Music is life, all else is subsidiary

Hinudstani musician Ashwini Bhide Deshpande   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

When we refer to a career of a musician, different aspects may come to the minds of different people. As a performer musician I visualise the following four dimensions of music as a career:

1. As an activity that provides you a livelihood

2. As an opportunity to perform on a platform in front of an audience

3. As recognition/respect as an artist, which is related to but distinct from being a stage artist, and

4. As a progression in your musical journey where you explore and discover

music and evolve as a musician.

Most often, when we think of a career, the focus is usually mostly on the livelihood, concert platform opportunities and recognition/respect dimensions. The objective of the seminar is also formulated in this stricter focus, and it is warranted. But if we reflect upon the lives of the masters of the yesteryears, I wonder whether this focus will be adequate. We have heard of a young Bhimsen Joshiji or Mallikarjun Mansur ji running away from home and then going through considerable hardship in their early career. I am certain that at their young age, they did not have any idea as to what was meant by being an illustrious concert performer, or of the various Padma and other awards that came their way in later life. It was plain and pure passion and devotion for music that drove them without even bothering about where their next meal was going to come from. If two square meals a day and a warm bed to sleep in would satisfy your livelihood requirements, then securing these should not be difficult.

Then your entire life is available for you to pursue your musical career. These career opportunities are multiple and the progress in your musical journey could be life-long without the worries about a career. Let me illustrate the different dimensions of a musical career starting with the examples of my three Gurus, for everyone of whom a lifelong immersion in the pursuit of music was a given.

My first Guru, the late Pandit Narayanrao Datar, was a music teacher all through his life. Music tuitions were his source of livelihood. He received tremendous respect and affection from all his students and their families, but he was not a concert artist, neither did he receive any accolades therefrom. I am in his eternal debt for his contribution to music in general and the foundation he laid for me.

My dear mother and second Guru, Manik Bhide, never wished music for a livelihood, did not have concert aspirations, and the accolades came to her only recently, much after she retired from an active life in music. Yet, she had not one but two illustrious musical careers: the first as a disciple of the late Ganasaraswati Kishori Amonkar, and the second as a Guru to me and several other disciples, who are concert artists or Gurus in their own right today.

My third Guru, the late Pandit Ratnakar Pai was recognised as a gifted artist from his early teens. Though he was looked up to as an upcoming concert artist, he chose not to depend on his concert performances as his source of livelihood. He preferred and retired from an accounting job from Forbes, Forbes and Campbell. Yet, his contribution to music in training his disciples and carrying forward the authentic lineage of his Gharana is immense.

And here I am, a reasonably successful (hopefully) and recognised performing artist who also has her musical career as her source of livelihood. And yet, my musical journey did not begin with the thought of making a career in it. I was born in a house where learning music and daily “riyaaz” was as routine as going to school and learning the multiplication tables. Every single member of my family learnt music in some form or the other. My grandmother played the dilruba, but she was a

homemaker; my father learnt the sitar but he was a research scientist with the BARC; my brother, who I believe has a much heightened musicality than I, learnt sarod but chose gynaecology for a career; my aunt, the late Sarla Bhide was a performing vocalist but relied on a steady job as an academician at the music department of the SNDT University. My other aunt, the late Mukta Bhide practised and taught music, but was an announcer with the AIR.

I must have been five years of age when my lessons with Datar guruji began. I was growing up listening to regular riyaz of all elders at home, but none of them even hinted at the prospect of learning music in order to make a career out of it. We learnt music because it was good. What I did of my music taalim was left for me to decide when needed. I had started performing as a yuva kalakar right since my college days. But as is well known to many of you, I completed my conventional education doing rigorous scientific research and earning a Ph.D. in biochemistry. I even taught in the Ruia College for one year before I decided to pursue music fulltime. Even that decision was not with a definitive career as a performer in sight. It happened as part of my pursuit of music. It helped that my family was well settled and that my husband had a steady job.

Were there difficulties in this journey? Yes certainly. Everybody faces them and these life experiences ultimately shape the artist and her art. But I always had a supportive family and I believe that was one of the important, but unseen aspects of my musical career.

Are younger musicians of today better placed than when I was growing up as a young artist? I believe they are. Today’s young musicians are living in a much more liberal, open and generally healthier atmosphere.

They listen to each other, admire and respect each other, host each other and make collaborative contributions. Something I did not see growing up. We just had the AIR, Doordarshan and the press as media outlets but a fair amount of media time and print space for classical music. Today, there is a plethora of outlets in the electronic media, plenty of musicals therein but much less of classical music in the public media. There used to be many small music circles in different towns and cities who would host concerts, albeit with limited budgets, one hears less of them now. Instead today, social media outlets, recording studios and home recordings have multiplied, gadgets and technology have become cheaper and accessible. It is easier to record, promote, spread and sell music online now. Earlier, a recording label had to spot you and record your music. Then, you had to compete with stalwarts equivalent of your gurus for display space in music stores! Today, outside of the musical sphere, career opportunities in the overall economy have diversified significantly. If you have skills, it is easier to pursue a parallel career and your music.

Apart from training and merit, are there other factors responsible for shaping up a musician’s career? Yes, of course. There is a famous saying in marathi “Daath Aahet Thithe Chane Naahith” which literally translated, means “strong teeth but no channa to eat”. Well, I follow the khayal badhat style and extend this saying further in the upaj ang : “- Daanth Hai Lekin Chana Nahin, Daanth Chana Dono Hain To Bhookh Nahin, Daanth Chana Bhookh Teeno Hain, Lekin Swad Nahin, Daanth Chana Bhook Swad Chaaron Hain Lekin Khaye Huye Chane Ko Pachane Ka Shamata Nahin”. In the same line, someone who is gifted with a beautiful voice lacks intellect, voice-intellect both are present but lacks proper taalim, voice, intellect, excellent guru and taalim all are in place but lacks riyaz. Talent, brain, taalim, riyaz all well, but lacks luck for concert opportunities. The height of it all is one who has talent, musicality, arduous taalim, rigorous riyaz, and concert opportunities – everything required to be a successful musician, but something happens when he/she climbs on to the stage. Do I need to say more?

The great Marathi literary personality, thespian, musician, film actor the late Pu. La. Deshpande once very beautifully commented on the career opportunities for artistes. “Let me tell you a secret that I discovered in life. Do get educated in the subjects and trained in the skills that provide you a livelihood. Work hard in your career and earn your living.

But do not stop at that. Make friends with at least one of the arts: literature, drawing-painting, music, drama, sculpture, sports. Your career will help you live but your friendship with art will teach you the purpose of living,”

Upa-jeevika means livelihood in Marathi. Pu La had said that it is upa or subsidiary. What matters is the Jeevika. Make music your Jeevika and the rest will fall in place.

I have tried to follow his advice all my life and to understand the meaning of Jeevika for myself.


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Printable version | Jun 9, 2021 1:17:31 PM |

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