Ever attended a metal gig in Varanasi? I have, and I can promise you that it teetered close to disaster. Not only for the tiny, baffled audience that showed up for that oddball concert, but also for the stalwarts of Hindustani Classical who live and practice in most gullies of the city. Incidentally, I also attended a sitar recital in Bombay, and that was disastrous in its own way. Most of the audience was overdressed and clueless, and we had aunties swaying while the musicians were still tuning their instruments. By the time the alaap started they were already looking around for a tea break.
There is a reason why certain cities own certain sounds. Go to the right place looking for the right music, to learn the right instrument from the right musician, and you’ll be bewitched. To begin with, this is where the masters live:
Delhi for Hindustani
Hindustani Classical’s many gharanas are spread out across North India, but the capital has held a special place in this musical web owing to its location. This is where you can find performances by some of the best musicians living, without much effort. Today, it still has the oldest, most prestigious music school in India – Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. The original Gandharva Mahavidyalaya was started in Lahore back in 1901, and this new one in Delhi came about in 1939 thanks to the efforts of Pt Vinay Chandra Maudgalya. In its simplistic campus in Central Delhi you can take long courses in sitar, flute, tabla and harmonium.
Varanasi for Vocals
Music is just a step away in any direction in Varanasi. In fact you can’t avoid it, and you probably wouldn’t want to. This is the city that gave the world Pt Ravi Shankar, Pt Samta Prasad and Girija Devi. It’s the city that keeps alive Dhrupad – one of the most ancient forms of classical music known, to Hindustani and Carnatic alike. Every celebration here has music and nuanced listeners to go with it. Banaras Hindu University’s Department of Vocal Music is the one place where you can learn styles of singing that survived extinction – Dhrupad, Tarana, Khayal, Thumri, Dhamar and Dadra. For casual learners, there are a ton of independent music teachers in Varanasi.
Chennai for Carnatic
Obviously, Chennai is where it’s at, especially if you’re serious about Carnatic music. Concerts and courses alike are credited to one grand institution in the city – the Madras Music Academy. It has been hosting, teaching and advancing music since 1928, and it has done so with more success than any other musical institution in South India. They also have part-time classes where you can pick up veena, violin or vocals amongst much else.
Kolkata for Western
Let’s not forget that Cal was the capital of British India, and this is where the strongest imprint of our colonial heritage can be seen. It was a French violinist and conductor by the name of Phillipe Sandré who started Calcutta School of Music in 1915, the country’s first school for Western Classical music. Besides teaching all the wonderful instruments like piano and violin, they also have the in-house Calcutta Chamber Orchestra, they encourage music appreciation through Listener’s Club, their jazz events are a hit, and they have a real cool retro logo we approve of.
Bombay for Electronic
Finally, ghoom fir ke, we arrive back in Bombay, which is exactly where you need to be if you wish to find anything contemporary that is non-EDM in this vast country of ours. Bombay is the one place where you can trip out live to some of the best DJs touring this side of the world, where you can learn DJing and also have a go at making it big as a DJ. From bass and keys to hard core sound engineering, your one-stop school would be True School Music, backed by an impressive team of influential folks such as the Blue Frog co-founder Ashutosh Phatak and Nitin Chandy.
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