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'We searched for
pieces that
touch the heart'

20 CDs + 1 book
Times Music
Rs 4,900

Alaap, the massive 20-CD introduction to Indian classical music, was stalled several times, but finally made it to the stores, thanks to passionate amateurs, enthusiastic musicologists, and a label that saw value in it. Vijay, who co-ordinated it all from Pondicherry, tells you the inside story

It took a lot of effort to bring together musicians, musicologists, script writers, voiceovers, copyright holders and music labels. And putting them all in place. Vijay, from Sri Aurobindo Society in Pondicherry, co-ordinated it all through an entire decade. The sweep of Alaap is unprecedented.

We asked Vijay some questions about the project. He wrote in his answers, and refused to give us a picture of himself to go with our interview, saying it wouldn't be proper since the project had been a team effort.

Here's what the self-effacing project director said:

How did the project originate? Was it your idea or that of Times Music?

Our purpose in Alaap was to give to the people of India, especially the youth, a truer and deeper insight into Indian classical music, and through it into Indian culture. The concept, research, script, selection of music, the preparation of the master tapes and the book manuscript are entirely the work of Sri Aurobindo Society and a team created by it.

After the work was completed we offered the book and the 20 CDs to the major music companies in India. No company had the confidence or the willingness to take up a project of this nature. It did not fit in the usual pattern. For two years the masters remained with us with no opening in sight. Then Times Music came forward and had the courage and the vision to take up the production and marketing. Seeing the response to Alaap, I am sure they are happy with their decision. In fact the creation of Alaap is an interesting story in itself.

How long did it take to complete the project? What problems did you encounter while working on it?

The project took over 10 years to complete. It is not that we worked on the project for all 10 years. For long periods work could not continue because we did not have the funds. Often the experts we had contacted did not keep to their time schedules. It was extremely difficult to convey to the experts what exactly we were looking for -- not just the outer form but the inner spirit of Indian music... The type of material we wanted was not easily available. We did not get it in books and there are not many true gurus left.

Even after identifying the music, it was not easy to get the copyright permission. Most of the clips are from old HMV records and some from All India Radio. But they all went out of their way to help and things worked out.

It was the dedication, sincerity, love for India, and hard work of many persons, and the response from the Divine Grace, very frankly, that enabled us to complete the project. Every problem one can imagine was there, and on several occasions it appeared that the project would have to be abandoned. But somehow a door opened and we moved forward.

How did you select the music for Alaap?

We have two types of music in Alaap. Some recorded specifically by us to illustrate technical terms. The other is from great masters and is meant to illustrate the true spirit and nature of Indian classical music. When we started the project, the unanimous advice from professionals was that we should not go for archival music as the sound quality would not be up to the mark, and that we should ask great musicians to play again for us in modern studios. Otherwise, they said, listeners habituated to hi-fi equipment and sound would just reject the project.

It made a lot of sense, but our own inner feeling was just the opposite. We felt that asking a musician to come and record a piece for us and pay him highly might create professionally good music but not great or immortal music. Nobody would remember this music after some time. On the other hand we were trying to identify that quality which makes music immortal. Hence very consciously we searched for pieces that touch one's heart, and that have not been forgotten even after decades. The response to this type of music from the listeners has confirmed that our decision was right.

Why are no author credits given on the book jacket?

A very large number of persons have worked on this project. Many of us are laymen and we took the help of several professionals and musicologists. The names of the entire team are given at the end. The list contains the names of amateurs like us, and professionals and musicologists whom we contacted for help. But what is interesting is that a major part of the concept and writing was done by laymen here at Pondicherry. Another interesting feature is that many experts, after coming into contact with the project, got very involved and decided that they would like to offer their services free.

How have musicians and listeners responded to the project?

The response has been very enthusiastic, and covers a large cross-section. It includes beginners and newcomers and accomplished musicians, Indians as well as foreigners, people deeply interested in Indian music and also those who felt earlier that they had no ear for it.

Guided tour into fabulous world: The Music Magazine's review of Alaap

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