A sleepy lane in Banjara Hills that’s largely insulated from the cacophony of Hyderabad’s bustling roads leads us to the residence of famed concert pianist Timothy Marthand. In a house enveloped by art in various forms — a series of artworks by the table, artefacts, collector’s edition of various iconic scores on the shelves — Timothy, the teacher, breaks down the importance of a piano scale to a five-year-old. Another student is practising on the Steinway piano, the popular hand-crafted piano from Germany on which the world’s most iconic musicians have played.
For someone who’s been a globetrotter by virtue of his performances in New York, Venice, Berlin and other cities, and the only Indian at the International Piano Foundation in Lake Como, Italy, Timothy finds teaching a humbling experience, a firm reminder of his roots. “It’s actually welcome as it helps me do something that’s very basic. We spend so much time in our lives, focusing on the details of the ornamental pieces, but going back to its roots is a very important process. Most prominent pianists begin their mornings by playing something very basic. It’s important to revisit the rudimentary things on a daily basis,” he tells us.
The Hyderabad-born pianist is among the rare musicians who stress the importance of being both physically and mentally fit, to pursue the form. “Your body and mind need to be well-rested. Playing the piano can really take a toll on your calorie count and I make it a point to burn at least 5000-6000 calories a day. I am a passionate runner too. In order to be a musician, you need to be as fit as an athlete.”
Timothy, through SOTA where he’s turned a western classical educator in Hyderabad, strives to make music a fun-learning experience. “I would say my classes are fun. You can’t be too hot or too cold (with the learning). You have to constantly keep it interesting for the students. It’s about trying to get better at how you do that. You have to keep questioning yourself and stop blaming the student. Maintaining the decorum of the learning experience and also having the students embrace the vigour of playing the piano is the key,” he shares.
An aspect that hasn’t changed over his three-decade journey is his inability to live a life without music. Age has calmed him down a bit, he finds. “Today, if there’s some deep realisation I’ve had, it’s to really go slow. It’s always about spending time with people who’re better than you, which unfortunately couldn’t happen in my childhood.” It dawned upon Timothy that inspiration and excitement could be the enemies of learning. “I understand the importance of breaking myself away from music now. More often than not, a musician tends to play an instrument for the feedback and not so much for the music,” he says.
Nearly 27 years since the first time he’d ever played in a concert (with the members of Nizam’s Symphony Orchestra), Timothy has come a long way from being an awestruck teenager to a man who’s so confident of his form. “If it weren’t for my father (John Marthand, a concert pianist), I wouldn’t have become a musician and that thought worries me. Music has transformed me personally and has given me so much to reflect. Until 17, I had thought classical music was boring and irrelevant until something went off in my head and I realised I could give my life for it. My father continues to be a pure inspiration (to this day) — the way he responds to music in his eyes, you see that he’s being moved.”
His plethora of experiences at the US and Europe as a concert pianist prompted him to return to his hometown. Timothy’s attempts to introduce city audiences to the nuances of western classical music through SOTA have been a resounding success.
“The prospect of bringing music here was exciting and I knew I had to stick to my ground. If I want the music in its purity to be understood, it has to come from a pure environment i.e. the concert hall. That’s why I go out and talk to people before a concert. I try to pull them out of their local mindset, help them expand their horizons. I am thankful to have experienced two different cultures of music,” Timothy quips.
However, he doesn’t have kind words to share about Hyderabad’s (dis)interest in art and digesting this fact hasn’t been easy, especially after his European stint (where classical music continues to thrive).
The musician doesn’t sound quite happy, “In Europe, there was still a celebration in the time of strife, plague through art. Somehow, the fire was passed on even in the direst of situations. In India, somehow, a career in music isn’t still considered seriously. Those who own plush cars still want to attend a concert only when it’s free. There are only a handful of auditoria with a sense of heritage and legacy. Culture is being wiped out completely.”