Music: a hobby, passion or career?

Music is an integral part of everyone’s lives. Is there a man or a woman, who does not, at the very least, hum the latest hit song as he or she goes about her daily work?

But though it’s all-pervasive, the learning and teaching of music in Bangalore presents a varied and interesting picture. How do people, especially children choose what kind of music to learn? What keeps them going to the music classes, what makes them stop, and what makes them take to it as a profession? I talked to a variety of people to find some answers.

Guitar classes in progress. Pic: Deepa Mohan

Felix Anto, 26, teaches guitar at the Bangalore School of Music (BSM), was a student at the same school. He’s been teaching for about six years now. I have quite a lot of students, all through the week," he says. But he adds that as children get into the higher classes at school, examinations begin to dominate their lives, and the future career begins take time away from music.

"I do have a couple of students who are now doing courses in sound engineering in London," he says. Though some of them have gone to perform in Bands.

At Kalanjali, J P Nagar, Padma Kanani, who has been running this school of music from 1992, talks of the fact that the school has more than 300 students in total. "I started with just five students," she smiles. "I had to go chasing behind any music teachers I found, and ask them to join my school…now I get so many applications, and can afford to pick and choose the good ones!"

But Syan, a young man from Manipur, who conducts western guitar classes at Kalanjali, came to Bangalore to pursue academic studies, but decided music would form his career. He has enough work to keep him busy, both playing and recording, outside his full-time job with the school.

Gagari Biswas on the other hand is a part time teacher. She teaches hindustani vocal, harmonium, keyboard and bhavageete classes. She teaches thrice a week, in the mornings and in the evenings to about 25 students.

In terms of preferred genres, Padma says that given a choice, many of the children would like to switch from Indian classical to western music! However, as the scholastic work pressure mounts, she too says that the children often break off…and if they are off music classes for more than six months, they rarely come back.

Students learning Hindustani vocal. Pic: Deepa Mohan

Expensive musical Instruments make vocal music the easiest option. "Investing in a musical instrument for a child is a difficult choice," says Premanjali Murugesh, whose daughters learn the keyboard. "I don’t know if they will be interested, or continue that interest even if they like it now."

For the children who learn music, public performance does not seem to be the ultimate goal, but something that could just come to pass. "I come from a musically inclined family, and have learnt Carnatic music since I can remember," says Sriram Aravamudan. Though he took break in class 9, he went back to music and decided to explore Western music as well. He joined the Bangalore School of Music for guitar classes…but wound up singing in the BSM choir.

Sriram enjoyed the change of style from Carnatic to western choir singing, and now is part of "Camerata", a choir conducted by Neecia Majolly, where difficult pieces are specifically chosen. Madrigals, and Renaissance music are practiced. He however says that public performances cannot support him financially, or even pay its way. "This is something that I do for the love of music," he adds.

Ramamurthy, Mridangam teacher and philosopher. Pic: Deepa Mohan

This kind of "serious hobby" approach is also followed by Dharmala Ramamurthy, who takes mridangam classes for several students at his Thyagaraja Ashram in J P Nagar, near Ranga Shankara. "I am not interested in teaching students to take an exam," he says; "I want to inculcate the love of music in them, and want it to be a source of joy and strength for them. So I discourage students keen on public performances or making music a career, Music is to be enjoyed and appreciated on its own terms," he says. He has quit his job at BSNL to pursue music as a spiritual calling.

Many students find that the demands of a professional career conflict with their interest in music. "I’d like to take up music as a profession," says Sharanya, who, with her sister, Sukanya, has learnt music right from her childhood. Sharanya now sings in the choir of her college at Christ University. "I don’t know whether my academic studies will leave me time to pursue music as a profession," she says.

Sukanya, on the other hand, is clear that music will always be a serious hobby, giving relief from the stresses of her studies, and later, her career. "I don’t want to make music a source of stress, instead of the stress-buster that it presently is," she says.

Professions come in the way Bands too. "Bands break up when the members take up different jobs," says Rakesh Mrityunjay, whose nascent band broke up due to this. "People are not able to invest the time needed for regular meetings and practice."

Competition is another big deterrent in taking up music professionally. "I was asked to provide tapes of my music, and the sabhas did not even bother to get back to me with their feedback," says Hamsini, who is now content with the occasional performance at temples. Vocalists also have to find, and then pay, accompanists; and the economics of the performance don’t seem to be worth it.

This point of view, however, is hotly contested by Manasi Prasad, who’s day job is as head of Music Project, Brigade group "Yes, I agree that the money is not in the sabha circuit," she says, "But if one looks around, there are so many associated avenues open to the aspiring musician." Singing for dance performances, making recordings for voice overs or jingles or serial themes, all these can be very remunerative," she says.

According to her, the Internet, particularly YouTube, is a potent tool for a musician. A single YouTube recording, she feels, could lead to an interested audience of thousands, and a remunerative concert tour in a foreign country could result. She however adds that for Carnatic music, the Mecca is still Chennai.

The need to be where the hub of Carnatic music is, is often a deterrent for other aspiring musicians of Bangalore "I can perform all I want over here, but the hub of Carnatic music is Chennai, and I cannot make headway as a professional performer as long as I live in Bangalore," says a young musician who wants to be anonymous. "I lack the ‘godfather’ and am struggling against an entrenched system which favours this network." Manasi, however, feels that compared to a decade ago, making headway on one’s own merit is easier, though, of course, having a well-known guru is very important.

Overall, therefore, it seems as if music seems more of a hobby for the music students of Bangalore, and a career is music is more likely to happen by chance, rather than the student approaching music studies with a view to making a career of it. But most children are taught music in some form, and carry the appreciation of music with them through their lives – and that can only be a positive for the music scene in the city.

About Deepa Mohan 147 Articles
Deepa Mohan is a freelance writer and avid naturalist.

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