'Western classical music gets no state or corporate support'

Over a cuppa

'Western classical music gets no state or corporate support'

Starting out with a small string ensemble at the Bangalore music school 18 years ago, V Narayanaswamy has mounted a chamber orchestra of high repute, despite the constraints of having to work with musicians across State borders to source the best talent in the genre in the country. Trained under Prof Neil Thompson at the Royal Academy, UK, Narayanaswamy’s decision to take up the baton, rather than join the engineering grind has definitely been India’s gain. He is today the country’s only resident conductor and his dynamism and passion for music are reflected in the 30-member orchestra he leads. The Bangalore conductor shares the trials, tribulations and the great joy in keeping the music alive with Devika Sequeira of Deccan Herald. 

Excerpts:

The performance of the BSM Chamber Orchestra in Goa last week was impressive. How do you manage to put together such a cohesive orchestra considering many of the musicians were from different states and you obviously had little time to practice together?

We have a core group of around 15 musicians comprising the entire strings section, sans a string bass. The other musicians are from Kerala and a couple from Mumbai who have been with us for quite sometime. The Kerala members have been with us for 13 years. The music is
selected and sent to them a few months in advance to enable them to come amply rehearsed so we do not really waste much time in putting the pieces together.

Is there a great deal of interest in Western classical music in Bangalore? How difficult is it to generate interest in this genre of music considering the great Indian classical dance and music tradition in your metro?

Interest in Western classical music is slowly but surely gaining momentum, thanks to the BSM and some very motivated music teachers. A lot of cosmopolitan people in Bangalore want their children to learn right from the kindergarten. There are many adults too learning Western classical music to basically de-stress themselves.

Does BSM get any help from the government? What about corporate sponsorship?

Nothing at all. Corporate sponsorship is very negligible for classical music but abundant for rock, pop and sometimes jazz. We are lucky that TVS Motors, spearheaded by their senior vice - president, marketing, Cecil Dewars, has been coming forward to sponsor concerts of Western classical music.

Goa has had a long tradition of Western music, obviously because of its colonial past. But music teachers are hard to come by here. Is that a problem too in Bangalore?

Bangalore too faces a severe crunch of quality teachers in Western music, leave alone classical. Many tiny schools have mushroomed in the last decade but their teaching methods lack motivation and are technically incorrect, but they seem to be doing very well. Their concerts speak volumes of their shoddy teaching and approach.

What about students, do you have many of them?

I have five students learning saxophone and clarinet at the BSM and am unable to give more time because of my involvement as the musical director. I have over 40 students (11 - 18 years) learning all the brass instruments (cornet, trumpet, horn, trombone, euphonium and the tuba) at The Frank Anthony Public School where
I am a full time teacher. The school’s brass band and choir are very well-known in the city and perform regularly at fund-raising concerts.

Western musical instruments and scores are expensive and difficult to get in India. How do your students manage?

With the advent of the internet and sites where a lot of music is available gratis and also at reasonable price, things are not so bad. I usually write music for all my
students and follow printed matter only if necessary to educate them in the works of the great masters.

Do you think music and other forms of performing arts should form a larger part of the school curriculum rather than be pushed to the periphery as they are now?

It is of utmost importance that music should be made compulsory and performance should be given extra grades as we at the BSM feel that music makes a person more compassionate and socially adjustable. Unfortunately the infrastructure to handle this aspect is sadly lacking.

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