From October to March, tabla player Balakrishna Iyer is busy all week, rushing between concerts and rehearsals, especially on the weekends.
For performing artistes — particularly in Indian classical arts — winter is the peak season for stage concerts and music festivals.
As the summer heat comes on, however, the number of concerts in the country reduces to a trickle: most audiences head out of the city for the holidays and later, in the torrential monsoons, concerts are difficult to organise — and almost as difficult to attend.
So what do classical musicians and dancers do in these months? Most use their free time to create new works, expand their repertoire and teach their students more intensively.
“For the past few years, I have been focusing on my career as a solo tabla artiste,” says Iyer, 56, a Dahisar resident and well-known accompanist. “In summer, I get time to revise the wealth of old compositions that my guru had taught me and hone my tabla rhythms.”
While music stars such as Pandit Jasraj and Hariprasad Chaurasia usually move to their music academies in the US or Europe, where they teach, younger artistes spend the season working on their skills with their gurus.
“I have taken up three new ragas this month and will be working on my weaknesses,” says Kolkata-based Sameehan Kashalkar, 25, son and pupil of vocalist Ulhas Kashalkar.
Senior artistes can also devote more time to students in this season, says Nayan Ghosh, a tabla and sitar player who runs the Sangit Mahabharati music institute in Juhu. “Passing on their knowledge is also a responsibility to society.”
Daksha Mashruwala, 58
Helping out a saggy, baggy elephant
This summer, Daksha Mashruwala has dedicated her creative time to a ‘saggy, baggy’ elephant.
The dancer, who has been performing on stage for 20 years, teaches Odissi at Juhu’s Sangit Mahabha-rati institute. When her students go on vacation in May, she works on choreographing new Odissi dance ballets to present with her troupe.
This year, Mashruwala is adapting an English short story for children, titled The Saggy Baggy Elephant, into a musical ballet that her batch of junior students will perform on stage later in the year.
“Creating a new production is a long process in which I first need time to conceive the theme of the story visually,” says Mashruwala. “I then get the lyrics or script written by a professional, work with a music composer to have the piece composed and recorded and then start choreographing.”
The Saggy Baggy Elephant is about a young pachyderm with low self-esteem who ‘finds himself’ through conversations with other animals in the jungle. “I might have the script translated into Hindi and the music will be based on Hindustani classical ragas,” says Mashruwala. The artiste produces at least two new ballets each year, so the summer and monsoon months are vital, she says. “This time for oneself is very important to help you grow as an artiste.”
Sanjeev Chimmalgi, 40
Ragas in the classroom
With fewer concerts to perform at in the summer, Chimmalgi has been exploring Malav, a raga that he has not visited in nearly 15 years. “With the rains round the corner, it is also time to rehearse monsoon ragas,” he says.
This year, he is also working on a music education project for Tridha, the alternative school in Andheri that Chimmalgi’s eight-year-old son attends.
The school is run by the Germany-based Waldorf education foundation and, though it does not teach classical music, it uses songs and music composition to encourage creativity and learning. Their base for these songs, however, is Western classical music. Now, Chimmalgi hopes to change this model.
“I am working on a project to help incorporate Indian classical music into Tridha’s syllabus, so that children are also exposed to the flavour of their own rich culture,” says Chimmalgi, an Andheri resident.
Accordingly, he and a senior student have spent the summer studying the Waldorf philosophy and its methods for training teachers in music. They eventually aim to create a curriculum for training teachers in the creative use of Hindustani classical music.
Sanjukta Wagh, 29, Kathak dancer
A new vocabulary
As she does each year, Mumbai-based Wagh is using her time off from concerts and students to choreograph a new Kathak production this summer.
Only, this year she is doing it at the prestigious Gati Summer Dance Residency, where she was one of only six emergent Indian choreographers picked to spend nine weeks in Delhi creating a new dance piece.
Wagh is creating a solo piece that will combine elements of Kathak and contemporary dance. “I’m developing a new vocabulary that is individual,” she says.
At the residency, the participants attend dance technique workshops and work on their productions.
“Staying with other dancers gives us a support system and helps us learn from each other,” says Wagh.
Shakir Khan, 29
Reconnecting with the masters
Last year, Pune-based Khan spent his seasonal break composing a series of soulful tunes in Raga Des and Raga Pilu. The resulting album, called Divinity, was released last month.
This year, the son and disciple of Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan has spent the summer learning and rehearsing three new ragas — Marwah, Multani and Darbari. “A raga is basically an idea. By listening to great maestros, I get to learn what they thought of that idea,” says Khan.
Khan also spends part of the summer teaching his students via video chat software Skype.
The rest of his downtime is spent ruminating about his music and immersing himself in the recorded albums of great Hindustani classical artistes. “Listening to the masters in solitude is very important to help an artiste create new ideas,” he says.