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Sangeet Research Academy - Kolkata

Every progressive stride springs from a dream. The Sangeet Research Academy (SRA) was the awakening of a vision – a renaissance of Hindustani classical music. For centuries legendary exponent like Ustad Alladdin Khan and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Kha, not to mention Emperor Akbar’s unforgettable court singer, Tansen, were all nourished by regal patrons who themselves connoisseurs of this ancient ‘sangeet’ style.

In the 20th century the Indian princely states were short of their luster. Classical musicians and vocalists stepped out of their cloisters to perform in public concerts for a livelihood. The repertoire of Indian classical music was now available to the masses. A tragic fallout of this sea change in the scenario of Hindustani music was the gradual decay of an illumined performing art form. In the 1970’s the ITC Limited, a Kolkata based tobacco conglomerate laid the foundations of an Indian classical music training centre. It was designed on the traditional system of the guru-shishya parampara (master and pupil tradition). This centre specializes in the vocal medium which even the maestros acknowledge is the direct manifestation of the soul.

It is surprising that Kolkata was chosen as the home of this Academy when there are many cities in the country which boast of a long tradition of musical talent. Of course one reason that is cited is that Kolkata brims with talented enthusiasts. This can be judged from a comparative look at the number of music conferences held annually – Delhi 25, Bombay 6, and Kolkata nearly 200.

Gifted scholars and renowned gurus were invited to join the faculty. The beginnings were encouraging. Soon the Academy acquired five more buildings within the boundaries of the 10-acre sylvan complex. The masters and their pupils are housed in comfort. The fare served at the lunch table is subsidized.

What is pleasantly inconspicuous (at this conservatoire) is a premeditated framework which cramps the masters and their disciples. Knowledge of music permeates unshackled, evocative of the centuries-old guru-shishya parampara spirit. A team of professionals reviews a rendition by anyone student and grades his attainment. The pincer-like probes can be unsettling on occasions but these brainstorming gatherings end up drawing the element out of a scholar. Interestingly, a free-for-all Wednesday evening concert is thrown open to man-on-the-street music lover.

Blended into SRA’s untiring hunt for the obscure traces of classicism are its academic, empirical and scientific research process. The origin and development of age-old compositional forms encompassing the ‘Prabandha’, ‘Dhrupad’, ‘Khayal’, ‘Thumri’, and ‘Tappa’ are delved into. Concentrated studies pry out data relating to existing sub-traditions which are then skillfully rationalized and documented.

Treasured in Sra’s archives are rare recordings of this century’s Indian classical wizards. Moving to the specifically science-oriented areas one comes across an audiometric facility which employs state-of-the-art gadgets like the Spectrum Analyser and a Digital Sono-graph. Working to perfect music training standards these equipments electronically thread through the timbre and melodic movements of an array of vocal pieces and musical instruments sifting aside distortions which have crept in down the ages.

In the years since its establishment the SRA has acquired a credible reputation. During the winter concert last year, over 100 of the cream of Indian classical performers came to Kolkata.

With the passing away of stalwarts like Latafat Hussain Khan and Ishtiaq Hussain Khan the guruku mantle is destined to pass over to the shishyas. The SRA experiment is unique and one hopes that the Academy will be able to revive the buried nuances of Hindustani classical music.

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