‘Surprising when people complain classical music is elitist’


By Swetha Kannan

It is hard to pin down Anil Srinivasan for this interview. The classical pianist is busy gearing up for the release of his solo album Touch, which traces his journey with the piano through different musical genres. (The album’s tour begins with a concert in Chennai on July 5.) “Artists must constantly find new ways to present old material to remain relevant,” says Anil, a featured artist on Twaang this month.

In this interview, Anil Srinivasan, well known for his solo albums and collaborations with other artists, also shares his views on digitisation of music and efforts made to take classical music to the grassroots. “It is surprising when people make comments about classical music being elitist,” says this global musician from Chennai.

What are your views on digitisation of music?

Thanks to digitisation of music, there are no physical or geographical boundaries for music compared to 10 years ago when people bought CDs etc to listen to music. Today, anyone, anywhere can access music at a reasonable price. Should music be digitised is no longer a question, it is a necessity to be in the mobile digital space. The way the audience receives music has changed. Handheld devices, iPad or Android – this is how people are listening to music and that is why being on Twaang works for me (Anil Srinivasan’s albums on Twaang include Winds on Water Arulamudham and The Blue Divine). 

Whether you are an artist, a news media, or a stand-up comedian, you need to be in the mobile digital space. With 4G coming in, the future, or rather the present, is purely digital. The potential market size is huge, though the actual size is difficult to estimate.

How has the audience evolved over the years? And how do you as an artist reach out to this audience?

The amount of time the listener is willing to invest in music has drastically reduced. It is only a fraction of the time one used to spend in a live concert. And there is a lot of clutter today. One is listening to FM on the car, he is also getting phone calls from home. The person sitting next is streaming videos on the iPad. One has to break through different media to listen to one thing.

The listener is not wedded to any particular artist. He or she may be a Sanjay Subramanyam fan but he is not listening to Sanjay 24 hours a day. He may also listen to AIB Roast. The rule is eclectic. Artist and brand loyalty in music is an illusion. There is no point competing in this scenario. As an artist, you can only compete with yourself. As an artist, I need to understand my audience and reach out to them keeping my eyes and mind open. If you put out a certain product or content, you are successful if the market agrees with the value put on it. You have to keep on working on your craft and make it better for the audience, for the audience is bigger than and above yourself. Performers must be humble in accepting this.

Do you think instrumentalists are being given their due?

By and large, instrumentalists in India are always going to be second tier. We are a vocal-centric tradition and culture. Unlike the rest of the world. For this to change, the basic psychology of receiving music has to change. Also, instrumentalists have to make their formats work. For instance, I have worked with Jayanthi Kumaresh. She has transcended the barriers of the vina, which was considered a declining instrument, by evolving her craft and her ability to connect with different audience – be it in Chennai, London or Bangalore, without diluting the craft.

You have collaborated with many artists such as Rakesh Chaurasia, Sikkil Gurucharan and Bombay Jayashri presenting music in various formats. How important is it to experiment?

Any art form is constantly searching for something better. Some freely use the term ‘innovation’. There may be novel formats of presentation. But the music is the same, all-embracing and universal. We are just applying it differently. All artists and creative people need to work hard and find new ways to present old material to remain relevant.

Can you give an example?

I go back to Jayanthi again. We use the story-telling method to present music. We take stories from various sources such as mythology and literature. For instance, the Words on Water concert was based on river civilisations with stories and music weaved in. It is satisfying to work with musicians like Jayanthi. The open gharana style musician may or may not be open to drastic changes.

What can the audience expect from you this year?

I am releasing the album Touch. It is about the piano’s journey through different genres such as classical, folk, traditional and kuthu. It is a solo format for 59 minutes showcasing the versatility of the instrument. I will be touring with it. I will also be collaborating with Rakesh Chaurasia and Mandolin Rajesh, in India and abroad.  And there is the internet TV show on cinema music with galatta.com.

Are many young people taking to the piano like other instruments?

Yes, I am discovering that a lot of people are taking to the piano. Today, it has become fashionable to take up the Trinity exams. Unfortunately, it comes with the pedagogy of exams. While interest in the instrument is growing, people need to apply it to make music they enjoy. There is a long way to go in this regard.

What is the direction music education must take?

We need to see how we can imbibe in our children a spirit of creativity. The sole aim of Rhapsody (Rhapsody Music Foundation is a musical mission started by Anil Srinivasan to take music into the curriculum of schools across all strata of society) is to take music education in the right direction. Rhapsody has managed to reach 70,000 children. While 50-60 per cent are from private schools, the rest are from schools in a marginalised environment. We have trained 25,000 students from the Chennai Corporation schools. Around 30 of them participated in the December Margazhi Season. So it is surprising that there is a lot of complaining that it is elitist. Surprising when people make such comments. Efforts have been made at the grassroots. Rhapsody is doing it. There have been talks to replicate the Chennai Corporation model in the Mumbai municipality. Artists such as Bombay Jayashri and Shuba Mudgal are also doing so much at the grassroots.

Image courtesy: http://anilsrinivasan.com/gallery


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