Music for the sake of Music ~with Anupam Halder (Teacher, Composer and Conductor)

For some it is the highest form of abstraction while for others it is a blissful distraction. Either way, music has become an intrinsic and irreplaceable component of human existence. What is truly amazing about this art form so universally recognised and craved, is the sheer amount of variety it has yielded over the centuries. Just like any art form though, its survival has been ensured through the passion and dedication of generations of performers and teachers.
Anupam Halder has been a bit of both for nearly 22 years. Having embarked on his professional career at the early age of 13, Mr. Halder has performed with many orchestras internationally and locally in his beloved genre of Western Classical. Currently living in his home city of Kolkata, he is a prominent music teacher of the discipline and specialises in instruments such as the violin and the keyboard. He is also recognised as the founder, director and conductor of the new, yet fast-growing City Youth Orchestra. Fortunately, he was able to find time in his busy schedule to give us some insight into life as a musician and teacher of Western Classical. He discusses the difficulties which entail promoting and teaching a genre which is largely obscure to most of the Indian population.
In an economy such as India’s where social disparity and inequality have routinely maintained high values, musical learning never quite managed to solidify its place as a significant and secure life pursuit. Barring exceptions, musical learning falls largely into two categories. It is either one’s desperate hope to earn bread, or a hobby to be pursued with due caution so as to not let it interfere with one’s academic (a.k.a meaningful) pursuits. Mr. Halder confirms this as a teacher of Western Classical (which is an obscure genre in itself in India) saying, “Students initially want to continue music and become a musician. But when they are faced with the pressures of academics and building a career, it takes a backseat as they find there is little to no scope in music. The few willing to pursue Western Classical abroad, are usually overwhelmed by the standard of the competition there.” According to him music and certain other art forms like drama, photography, etc are yet to produce stable or well-defined career options in India. Thus, he notes that it would require a whole lot of courage on the part of the parents, who want their children to be stable in life, to encourage careers in such disciplines. Mr. Halder brings to light the fact that being from a country where a large percentage of the population has been familiar with financial strain at some point in their lineage, we have been genetically programmed to minimise financial risk in our lives and our children’s as well. This leads us to make life choices which often sacrifice our dreams and passions or merely re-adjust them to be more “practical”. However, it wasn’t all dark as Mr. Halder noted the progress India has made in recent years in certain fields of art and expressed his hopes for similar strides in musical learning. For a start, he believes schools need to make music a more prominent part of their curriculum making use of the provisions in the ICSE and CBSE boards for theory and practical classes in Western Classical. Making it a part of school teaching would be instrumental (pun intended) in making it a less alien concept for students and parents alike, not to mention provide more structured musical education. Mr. Halder believes, “music (or any art) and academics should go hand in hand in aiding a child’s development.”
When asked if he always dreamt of being a teacher, Mr. Halder in his passionate manner stated that he always wanted to be a performer of Western Classical. Teaching came as a part of sustaining that very dream amidst the hardships of life and taking the leaps of faith that brought him where he is today. However, being a teacher at times takes its toll on the musician and the performer in him or her. “When you become a teacher, a lot of your time goes into teaching and the scope for personal skill development becomes rare”, says Mr. Halder. The struggles of teaching violin and keyboard in the discipline of Western Classical are considerable in India. Having taught students in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai and other cities Mr. Halder notes that while there are quite a few teachers, students are a bit difficult to come by. Many opt for vocal music and other less-taxing instruments over the violin. In his words, “As a violin teacher in Kolkata, if you even get one student you are lucky.”
Over the last five years Mr. Halder has founded and directed a promising orchestra of youngsters named “City Youth Orchestra”. It has had six successful concerts in Kolkata and is ever-growing as a platform for young musicians of the city to extend their repertoire. He believes the orchestra to be his next step as a musician and a teacher. Judging by its growing prominence, one would be hard-pressed to deny it. According to Mr. Halder the orchestra seeks to be one of its kind in India. While the existing orchestras focus mainly on pure Western classical, City Youth Orchestra presents alongside that, a variety of fusion pieces exploring genres like Indian classical, folk, rock, light classical, movie themes etc. “In a country like India people are not well-acquainted with the genre (of Western Classical). Thus, an orchestra performing purely Western Classical would lose touch with the audience. A good musician always seeks to communicate with the audience.”, explains Mr. Halder. Also, an orchestra should never stop innovating and exploring new possibilities in order to avoid musical stagnation. However, the orchestra faces plenty of difficulties in terms of promotion and financial support. Yet, Mr. Halder emphasises the importance of the orchestra as a means of encouraging and enriching students in their musical learning and hopes to move forward with it. When asked about his future as a teacher, Mr. Halder expressed his dream of setting up a number of schools of music. These however would not be limited to teaching music alone, but would facilitate the learning of other performing arts as well.
Finally, asked to share his views on the current direction of music in India Mr. Halder was quite positive. He was strongly against cynicism towards the current generation of music making, saying: “There are a lot of talented musicians, singers and composers. If we have the technology now, which we didn’t have a few years back then why shouldn’t we use it for the evolution of our music?”
It becomes clear from Mr. Halder’s perspective that there is plenty of scope for improvement, not only in the structure of musical teaching but also in the diversification of musical appreciation. While India is catching up with the rest of the world and surpassing it on many grounds, an increase in educational and career-based opportunities in music and other performing arts would only benefit this culturally rich nation. It would allow the youthful generation to pursue their dreams and have flourishing careers at par with academic ones in art as well. Asked to give a message to aspiring students Mr. Halder says, “Don’t be afraid. If you are passionate about anything, not only music, take it up as a challenge and work hard for it. You shall be rewarded.”

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