It was a great privilege for me personally, and a sign of national and international recognition for us at Child’s Play (India) Foundation to be invited by the NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts) as a delegate from India at the Mumbai summit of the Alliance of Asia-Pacific Region Orchestras (AAPRO) last month. Apart from the organising team, there were only seven other delegates in the Indian contingent, from Mumbai, Calcutta, Bangalore, Pune and Goa. Our hosts (Mr. Khushroo Suntook, Chairman of the NCPA and Ms. Guo Shan, AAPRO Chairwoman) were very kind in waiving the USD 500 registration fee to enable me to attend as representative of our charity.

The AAPRO was founded in 1996 and is devoted to serving the interests and advocacy of orchestras and ensembles in the Asia-Pacific region (which covers over 50 countries). Besides India, there were representatives from Sri Lanka, Taiwan, China, Japan, Singapore, Macau, Thailand, Australia, Kazakhstan, Israel and even further afield (Austria, United Kingdom, the US).

In his keynote speech, Avi Shoshani, secretary-general of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra spoke of the challenges in securing future audiences for classical music, in building a new generation of musicians, amateur and professional, and of approaching young audiences through music where the music does not serve the main purpose but as an educational tool in avoiding juvenile delinquency.

As the summit progressed, a whole host of issues were highlighted in sessions and panel discussions, among them the role and ‘reach’ of outreach programmes; the thorny topic of ‘music of our roots’ as opposed to ‘western’ music and whether such divisions are still relevant in an age of globalisation; cornering new markets and audiences and the role of recorded media (audio, video, the internet); the state of western classical music across India; and of particular interest to me, the El Sistema revolution sweeping all across the world.

Delegates were treated one evening to a rousing concert by the Symphony Orchestra of India (which is resident at the NCPA) under the baton of the noted Charles Dutoit in a programme that included Beethoven’s First Symphony, Sibelius’ Violin Concerto and Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and to a post-concert dinner with Maestro Dutoit.

Much more crucially, the summit was a great opportunity to network with stakeholders in the realm of western classical music from around the world. And the contacts made within India are perhaps just as important.

There are many lessons to be learnt from the summit:

The top priority in India where western classical music is concerned has to be ‘Education, Education, Education’ (to borrow the catchphrase from Tony Blair). The situation at present is extremely dismal, with a very patchy distribution of educational initiatives mostly clustered around a few cities and towns, and far from anywhere close to world-class, or even approaching countries nearer home, like China or South Korea.

There is exemplary work being done in several corners of India on the amateur circuit, which has kept classical music alive in our country for so long, but this is not enough and the standard is not likely to progress beyond a certain level without assistance. Denial of this fact only delays efforts to take remedial action. The sooner we accept this, the quicker we can begin to plan a comprehensive forward strategy.

In the short-term, this assistance has to be brought in from overseas. Historically, every part of the world outside the European heartland where western classical music flourishes today has also begun this way. For example, the classical music tradition in the US was built by musicians fleeing persecution or economic hardship in Europe. Similarly, we will need to attract musicians, especially teachers of the highest calibre to reside in India long enough, and in large enough numbers to be able to build a whole robust music pedagogical foundation from our current, very shaky status quo.

The government machinery has so far not shown enough interest or initiative to further the cause of western classical music in a, comprehensive manner that looks far into the future to create a strong, deep-rooted tradition and milieu, where world-class teaching and performance become really widespread across the country. We have to look across at neighbouring China (to say nothing of Japan, South Korea, Singapore) to realise that it is not only possible, but well worth the effort.

It therefore is incumbent upon the private and non-government sector to take on this task. This is where philanthropy can play a decisive role. India currently has the wealth for this. Mumbai is the sixth among the top 10 global cities with the most billionaires in the world. We remember Andrew Carnegie because of Carnegie Hall, Cyrus Curtis via the Curtis Institute of Music, Augustus Juilliard due to the Juilliard School of Music, and so on. They invested their money for the public good, thereby ensuring their immortality and the ability to touch millions of lives after them. One can easily envisage a Mittal Concert Hall, and an Ambani Institute of Music, and a Godrej Music Conservatory. This is true also of wealthy individuals and corporate houses in Goa. Soon may this day dawn, and India’s youth for generations to come will benefit from their largesse.

Child’s Play (India) Foundation offers the opportunity to philanthropists to endow an orchestra chair that will allow high-calibre overseas musicians to teach in India (not just our children but the wider community as well) and to play in and strengthen the foundations of our newly-formed Camerata Child’s Play India ensemble. At a stroke this enables these musicians to stay in India for long durations, contributing hugely to pedagogy and music cultural life here. The time has come, and it is now.

(An edited version of this article was published in the Navhind Times Goa India on 6 October 2013)