I’ve been exchanging e-mail with Raghu Tambe about Indian classical music. Among other things, I asked him what the status of this great art might be in India today, and here’s the thoughtful, informative, and encouraging answer he sent (posted with his permission):
The status of and outlook for Indian classical music is, in my experience, pretty good despite a number of our senior performers thinking otherwise and predicting its down fall. I suspect their fears arise from the usual problem of the older generation predicting the down fall in standards of the newer generations in most if not all fields. In addition to this, their above perception may be due to a big change in the ways classical music is taught/learnt these day. The traditional and admittedly the well proven system of “Gurukul” for the “Guru-Shishya Parampara” (the tradition of desciples living in the homes of and with their Gurus) to teach/learn Classical music is virtually unsustainable today. In the modern pace and style of life, specially in Urban India where, for commercial reasons most if not all Gurus live, it is hardly possible. Further, the modern would-be performer is better educated, faster on the up-take and less mindful of the traditional Gharana (literally, Clan) purity by which great store is put by the Classicists.
Having said that, there is a large crop of young singers and instrumentalists who are indeed very serious, practise for a large number of hours daily as required and are indeed blossoming out into first class artists. Admittedly, I am not qualified to be a competent judge of the finest points of classical music performance, but do feel that there is no real danger to this “Ganga” of India flowing on into the distant future.
There is no dearth of young ones learning music and dance because it is a common practise in educated families to send their children-specially girls- to special coaching classes for this. Of course most of them do not take this up as their professions despite attaining fairly advanced levels.
Besides, it is not necessary to “know” anything about Classical music to enjoy it. As an example, I started going to musical concerts with my mother back in the mid-1930s since I was 5/6 years old and have been enjoying it passionately. ( I am now almost 76). I have no training at all but am ever in its thrall. Further, there is very little music that is “Indian” which can be said to have no roots in Classical music. Hence the transition of a listener from one who likes film, or light, or light classical to Classical music is not a very big step for most people. These aspects are to my lay mind also supportive of my view above. In India, Classical music is considered “high brow”, not old fashioned. You may find it interesting that the Indian nouveau riche adopt Classical music as a symbol of their arrival. (Perhaps same in your neck of the woods?) I’m not sure that happens in the west — not sure that the nouveau riche adopt classical music to show they’ve arrived. That used to happen, a generation or more ago, but probably not now.
But I’m glad to know that Indian classical music is healthy. Thanks to Raghu, I’ve begun to learn about Indian vocal music. He correctly guessed that my knowledge was limited to instrumentalists like Ravi Shankar who’ve made a reputation in the west, and gently urged me to explore more widely.