Saturday, June 12, 2004

Key Notes - An interview with Mira Sundara Rajan

“Western Classical music is perceived as elitist. Once that perception changes, more people will be able to study and appreciate it.” says Mira Sundara Rajan, a pianist of Indian origin and teaches Copyright Law at Queen Mary, University of London. She is in India for legal research in her chosen stream, Cultural Property Rights and Intellectual Property Rights in the Arts area. Although she has visited Chennai before, on this visit she has performed at the Madras Music Association on June 6th and at the British Council Division last evening.

Why the piano? “I was always enthralled by the piano. It’s the backbone of the classical tradition. As an instrument, it is structured to provide a very versatile range of sound. That’s why composers use it while working on a piece.” Mira has been studying music for the past 25 years. She has a particular interest in the work of Johannes Brahms and plans to make a recording of all of his solo pieces.

“This has not been attempted before - Brahms is a complex composer in that his solo compositions are usually short and range from vibrant pieces to those that convey unusual emotions. His work is not about playing the notes, it is intellectually very demanding. If audiences appreciated Brahms for the brilliant composer he was, having truly understood his music, there would be more musicians playing his pieces. To give an analogy, Brahms was a true craftsman of music but audiences are yet to understand the art form.” According to Mira, all of music is an attempt to reach a higher state of existence - call it intellectualism or spirituality. “But the music of Brahms can transport even a listener with no background in music to appreciate it for the emotions it conveys. Understanding his music, however, can elevate you to a different plane.”

Which brings us back to Mira’s conviction that the way forward for the Western Classical music industry is in educating the audience. She says, “Did you know that Classical Music constitutes only around 5% of the entire recorded music industry?” She finds that even in performances, musicians play according to popular tastes, either famous composers or oft-heard pieces. “The interest will expand only with educating the audiences. In my concerts, I give a brief background about the piece and the composer hoping that I am leaving the audience with a little more information and interest. This concept doesn’t exist in the western countries as most people are assumed to know about western classical music. However, it’s the people who don’t understand the music that I want to reach out to. They are the people who can move the tradition forward with appreciation.”

Mira is also into writing poetry and started at a very tender age like her illustrious great grand father, Mahakavi Subramania Bharati. “I also write short fiction and when I have some time in the midst of my music and teaching, I will be attempting a novel. And for sure, Brahms will find a way into it!”

Pic courtesy Third Eye
An edited version of this article was published in Madras Plus on June 12, 2004 .

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