From being a student at Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia’s Gurukul to becoming a celebrated performer and teacher of online flute classes - Suchismita Acharya has come a long way.
Suchismita Ji hails from a family of musicians. Both her parents are vocalists, she has grown up watching her parents singing and teaching other students.
Suchismita Ji and her sister began their musical journey by learning vocal music under their parent’s guidance. Later, it was her father who initiated them to the flute.
“My father used to say, that he had never seen a woman playing the flute. But then, he wondered why not? So that is how we began to learn the flute,” recalls Suchismita Ji.
“It was his vision and we followed. Even he did not know what will follow. He just wanted us to explore. That is how it started,” she continues.
Attributing the entire credit for her success to her Gurus, Suchismita says, “They took us up so nicely. They taught us with so much love and dedication. In fact, I feel that they have not only taught us flute but, they have taught us about life. They have made us the people we are today.”
Training Under the Tutelage of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia
So what was it like to be a student of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia? What kind of relationship did you share with him?
It is indeed so much - words fall short if I begin to talk about my Guruji. The first thing that comes to my mind is that he is a great inspiration. At the time when he was teaching us, he was probably doing 25 concerts a month. And yet, he made it a point to come to the class and teach us. He even reached the class directly from the airport, instead of going home to freshen up. He said - my students are waiting for me. I want to meet them first. He was so passionate about teaching us.
He gave us some much love. After each and every class, he would take us out to have some treats. Then he slowly introduced us to the audience. He would take us to the stage to sit with him ducting his performances. We sat with him for two to three hours at a stretch, and play the ‘tanpura, with him. It was our first-hand experience to see the audience.
We developed a wonderful camaraderie with him while traveling. We shared jokes with him and had a laugh together.
Gurus have a very indigenous way of introducing new concepts to the students through stories or in other playful manners. Do you have any such memory?
He would take us to the park for a walk. So we would walk and count our steps. And he would create a rhythmic pattern out of it. He would tell us - so you have a sixteen-beats cycle. How will you divide it part by part? How will you get to the ‘tehai’ from the 7th beat or the 8th beat?
He would playfully through us a challenge for us to make our minds work.
Guru-shishya Parampara in online classes
It is so heartwarming and inspiring to learn about such an incredible Guru-shishya relationship. The basis of such a relationship thrived on love and respect. But, is it possible to develop similar rapport over a virtual class?
“Yes. Why not?” Asserts Suchismita, “but it is different from person to person. For some students, it is just the money part - like they have paid for it and they want it. However, there are students who are extremely respectful.”
Recalling her tenure with Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Suchismita remembers, “With my Guruji, it was different. He was a family friend. We visited his Gurukul as well.”
“But in a city like Mumbai, it is very difficult to set up a Gurukul,” she continues, “There is nothing that can ever compare to that experience, however, online learning is the second best option.”
It helps students from different cities/ geographical locations to learn music. Also, a lot depends on whether you are learning in a group class or an individual class.
“I personally prefer taking individual classes, each student has a different learning ability. Their challenges also differ from one another. Your students could be varied in their years of learning experience and proficiency levels. So how can I put all of them together in a group session?” Exclaims Suchismita.
Group Classes vs Individual Classes
As she keeps comparing the current flute learning opportunities online with her own training as a student, she continues, “Also, I’d admit that when we learned from our Guru Ji, we learned in a group session. So initially, even if we could not understand anything in the class, we would just sit and listen.”
So didn’t you feel impatient just sitting and listening to others play the flute?
“Our Guru Ji was very particular about this - he used to say that first, you should develop a habit of sitting in one place for two-three hours,” explains Suchismita.
“After getting into the habit of sitting for long hours, gradually, you slowly start listening to the lessons taught in the class and grasping the concepts,” she states.
Benefits of Learning to Play the Flute Online
For online classes, the students have the undivided attention of the teacher. “And no matter what the class durations are, I don’t pay heed to the time when I am explaining a concept. Hence, sometimes my 45 mins to 1-hour class may stretch for another 10-15 minutes,” says Suchismita.
She explains, “both online and offline classes have their own pros and cons. I can’t say that it is not possible to learn in a group session. But, there is hardly any attempt to address the specific learning issues of individual students. Students who have already reached a certain level can benefit from group classes.”
Speaking about certain unfortunate malpractices, Suchismita reveals, “there are people who have learned for one or one and a half years. And they have started taking group classes. Now beginners who don’t know about it might enroll in such classes because of the low fees. Ultimately, it might take them years to understand that it was mostly useless. And if not useless, even then, the growth is very slow.”
We conclude this brief tete-a-tete just by discussing the traditional Gurukul system of learning music and comparing it with the current online classes. We have also discussed the group and individual classes and how they contribute to the learning experience differently for different types of students.
In the third and final part, we will talk about how the curriculum is designed for an online flute learning class, buying guide for beginners, and how is it taught - one blow at a time and one note at a time.
… To be continue