'Listen to classical music with an open mind'

It was only at the end of the take two that acclaimed Hindustani vocalists Ashwini Bhide Deshpande and Sanjeev Abhyankar said it was a happy co-incidence that they could come together for a conversation. For, they do the same on stage too, albeit musically, through alaap and swaras instead of words. Their joint performances are based on the 'one raga different compositions' concept. Passionate and committed, the Mumbai-based artistes don't let anything come between their music and the listeners. It's their honest and authentic approach that sets the duo apart in today's gimmick and glamour driven music field. Chitra Swaminathan listened to Ashwini and Sanjeev talk about the challenge of not succumbing to modern compulsions and distractions. Sanjeev: In the days of Internet and instant meals, deriving creative satisfaction isn't easy. Agree? Ashwini: Yes. But look at the immense exposure and opportunities. There is no dearth of talent. Though now it's quantity at the cost of quality. Sanjeev: Classical music is like reading a novel. You cannot enjoy it unless you are involved. It's not just entertainment, it is an experience. Raga sangit or classical music has a healing effect on the mind and body. The media and the practitioners should draw more and more people to concerts to experience it. Ashwini: Actually to appreciate good music, it's not necessary to know it technically. It should touch you, that's all. Sanjeev: Many don't enter a concert hall because they think classical music is beyond their comprehension. Ashwini: By attributing adjectives such as meditative, contemplative, etc., we restrict the art to a niche segment. Listen to it with an open mind and you will enjoy it. Sanjeev: We cannot compare it with film music, which is popular music. No classical musician will ever think of performing in a crowded stadium. If it happens, the beauty of raga sangit will be lost. Today what classical music needs is media support and sponsors. Earlier, musicians were patronised by the royal courts, now corporate is king. In fact, like in cricket, they can sponsor individual artistes. Why not a top-notch company appoint Sanjeev Abhyankar as its brand ambassador? ( smiles) Ashwini: Then you will have to model for their products. Sanjeev: Why not? Art and artistes need to be taken care of. The moment you talk about money, they say we are corrupting the art. Commercialisation and earning for sustenance are two different things. The great masters, who served maharajas, lived in pomp and style. Luxury and comforts did not destroy their music. In fact, it only helped them pursue their passion vigorously. Ashwini: Whatever the situation, once we go up on stage the connection is only with the swaras, nothing else matters. Talking about support, it's distressing that despite the existence of so many channels, classical music has no presence on television. Sanjeev: Also, we need to encourage more music schools to come up. They may not produce successful performers but at least they can identify talent and groom listeners. And it's only through such schools that the art reaches small towns and villages. Ashwini: As for training, more than learning the technique and repertoire, a student should internalise the essence of the art. Fortunately for me, my mother Manik Bhide was my guru. So it was a 24-hour class. Even you had a similar taiyari. Isn't it? Sanjeev: I learnt in a gurukul. When my musician-mother realised the need to nurture my singing skill, she took me to Jasraj-ji, who said he could teach only if I was prepared to move into his house for day and night training. No other diversion, not even academics, was allowed. Though I am extremely attached to my parents, to pursue my passion, I decided to live with my guru and learn the art. I was only in my teens then. Par sangit ke liye mein kuch bhi chodne ko taiyar tha (I was ready to leave anything for music). Ashwini: Didn't you ever feel homesick? Sanjeev: Whenever I did, Panditji would send me home for two or three days. But once at home, I would miss my riyaaz and long to get back to my gurukul. Today, when I look back, I feel it was all worth it. Ashwini: It's heartening to see the many options that our field offers, these days. Even if you cannot establish yourself as a performer, you can take to teaching, writing, producing records and much more. I believe that as an artiste, you should never think of the destination. Because once you reach there, you will be left wondering what next? So I am only interested in the journey and the road I take.

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