Why youth need to connect with classical music and dance

Myriad hues: Rajasthani artists perform Kalbeliya dance during an event conducted by SPIC MACAY   | Photo Credit: PTI

A week without phones, laptops or social media might be a regular youngster’s worst nightmare. Yet, 1500 young people between the ages 12-26 are looking forward to this opportunity to get off their screens and into an immersive environment of arts, meditation and heritage as they make their way to the 7th international convention organised by the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth (SPIC MACAY) at Jawaharlal Nehru University this summer.

“Today, more than ever, it is important for young people to connect within and listen to their inner self,” says Prof. Kiran Seth, the founder of SPIC MACAY who has been leading the organisation for over four decades. “The vision is to have every child experience the inspiration and mysticism embodied in Indian arts and heritage,” he shares.

The convention is structured as an annual congregation of youth from across India and abroad, who spend one week in a unique ashram-like atmosphere. Scheduled from June 3-9, 2019, the convention would feature concerts by leading exponents of Indian classical music and dance, folk performances, talks by eminent writers and painters, screenings of cinema classics, heritage walks, craft workshops and yoga practice.

Sattriya exponent Ghanakanta Bora is one of the eminent artists inaugurating the event. Reflecting on the importance of a cultural convention for young people, he says, “My journey with SPIC MACAY started in 2003 when Prof. Pradip Jyoti Mahanta and I went for series of lecture demonstrations in several parts of India in various educational institutions. It gives me immense joy to introduce the art form through intensives and concerts to the young takers who give us their love, respect and most importantly carry forward the seed of art appreciation.” He believes that arts pave the way to a more profoundly connected way of life, “Arts education undoubtedly is very important and like every other subject, I feel, it should be introduced to students at a very early age. And here, I don't restrict it as a mere skill but an acceptance of arts as a way of life.”

Arts as life skills

A volunteer-led cultural movement, SPIC MACAY has been organising arts events through a worldwide network of government and private schools, colleges and other educational institutions since 1977. Emphasising on the overall development of young people through exposure to the arts, Suman Doonga, Director-Media, SPIC MACAY, says, “The convention focuses on the holistic development of a child. It is a transformative programme that inspires them to engage in self-reflection and to nurture their learning curve. Through this exposure to a wide variety of arts, meditation techniques young people cultivate their own ways of finding peace, and dealing with challenges powerfully.”

An approach embedded in understanding the arts as life skills has been an integral part of the philosophy of most artists who would be performing or leading intensives at the convention. Dhrupad exponent Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar believes, “Music is such a huge thing that it means different things to different people. Every note has the depth of an ocean. Music is an ocean, but every swar also has the depth of an ocean. So, you can experience many things through music. It can lead you to timelessness. Music is the only element that can control that restless beast, our mind. It is food for the soul.”

Sharing his views about the revival of dhrupad in recent decades, he says, “Nearly 30 years ago, the condition of dhrupad was quite dismal. Now it is reaching people and audience across all ages are coming for concerts. There was a time when it was declared that dhrupad was dead. But after a lull of a few years it revived itself. And today, dhrupad is reaching young people.” Expanding on the novelty that the classical arts bring, he says, “Dhrupad has the unique meditational quality. Music to me is like nature. As we never get tired of seeing the sunrise or the sunset, music is also always new and fresh for me. Young learners will discover something new through music every day.”

Renowned vocalists Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra agree that the recent years have seen a spurt of interest in the classical arts by young people, “There have been many changes. There’s so much publicity and exposure now. The strength of listeners has also increased manifold. We are so happy to notice that young listeners have started attending concerts and their desire to learn and understand our traditional music.”

Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan

Sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan   | Photo Credit: V_V_KRISHNAN

Legendary sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan would also be performing at the inaugural evening. Sharing his profound views on the transformative effect of Hindustani classical music he says, “It is said that our Hindustani classical music has the gait of an elephant – slow, steady and dignified, it is not a horse race. With music, I feel I am connected to every soul, every country, every religion and every song of the world. Often young people feel that they won’t understand classical music but there is nothing to understand in music. Music has to be appreciated and experienced. When young people connect with themselves and the world through music, it makes the world a better place.”

For Pandavani exponent Teejan Bai, the folk art is a means for youngsters to develop their creativity and observe life and world around them as stories. “Pandavani is a unique way of presenting the Mahabharat, it is an epic that most youngsters are familiar with so they grasp faster. They follow the ‘katha’ the way of narrating the tale, and often express the desire to learn this style of storytelling and then it can be used by them to understand any life narrative too.”

Kalpit Gupta, 23, had attended the Mumbai convention as a student from PGDAV College, Delhi. He recalls that the experience had transformed him deeply. "I come from a family that has no idea about the classical arts. At the convention, the diverse world of arts and culture became second home to me. Now it is such an integral part of my life that before an exam I always listen to classical music and it helps me remain calm and focused." Many such young people have discovered new paths to their own interiority. They get the chance to explore their creativity through this immersive week at the annual convention that promises a growing cultural revolution with each edition.

‘Arts and science complement each other’

Dr Kiran Seth on how SPIC MACAY is taking classical arts to young people

Why youth need to connect with classical music and dance

Professor Emeritus in the department of Mechanical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, where he has been teaching since the 1970s, Dr Kiran Seth is the founder of SPIC MACAY. Leading the cultural organisation for the past 42 years, he reflects on the relation between arts and science and his vision for the upcoming convention.

What was the genesis for the idea of SPIC MACAY?

I had no grand plans to begin something like SPIC MACAY, it happened very intuitively and gradually. It started out as an inspiration and then I started realising that others would also deeply benefit from this. In the 1970s, I remember, an all-night concert of Indian classical music had been organised by a staff member in IIT. I was curious, intrigued and moved by the end of the concert and wondered why this never happens often enough. I realised that young people are not exposed to the Indian classical arts and started thinking of ways this can be done. I knew that it would be a powerful experience for young people.

What is unique about the way SPIC MACAY brings the classical arts to young people?

It is not just Indian classical music and dance, but also yoga, meditation, folk forms, cinema classics and other genres. The idea is not just to teach the participants any of the forms, but to reach out with the goal of enabling them to connect with their inner self, to take young people into a space that is beyond seeing, lead them into an inner domain that is inspiring, peaceful, subtle, abstract and mystical.

You are an academician and a man of science. Where do you think the arts play an important role in relation to science and technology?

Arts and science complement each other. They are deeply connected because both delve into the power of the human mind. Great scientists like Einstein and technology geniuses like Steve Jobs deeply valued the arts. Creativity drives the arts and that is integral to any discipline and to lead a meaningful life.

This is the 7th SPIC MACAY convention. How has it grown over the years and is there something new or different in this year’s programme?

It has grown, not in terms of numbers, but rather in the richness of concept. I don’t think adding a new element is important for a programme to grow. In fact, repetition and consistency are the keys to getting into the depth of things, to truly arrive at the essence of what we set out to do.

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2021 8:21:47 PM |

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