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Sibling symphony and an easy-going music teacher

She taught the basics of classical, but its significance escaped them; still, the teacher struck a lasting note

As far as I have seen, training children in either classical music or dance is still considered necessary and appropriate, even fashionable, in South Indian Brahmin households (at least in Chennai and Bengaluru). Our family has been no different. Almost all my cousins have dabbled in classical music at one point or the other. A couple of my sisters are trained dancers. However, I find the case of one of my cousins interesting. He trained as a percussionist for years. But today, the instrument sits safely in the attic, brought down only during the time of Ayudha Puja, perhaps. The irony is that his wife and her mother are both performing artists.

My brother was made to train under a music teacher when he was in Class V, if I remember right. Two years later, someone hit upon this brilliant idea: if the elder can do it, why not the younger? Thus, when I was in Class I, much before I could actually work out what exactly was happening, it was decided that I would join the class with my brother. Maybe, it was because I would hum the songs which my brother was taught. I can actually imagine some elderly person sitting with a thoughtful expression on the face, saying, “He has potential.” (Damn the reality shows for corrupting the imagination!)

Now came the difficult bit — of deciding on the tutor. The instructor under whom my brother trained was found “not satisfactory”, or not the one who could unleash my brother’s true potential. One of our uncles suggested someone he knew personally. That someone had name and fame as an acclaimed artist. It was probably his imposing personality that made us chicken out. Moreover, I do not think anybody in the family thought that either my brother or I had a career in music ahead of us. Hence, there was no reason to train under a performing artist; was there?

A family friend then suggested a lady under whom he had been training for several years. The tutor’s house was close to ours. She had a good voice and knowledge and was quite gentle (with due respect, I am not sure if timid is the right word here). That sealed the deal.

We did make significant progress. For quite a few years, my brother and I would be the “trophies” at all family gatherings, asked to sing — together — in front of the guests. It was not only chinaware that was displayed when guests came home.

However, with hindsight, I believe my brother and I never realised the significance of being classically trained as long as we were under her tutelage. We are guilty of having faked mouth ulcers, sore throats, guests-at-home and a few other excuses. Because that way the class would last just one-fifth of the usual time, sometimes less.

For nearly eight years I trained under her, getting the basics right but never fully comprehending the value of what I was learning. My brother changed the tutor midway, quite unceremoniously, and it was left to me to handle the situation. Eventually, she realised that my brother would not come back to her music class again, though she was kind enough not to question me on that count.

When my turn came, it was Class X to the rescue. Since that year was a “game-changer”, I could not devote time to attend music classes. Thus I quit her class, only to join my brother. It was there that I understood what had gone wrong for the past eight years. I had never been serious but had always been passable. Hence, there was no chance of a reprimand. However, under the instructor I had just joined, merely being passable was not enough. Also, with other students being very competent, you had to be competent too to be in business. Excuses such as ulcers wouldn’t work here! A much-needed jerk now having been provided, I began to look at music classes in a wholly different light.

Two years later, I quit music classes since they clashed with my tuitions for the second year of the pre-university course. This time, though, I wasn’t lying. I never got to resume the classes after the course as I had move into a hostel. The instructor offered to conduct classes on Skype. Not feasible enough, though.

I vividly remember one thing the lady teacher said. She never taught anybody compositions in Raga Varali. She believed that if taught, that composition would be the last-ever to be taught and the guru-shishya relationship would end. It was a belief she had cultivated under her own teacher. Incidentally, the last-ever composition I learnt completely before I quit the classes during my pre-university course was in Varali!

Every time I go home, there is a strange urge to go and check if the teacher is still around. If she is, maybe my brother and I could go, talk to her. Thank her, perhaps. However, I have never gathered the courage to do it.

akshay.simha1995@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 4, 2020 12:13:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/sibling-symphony-and-an-easygoing-music-teacher/article8381930.ece

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