Earliest Memories. As far back as I can remember, I have always heard music. As a child, music would just keep playing in my head, over and over again. It wouldn’t stop and let me relax.
Whenever I heard something that really appealed to me, the sensation was so strong that it would take over my entire being. Early on, my parents noticed the effect music had on me, but being in a country like India – and the time such as it was – not much could be done for me.
I am told that I hated going to kindergarten. I figured out that if I got sick, I wouldn’t have to go. But my parents developed a clever trick to stop me throwing up each morning. Just after breakfast they would play a record and that would keep me so engrossed that I would forget everything. Then when it was time, the record was put off and I ended up having going to school that day.
Growing up I recall having heard so much music being sung around the house. Those were the days when we weren’t yet bombarded with ubiquitous and nonstop TV, radio, and (nowadays) internet entertainment. No, when you wanted entertainment at home, you would have to create and perform it or go to a concert or a show.
Music Is a Way of Life. Playing an LP was something we really took time for. It was something to savor. You have to understand that this was all delicate technology at that time, plus the fact that power cuts were so common that most evenings were spent without electricity at all. All we could do was to sing together!
My grandparents would sing along with my parents, often with a little harmonica or slide guitar thrown in. I lived within this music, I heard and absorbed the sound. There were European sounds, to be sure, but mostly Bengali songs – Rabindrasangeet, Nazrulgeeti, Kirtans, Atul prasad or simply popular and film or folk melodies. People recited poetry, quoted from books, and yes, people listened even while sipping some Whisky.
Today, this seem so impossible and so remote, doesn’t it? In my childhood, there was no Facebook. We actually sat face to face and shared real time with real people. We talked in person, not by way of this virtual world we are surrounded by now. Emotions were felt and experienced, not taught. Indians are a sensitive nation I believe. Today, though, it is difficult to preserve this personal connection to people.
A Fascination with Sound. Looking back now, I think this would explain my approach to making music. I look at it this way: even in large, symphonic orchestras, one must listen first. Only when one listens for the purpose of understanding, can one add their own sound. Then it makes sense.
It fascinates me that a group can play Mozart, and then the very same group turns around and plays Beethoven, but the sound within the ensemble is completely different. From identical musicians! I live to forever discover and keep discovering the secrets of how it all works! Sound is what led me Classical music, nothing else.
It’s the same as when someone learns English for the first time. Of course they will be unable to grasp the subtleties of Shakespeare. It takes time for the human ear to develop the ability not only to hear, but to really listen. In music, one begins to listen to colours – the many colours of sound created by different instruments in an orchestra and more!!
Think about it. The possibilities are infinite. When you combine not only player’s individual technical ability but also the instrument’s potential, along with the environment in which it is played, and add to that the sheer human element that is a source of the inexplicable! There is the mind and soul factor as well. Simply no limits to the possibilities.
The Education Begins. My parents always encouraged me to play an instrument. So when I was seven, I was given the violin at first. I made very quick progress and within about 6 months I had my first performance. Unfortunately, my father’s contract work meant transfers, and the violin never made it to the next destination. But the seeds were sown for me to want something else – anything else.
I taught myself the harmonica (secretly) and saved up to buy my first guitar. I still recall that I was able to tune the guitar all on my own. I have no idea how. I was self-taught completely. I guess I did alright, though, and got to quite a good level. Everyone wanted me as an accompanist on radio shows in Calcutta at the time. I played so much professionally as a kid!
By then I had also been learning the piano accordion, but I constantly asked for different mentors as I instinctively felt that when I reached a certain level, I was no longer being challenged enough.
Self-Teaching Level: Expert. Harmony is something that isn’t traditionally present in Indian music, but since most of what I was playing was European / American harmony, the concepts came to me slowly. Sadly, no one could teach me what I wanted to know, so again, in harmony I became self-taught. But I had such a passion and a hunger for the knowledge and understanding. In time this grew to such a depth that I was registered as my own teacher in my examinations at the Associate level when I became the first Indian to have passed the newly created examinations in Music theory!
The wonderful thing about studying theory, at least for me, was that it was never boring. I was constantly playing on the radio or even restaurants, there was enough time to physically try out different kinds of music and see if I could do it! I played all possible forms from rock to jazz at that time! My ears and my heart were treated to a wonderful set of possibilities.
When Classical Music Changes Everything. Those years in Calcutta got me into close touch with the Calcutta School of Music which is India’s oldest institution that teaches European Classic Music in India. It was there at a concert that I first actually heard Classical music and it was a sensation like no other! Suddenly I heard harmonies that I now realize I already knew, but they were being treated in ways that I had never considered. So detailed and yet so subtle, and in such colours that I never realized was even possible. Add to that the dynamics which aren’t so present in any other genre! Motifs were treated in ways that were so incredible.
Classical music, quite literally, found me from within. I felt at home and it was at this point that my future direction was very clear to me. The process of discovery just took another turn on a path that I haven’t stopped, and never will!