For the Love of Music: Nepal Music Center

Features Issue 69 Jul, 2010
Text by Looza Mahaju

Someone said, “Sing a Nepali song for Ama.” She responded, “It doesn’t matter, I enjoy the English songs just as much, even though I don’t understand the words.” The old woman spoke volumes for the power of music to transcend barriers. Songs like “La Bamba” and “Lambada” became international hits even though most people don’t know what it’s about. Before the internet changed everything, it was music that united the world. When Beatlemania took over the international music scene, the whole world was listening to the same music and dancing to the same beat.

Here in Nepal, Nepali pop with the help of the electronic media, has come a long way. Unfortunately, when it comes to singing live, most of the pop singers fail to stay on key. Obviously, they are not trained musicians, nor are the bands that arrive on stage with un-tuned guitars and little knowledge of scales. What all these so called musicians need, is formal training, if they do not have the ability to learn on their own. It’s true that many great musicians like Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney never took formal lessons, but learnt on the road. However, these are geniuses and all they ever did was play music. There are not many proper institutions with a full curriculum of music. There are those where the students show up but the teacher doesn’t, and other’s where the students complain, “Our guru himself doesn’t seem to know much, so what can we learn from him?”

“And that is where we come in,” explains Santosh Sharma, Chairman of Nepal Music Center, “we want to change all that.” A pragmatic, yet optimistic person, Sharma had started with a dream decades earlier, when he wanted to make the Nepali music industry respectable. It was a time when Radio Nepal had a monopoly, and any aspiring musician had to go there to make it. People scoffed at Sharma’s idea, but see where Music Nepal, a music publishing company started single handedly by him, has taken the recording industry. That success is what Sharma wants to repeat with Nepal Music Center (NMC).

“NMC is a music school like no other,” says Sharma, “here we teach music as a major subject and not just as an extra curricular activity.” Just a year after the school opened in 2006, there are already 250 students enrolled. “The strength of our school ,” opines Suva Bahadur Sunam, one of the directors of NMC, “has to be our commitment towards quality education.” A dedicated violinist and the most sought after saxophonist in the country, Sunam understands the dearth of standard music education in the country and the need to give musicians proper training. He comments, “There are plenty of institutions teaching music, we are definitely not the first, but how many of them are following a standard curriculum?”

Karan Pal, one of the students taking vocal and keyboard classes, who is also a member of a band that is recording their debut album says, “The institute where I used to go for vocal training always rushed through the ragas, and within a short time we were practicing the Bhairav raga.   But I felt that they were rushing with the course and since they also lacked a qualified teacher, I decided to quit and come here. Karan is currently starting from scratch and is continuing his vocal classes.

Built at a cost of Rs. 80 million at Battisputali, the center has 30,000 sq.ft. of space of which 14,000sq.ft. is occupied by the school building. The building has practice and teaching rooms and performance space. The center houses an indoor theater that can accommodate 250 people. There is also provision to accommodate out of town scholarship students and research scholars within the premises. NMC also plans to build a professional recording studio in the near future. There are many stakeholders involved in NMC, primarily, Music Nepal, The Norwegian Embassy and NORAD, the Norwegian development organization, The Norwegian Concert Institute, Rikskonsertene, which is the first port of call for advice and consultancy, the Government of Nepal, schools across Nepal and international universities and research centers.

At NMC, due care is taken to ensure that the students are well groomed in every aspect of music. “Here, we focus on both the theory and performance of music, so that students are well versed in every aspect of music,” says Lochan Rijal, who has two album to his name. “Our primary focus,” reveals Santosh Sharma, “is to provide an international platform for Nepali music and let our students learn more about various, diverse cultures and their music. We have a working understanding with Rikskonsertene, Norwegian Concert Institute and through that linkage, we are providing Nepali music an international platform and also giving our students exposure to world class music, by inviting international artistes, which we believe will help them to develop further as true musicians.” As part of their efforts to promote Nepali music in the international arena, three of their talented students were given a chance to perform in the coveted Forde Folk Festival in Norway. And as a part of their mission to introduce the Nepali audience to world class acts, they have invited many international bands and choirs to play for our benefit. Some time ago, the Norwegian Jazz band Motif enthralled the audience at the Khulla Manch. Just recently, The Whiffenpoofs, a choir from Yale University, gave a taste of their beautiful music to a select audience at NMC.        

Behind their mission and objective to give quality music education they have another great mission, a far more difficult milestone to achieve. But Santosh Sharma is not one to be deterred. “Challenges,” he says, “make the journey more interesting.” Besides striving for a more formal course in music from the elementary level, they are cataloging and documenting the vast repertoire of traditional Nepali music. “Between western and eastern music, we feel that Nepali music is being suppressed,” says Sharma, “and we can’t let that happen, we cannot watch idly when our roots are being squashed. That’s why we have started this difficult initiative to properly categorize and preserve our heritage.”      

For details: Nepal Music Center
Pingalasthan, Battisputali, Kathmandu

Tel. 4465463, 2003670