HRH The Prince of Wales opens the Museum of Asian Music, 2 July 2008
On 2nd July 2008 the Asian Music Circuit was honoured to have Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall visit their new multimedia centre in Acton, West London. This was a tremendous achievement for the AMC and marked its unique place in the world of music in the UK and beyond. The sound of two South Indian 'nadaswaram' accompanied by the 'thavil' drum welcomed the royal couple on this auspicious occasion for the AMC.
Viram Jasani, CEO of the Asian Music Circuit, was the guide for Their Royal Highnesses and proudly took them around the Museum that he has created for the Asian Music Circuit - translating his vision into a reality over the last three to four years, adding to the substantial music touring and education work of the AMC.
The Museum is home to a large database of audio-visual recordings made and collected by the AMC - some 800 hours so far! Touchscreens around the permanent displays and in the study/archive room provide answers for questions about the instruments, how they work, the music that is played on them, where they are from and the social context into which they fit. Visitors can search the extensive audio-visual archives, choosing whether to watch films on a wide variety of subjects or listen to recordings going back to 1905.
Their Royal Highnesses tried out the 'gendair', an instrument from the Indonesian gamelan family and watched a film on the making of 'tabla'. Prince Charles is especially interested in the Chinese 'guqin', having set up a special project to protect this ancient but increasingly endangered instrument of the Chinese classical tradition. Fewer and fewer performers take it up, and good instruments is as rare as the wood from which they are made. Joshua Petkovic, who worked on a student placement with the AMC and who studies at its annual summer school, demonstrated how the 'guqin' is played.
The AMC believes that the great musical traditions of Asia are endangered and fast becoming lost to an increasingly homogenous music culture based on Western perceptions, and strives to connects the past with the future by bringing the beautiful traditions of Indian and other Asian music to the widest possible public and especially to young people. The innovative application of technology to engage people in Asian music in a fun way is part of the strategy to keep great and authentic musical traditions alive.
In the Museum's unique sound beam chamber, visitors choose a raga and see images depicting its mood along with coloured light invoking the time of day or season with which that raga is associated. By gesturing and making movements in the chamber, visitors conjure up notes of their chosen raga, creating music by breaking invisible sound beams. Prince Charles had a go with the morning raga, 'gujri todi'. The room lit up with the morning colours of orange and yellow and appropriate images of sunrise, early morning mist on the Ganges in Varanasi, and a Ragamala painting of 'gujri todi' all contributed to a very special mood indeed.
Bireshwar Gautam is a singer of 'thumri', 'abhinaya' performer and 'kathak' dancer. He studied with Shobha Gurtu and Damayanti Joshi - two of the greats in their respective arts - and is the lead performer in the AMC's current production of 'The Dying Song', still to visit Brighton and Manchester. Bireshwar was taking a workshop with young children, teaching them both a 'thumri' song about the festival of Holi and some of the special face and hand gestures of 'Abhinaya' when Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall entered and sat down to watch. They thoroughly enjoyed the music and 'Abhinaya' and afterwards warmly greeted Bireshwar and his accompanists Murad Ali, a very fine 'sarangi' player from Delhi and Hanif Khan on tabla.
The Virtual Guru is a unique experience created by the AMC which emulates the role of a real Guru teaching Indian classical music. Select a raga and a voice sings for you; that music is also seen as sound waves on a screen and the challenge for the student is to create his own sound waves to match those displayed and thus make the same music! Prince Charles took up the challenge and sang the raga 'bilaskhani todi'. He demonstrated excellent intonation and a fine musical ear.
The AMC's Board of Trustees were presented to Their Royal Highnesses as were two of AMC's sponsors, Carol Bagnald (Regional Director of HSBC Bank Plc) and Peter Kerkar (Global CEO of the travel and leisure group Cox & Kings). Peter Kerkar is also a trustee of the AMC. The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall talked with some children from East Acton Primary School and with members of the public who were waiting as they left the Museum. Once again, the sounds of the ceremonial 'nadaswaram' and 'thavil' were heard, this time bringing the visit to a close.