Tuning in to harmony? Anil Srinivasan on making ‘World Music Day’ to be truly meaningful and bridging social divides

ANIL SRINIVASAN, The Hindu, June 21, 2014 | Read the full article here >>

A few years ago, the publication of the book Parallels and Paradoxes, conversations on music and an associated range of topics (inquiries into social condition, politics and the way we live) by world-famous pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Edward Said, literary critic and Middle-East commentator, created quite a stir. Barenboim is an Argentinean-Israeli and the great Said a Palestinian-American; they were also close friends. One of the most important messages from these series of talks was the importance music plays in bridging social divides, strengthening cultural understanding, and hopefully bringing about a decline in racial and social differences. […]

Music is a great unifier, an enabler of social harmony and positive social change. It ought to be.

However, does music really succeed in bringing the world closer? […]

As an artist and a frequent traveller, I have also been somewhat surprised to find ‘world heritage’ being showcased in a manner quite akin to a busker’s circus. At a recent ‘world music’ conference (a strange coinage in itself), I was quite aghast to see a talented youngster singing Hindustani music being placed on a dais at the entrance to the venue, as a gesture to ‘welcome’ guests, while an absolutely riveting Rajasthani musical troupe commanded the better part of the atrium and the cafeteria. More sophisticated (read ‘Western format compliant’) international performers, spouting lengthy explanations in English for every aspect of their creativity commanded better stages, and ticketed concerts. […]

Where music attempts to bridge politico-social divides, we see tremendous discord. The irony couldn’t be more apparent than with the recently held concert of Maestro Zubin Mehta and his orchestra in Kashmir. Violence erupted just hours before the event, those responsible citing the government-sponsored event as yet another catalyst to polarising opinion and community beliefs. […]

Paradoxically, music has become one more weapon in the cultural polarisation debate, an identity marker for ethnic differences rather than unity.

In my work with children, I find the music sessions bringing about physical (and emotional) change. Children tend to become more excited, joyous and eager to learn and collaborate. They exercise focus and concentration in the music hour, and their enthusiasm is infectious. In the purity of that space, music reaches its highest ideal of spiritual transformation.

For ‘World Music Day’ to be truly meaningful, I believe we have much to learn from our children.

The author is a classical pianist and music educator.

Keywords: World Music Daycultural polarisationAnil Srinivasan

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