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Greek pianist, Calcutta notes

Seated on the first-floor auditorium of Nalanda Vidyapeeth, a residential school for underprivileged children at Ramchandrapur in south Calcutta, western classical pianist Panos Karan plays Edward Elgar’s Salut d’Amor.

“What do you see as you hear this music?” he asks the children sitting on the floor and stools.

“I see a beautiful landscape with a gentle breeze blowing!” answers one.

“I see someone dancing elegantly,” says another child.

London-based Greek musician Panos has made Calcutta his trial ground for taking western classical music out of its elite space to a wider base, which is also an attempt to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged children. He wants to inspire local musicians to do their bit, too.

After his first trip to the city last year for a fundraiser-concert organised by the Calcutta School of Music, Panos is back in search of a mixed audience, supported by Pied Pipers, a Calcutta-based NGO dedicated to bringing free music to public spaces.

“Calcutta is known for its culture of art and music where a large number of people are in difficult circumstances. It was a very exotic place in my mind. On my first trip I was fortunate to meet some Calcuttans who were willing to work hard to help us come back and organise a series of performances for people who wouldn’t come to a classical concert otherwise,” says the 30-year-old.

His itinerary is packed with performances at the Missionaries of Charity and Victoria Memorial, St. Joseph’s Primary School, Thakurpukur Cancer Hospital, Dalhousie Institute for the elderly and the Sangeet Research Academy, the Calcutta School of Music and for children of sex workers. All these before he leaves on September 2.

“Classical musicians are trained to be serious and expected to perform attired in a certain way and in a concert hall. I think this form of music should belong to anyone and anywhere. This is something unfortunately you never learn as a classical musician, that you can find an audience anywhere,” says the classical concert pianist who keeps a busy schedule across Europe and has performed in venues such as the Carnegie Hall and Vienna Konzerthous.

Panos founded Keys of Change, a charity for peace and harmony through music, in 2011. What started as an experiment two years ago has taken him to far-flung places such as the Amazon basin, the tsunami-affected areas in north-eastern Japan, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Calcutta, where he is currently camping with two flautists.

“I wanted to go as far as I could from our culture and see what the responses would be. Soon I realised that as long as you have music, a performer and an audience, it can happen anywhere,” says Panos who enjoys the sitar and tabla when it comes to Indian classical.

Panos says he travels with “an open mind” for a “positive interaction” to use music as a communication tool with people for whom western classical is completely new.

This also helps inspire local musicians to think and try something similar.

“If a foreigner can do this for the poor communities, there’s an audience for them as well. Our second step is to have a more permanent programme… to try and find a place where we could sponsor music classes”.