Calcutta-origin conductor Debashish Chaudhuri will conduct the Martinu Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in Panjim on 17 January as part of the celebration of 70 years of Indo-Czech diplomatic relations. He spoke to me in a candid interview.
- It is a great privilege for us to have you and the Martinu Czech Philharmonic Orchestra perform in Goa. What are your thoughts on performing here, where western music has been rooted since the 1500s (thanks to the Portuguese colonial influence), much longer than the rest of the Indian subcontinent?
It is a great privilege to perform in Goa. As you well pointed out, the roots of European music in Goa are very deep and strong and Goa has been the birthplace of some of India finest musicians, many of whom I have had the pleasure to work with in Calcutta. It is thanks to Mrs. Rashmi Jolly, the honorary consul for Maharashtra and Goa of the Czech Republic and her tireless efforts, organization and energy that has made this dream a reality.
This is my first visit to Goa. I have heard about Goa from my parents since I was a child. I hope to acquaint myself with your audience and am really looking forward to it.
- I am fascinated by the biographies of musicians, and your story is particularly interesting. At what point in your life did you know that you wished to pursue music as a career? Was it a role model perhaps in the family, or a concert, or was it a gradual realisation?
I have always been extremely passionate about music, even before I could walk. This love was kindled by my parents who both love music. There was always some music playing in the house. Even my grandparents were music-lovers. In Bengal its quite normal to have songs sung in the house through the year. All my grandparents played something or another, even my parents, though none professionally or even publicly.
I have a rather strong will, so when I decide on something, nothing deters me. This is an asset now as a conductor. India isn’t typically a country where society would encourage a musical career with the same enthusiasm as in the west, not even in Calcutta. I recall several people discouraging me when I decided to concentrate on music alone. Fortunately, and I am grateful to God for this, my parents and some other very key people believed in me. My parents, despite the uncertainties ahead, had the foresight and knew me well enough to let me follow my dreams.
Music truly, deeply fulfilled me. I knew well before my teens that music had be a part of my life. I don’t mean that I wanted to be a conductor at once at that early age. My family didn’t listen to classical music. I have gone though a lot of instrumental and choral music in my early years. My job at St James as well as the association with All India Radio and Calcutta School of Music gave me a lot of experience in the field of accompaniment and arranging. So it was professional actually a lot before I even left school. That naturally led me to the classical genre where I soon found and discovered the role of a conductor.
- Having grown up in India, and then studied and majored in music abroad, you are aware of the situation on ‘both sides of the fence’. How can India improve the local conditions (as neighbouring China has done and is doing so spectacularly) so that we can have children exposed to great music from an early age, and home-grown musicians attain world-class levels, and be gainfully employed in their profession right here? There is perhaps no better time for us economically than now, to achieve this.
You are absolutely right, there is no better time than today. This cannot be achieved overnight but will take a generation at least and must have political and social will. In China, the state allows them to make decisions in music and sport which can be enforced in a far more disciplined way than is possible in most democracies. Having said that let us also not forget the rich old and deep Indian classical music culture that we have which is far more advanced than any other Asian nation’s classical music culture. So the challenge to establish such a presence of European classical music is an enormous one in India. It must start at schools, early on. In Calcutta, hardly any schools have music classes or music teachers. Unless it is made part of the regular curriculum and students shown the importance, it is impossible to expect this to become reality. Music still has a role here as something you do “for fun” alone.
I am not saying that everyone becomes a musician, but some amount of musical exposure builds future audiences and that enriches culture.
- Any advice for youth(and their parents) who realise that they really have a passion for music? Too often we end up gravitating towards ‘more practical’ options, even though our heart tells us otherwise.
Follow your heart, with tremendous dedication, perseverance and be prepared to put in much hard work, and face disappointments and not get discouraged. If it is to be, doors will open and the way becomes clearer. Your aim should not be goal but the journey.
Today we look upon a lot of famous people with awe. We see them as they are now. But we don’t know what they went through and were prepared to do to get there. So if you want to achieve anything, not only in music, you mustn’t be afraid and just don’t give up.
- I love your motto: “My greatest passion is to make music the medium of joy and elevation for both, the orchestra and the audience.” Beautifully put! Could you elaborate?
Orchestral music is all written out. Just reading it will create the basic sound structure that was intended. Most people will hear it, be happy and go away. Then there is the other way, to really interpret it, put in a lot of your energy, heart and soul and make that same music come alive in a different way. The audience always responds and is emotionally touched. It is something they will never forget. That is my goal.
- Any plans to return to Goa, and perhaps collaborate with music education initiatives like ours (Child’s Play India Foundation childsplayindia.org)?
I am always open to collaborations if they are beneficial to the development of music in India. There is a lot of potential for knowledge in this field from the Czech Republic due to their rich history and experience. It is a matter of funds and will to bring either Czech teachers here, or Indian students to attend courses in the Czech Republic. Teaching is a two-way process; harder than finding the teachers is to find students who can show that kind of perseverance and dedication. India has a lot of talent and a lot of people. We can explore ways of furthering their abilities.
(An edited version of this article was published on 17 January 2018 in the Navhind Times Goa India)