A revered Hindustani classical musician with a deep insight in musicology is a rare phenomenon; his candid views on relevant topics or an evaluation of widely accepted practices would qualify as rarer; but the rarest quality is his capability to cogently string the views. Pandit Arvind Parikh is one such musician and guru, who, as chairperson of the ITC Sangeet Research Academy (west), enjoys unearthing such gems and goading them to assess the music scene in a holistic manner during two annual seminars, organised in collaboration with the Indian Musicological Society, Music Forum and the National Centre for Performing Arts at the latter&’s prestigious Mumbai address.

This year (29-31 January), the first seminar delved deep into the “Comparative role and relevance of Sarangi and Carnatic Violin” and the second was a follow-up of a previous seminar that focused on a constantly evolving area: “Changing profile of Indian music”. 

While the first featured two top-ranking instrumentalists — sarangi maestro Dhruba Ghosh and violin vidwan Sriram Parasuram, who are delightful speakers as well – and the second, spread over two days, saw the active participations of not only practicing musicians and learned musicologists (dhrupad, khayal, thumri, film-song) but opinion-makers from all walks of life, including connoisseurs like Vinod Kapur (Delhi), Chandra Pai (Pune), Gowri Ramnarayan (Chennai) and Jayanta Chatterjee (Kolkata), social media (represented by a dashing young technocrat, Mathivanan Rajendran), recording companies like Navras Records (London), Hindustan Records (Kolkata), Times Music and  Sony Music (Mumbai), music educationists and promoter-propagators like universities, ITC SRA and Sangeet Natak Akademi. 

The Akademi, under the stewardship of its chairman, Shekhar Sen, who is a renowned actor-singer, also joined hands in organising this enriching event. He took this opportunity to screen a film, Contributing to the musical legacy of India, based on the Akademi&’s rich archives that spoke volumes of its active multidimensional role in preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of India. Through another documentary film, the Akademi paid soulful tributes to ghazal queen Begum Akhtar on the occasion of her birth centenary.

Ustad Zakir Hussain, Carnatic vocalist and the Akademi&’s vice-chairperson, Aruna Sairam, celeb writer-poet Javed Akhtar and Shekhar Sen were engaged in a candid conversation expertly moderated by Parikh in the final session. Several dignitaries from the audience, including renowned actor-social worker Shabana Azmi, actively participated in the discussion. The crux of the seminar emerged loud and clear on various issues:

On change

Akhtar: To catch the gravy train, society left certain luggage like culture on the platform. Classical music was not on the priority list; but now society is getting sensitive about it. Despite the growing numbers of listeners, if the audience is not evolved, how can the artiste give his best? Long alap displaying long breath or sam after a long rhythmic round gets a clap. This is because of the process to clap later by deaf people, the lowest common denominators.

Hussain: Since the late 1950s we have turned music into entertainment. People pay hard earned money and want to be entertained. We have to entertain to earn money. If we claim that we are representing traditional music in a meditation room like Shri Shri Ravishankar or Baba Ramdev, it is a fallacy. And yet I don’t play weddings, private or corporate events. Once I went to attend a wedding in Kolkata where Ustad Vilayat Khan and Ustad Bismillah Khan were playing live, with no one paying attention. I was ashamed! These are conscious decisions to have some control on the environment during concerts. 

Sairam: Artistes live for music but they also live on music. In the South, wedding-music is a must. I accept weddings after ascertaining a concert-like setting where music is not trivialised. 

Akhtar: True. Indian culture is not monolithic; each state has a different culture; and treatment towards music varies accordingly; singing and dancing can be a virtue in one place and a taboo elsewhere. Strange social values cannot order an artiste to become a martyr. Art is his profession. The famed Krishna Chander, when criticised for authoring a light novel, had said, “Doodhwala doodh me hi pani milayega, he cannot become a gold smuggler!”

Sen: It is in the DNA of our country to worship artistes. We cannot solace ourselves by planting tiny bonsais after felling banyan trees. The Natyashastra was composed 2,200 years ago and mentioned all details with the total grammar of arts. We need to preserve it. 

On purity

Hussain: “Pure” is subjective. What was the actual rulebook for raga is hearsay. My belief is what my father said; that this is the composition by this Master, these are its salient features, its pedigree; see how it evolved, now where it needs to be taken to. That is what an idea of purity is. It does not go beyond two generations. 

Akhtar: When new is created, the reaction is outrage. Sitar and tabla were evolved out of veena and mridang. Experiments become tradition with time.

On sensitisation

Sairam: Baiting people with shorter stuff that becomes the route to serious concerts is working. Now youngsters are biting into Carnatic music. There are several levels of concertising. Many young musicians perform for 30 minutes, whereas four hours of unadulterated concerts are thriving, too.

Hussain: Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan made it possible to present music in a way to help the audience peep into the serious subject. The media is responsible for promoting the art of validity. Similarly, artists are responsible for creating and demanding an environment. But corporates have their bindings and there are areas difficult to police during concerts. The marriage of sponsorship and presentation works in some places because the control is in the hands of sensitive people. 

Akhtar: These are tiny islands in the huge ocean of undesirables. We need to correct the aesthetics of society and the artistes have to adjust, too. Music&’s tempo cannot be different from life&’s frantic pace! A child who grew up on corrupt music; never heard parents appreciating classical arts; how can he do so? Expose the child early; he may not accept it at first, but certain sensitivity will remain with him. We also need to develop some very interesting teaching methods. The traditional method didn’t work with my son Farhan (Akhtar).

Sen: When we learnt “Vaishnav jana toh” we didn’t know it was in Gujarati or “Vande Mataram” was in Sanskrit, but absorbed the essence. The SNA&’s proposal to primary schools is: teach five songs in regional languages, three dramas and two folk dances. All will not be artistes; one will sing, the rest will be sensitised to be good listeners. 

In general, all agreed that tradition needed to change with time; it always did; it always will. But the fast pace of its advent in this era of tumults needed to be addressed judiciously.  

Awards

Another important feature of this much-awaited annual event is the warm recognition of music-related works in every arena through awards. The Lifetime Achievement Award, instituted by Mahindra Finance, was bestowed on Padmabhushan awardee violin vidwan Professor TN Krishnan.The  ITC SRA Awards were conferred on Padmabhushan Dr N Rajam (violin) and Vidushi Veena Sahasrabuddhe (vocal). The Kirana Gharana Award, named after Ustad Faiyaz and Niyaz Ahmad Khan, went to veteran vocalist Kankana Banerjee. Dr Suvarnalalta Rao won the Dr Ashok Ranade Memorial Award for extensive research work. Music organisations’ Achievement Award was bagged by Sharda Sangeet Vidyalaya. Rajesh Laxman Prasad Shukla (M/s Shukla Musicals) bagged the Manohar Muley Award for instrument making. Pakhawaj exponent Prakash Sejwal won the Saath Sangat Pravin Award. The Music Forum Awards were given away to Stuttgart-based Helga Brahme for “contribution to the cause of Indian music by overseas residents’; to Gowri Ramnarayan for “research”; and for “media excellence” to the writer of this weekly column.

Among the winners of the AIR Competition, Devashish Pathak (pakhawaj) won the Pandit Vasantrao Ghorpadkar Memorial Award. Rohit Dharap (vocal), Anup Kulthe (violin), Bhargavi Venkatram (Carnatic vocal) and Veena Karthik (Carnatic veena) won the ITC SRA awards. The Pandit Nikhil Ghosh Memorial Award (tabla) went to Anand Kumar Mishra. Kalyan Majumdar (sitar) won the Ravi Koppikar Memorial Award and the Acharya Alauddin Khan Memorial Award was bagged by Nishant Divate (flute). The evening of the second day saw these young talents giving recitals.

Coming up

20-21 Feb: Ballygunge Maitreyi Music Circle and Jadavpur University Pensioners’ Association present the 18th Radhika Mohan Maitreya Memorial Music Conference, 20th 5pm onwards: Pushpen Dey (sarod), Kaushambi Mukherjee (vocal), the Kedia brothers (sitar-sarod duet); 21st 2 pm onwards: Iman Kalyan Majumdar (vocal), Debal Ghosh (sitar), Sanatan Goswami (harmonium solo); Arup Chatterjee (tabla solo), Saket Sahu and Ratan Bharati (violin-guitar duet), Ivy Banerjee (vocal) and Debashish Bhattacharya (sarod); Gandhi Bhavan (JU campus).

26-28 Feb: Satyananda Devayatan celebrates the holy birthday of Sree Thakur Satyananda featuring dhrupad maestro Falguni Mitra and khayal exponents Nabhodeep Chakraborty and Jainul Abedin; Devayatan, 1 Ibrahimpur Road, Jadavpur; 7 pm daily.

27-28 Feb: Sangeet Ashram presents the Jnana Pravaha Music Festival 2016 featuring Pandit Venkatesh Kumar, Brajeshwar Mukherjee and Waseem Ahmed Khan (vocals), Ayan Ali Khan (sarod), sitarists Purbayan Chatterjee and Soumyajit Paul; Birla Sabhagar; 5.30 pm.

28 Feb: In fond memory of its beacon, Purnima Chaudhuri, Swarganga presents sarod exponent Parthasarothy, vocalists Tushar Dutta, Madhumita Chattopadhyay and Rageshree Das; Satyajit Ray Auditorium, ICCR; 5 pm.