All the right notes


KEYS TO GOOD MUSIC: Fr. Thomas Chakkalamattath.

KEYS TO GOOD MUSIC: Fr. Thomas Chakkalamattath.  

`Use one's ears to see and eyes to hear' may appear puzzling; but that is the mantra that has helped more than 400 young musicians to get through various grades in Western Music (instrumental) during examinations conducted by the Trinity College of Music, London.

The advice was given by Fr. Thomas Chakkalamattath, director of the Thrissur-based Chetana Music Academy, who has evolved an ingenious methodology for teaching western music.

"Twelve years is the right time to take stock of one's achievements. And as I look back now, I am extremely happy that my advice has worked wonders for my students," said Fr. Thomas who took charge of the Academy in 1993.

Strangely enough, this outstanding pianist had his musical training on the veena. He became the first priest of Dharmaram Theological Seminary, Bangalore, to earn a certificate in Carnatic music from the Board of Karnataka Government, after four years of rigorous training.

His desire to learn western music was sparked off after he stood first in the youth festival conducted by Kerala University in 1983. It took him to Handel Manuel in Chennai and he learnt to play the piano for two years. Another five years at St. Joseph's School of music in Pondichery made him an accomplished pianist.

Fr. Thomas believes that learning of western music does not stop at learning to read the staff notation.

The interpretation of the score has to be subjective for which the student has to identify the soul of a composition. This skill can be developed only in a phased manner and it begins by implanting a single note deep in a student's mind by exposing him to it for a long time.

"It may take a few months before the student will be able to identify that note in its totality," Fr. Thomas pointed out.

Gradually a second note and later on a third one is also added. Thereafter, the three notes are combined to form a chord to which the student is made to listen for hours together. This sustained training enables a student to identify the notes, the chords, and the phrases and finally the meaning of a musical sentence in a composition. The very sight of a note in the score would ring the corresponding tone in his mind.

Moreover, when a musical note is heard, the picture of the corresponding notation would flash in his mind. "That's what I mean when I say, see with your ears and hear with your eyes," Fr. Thomas explained.

A select group of 30 students is being groomed as professionals in the institution. Training in Carnatic music is compulsory for them. Over the years, the response from the students has been overwhelming, said Fr. Thomas. There are students who spend eight to 10 hours in the institution that is open 24 hours a day.

While many of them, like the young film music director Alphons, are employed in music industries round the globe, others like Vishnu and Deepak, students of the Indian Institute of Technology, who had recently been in the news for presenting the Pink Floyd night in Thrissur, also pursue music.

Fr. Thomas believes that he is passing on a hoary tradition, both of the west and the east, to the younger generation through his music classes.