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August 19, 1999
Pandit Jasraj's School in Florida Keeps Indian Heritage Alive
Nitish S Rele in Tampa
From the young to the old, from the novice to the knowledgeable, they come every week to take lessons at the India Cultural Center in Tampa. The Pandit Jasraj School of Music holds classes from 6 pm to 9 pm on Mondays and Thursdays, and 1 to 4 pm Sundays.
Nearly 60 to 70 students are registered presently in vocal and tabla classes at the Jasraj school, which opened in April of this year.
Pandit Jasraj, one of the most internationally acclaimed classical vocalists, comes from a family in Haryana that has produced four generations of musicians. The 70-year-old maestro has been awarded a Padma Bhushan, one of India's highest civilian awards.
In his honor, a Pandit Jasraj School of Music Foundation has been established in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Pandit Jasraj Academy of Music in New Jersey.
Besides Pandit Jasraj, the faculty includes Kala Ramnath and Lalita Sharma as vocalists, and Vijay Ghate and Shantilal Shah as tabla players. The teachers are on the faculty on a rotation basis. Pandit Jasraj is expected to come back in October while Ramnath is back in Bombay and Ghate just left for India.
What does Pandit Jasraj hope to achieve with this school here?
"What I have already achieved in Vancouver," he said, implying the success there will be emulated in Tampa.
"At present, my students there are beginning to give solo performances. I began that school in 1990 and have about 40 to 50 students now who sing very well. In Tampa, we have already established a presence. I have about 9 to 10 adults and 7 to 8 kids who sing quite well. Their pickup is good. We have white Americans and blacks among students too. I will visit Tampa every year. But in my absence, the other teachers will be my drishti (sight). They are all A-class artists."
The idea behind the Tampa school originated in New York late last year. Anil Nirgudkar of Tampa, executive director of the Pandit Jasraj School of Music and president of Music Management Group, attended a performance by one of Jasraj's disciples there.
"I asked Panditji how many disciples he had," said Nirgudkar. "He replied that he has several of them. I told him that the musicians come up to the East and West Coast to teach but nobody comes down to Florida. So Panditji said he would be willing to open a school in his name here if I took up the responsibility."
Nirgudkar sees music as one of the best ways to promote Indian culture. "Basically, many people in the young generation aren't aware about Indian music. So if you bring top musicians from India, they should become proud of our heritage and culture.
One student at the school, Suhag Shukla of Tampa, is taking vocal classes.
"I had the opportunity to take a few classes with Pandit Jasraj and it was amazing," she said. "There were 30, 40 people in the class, which took three hours. It was an intense experience. And after him, Kala Ramnath took over the class and by that time, the class started getting smaller but just as intense. You realize that there are thousands of ways of how the notes came about even though I had contact with classical music before."
Shukla believes that it takes the school faculty a lot of patience to be teaching. "For them to go back to the novice level, it's not easy," she said. "So, I think hopefully it will catch on. Hopefully, the people who have joined will continue."
Jay Choksi of Tampa is planning to take classes in the near future.
"Classical music is internationally known for soothing effects to the mind and spirituality takes us back thousands of years," he said. "For me, the classes will be almost like meditation. It will help me increase my mental alertness, self-control and self-discipline."
For more information on the Pandit Jasraj School of Music, call Nirgudkar at (813) 908-8432 or check out its Web site at http://musicmanagementgroup.com.
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