A timely corporate initiative has mumbaiites lining up for lessons in western music.
The piano and classical music were touchy subjects for Suraiya Jetha as a young girl. Jetha, who now has her own business in Mumbai, recalls her efforts to avoid music classes back then. Her mother could no longer insist that she carry on with them when Jetha deliberately failed the exam to end those “utterly boring lessons”. A few decades on, the tables have turned, and Jetha’s Tuesday evenings are now dedicated to lessons in Western music at the NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts), Mumbai.
In a special course designed for working professionals, the conductor-in-residence at NCPA, Zane Dalal, is working to familiarise the audience with the basics of Western classical music. Jetha is among the many students in his class who feel fortunate to have made it to the list of participants, while many are yet to make their way out of the waiting list for the course.
As any connoisseur of music would agree, music cannot be understood through theory alone. So through slides as well as snippets of music and on related subjects, over the next two months Dalal will teach the basics of opera, symphony, choral music, instruments and their history. The venue, The Little Theatre at NCPA, will see adult students troop in after a hard day’s work at their respective offices.
There is much to learn here at NCPA, which offers a rich backdrop of music history and politics. Many have found the relationship between architecture and music fascinating. There is also the background of works of renowned composers and their period of music. By the end of these nine planned lectures by Dalal at NCPA, his students will walk out musically armed, so to speak, and surely more melodious in the head. “They will be able to tell one composer from the other, and recognise popular compositions,” shares Dalal.
One lecture down, Dalal is already popular among the students, for being articulate and engaging in his approach to the subject. Jetha, who runs her own business of warehousing and record management in Mumbai, is one of the 110 participants — many of them entirely new to Western classical music — who come together after work hours to learn something new at this popular cultural centre.
Starting out, Dalal has already familiarised the class with emotion and meaning in music, some of its history, forms and structure. “In subsequent classes, they will learn about instruments and how sound is created. There will also be a few lectures on music festivals, the orchestra, opera and politics in music,” he adds. The key: to make music accessible to all, especially those who have had minimal exposure to it in the past. “We are making music accessible to everyone in a way that it becomes personal for each individual. In this series we will expose the student to works of renowned artists and how music can be made a form of self expression,” shares Khushroo N Suntook, chairman of NCPA.
For those new to the genre, the workshop will ensure they will leave less uncomfortable with classical music and enjoy concerts with a seasoned ear. “We also hope the group will become a club among themselves later.”
The course, at a cost of Rs 5,000 per person, has been organised by AVID —The School of Continuous Learning, an Essar Foundation initiative, in collaboration with NCPA.
Jetha and her fellow participants are enthusiastic about the education they are getting. “When you attend a concert, you hear music and feel it, but don’t get to know its history and how it was composed. But now we are gradually learning to sensitise our ears to the intricacies of compositions. Our first lesson was about the blending of melody and harmony. It was fascinating to also learn about how architecture of every period influenced its music, and how composers created music according to the need of the society at that time,” says Jetha enthusiastically. There are other interesting tidbits, too: how the number three was important to architecture and music, historically; the background to how opera came into existence, and other such items. Practical learning, expectedly, will form an important part of the process. Says Suntook, “The series is a good mix of practical learning backed with theoretical lectures, which will form a strong foundation” for understanding.
For an initiative such as this, the time may be favourable. While Western classical music has a long-standing tradition in the country, its relevance has grown manifold in the last few years with many international masters of Western classical music bringing their expertise to India, and opera gaining ground here, too. With a fine professional performing ensemble such as the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), apart from a range of choirs across the country, the song plays on, and we are certainly listening.