For fans of Bollywood music (and that includes all of us!), Shankar Mahadevan is a name that instantly brings a smile to your face. Part of the famous S-E-L troika, Shankar, along with his partners, Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa, has given some of the biggest chartbusters in the last decade and more. Your playlist would remain incomplete without a song from the famed composers. But aside from being a music director and singer, there is another role that the versatile Shankar revels in – that of a teacher. His Shankar Mahadevan Academy is one place where budding musicians get trained to pursue their talent, and the good news is that he is bringing the institute to Dubai in Mankhool. The well-established academy has already made its mark in India and USA with nine centres. So what made him choose Dubai as a destination for a music school? Hear it from the man himself.
What is the USP of the newly opened music academy of Dubai? Tell us more about the courses offered and the opportunities for students.
At Shankar Mahadevan Academy, our Vision is "To be the Harvard of Music worldwide" and our Mission is "Joy of Music". There are two fundamental things at work - a) availability and b) making it a fun and rewarding experience. Our premise is to have traditional, classical music presented in a new way to the new generation. Hence, in the curriculum, we have adopted creative techniques to encourage students to compose music from day one. We offer programmes in Hindustani and Carnatic Classical for kids and adults, Hindi Movie Songs for those who want to experiment with light music and another programme to inculcate curiosity in children by exposing them to music from all over the world. Our entire curriculum is available in the form of an OM book or Online Music book. While a regular textbook gives you lyrics and notation, the OM Book also lets you listen and learn compositions through audio and video recordings. There are regular assessments for students to measure their progress - and an "OM Riyaaz" recorder that they can use to practice at their own time and get feedback. Basically, we are looking to take the best of both, the traditional and modern worlds.
What are the differences between your Mumbai and Dubai academy centre?
We aim to give the same quality of music education at all our centres. It is my hope that any student - whether in Mumbai, Dubai or US, will be able to have fun learning music, and at the same time be able to constantly improve their skills.
We also have MILAN360 - an online recital between two cities or regions (for example, the Bay Area region and Bangalore or the TriState area around New York and Mumbai and so on) – where the local students and teachers come to a physical location to interact and at the same time they connect online with their peers from across the world. I log in from Mumbai or where ever I am in the world and listen to my students from diverse locations and background. These are just simply magical moments. We also encourage students to perform at all levels and give them opportunities to excel themselves.
What made you turn to music education?
As an avid lover of music, I felt it was time to make music learning fun to revive Indian classical music. I wanted to give back to the art I love. Times have changed and it is unrealistic to expect students to follow old ways. Fun does not mean lack of discipline or devotion, but adding a lot of encouragement, excitement and joy of learning music. I wanted to ensure that students know the journey and the path of what they would learn ahead of time.
A number of musicians lament that the current generation lacks the discipline required to learn and perfect their musical acumen. How do you think institutions such as yours can play a role in changing that perception?
I think the biggest challenge for classical music lies in getting our music to break through unnecessary obstacles and try and make it contemporary. While the core strength of anything classical lies in the tradition and the need to uphold it, any art form is sustainable only when it is made relevant for each successive generation. We need a lot more fundamental changes in our approach to teaching.
We believe that over 50% of learning music can and should be achieved through "listening to music" and the rest through other forms like teaching, structured learning, practice etc... We also believe in leveraging technology to the maximum possible extent to involve the younger generation more through the aforementioned techniques like OM Book, OM Riyaz recorder and other apps. Essentially, the idea is to make classical music available to the masses in a fun, simple form and ideally from a very young age so it is not perceived as rigid.
Do you think youngsters are less inclined to go through the rigours of training in an era when fame can come knocking through a YouTube video!
I believe there are no short cuts in life as there are no short cuts in music. Mediums such as YouTube, etc. are great because they give young artists a way to reach out to a larger audience. Today’s audiences are open to listening something that is rendered well, and not go into too much technicalities of what it was. However, it is important to remember that the audience is also very discerning and will keep coming back if the singer or musician is talented.
At our academy, we are in the process of creating blogs, videos and such, on how beneficial classical music is for learners, as well as for the audience on what to listen and look for. Overall, people who love to listen, usually explore the vast archives of music. Our intent is to help them over the initial hesitation and not get too technical or biased about any specific genre.
What would be your advice to a budding musician aspiring to join your academy?
That music is first and foremost to be enjoyed! Music is all about creativity. So, why would we not want the younger generations to create?
Can you share some memories of your own years as a student of music?
I used to travel by bus from Chembur to Matunga to learn from my teacher - Late Ms. Balamani. I was extremely lucky to have my parents encourage me to pursue music and very fortunate to have a teacher like Ms. Balamani. I have used the essence of music in a lot of my compositions even in films. This is something that I would experiment with when I was learning music. For me, learning music with creativity is key.