‘The Liverpool link lives on’
Anil Srinivasan in residence at Milapfest and Liverpool Hope University in January and February 2016 as Samyo & Tarang composer/mentor and Visiting Tutor at the Music Department. During his time he is lecturing music students at the University. The following article appeared in The Hindu on Friday 12th February 2016, and is reproduced here from the newspaper.
‘The Liverpool link lives on’
I am outside the Cavern Club in Mathew Street, Liverpool. My hair stands on end and not just because it is a windy winter’s day.
A giggly group of teenagers walks past and one of them sits next to the bronze cast of Eleanor Rigby on the pavement. To them, the cast and the Cavern are just part of the tourist attractions of Liverpool. They don’t know the music, although they do know who the Quarrymen were and what they went on to become.
When the Beatles came to India to spend time with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1968, they turned global attention to Indian music, which later manifested as several cross-cultural collaborations (including the famous Ravi Shankar-George Harrison tour of the U.S. in the 1970s) and it led to a shift, where Indian sounds and ideas were absorbed into the oeuvre of several popular Western artists and composers.
Today, I find myself in Liverpool as a visiting lecturer in comparative musicology and the music of India at Liverpool’s Hope University, arranged by Milapfest, a 30-year-old Indian arts charity based in the U.K. Students of the BA Music programme are taking the course as part of their curriculum, and some of them will compose and arrange music with Indian motifs and ideas by the end of the winter semester, marking a unique return to where it all started 55 years ago.
On February 9, 1961, the Beatles made their first appearance at the Cavern and went on to become a global phenomenon. The Liverpool-India connection set in motion then remains vibrant even now with Indian families settled on the Merseyside, and Indian classical arts actively fostered by Milapfest.
Working with the Department of Music has also opened my eyes to the importance given to ‘distinctiveness’, the idea that another tradition should be understood with depth and for what it is, rather than in terms of similarities to Western art and music traditions and the cross-cultural possibilities that these exercises usually aim at. And to look at music as part of the socio-cultural fabric and not as a standalone art form.
Dr. Laura Hamer, pianist and head of department, stresses the need for academic rigour to be infused into the Indian Music and Musicology course, and every effort is being made to ‘mainstream’ it, as opposed to treating it as an one-off novelty idea that sometimes works as a distraction from an otherwise loaded curriculum.
Dr. Ian Percy, senior lecturer and self-confessed Indian music fan, agrees, adding that the structure of most Carnatic music performances that he has experienced has prompted him to look for certain applicabilities in the classroom. He is working on digitally mastering Carnatic music recordings in association with Sannidhi, Milapfest’s Institute for Indian Arts, housed at the university’s Creative Campus. R. T. Chari of the TAG Corporation in Chennai has donated several recordings to this institute.
But it is with the students that I experience profound joy. At lectures, Bollywood music is analysed and at compositional sessions, we listen to Carnatic music together. At a recent lecture, I used a recording of Bombay Jayashri’s ‘Listening to Life’ concert held in Singapore. The final year students listened to it multiple times, critically evaluating and deciphering how the melodic line worked and the several cultural and musical specifics of the vocal rendition. “Listening to it made a part of me come alive, that I didn’t know existed”, said a student to be a soprano.
The course has been made possible due to the vision of the University Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Gerald Pillay, who was born in Natal, South Africa. He is one of those rare individuals who aims to internalise multiculturalism as a way of thinking rather than as tokenism. He has seen racial prejudice at close quarters and its impact on students. The arts, in his opinion, are the easiest and most accessible route to immerse oneself in another culture.
At a time when the need for the arts in education as a definitive means to fostering holistic thinking and all-round development is being stressed, the Hope University model serves as inspiration.
However, all I can think of, as I wrap my scarf tighter against a cruel North wind, is about four moptops singing in the now quiet Cavern club.
‘All you need is love, love is all you need.’ Indeed.
(The writer is a Chennai-based pianist and music educator)