The True School of Music students perform at The Royal Opera House on Thursday. Pic/Bipin Kokate
A long line of parents and family members make their way towards the exit door as we wait behind them on the narrow staircase of The Royal Opera House. They were there for the showcase that students from The True School of Music (TSM) put up every year.
The event involves the young musicians sharing the stage with their teachers, playing songs that they have practised and perfected together, before the former are left to navigate the contours of the music industry on their own. As such, it is like the graduation ceremony of any educational institution. The imminent uncertainty of forging a career is eclipsed by the euphoria of the moment, and that joy is reflected on the faces of the proud parents who have just watched their wards perform live.
It makes us wonder about how the student-teacher dynamic works within the sphere of music. We, to give a disclaimer, have never studied the subject, let alone teach ourselves how to play an instrument through, say, YouTube tutorials. So we speak to two pairs of people to understand what this relationship means to them. With what hopes and concerns do they approach each other? And how different is a mentor-mentee equation from that in any other field?
Isheeta Chakrvarty and Louiz Banks
Doing it with mirrors
The first pair is Mumbai-based Dhruv Sarker, a former TSM student, and Aron Nyiro, his ex-teacher. Sarker had taught himself how to play the drums for eight years before his learning curve flat-lined. So, he applied to the institute to break the musical shackles tying him down. He says, "I thought that maybe I needed to go through a process of some sort to find out what I'm missing. It's like how you would go to a college to study a subject and broaden your horizons. That's the reason I applied."
He continues, "With Aron what happened was that since he is such an exceptionally amazing player, you're really inspired by him. To put it in terms of a car, if mine is travelling at 50 km max, his is at a minimum of 200 km. And if you have someone like that as a teacher, you get to see him daily and you start studying him at the same time. So, I would constantly ask him every day, 'How do I do this and how do I do that?' And he would say, 'Dude, you've got to do it slowly and you've got to take time.' So, he is sort of a bigot, but in a good way, because he would tell me things straight up. Like, 'Shut the f*ck up and practise,' and that's all."
Nyiro responds in a different conversation with us, saying, "What Dhruv might have meant by the word 'bigot' is that I am opinionated and don't hold back, especially as a teacher. I believe in honesty, and in the transforming power of being honest in whatever aspect of life you're talking about. In fact, I think it's unavoidable because if you keep things to yourself and sugarcoat stuff, that will only hold people back."
Nyiro also says that apart from being honest, understanding a student's psychology forms a vital part of imparting musical education. He says that he is thus constantly trying to take on the role of a mirror for his students, and reflect even their ugly sides if required. "What I mean by this mirror is that after a while when you reach your limit and try to break through it, you ultimately have to fight and defeat yourself in one way or another. If there's an obstacle inside of you, you have to find a way to break it down. And that's why I think that in any discipline you have to eventually look into the mirror and ask yourself, 'Okay, why am I not able to do this?' You have to find the key to that answer," he tells us.
Shining a light
That key is something Sarker, now 29, seems to have found, because he tells us that the creative blocks with which he started studying music have been cleared, to the extent that he now imparts music lessons himself as a teacher. But as it is with a profession like even journalism, music, too, has to be implemented in the practical world after being a subject of study. This is where the relationship between a mentor and mentee - as opposed to a straight-up student-teacher one - gains crucial significance. And that's something vocalist Isheeta Chakrvarty was conscious of when she shifted base from Kolkata three years ago to set up a career in this city.
Chakrvarty had received jazz lessons from the late, and legendary, Carlton Kitto in her home city. Now, Kitto used to be famous friends with Louiz Banks, an industry stalwart himself. So, when Chakrvarty told Banks of her association with Kitto, he was immediately taken in by her devotion to the craft. And he instantly became that guiding light she was looking for through the darker recesses of the country's music business.
Chakrvarty says, "See, as a musician, you might have learnt many different things. Like for me, I have learnt Hindustani classical music. I am pursuing jazz as well. I also have a keen interest in Sufi or qawwali. So the thing is, at the end of the day it boils down to how I choose to design myself as an artiste. I could be one of those or I could be all of those - that is totally up to me."
She continues, "And that is where if you have a good role model or a mentor, if you have somebody to guide you especially in the initial stages of your career, a lot of the challenges become easier to deal with. You have an experienced human being who has been there and done that, and he can tell you, 'You know, this is something you can try out, this is the path you can go into.' And that is really important. So, there are many dynamics to the whole student-teacher relationship in music."
And Banks sums up the road ahead when he says, "There is so much music and information available today that youngsters must choose wisely what direction they take. Apart from learning music and honing their skills, they need to know the business side of music. There are traps galore, so they must tread carefully. It's a beautiful world of music out there, of infinite variety. So again, choose wisely and follow your passion." In other words, even within the somewhat abstract realm of music, the rules of the game remain the same - learn to play it smart and persevere no matter what.