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Music Space: Narrowed & Shoaled

Nicholas Hoffland, in an exclusive interview, talks about music in general, his upbringing in relation to music and much more

Music Space: Narrowed & Shoaled
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Music-educator-collector Nicholas Hoffland's penchant for sharing knowledge began spontaneously as a sessions teacher in the late 90s at Max Mueller Bhawan, Delhi with a bunch of music enthusiasts, friends and mentors. He rebooted and switched to video-lectures format and began the Dehradoon Gramophone Society, a classical music listeners' group that ran for six years starting late 2014. Subsequently, he created and continues to run a forum to disseminate classical music, docu-films, art appreciation and creative writing at Kala Kendra, Dehradun, plus a music-sharing group at the India Habitat Centre (IHC).

He had also run one at Instituto Cervantes, Delhi for classical music from the Hispanophone and Lusophone footprints, but Covid shut that down, he says with a glower.

Millennium Post's Ravi V. Chhabra brainstormed euphonically with Nicholas trying to peep into his journeying.

Your upbringing in relation to music?

The then ubiquitous record-player, radio and military bands were part of childhood with me and my musically talented rock-crazy cousins in the 70s. An elderly lady organist who played Bach on Sundays sometimes was captivating. Later, waves of college-cultural festivals offering swathes of rock and jazz in the 80s were profoundly influential and SPIC MACAY.

Is there enough appreciation for jazz in India?

Very little. Jazz has always been a super-niche sport! Now it is more so. Jazz in India had limited traction at the best of times. The space has since narrowed and shoaled - in practitioners and listeners terms.

What comprises your music collection?

I inherited my parents' records collection in my teenage and collections of cousins, relatives and friends. I bought a lot of records myself too. Possibly have around 1,800 LPs; maybe 3000 odd audio CDs and a sizeable soft-copy library.The happiest bunch in all this would probably be, the complete output of Begum Akhtar on records, a single-point 1996 live recording of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers conducted by Hans Christophe Rademann.

Favourite jazz big bands?

The Count Basie Orchestra, a combo Return To Forever, quartet etc any Miles Davis grouping from the late 40s / 50s; and a few soloists - Bill Evans, John Scofield, Michael Petruciani, Oscar Peterson, Yamandu Costa...

Musicals that excite you?

Musicals that I enjoy for their impeccable writing include Passing Strange, Tommy, Sweeney Todd, Hedwig and The Angry Inch & Hamilton.

How would you describe fusion music?

When very skilled practitioners perform focussed, expressing themselves through their own grammar and aesthetic, while still leaving ample space to be inhabited by another grammar and aesthetic.

Top five Hindustani vocal favourites: Amir Khan Sahib, Krishnarao Shankar Pandit, Siddheshwari Devi, Mallikarjun Mansur, Begum Akhtar & Kaushiki Chakrabarty.

Favourite Hindustani instrumentalists: Vilayat Khan, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, Irshad Khan & Shivkumar Sharma. Carnatic vocalists: Maharajapuram Santhanam, TM Krishna & MS. While my favourite Carnatic instrumentalists are TR Mahalingam, U Srinivas, Prasanna & Kadri Gopalnath.

What would you prefer - the archival films about musicians or biopic(s)?

Archival is the real thing.Though biopics usually have better structure and storytelling thrills.

Does genre in music have an 'age factor'?

As much as I'd like to believe that it doesn't, it probably does.

Who would you rate as a world-class Indian percussionist?

Of course, Trilok Gurtu!

Some of your recent video lectures?

Recent ones at IHC: 'Beautiful Vocal & Choral Music' from the baroque through to the modern eras. I also did one on BB King.

Your plans ahead?

Take all this music-sharing into the digital domain and establish music listening room-cum library and resource centre.

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