Back in 2012, I had written a blog post after watching an interview on Prudent Media with Rohan Ricketts, a footballer who was then with Dempo Sports Club but who has also played in the world’s finest football teams. He made interesting observations about the state of football in Goa and the rest of the country, and I realised that many parallels could be drawn with the state of western classical music in India.
The fundamental issues are the same: the lack of infrastructure, both at the grass-roots and at the higher levels; of world-class coaching; of wider exposure among our youth to really high-quality playing; the ever-decreasing time spent by schoolchildren and college youth on anything deemed as ‘extra-curricular’ as school hours, homework and tests and entrance exams increase; and the current absence of a well-defined career path in either sports or music, and therefore the pressure from parents and society to pursue ‘white-collar’ professions even if the youth show real promise elsewhere.
I was thrilled during World Cup frenzy to hear my mentor Dr. Rufino Monteiro and my friend Eddie Noronha elaborate on Goa365 the radical new changes happening in Goan football, which if carried out consistently into the future, with rigorous world-class training, will undoubtedly yield great fruit in the future. And now we also have Zico as coach for FC Goa!
The ‘playing field’ of western classical music must be studied and its problems addressed with the same diligence. Clearly the powers-that-be in Goan football have made this analysis, and therefore their investment in the future, very wisely. Their own passion and deep knowledge of the game has been their impetus.
We should be able to admit to ourselves that our current level in the way we play and perform classical music, and teach and learn it, is far from the world standard. It is imperative that we get high-quality teaching, both for our really young children, and for those among our youth that might have advanced to a higher level. For too long, we have been doing the same thing over and over, and unsurprisingly, the ground situation has therefore also not changed much. As in football, a good ‘coach’ at the very earliest and onward will make a world of difference.
Exposure to world-class playing through regular high-calibre concerts achieves so much. It gives us the elemental experience of the “live” concert, which the best hi-fi equipment and videos can never match. It brings our youth into direct contact with musicians, who can inspire and become role models for them. So many musicians on the world stage and in orchestras got their ‘wake-up call’ when they were taken as children to such concerts. It was life-changing for them, and it could be for our children too.
These interactions also give the bigger picture to our youth, of the wider world of classical music. A few visiting musicians have commented to me that our youth lack the ‘hunger’ and ‘fire in their belly’ for making better music and learning more about the music. But this is not entirely the fault of our young generation, as they have just not yet been immersed in the optimal milieu. There is actually evidence to quite the contrary; that small improvements in the teaching of our youth yield very high dividends very quickly. If this can be done consistently, we can achieve so much more.
Classical music desperately needs patrons who are passionate about it and willing to invest in it, just as Peter Vaz and others like him are about football. We need purpose-built venues for music just as we do for football. Look at so many centres of musical excellence and higher learning around the world (the Juilliard School of Music New York; Peabody Conservatory Baltimore; Oberlin Conservatory Ohio; Curtis Institute Philadelphia; Conservatórios Gulbenkian in Aveiro and Braga); they began with the vision of one or of a group of philanthropists, which has left a lasting legacy that persists to this day, a century or two later. We remember their names today because of their vision and their generosity. 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.
Our state-run music institutions like the Kala Academy also need to make a comprehensive, holistic clinical examination, (led by really knowledgeable, credible experts in music education, and not solely by politicians or bureaucrats), of the state of health (or not) of music in Goa, just as Dr. Monteiro and his colleagues at GFDC are doing on the football field. If we are to make a real tangible difference for the future, we need to widen our reach to tens of thousands of children rather than a few tens or hundreds. All of them have to be taught to a really high level from a very young age. If, as is currently the case, we do not have this expertise on the ground, we have to import it. There should be no short cuts here.
China has a head start of several decades on us, and is now in the enviable position of not only having enough high-calibre musicians for its own musical life, but able to ‘export’ them to the world.
Just as there are health benefits to be had from football which will positively affect our future generations, these benefits are true of music as well, not just for health, but in becoming better citizens and a kinder, gentler, more humane society.
Just as promotion of football can create a whole ‘industry’ and avenues for employment (coaches, nutritionists, equipment, merchandise etc), the same is also true for music. We currently have a severe lack of good luthiers, instrument restorers, piano tuners, etc, because there isn’t a living to be made from it. But if we take music to a truly high level, these opportunities will open up, and will improve the ‘game’ in an upward spiral.
There are so many parallels between music and football. Both are ‘played’; both require teamwork. In both, 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 as, if not more than, any academic curriculum. I hope our educationists and policy-makers realise this.
(An edited version of this article was published on 28 September 2014 in my column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)