer currently with Dempo Sports Club but who has played in the world’s finest football teams in the recent past. Read his impressive bio here.

 

I got really interested when he began to make observations about the state of football in Goa and the rest of the country, and realised that more than a few parallels could be drawn with the state of western classical music in India too.

1. Ricketts spoke about the appalling lack of infrastructure for football. He spoke largely about the lack of a decent purpose-built, well-maintained ground for players to train and play on. This is a bare minimum requirement. He expressed surprise that in a country where there is so much money and where labour is so cheap, this should be so difficult to provide.

2. He essentially said that young Indian players get criticised a lot when they play badly, or not as well as their world counterparts. But this has a lot to do with the fact that they didn’t receive the right coaching, so that is really the root problem.

3. He however also spoke about a lack of ‘hunger’ among younger players (as opposed to their older colleagues) for improving their game. This is unfortunate.

4. Young players can no longer claim ignorance about what goes on in the rest of the world, thanks to the Internet, TV, etc.     

5. Ricketts suggested that young Goan and Indian players go train, apprentice with the top football teams around the world (Barcelona, Arsenal, Man Utd, etc), and come back with a new vision for their own game and raise the bar, the standard of the game for the whole country.

 

All of these points apply to western classical music too.

We have a long list of factors that inhibit the flourishing of classical music in India:

a. It is not taught at the grassroots level. This is because of apathy &/or ignorance, and also because even if one wanted to implement the teaching of music in schools, there wouldn’t be the teachers for it. Our education syllabus and system doesn’t give ‘frivolities’ like music much importance anyway. It is ranked far lower than sports on the totem pole of importance. And we all know how abysmally low even sports is on that pole.

[We at Child’s Play (India) Foundation, an El Sistema-inspired music initiative, are attempting to make a change from the very bottom up. But it is a daunting task, and we will need all the help we can get, in India and abroad.]

b. As a chicken-and-egg spillover effect from point a, we don’t have teachers of high calibre anywhere, even outside the school system.

c. In such an environment, any child with musical aptitude or talent is often not spotted, or even if s/he is, not very much can be done about it, due to a lack of teachers, or ignorance about where the child could go for the talent to be nurtured.

d. Of the few that make it to a reasonable level, often their parents might advise them to “get real” and take up a “sensible” profession instead (which usually means a profession that is well-paid and ‘respectable’, such as medicine, law, engineering, and increasingly IT, the hospitality and the airline industry).

e. The few stragglers that remain true to their calling struggle to find a path. Few career paths (or even academic paths) are as nebulous as in classical music, even in the West, and from culturally distant India it all looks extremely forbidding and uncertain. 

f. Of those that do make it to music conservatories in the West, very few return to settle back in India. And quite justifiably so. Why should they? What does India currently have to offer them in terms of income, or even a music life (by which I mean regular concerts and recitals, opera, ballet) which means so much to a musician? Barring a few cities, zilch!

g. Let’s also add to the list the by-now obvious fact that there isn’t any centre of higher learning for music such as a conservatory or academy, at least not in the sense that it is understood in most parts of the world where classical music is well-established.

h. With the possible exception of the NCPA Mumbai, there is no purpose-built concert hall for western classical music anywhere else in India. Isn’t this pathetic? Neighboring China has literally hundreds of them dotted all across their land, and these have mushroomed in the last few decades after their insane ‘Cultural Revolution’ ended. We have had no comparable setback, and in fact have had so many factors in our favour (closer ties with the West; the celebrity status of Zubin Mehta in the world of classical music) but yet we are light years behind China when it comes to infrastructure or investment in classical music.

i. With such a dismal situation, perhaps it should come as no surprise that there are virtually no luthiers, restorers of instruments, piano-tuners about. Definitely too few to serve a population as large as ours.

 

So just as Ricketts said about Indian football players, our young musicians cannot really be blamed if they come across as underschooled, underskilled, ignorant or naive compared to their counterparts elsewhere. They have not been in a milieu that they ought to have been if they were to really thrive. It’s not a level playing field.

Yet it can also be said that they generally lack the ‘hunger’ to improve their lot. This is perhaps also not surprising given the long list of constraints they have had to face. Yet the Internet, video, MP3, etc are literally at their fingertips. Indians are travelling abroad so much more than before, so it seems  inconceivable for someone with a genuine interest in music not to know how high the world standard in music-making is, and aspire towards it. But if the enrolment for high-caliber master-classes is anything to go by, there just isn’t the interest to better oneself. This could be because our youth (and their parents)  see it as futile in the absence of a defined career path or at least performance opportunities, and some degree of respectability and income to go with these.

But the ball (quite literally in the case of football) lies in their court. They cannot get anywhere if they lack the initiative and if     

India desperately needs a music conservatory. I feel that all it take is for ONE philanthropist to take the initiative, and it will work wonders to the classical music scene across the country. If we wait for our government to take action, we could be waiting forever. Now is the time for the private sector to step forward, and do something that will benefit India and will boost their own image in society. There’s never been a better time than now. We as a nation have a new sense of self-confidence, and apparently we have the money too.

India desperately needs a philanthropist whose heart beats for music. The opportunities that can open up if, or dare I say when, this happens are numerous. I envisage music festivals; chamber music workshops; music camp; masterclass sessions. All of these are within the realm of possibility.

Recently a group of four young musicians from the India National Youth Orchestra went to Canada to tour with their National Youth Orchestra (NYOC). This is a heartening trend. It is not too far-fetched to envisage a scenario where handpicked Indian talent could apprentice with youth orchestras such as YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles), or even professional orchestras with outreach programs (the LSO and the NY Phil come to mind). True, in the exchange, we run the risk of losing some of our talent to the West, but this should not be viewed as a ‘loss’. The blossoming of an individual’s talent is always a good thing, no matter where that happens. And the pay-off to India may not be immediate, but it will be far higher than if we chose to clip the wings of our youth in a misguided attempt to keep their talent confined to the limits of our borders. The world is truly a global village, and the irony is that the sooner India begins to take this world-view, the quicker we will make strides, be it in music or in football.

Music and football came together famously at the 1990 FIFA World Cup games, with the Three Tenors concert. 

But there are so many parallels between music and football. Both are ‘played’; both require teamwork. In both cases, the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. And the lessons learned on the playing field and the rehearsal room are just as valuable, if not more so, as any academic curriculum. I hope our educationists and policy-makers realise this.           

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