Western Classical Music: Building Blocks For Beginners

Parsi Times brings you our monthly column promoting Western Classical Music by leading connoisseur, Khushroo Suntook, Chairman of the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). Mr. Suntook re-acquaints you to the joys of this unparalleled form of music and invites us to relive its melodic splendour by taking us on a journey into exploring and falling in love with the great Western Classical Music form.


I am afraid my friend, Anil Dharker, stole my thunder, when he argued brilliantly for support of the great classics against the fashion for only licensing to contemporary music (refer to NCPA’s in-house magazine ON STAGE October issue).

I remember a particular incident at Albless Baug, where the venerable violinist, Sebastian Vaz, who taught and played the violin at Parsi navjotes, weddings, and also in symphony concerts that occasionally Mumbai enjoyed. At this particular function, with his eyes closed, he was playing Handel’s Largo, when a young 10 year old ran up to him and said, “Sebastian uncle, ye kya juna music aap bajate hai?” To this, an angry Sebastian shouted “Stupid, ye kabhi juna nahi hota!” How true…. Largo, considered one of the great melodies throughout the centuries, is played on every conceivable instrument, sung by every conceivable voice and still resonates with the power of its music.

Coming specifically to works, you should start perhaps with the piano music of Chopin, which many might be familiar with, since most of our teachers taught simpler works of the master. However, playing these simple notes call for a deep musical sense to make them sound meaningful. So I recommend that you try Rubinstein’s CD or LP of Chopin favourites, and I think you will be pleased. If you like concerts and symphonies, I did mention a few in my last article, but try and get your hands on recordings by the great Jascha Heifetz, arguably the greatest violin virtuoso of the 20th Century.

After a recital, George Bernard Shaw, who incidentally started life as a music critic, and a severe one, went up to the young Jascha Heifetz and said, “Young man, I recommend that you play one wrong note before you go to sleep tonight, because such perfection angers the Gods!” He was considered cold and icy by some of the more romantic critics, but his playing had a certain effortless virtuosity allied with musicality so that he was indeed a role model for all violinists. Do try to listen to as many of his CDs as possible – our own Rhythm House (Fort, South Bombay) had a full set of 65 CDs, which was sold out very fast

Today we live in a golden world of access to listening, whether it is through YouTube, FM radio and our own systems. Perhaps the access to these facilities might lead to some degree of complacency. Remember when we were younger, we had to fight for every 78 rpm record! So, for you – the young and the not-so-young, wanting to enter this magical world, there is no excuse. Do take the plunge, but if you feel you are too devoted to some other art form, at least get your friends and children interested. Believe me they will bless you!

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