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Rhythm of Kolkata

The Dover Lane Music Conference held in Kolkata every January celebrated its Golden Jubilee this year. Performing legends look forward to the event even as music history continues to be made, says PUSHPA LAKSHMAN.


Amjad Ali Khan performing at the Dover Lane Music Conference.

FOLLOWING the season of Carnatic Music during Margazhi in Chennai, a trip to eastern India, in late January, was a continuation of the blissful journey. In Kolkata, it was a weeklong Hindustani Classical Music conference, as much an enjoyable experience as the Chennai congregation. The Dover Lane Music Conference held in Kolkata every year from January 20-25 celebrated its Golden Jubilee this year.

About 50 years ago, some intrepid music lovers got together to organise a classical musical soiree in Dover Lane in south Calcutta. That was the humble beginning. The Dover Lane Music Conference held these days in an auditorium on South Avenue remains Kolkata's premier yearly event and is now a part of Kolkata's heritage. The spirit of the 1950s is still very much alive. Performing legends look forward to the event and music history continues to be made. The Dover Lane Musical Soirees have done the local classical music lovers proud and is the highpoint in their annual calendar of events.

This year, the conference journeyed into its 50th year with a day-long session on January 20. At the commencement the "grande dame of Khayal", Gangubai Hangal, released a special postal cover to mark the golden jubilee, and Pandit Jasraj received the years' Sangeet Samman Award. Hangal, was also the star attraction of the day's events, which ended with her performance. Opening each night at 8 p.m., allowing for differing watches and the local traffic, on January 21 and 23, the programme concluded just after midnight and on the other nights January 22, 24 and 25 — at 6 a.m. the following morning.

With the demanding audience ensuring delayed closures, it was sublime joy for the ardent followers of Hindustani music. Star attractions to name a few were Pt. Jasraj, Ajoy Chakraborty, Girija Devi, Falguni Mitra, Rashid Khan, Rajan Sajan Misra, Ashwini Bhide (all vocal). Instrumental renderings were, courtesy Amjad Ali Khan (Sarod), Vilayat Khan, Monilal Nag (Sitar), and M. S. Gopalakrishnan (Violin). Artistes like Koushiki Chakraborty (Vocal), Debashish Bhattacharya (Guitar), Aman Ali Bangash (Sarod), and Shovana Narayan (Kathak) staged their talent.

Pt. Jasraj's Khayals in Jaijawanthi were masterpieces. His impact on the audience was such that the rasikas would not let him conclude and Panditji had to plead his age as deterrent to continue. This was the most amazing aspect of the Dover Lane Concerts. It was music, as an emotional experience, not to be bound by time. When the audience wanted more, the artistes responded happily within reason. By and large, the timetable was adhered to. There was so much freedom for the audience and artistes to interact that the rasikas could even request the ragas they wanted.

The Dovarlane auditorium has a seating capacity of 3,500 and at any point in time, be it midnight or early morning, there were not less than 3,000 people present.

Falguni Mitra's excellent Drupad singing, Girija Devi's Puriya Kalyan, Amjad Ali Khan and Vikram Gosh's duet on the Sarod and Tabla, MSG's Bhoop and Mand, Nag's Kaushik Kalyan on the Sitar, Ajoy Chakraborty's three different Lalits Raag were the other highlights of the conference.

The Doverlance Conference was a unique experience. It was like a "Yagna", and on those six days, nothing else seemed to matter, only good and pure music that elevated the human spirit to a superior plane of existence. Kolkata should be proud of itself.

What is the secret that sustains this spirit? A little research revealed that work done by organisations like the ITC Sangeet Research Academy and Shrutinandan (to name a few), towards promotion of music and identifying young talent and training them, is laudable.

Sangeet Research Academy, sponsored by ITC, started in the year 1978, with the objective of preserving and promoting India Classical music. Its farsighted endeavour was to establish a modern "gurukul" and revive India's traditional "Guru-Shishya Parampara". Hence, in the sylvan surroundings of the campus, legends of Hindustani classical music, belonging to different Gharanas live in perfect harmony with the students. The academy selects its students on the basis of natural talent, dedication and the capacity for hard work. A scholar spends 10 to 12 years living with his guru and learning from him. The present Gurus of the academy constitute a galaxy of famous names like Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan, Pt. Ajoy Chakraborty, Pt. Ulhas Kashakkar, Pt. Falguni Mitra. Vidushi Subhra Guha and others.

The weekly Wednesday recitals at ITC — SRA, aims to mould a young talent into a performing artist. After initial training, each scholar has to perform during a Wednesday recital before a discerning audience composed of members of the expert committee, Gurus, critics, fellow scholars and music lovers. This performance is recorded for a listening session. At this listening session, the expert committee sits with the scholar and critiques both the visual and auditory aspects of the musical performance. In addition, SRA also does extensive empirical, scientific and academic research and documentation in music, which is of great value to the students.

The other institution, Shrutinandan, promoted by Ajoy Chakraborthy was founded to impart music lessons to children between the age of four to 11. Inaugurated on July 1997, it boasts of having trained nearly 800 children in that age group. Shrutinandan trains the children in the very basics of all kinds of Indian Vocal music, so that the trainees may acquire proficiency in rendering not only Dhrupad, Khayal, Thumri, but also folk and film songs. It imparts training in the very fundamentals of Indian Vocal music, namely sense of notes, proper use of breath and basic sense of tempo and rhythm, the mastering of which is essential for rendering good vocal music. In addition, it also conducts Music Appreciation classes for adults.

Shrutinandan is a full-fledged music institution on a par with international standards with a close circuit TV network to monitor teaching, training and guidance on the use of microphones, on important aspects of sound recording and hall acoustics, in addition to board and lodging facilities in the institution. Kolkata is a class act when it comes to Indian music.

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