Vocalist Meeta Pandit on curating the Gharana Festival
Besides being a popular classical vocalist, Meeta Pandit been associated with music education for many years. A consultant for the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, she was the apt choice to curate its recently concluded Gharana Festival that brought eminent vocalists from different schools of Hindustani music to a common platform. Very much her father's daughter, and a torchbearer for the Gwalior gharana, Meeta is also a woman of today who knows her mind and looks beyond narrow boundaries. As a representative of the younger generation of classical vocalists she also enjoys interacting with the lay public and de-mystifying the centuries-old art she was born to. Excerpts from an interview with the singer:
Was this festival intended primarily for initiated listeners, or a more general audience?
We wanted to reach out. We didn't want just the initiated audience. And the beautiful thing about IGNCA is, it is on Janpath, so we had a lot of listeners who were tourists, a lot of people from nearby hotels, etc. The announcer had been completely briefed that this is not an ordinary programme and explained the details. Because this is not something you get from the Internet! And where they were comfortable, we requested the artistes themselves to speak.
How important is it for listeners to understand the different styles?
When you go attend a dance or music performance, essentially you want to feel the beauty of the art, but audiences also want to know more about it. I have often met people during a flight or train ride, who are inquisitive. They often say, yes, we have heard about Gwalior, we have heard about Tansen. Is it true that when he sang a particular raga it started raining? So, while on one hand nothing is important after all, at the end of the day, I feel audiences do want to know more about the art. And at this event, I would say 99, even 100 per cent were happy with this approach. And the credit goes entirely to the IGNCA and their president, Chinmaya Gharekhan. They wanted to do something to promote Indian classical music. So I gave them a lot of ideas and they chose this one.
Are the gharana legacies being affected since people to learn through electronic means and access all types of music?
Indeed people have unimaginable means to listen to different kinds of music. And that's where I feel, har cheez ki khichadi na ban jaye. Yes it does have an effect, because every artiste is listening to every other artiste. 'm not worried at all, because music is part of social changes. Just like my grandmother and mother wore saris, and I wear jeans. Any creative field is not stagnant, so these changes have to come. Today we have the Internet, with many boons, but evil too. It's the same with technology. Today I can record each of my guru's sessions. I wouldn't have been able to three generations ago.
What is the documentation project you are directing for IGNCA?
I have taken up archiving of living Hindustani classical masters, both vocal and instrumental. It's an audio-visual project where the artistes are sharing, besides their artistic wealth, their first hand knowledge of where the tradition comes from, plus rare photographs, maybe the handwriting of the masters. We intend to cover more than 60 artistes over three years and have already covered around six-seven. It will be accessible to the public.
Has better amplification diminished the emphasis on voice development?
Today with amplifiers, the principles of voice development have changed. But the principles of how to make your voice sound nice in the microphone — that is also to be learnt. In Gwalior, the fundamental thing we learn is voice culture. That is the foundation. So irrespective of whether we have the most sophisticated sound system or mikes, that doesn't diminish the important of voice culture.
Has the fast pace of life affected gharana-based learning?
Actually the fundamentals, if you say I sing Gwalior, or Patiala, etc., you have to have learnt for at least 12 years to get that. To be a disciple is not easy. You have to chase the guru. But I can tell you they are on the job. They mark the calendar, and they call. One who is going to learn will learn no matter what the odds. Today even the disciples are so busy in their lives. So the methodology may have changed but the principles are not.
In a general way, the word means ghar, which translates to household, but musically it means following a particular style of singing, a lineage, or school of music. It doesn't mean people have to be from the household. A lot of people say music is in the blood. But it is not like property to be passed on. It has to be acquired by learning at the feet of the guru: Only taleem and taleem, nothing else. Only a worthy disciple will turn out to be a good artiste. And it has to be with a guru of very high calibre — a style that has gained respect among the peers. Usually a training period of one tap, or 12 years is required under the guru. Also, a gharana is only established if it has a tradition of three generations.