More than strumming the strings

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At a time when music schools seem to be mushrooming all over, selecting a top-notch institute and then getting into it is something else, altogether. But, for the record, the True School of Music, based in Mumbai, has a rich legacy, unlike other such schools today. With trainers like Shubha Mudgal under its belt, this music school can boast of nurturing special talent and, in the process, leading its students to embrace an illustrious career.

The True School of Music was founded by Ashutosh Phatak and Nitin Chandy and  runs flawlessly under the guidance of chief executive officer Julia Leggett, who is no stranger in the industry with her exposure and experience that spans more than a decade. Before True School, she was executive director and then chief executive officer at the Academy of Contemporary Music, London,UK. Excerpts from an interview:

When and how did you catch the music bug?

I was in my first band at the age of 14. Even before that, I would sing along to records for hours! I literally wore the needle bare. I loved all chart music and growing up in the ’80s had its own effect. I could easily follow the iconic bands of those days.

My first band experience was fantastic. I loved playing live and performing in front of an audience, which would naturally boost my confidence level. And that feeling was incredible. I honestly believe much of the skills I use today as an adult came from those early years of live music. Besides, I also had tasted success as a songwriter.   

Prior to the True School of Music, you were heading the Academy of Contemporary Music in the UK, so how did the idea of venturing in the Indian scenario happen?

The founders at True School contacted me via a mutual associate as they had this idea of opening a music school in Mumbai and wondered if the ACM could help. So they visited the ACM campus and spent a few days with me and my team and it was very apparent that we shared the same values. When the school became a reality, they asked me to be their chief executive officer and I jumped at the opportunity.

How realistic did you feel initially about the whole project and its overall outcome?

See, starting something ground-breaking takes vision and commitment and I must say the founders at the True School had both and, naturally, it was quite easy for me to buy into their conviction.  It took me some time to understand the potential of the school as I had to learn all the market nuances and, in particular, the needs of students and parents. Once I had understood those fully, it was important to create a range of courses that suited and met the demands of both. I continue to have complete confidence in the programmes that we create, especially as these are designed by our chief academic officer, Joachim Junghanss. As a Fulbright grantee, he has a degree from the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York, where he’d worked as an active musician and a teacher for many years. 

Did you ever feel you were taking a risk while opening the school in India, especially when you had a school already thriving in the UK?

I had some trepidation in making this move. My Dad was born and raised in Mumbai so I felt very connected with India but it was still a leap of faith that I would be happy here. That said I have enjoyed every minute of it. Everyone has been so welcoming and I have really enjoyed getting to know India and all its wonders. I particularly like all the festivals — there’s always a celebration!

In terms of professional development, I have learned much about what it takes to be effective in a new culture. I believe I’ve become a better leader for the experience and I feel truly blessed by the opportunity.

Opening a music school, devising online platforms, developing industry connections and creating youth academies — how tough was it?

The hardest part during my time in the UK was actually convincing the music industry that formal music education could develop artists, producers, DJs and music business executives. When I began my time at ACM in 2004, it was relatively unknown in the UK music industry. I felt this needed to change and so I began reaching out to key industry entities.  One of my early successes was that the ACM was the first school to be featured in the UK music industry magazine Music Week, which was a great milestone. During that time I created the Business Development Centre which was dedicated to working with students to create industry connections. That innovation helped win the ACM the prestigious Queen’s Award, which is something I am personally very pleased to have influenced. 

With alumni like Ted Dwane, Newton Faulkner, Zomboy and others under your belt, how easy is it to attract students?

Success stories like these are great for reinforcing the relevance of formal music` tuition.  As I said earlier, the UK music industry hadn’t really acknowledged the role music schools play in an artist’s development.  Now, when you list every successful artist that has been to music school, it is pretty impressive. Adele, for example, famously went to The Brit School. These are, of course, the big names but there are literally hundreds of success stories where students are making a long term career in music.

The True School is only three years old but has already seen many of its graduates go on to make music their career and this can only go from strength to strength as we and our students further establish ourselves in the Indian music scene.

How has your school maintained its niche?

Our niche has always been to equip musicians with not only musical learning but to develop them as commercial artists of the future. We do this by sharing with them invaluable insights and training in how the industry works and how to maximise their work commercially. This is unique in India and is the bedrock of our school’s philosophy.

By Krishnasish Dasgupta