Sikkim has a lot of talent, and this is an undeniable fact. Performing arts is an inherent part of Sikkimese culture and society thoroughly enjoyed and celebrated by all, but how many in society support the same as a career choice? The question goes begging in its own wake.
The only institute that offers degrees and education in performing arts is Sikkim University’s Department of Music, technically, Bachelors of Performing Arts (BPA), Masters of Performing Arts (MPA), and PhDs in Performing Arts, in various subjects and fields like Flute, Tabla, Hindustani Classical Vocal, Sitar, etc.
Students, teachers, and all in all, the faculty at the Department of Music, Sikkim University, have a serious inclination and passion for their subject.
Dr Krishnendu Dutta, Assistant Professor and Head of the Department along with coordinator, Professor/Vocalist Jayant Kumar Barman share that along with the regular semesters and courses tied in the educational years, they frequently organise the Travelling Scholar Lecture Series 2-3 programmes per semester.
“The lecture series is mainly focused around career motivation, how to build a musical career, and how to be mentally trained to handle the career. We do this frequently, around 2-3 programmes per semester”, says Dr Krishnendu Dutta.
On the 11th of March, a lecture series was organised at the campus, taught by a brilliant musician Pt. Samir Chatterjee along with his disciple Xander Naylor.
“The great thing about today is that both Pundit S. Chatterjee and Dr Dutta are the senior-most disciples of Pt. Shyamal Bose. It is really fortunate of us to have Pundit S. Chaterjee with us today”, shared Professor Jayant Kumar Barman.
Pt. Samir Chatterjee is a virtuoso Tabla player from India. He travels widely across the world throughout the year performing in numerous festivals as a soloist or with other outstanding musicians from both Indian and non-Indian musical traditions. Samir performed at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway in 2007. He also performed a few times at the United Nations General Assembly. His compositions are widely acclaimed as well as his writings. Samir is a firm believer in the transforming effect of music on society and all aspects of his work reflect this conviction.
He is one of the rated ‘A’ as an artiste of Indian national radio and television and can be heard on numerous recordings featuring as soloist, accompanying many of India’s greatest musicians and in collaboration with western musicians of outstanding calibre. In concert, Samir has accompanied many of India’s greatest musicians including Pt. Ravi Shankar, Ud. Vilayat Khan, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Pt. Jasraj, to name only a few.
He currently lives in the New York-New Jersey area and has been a catalyst in the fusion of Indian and Non-Indian music, in his own creations and others as well. He performs with Pauline Oliveros, William Parker, Branford Marsalis, Ravi Coltrane, Joshua Bell, Yoko Ono Lenon, Dave Douglas, Steve Gorn, Glen Velez, Boby Sanabria, Dance Theater of Harlem, Boston Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Ethos Percussion Group, Da Capo Chamber Orchestra, Boston Musica Viva and other jazz, classical and avant-garde musicians and ensembles.
He is a member of jazz trio SYNC with Ned Rothenberg and Jerome Harris and quintet Inner Diaspora together with Mark Feldman and Eric Friedlander. He also collaborates with Sufi-Rock singer Salman Ahmad of Junoon from Pakistan. He is the composer and director of Indo-Flame – a blend of Indian and Flamenco dance and music, Chhand-Anand – a world percussion ensemble, RabiThakur – a ballet on the life of Tagore, Meghadootam – a feature program of music and dance on an ancient Indian poem, and Dawn to Dusk and Beyond – on the effect of music on humans and nature. He performs with Sanjay Mishra on his CD “Blue Incantation” featuring Jerry Garcia as a guest artist.
Chatterjee has been teaching for the last 35 years and many of his students are established performers. He is the Founder-Director of ‘Chhandayan’, an organization dedicated to promoting and preserving Indian music and culture. He has authored a comprehensive 654-page book entitled ‘A Study of Tabla’, a guidebook to Indian music titled ‘Music of India’ and ‘Those Forty Days’, a journal of an austere practise regimen. He is on the faculty at Manhattan School of Music, the University of Pittsburgh and New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. He also taught at Yale University, Columbia University, New York University and Princeton University, among many other major institutions in the USA, Europe and India. He also contributes to several newspapers and periodicals. He won a gold medal for his proficiency in a musical examination and has two Master degrees, in English and History. He is the recipient of several awards such as the Sunshine Award, Jadu Bhatta Award and Acharya Varistha Award.
Along with Pundit Samir for the lecture, was his disciple, Xander Naylor. A guitarist, improviser, and composer living in New York City, who gathers the vocabularies and core energetic forces of Avant jazz, post-rock, and Indian classical music, into a singular new sound, described by The Critical Masses as “a language all his own.” Rooted firmly in the culturally rich NYC music scene, his music has brought him to perform all over the world, including the South by Southwest Festival (Austin, Texas, USA), Assomniak Festival (Brest, France), and the Chhandayan Annual Concert (Kolkata, India). Born of his own spiritual journey, and deep study of multiple Eastern and Western traditions, Naylor’s music gives vital breath to the most fundamental questions we face today as a culture, and as human beings. Naylor is a groundbreaking guitarist, and a fearless searcher, forging new techniques, extended sounds, and employing rhythmic acrobatics, all in service of a visceral experience, which fosters and promotes greater understanding.
In addition to maintaining a career as a performer, Naylor is an established educator, with a speciality in promoting understanding in the crossing between Western and Indian musical languages. In 2008 he began an ongoing professional relationship Chatterjee, with whom he has studied the music of India, adapting its sounds and techniques onto the guitar and within the Western styles of rock, pop, and jazz. He currently teaches at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music (NYC), while also teaching private students and conducting workshops. He has performed and conducted workshops throughout the NYC area, including at Columbia University, Drew University, The New School, Manhattan School of Music, and Chhandayan Center for Indian Music.
Prior to the lecture, the duo won hearts of the locals after a quiet yet vivid session at Café Fiction, also known as Rachna Books, organised by the same in association with Karmic Infusion.
Pundit S. Chatterjee talks about the process of the music-making in the cohesion of Hindustani and Jazz, after having engaged the audience into a thought-provoking question and answer session.
“In today’s world we hear a lot about fusion, this is not fusion; this is elements of one type of music used in another form. When you do that the true nature of the form embraces the elements of another. Sometimes the evolution of these compositions spawn out of nothing, for example, I’d be playing a raaga without any intention of creating a composition, and suddenly the raaga, the melody took the shape, and it evolved as a composition”, he says.
“In a sense, there is no creator, the raagas are the creators of these compositions, I’d definitely attribute all to the raagas, and then the people I surrounded myself with came from the jazz world and when they listened to these melodic forms (raagas), they could relate to it; there was a scope for improvisation in these forms, which is the heart and soul of jazz. There is so much elasticity in the whole process, it is just like flying a kite, it only depends upon how much line you have.”
Xander adds to what his Guru says. “For me, it is just like crossing back and forth between these two, and it is a way of looking at the same thing from different angles. These two different perspectives of looking at it, there’s equal validity of perspectives.”
“I had this experience where I had this shift of mindscapes where I might move back and forth from Hindustani to Jazz, I would be thinking one way and the other, in the middle of a thing that we were playing. There is this space when we play. We can speak about the specifics of both types of music but music is music either way.”
It was evident by the way the duo played and spoke that there is a vast space of personal connectivity and growth in the way of playing in a zone, as well as it is almost like a meditative phase of an artist finding themselves in that said zone.
Chatterjee has been playing for almost 25 years and it showed in the flowing of his music and he shares that it was his travels through different countries, mainly in New York City that exposed him to interactions with other musicians that led to his growth.
The knowledge and experiences that the Pundit and his disciple bore showed in the lecture at Sikkim University as well. The programme was more of an indulgent session than a straightaway lecture, with a back and forth between the students who sat in the programme and the Pundit himself. The philosophical aspect of the lecture surely made it stand out from other kinds of sessions that the University had held.
There are a lot of things that we are unaware of, which even transcend imagination.
It is ultimately nature speaking through us, and it will ultimately be nature that everything will go back to.
Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music.
Pundit Samir made all of these quotes throughout his interaction with the students. There was a clear esoteric approach to the way the whole program of educational and philosophical coming together held.
“I didn’t come here with anything specific in my mind, it is of more interest for me to know what the students want to know and then discuss those. If I came with a certain mindset and thought of working on certain technicalities, it might not be in the interest of the students. I keep myself in the interest of the people.” Pundit Samir speaks about his approach to educating about music.
The interaction was more about outreach, career choices, and personality development, all blended in a package of philosophy and techniques. His disciple Xander was a clear example of how a personality could develop with having a Guru like Pundit S. Chatterjee, Xander has had a relationship with Punditji for almost 8 years since 2008 but he was officially initiated as his disciple in 2016.
The difference between a student and a disciple is the one who learns by building a relationship with a teacher while a student is someone who learns a particular subject.
“For me, the relationship that we have is that the lectures come at all times. Sometimes it is specific about what kind of music to play at gigs, sometimes it is directly musical concepts, but sometimes the lessons come as a conversation in an eight-hour-long car ride when we are driving across the country. It is a case by case thing.” Xander talks about his take on the educational ways of Pundit S Chatterjee.
He further shares about his relationship between him and the Pundit and the lecture at Sikkim University. “He is always absorbing everything around him, taking an obvious viewpoint and examining it in a different way. The philosophical elements always come out. On a personal side, there always has to be a level of self-awareness in practising music and moving one’s workaround, and having a Guru can be extremely helpful in that aspect.”
A Guru is a number of steps ahead of his disciple as artistic ascensions go and this can be really helpful for artists when they are in the journey of self-discovery. It can be seen in Sikkimese artists when it comes to self-discovery and hitting walls and roadblocks. Muses and educators can be helpful to identify the shortcomings in a student or in an artist, as much as the artist themselves can be self-aware about them, however technically sound they might be, the artist needs to connect with the audience and that connections come from within, from within that self-awareness and with discipline, as the lecture of Pundit clearly pointed out.
“Philosophy is also technical and technique is also philosophy and they intertwine, it can’t be just segmented and segregated, philosophy in its essence embraces everything from techniques to sciences to every unanswered question.” Pundit S. Chaterjee shares.
Involvement in one’s art was what the Pundit stressed on while speaking with Sikkim Chronicle. For the artists of Sikkim to ascend to higher potentials, he spoke about how involvement in a certain degree and intensity of involvement.
He also stressed social awareness for people to know about the importance of music as a career choice, and also as a part of the educational system.
“Students of music in Sikkim might be more encouraged to pursue it if more social awareness is laid to it, in addition to stressing on the importance of music in the growth of a human being, and importance of it in the educational system. Certain examples of more developed countries can also be given to encourage society to be more into musical cultures.” Punditji shares on remediating the mind-set of people on music as a career choice.
“I’ve been here only in one session and I have already found the students here extremely involved. There are more than fifty students here and they are all with me in this, and that is rare in these three hours”, Punditji gasps in agreement and awe with the curiosity and the interest of the students in Sikkim.
Furthermore, he spoke about what he expects musicians in Sikkim to have,
“I want the students here, and all my students and disciples to find out who they are and to hold on to that and to value that. Often societies and families tell the artists that they aren’t perfect, pointing out more to their flaws and that is a negative approach, it hurts people. I’d rather tell them who they are then to tell them where they are right now.”
“I wanted to say this, especially to the younger generation in Sikkim, I wanted to ask them to go deeper into their own culture, their own traditions, and do some work on that and bring out the essence of that in their music and deliver it to the world.”