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Virtual classrooms

Virtual classrooms
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First Published: Thu, Jun 24 2010. 08 19 PM IST
Updated: Thu, Jun 24 2010. 08 19 PM IST
Did you ever think that you could learn Raga Yaman or a thumri, or get tabla and sitar lessons online? As has been reported occasionally by the print and electronic media, online classes in Indian music are becoming increasingly popular.
Even as the more orthodox among Indian musicians scowl and grimace, and dismiss technology-aided teaching options as gimmickry, many musicians are ready to give Internet technology a serious shot.
On 15 April, tabla player Aneesh Pradhan and I taught what could be called a virtual class to students in a room at Ithaca College, New York. We were accompanied by our friend and colleague Sudhir Nayak, one of India’s acclaimed harmonium artistes, and the three of us were performing and interacting with students in New York from the popular Blue Frog Studios at Lower Parel in Mumbai. This was the first in a series of online classes that we had been planning with Denise Nuttall, assistant professor at Ithaca College and a tabla player herself.
In Pune, several musicians work with ShadjaMadhyam, a portal with a steadily increasing panel of gurus featuring on its website (www.shadjamadhyam.com/ guru_panel). Many musicians in south India conduct online classes through the night, almost every day of the week, using applications such as Skype to teach Carnatic music to students living in different time zones. Indeed, Skype (www.skype.com), Adobe Connect (www.adobe.com/products/acrobatconnectpro/), Dimdim (www.dimdim.com), ooVoo (www.oovoo.com) and the lesser known but very efficient Pune-grown kPoint (www.kpoint.in) offer affordable, often free and easy-to-use facilities for videoconferencing and online teaching.
But if you want to sing or play along with a student online, there is invariably a slight lag, which makes interaction in real time impossible. Depending on the Net speed, the bandwidth and other constraints, the time lag could be anywhere between 3-30 seconds. That, in the context of music, would render the student and teacher completely out of sync with each other. Moreover, fast movements tend to jitter and destroy the continuity of communication. To overcome these problems, one would have to consider options such as Musion, forwarded to me recently by Australian sarod player Adrian McNeil.
To see what Musion offers, check out its YouTube videos of German band Tokio Hotel’s hologram tour ( www.musion.co.uk/Tokio_Hotel.html ) where, to quote from their website, the band was transformed into 3D holograms, “allowing them to transmit spectacular live performances across seven countries in Europe”.
Of course, the technology costs a bomb, and setting it up also requires time and special equipment, as opposed to the easy-to-use Skype or Adobe Connect. And so, it will remain out of the reach of online music classes, and will be used in India only to beam some Bollywood hottie kicking up her heels at the nth XYZ award ceremony to screaming fans in a dozen countries.
So until Musion releases a more affordable version, we will just have to accept that video images of fingers flying across the pudi of a tabla will just jitter and split and break. Nevertheless, many Indian musicians will continue to try online classes rather than go through the trials and travails of acquiring visas or being frisked and interrogated by immigration officers at different airports.
Write to Shubha at musicmatters@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Jun 24 2010. 08 19 PM IST