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New Music School To Open Up In Mumbai This Year

Composer-entrepreneur Ashutosh Phatak to open multidisciplinary music school in Mumbai this September

Megha Mahindru May 20, 2013
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From left to right: Ashutosh Phatak, Suranjan Das, Nitin Chandy at True School of Music

From left to right: Ashutosh Phatak, Suranjan Das, Nitin Chandy at True School of Music. Photo: Siddharth Dugha

Lower Parel’s Sun Mill Compound, an old time industrial estate now chock-a-block with offices where every bylane takes you to a different workplace, will be home to a multi-genre music school this September. Spread over 15,000 square feet, True School of Music will train students upto the professional level in guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, vocals as well as music production, engineering and disc jockeying. The school complex, when complete in August (they plan to offer music bootcamps, free lessons, screenings for a month before the launch), will encompass a state-of-the-art auditorium, production studios, music library as well as accommodation facilities for its visiting teachers. Faculty members from top-notch music schools such as New York’s Manhattan School Of Music and London’s Academy of Contemporary Music (ACM) will be part of True School’s teaching staff.

True School of Music, which is primarily funded by the private equity firm Zodius, is the brainchild of Ashutosh Phatak, the well-known keyboardist and composer (Petri Dish) and one of the founders of the popular music venue, Blue Frog, along with advertising industry veteran Suranjan Das (J Walter Thompson and Saatchi & Saatchi) and sound engineer Nitin Chandy. The founders are quite clear on their objective: not to create music prodigies or great rock bands, but to train professionals for a career in music composition for advertising, television and films.

“Honestly, it’s been at the back of my mind for 15 years now. I’ve been a part of the music business for the last 20 years. When I started off as a composer, I had to figure everything out on my own,” says, Phatak, CEO of True School of Music. “I’ve seen this industry grow and I think now there is a real viability of a career option here, which sometimes gets missed out, especially by the parents. We need to address the fact that musicians are earning more than their counterparts in banking or whatever traditional roots parents want their kids to take. The idea (of the school) is to enable people to make a living out of music.” Of course, Phatak is referring to musicians who work in the film and advertising industries here and not alternative musicians who are part of rock and jazz bands. Adds Phatak, “There’s a reason why we chose to open the school here. Mumbai is the heart of the music business and we are focusing on giving students opportunity to work in the industry.” 

Justin DiCioccio, Associate Dean of the Jazz Arts Program at Manhattan School of Music, who has performed with artists such as Randy Brecker, Red Rodney and Clark Terry, has designed the curriculum at True School. Every three months, six faculty members from Manhattan will visit Mumbai to conduct classes on keys, piano, guitar, bass (electric and acoustic), drums, vocals and saxophone, while the faculty from ACM will take care of the sound engineering and music production aspect at the Mumbai school.  “It’s an exchange program of sorts where Indian students get trained by professionals, while the teachers as well as grad/ doctorate students from Manhattan can learn more about Hindustani music and pick an elective such as tabla, basuri etc during their time here,” says DiCioccio, whose faculty team comprises teachers and sessions musicians, who plan to take their faculty band to venues such as Blue Frog during their stay. 

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While rock and jazz will be the primary focus, the school will also offer basic level classes in Hindustani classical focusing on vocals, tabla, harmonium, flute and sitar, based on a curriculum drawn up by singer Shubha Mudgal and percussionist Aneesh Pradhan. D. Wood, the Mumbai-based American composer well known for his work on movies like Dev Benegal’s English August and Mani Kaul’s The Idiot, who is currently teaching at Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods Film School, will oversee the rest of the music program. “My work is to be a bridge builder of sorts. My objective is to help musicians find their own music personality and train them without piles of notebook, but with loads of experience,” says Wood, who plans to juggle his work between the film school and music school. “In fact, I feel the two worlds meet. My work will be to encourage people at both the institutes and bring about a wide pool of talent that helps find the right musicians for the right filmmakers,” he adds.

True School, slated to open on September 16th, hopes to attract students across the spectrum: From amateurs to those who aspire to go abroad to schools like Berklee College and NYU for professional qualification. Das, who is the COO at True School of Music, feels that his school has a distinct advantage when it comes to the latter segment, because of it being based in Mumbai. “They (students from international music schools) have the music skills but not the cultural and environmental context. So we are not just providing you with the musical skills, which any good school will, but also placing you in an environment which will give you a real world exposure to the industry people so you know how to handle and survive in these situations,” says Das. DiCioccio is glad to have amateurs on board as well. “Even those who do not wish to pursue music professionally will benefit from the course. In turn, they will help develop an educated audience in the country, so we are creating musicians as well as listeners,” he says, adding, “ My philosophy is to create the complete artists/ musicians of the 21st century; where one is a performer (playing music), composer (arranging, songwritring) and pedagogue (writing method book , conducting master classes). All three are intertwined.”

Das, Chandy and Phatak hope to use their considerable clout in the Mumbai music and advertising circles to provide the students hands-on work experience by getting them to intern with leading music composers, production studios, ad agencies and also play live gigs at venues like Blue Frog. “It is not just about academics, but also gaining first-hand, real world experience. With industry engagements, we are hooking up with every club in the city, not just Blue Frog, where our students from the certificate program will work. The DJs can play an early or late night set at a club, our school bands can perform at lunch or early sets at music venues. So it’s a win-win situation for everyone”” these clubs will get free talent, which is certified by us, and the kids are getting real world experience,” says Phatak.

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“When we first thought of the school, we looked at every music school in the world and thought about what was important and would work for India as a market and enable musicians to succeed here,” says Phatak. While small-scale academies and schools are now commonplace in the country, there are only a handful of full-fledged music schools such as Chennai’s Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (SAM) and The KM Music Conservatory and Audio Media Education, founded by AR Rahman. Lata Mangeshkar recently inaugurated Vishwashanti Sangeet Kala Academy in Pune, a school that focuses on Hindustani classical music and last month, New Delhi’s Global Music Institute adopted the Berklee College of Music curriculum as part of their course. “Schools like Swarnabhoomi are great since they focus on individual musicianship and getting in depth in the virtuosity of being a musician. But we felt there is no one place that offers a well-rounded musical education.”  

The fees will vary based on the courses. The beginner’s course, which falls under the Outreach Department, will focus on schools and students as young as six-year-olds. The Foundation Department, which, as the name suggests, provides the foundation of music, will provide lessons in ten musical instruments (Indian and western), while the Pro Department will help turn musicians into industry professionals. “The idea of the school is to make musicians out of everyone. There’s a fundamental belief that everyone has the capability of being a musician at some level or the other, so if we introduce them to music early enough, they can make the right choice,” says Phatak.

The duration for a full-time certificate student is roughly between 9-12 months and can go up to two-and-a-half years for those looking at part-time options. “The modules are 3 months each and are designed in a manner to enable even working professionals to be part of it,” says Das. The fee for the foundation course, which gives students access to the campus auditorium, workshops, library, recording studios as well as four lessons a month in any instrument, comes at a cost of Rs 5,000 per month. A Pro certificate program on the other hand, can cost anywhere between two to 10 lakhs. “The fee for a certification program will cost about 20 percent of than any other reputed school in the world,” Das confirms. The school will also offer scholarships and financial aids. “Students have an option of doing a work-study program, where they can work here and pay off their loan. They can be Teacher’s Assistants in different classes or work in the marketing department,” adds Phatak. 

Phatak is confident that the students will recover their fees within a year of graduating. “By the time the students graduate, they would probably have worked with enough industry professionals to be able to find good work. So If you are doing a composers certificate program, what you will earn as a composer immediately after leaving school will be equivalent to what you have spent in the last year,” he says, adding a disclaimer, “That is, if you graduate successfully.” 


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