Vintage Hindi songs still rule, says pianist

Brian Silas was in Bengaluru last weekend.

A balmy summer night, a lavish spread of drinks and food and a feast of classic Bollywood songs — the event lived up to its title of ‘Suhana Safar’.

As piano maestro Brian Silas rendered old tunes of legends like Khayyam, Salil Choudary, OP Nayyar, SD Burman and Laxmi Kant-Pyare Lal on his piano, the audience at Mysore Hall in ITC Gardenia nodded their heads appreciatively and applauded enthusiastically.

The event was the latest edition of WelcomArt, in keeping with ITC’s philosophy of ‘Responsible Luxury’.

Brian Silas is no stranger to applause; he is a pioneer of the unique format of playing Hindi songs on the piano, a traditionally western instrument. 

Numerous national and international concerts, 20 albums and widespread acclaim mark his two-decade-long career. Rajitha Menon finds out more...

We heard you weren’t very keen on taking music as a profession...

I wouldn’t say I wasn’t keen as that was no age to decide the future. I was very musical from childhood; I hail from a musical family. I could play most of the instruments on which I lay my hands on but I never had the patience to learn the right technique or notations.

Somehow I feel that if you read music and play, you can’t get the feel of it. 

When did you decide to play Hindi songs on the piano?

When I was around 35 years old (I had left my corporate job then), I just sat down at the piano after a long time. A Hindi song was playing on ‘Chitrahar’. I tried playing it and it came out so nicely. That was when I decided to play only Hindi music on the piano. It’s been more than 25 years now and I have not received a negative response from anyone. 

How do you select which songs to play on the piano?

There is so much treasure out there; all these masters have composed and sung such beautiful songs. Generally the selection of the song is done by my wife and we have never gone wrong. 

Do you play newer songs also?

I do play some new songs but I feel that the quality of music produced today has gone down a lot. The shelf life is not more than 2-3 months for any song, no matter how popular it becomes. But these songs, which I am playing 50 years after they were released, still get the same response every time.

I played at ITC Maurya in Delhi for 18 years. The same people would give me requests every single day; there was no monotony. It’s amazing how people can never tire of good music.

Weren’t there limited venues for you at that time?

There were always people who wanted to listen to the piano and were willing to pay for it too. We did our bit; I once hired a piano from Delhi and carried it all the way to Pune for a programme. 

Do you change the chords or rhythm structure of any song when you play it?

I change the pace of the song sometimes to suit the mood of the occasion.

Any challenges?

None so far. There was no pressure to match up to anyone as nobody played Indian music on the piano before this. My students are now continuing my tradition. 

Have you tried any other instrument?

I have but I am not comfortable on a synthesizer or other such instruments. They have come up with beautiful computerised instruments which can replicate the sound but the feel of the piano is missing.

Do you have a favourite song?

How can I point out one song? There are more than 5,000 songs embedded in my mind and all of them are my favourites.

This is one thing which I never compromise. I play only what I like. 

Thoughts about Bengaluru?

I don’t know much about the city. But my wife has been here many times and she loves the place. She knows all the good shopping places in the city. 

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Vintage Hindi songs still rule, says pianist

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