Giving Voice is now ten years old! It has been an exhilarating decade of work for us. What started as a small-scale teaching project – a ‘testing of the waters in India to see what might develop’ – has become an arts foundation producing opera and concerts in India with home grown casts, and propelling students abroad for international study. Nevertheless our basic principle of teaching all comers has not changed, and over the years we have taught hundreds of students from all over India, Nagpur, Coimbatore, Ahmedabad as well as all the main cities.
This current monsoon trip is very typical of our work. In India for a month, we went first to teach at the Goa Chitra Museum near Margao, came back to Mumbai for our regular course, and then will go to Bangalore under the auspices of Musée Musical. In the middle of giving the courses we are running and performing in a concert in Mumbai at NCPA on Tuesday, 16th July and appearing at the annual Con Brio festival at the start of August, which is also celebrating its tenth year.
By spreading our teaching over various venues we manage to attract a variety of students, so Bangalore brings students from Chennai and the south, and Mumbai those from Ahmedabad and Delhi. New opportunities arise as we travel. In Goa we auditioned local children for participation in a high profile concert to be held in October. We ran the same children’s concert last year, and it was an unexpected hit. This year the attendance for the auditions has doubled and the standard risen considerably.
This is very much a part of what GVS seeks to achieve in India – not just spreading interest in Western classical, but fostering opportunities involving local students in managed events that will inspire them and their families. A few years ago I talked to the Minister of Art and Culture in Goa, whose aspiration for the state was to get away from the image of Goa as a lowbrow vacation destination of undesirable tourists and little culture beyond the attractions. Whether or not that is true, it was an extraordinary admission. GVS is involved in changing that perspective radically from within, and seeking opportunities so to do. To that end there are further initiatives in Goa which GVS is actively pursuing and will be announced at a later date.
In Bangalore, where we have not taught before, we seek new opportunities for contact with students and their teachers. Dialogue with teachers is essential. We seek to supplement their work, not to replace it. This dialogue is a process seen in other, non musical, disciplines (medicine, technology), in which practitioners keep up with latest developments. India lags behind in the classical music sphere. This is not to do with innate talent, rather to do with accessibility and infrastructure. The ability of Indian students is the same as in any other country, and is waiting to be developed fully.
A three stage process for this is already happening: Stage 1, for students to study internationally, and then come back to India (no help at all if they stay away!); Stage 2, for better musical infrastructure to be set up in India; Stage 3 greater opportunities for quality performance. GVS is proud to be a part of this movement for change in India, and the creation of a new, classically literate audience.
At the start of August is the annual Con Brio Festival in Mumbai, and we are delighted to be appearing there in various guises – as teachers, as performers and also as represented by our GVS students. Con Brio is a great staging post for inspiring students from all disciplines. By bringing in pianists from all over the country, a vital connection is established between teachers and promoters. Con Brio creates concerts of amazing versatility and breadth, introducing audiences to works undreamed of here, and rarely done abroad. Shared values between GVS and Con Brio therefore abound, and we have, over the ten years, produced high quality work together, often that could not be achieved elsewhere. This lack of an inhibiting tradition is one of India’s great strengths, and we can look forward to the creation of new artwork unhindered by Western constraints and inspired by India’s vast cultural tradition.