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Academy gears up to tune ears

Catch this dialogue at any Hindustani classical music festival:

Listener X: Ah! How well he is singing...

Listener Y: Sure, but what is he singing'

Despite being labelled the Mecca of music, listeners in Calcutta are often found wanting in the appreciation of the taal and the bol. Gone are the days when prestigious classical music festivals such as Sadarang or Dover Lane would see thousands sitting outside the pandals, braving the biting cold, and yet completely one with the music inside.

“Today’s listeners treat music as more of a social event. They fit in such events between other commitments,” says Pandit Vijay Kichlu, former executive director of Sangeet Research Academy and currently director of his newly-launched academy called Sangeet Ashram.

With over 25 years’ experience, Kichlu has seen them all — Ajoy Chakraborty, Rashid Khan, Arun Bhadhuri and around 55 other scholar students at SRA. A stalwart of the Agra gharana, Kichlu is also known to have groomed several young singers, among whom Subhra Guha and Zainul Abedin have already made a name for themselves.

So, the idea of another academy seems only natural. And with it the logical extension of educating listeners. “Sangeet Ashram will concentrate more on listeners than performers. There is a need to educate the listeners. At Sangeet Ashram, we will make sure that prior to a performance or after it, the listener gets to interact with the singer. He should be aware of the raga, taans, gharanas, pronunciation etc. It would serve a dual purpose, as even the singer will get to know how the audience received him,” says Kichlu.

To begin with, at least, Sangeet Ashram will insist on pure recitals and no gimmickry. “It’s high time we stopped accepting mediocrity as excellence,” asserts Kichlu, busy working on more modules to fit into his academy’s programmes.

Backing Kichlu in his endeavour are Governor Viren J. Shah, former ITC chairman J.N. Sapru, industrialist Suresh Neotia, Padatik chairman Shyamanand Jalan and other Calcuttans. The newly-opened Hyatt Regency and Seagull Bookstore have also pledged support (read: space).

“For example, our opening concert on September 23, featuring Ajoy Chakraborty and Tanmoy Bose was held at Hyatt. Seagull has already started letting out space at their Bhowanipore outlet for the music-appreciation courses that I run for two months. The first batch has already seen 200 students undertaking the course. If things continue like this, I have no doubt that our present 150 members will double in no time,” says Kichlu. The membership fee as present is Rs 10,000.

Sangeet Ashram is operating from an office on British India Street in central Calcutta and from Kichlu’s flat at 13 Loudon Street. Besides arranging concerts and conducting music-appreciation courses, Kichlu also plans to start a special course for the physically challenged.

“All along, there has been only sympathy for such singers, which is actually not necessary. The course that I am going to introduce will help them hone their skills and provide an avenue for income. To supplement the training, I will involve Hindustani classical stalwarts and musicologists in this programme, that would lean more on interaction than pure teaching.”

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