Masterclasses strike a chord

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | NANDINI D TRIPATHY
Published May 2, 2016, 12:15 am IST
Updated May 2, 2016, 12:15 am IST
With Christina Aguilera’s upcoming singing masterclass drawing flak, we look at whether Indian celebrity masterclasses are getting it right.
Shankar Mahadevan with students.
 Shankar Mahadevan with students.

Among the many extraordinary things that an Internet connection can now get you, online masterclasses by celebrities known to be aces in their respective fields have been experiencing a surge in popularity recently, courtesy some of the biggest names in each arena gracing them with their expertise. From Kevin Spacey and Serena Williams to Madhuri Dixit Nene and Shankar Mahadevan, fans the world over are thronging to videos of the high profile tutor of their choice for virtual lessons in their respective craft. The fad’s popularity is not without its share of debates and detractors, however — Christina Aguilera’s upcoming singing masterclasses have been receiving a fair amount of flak from vocal performance professionals, among whose several bones of contention one is that she isn’t professionally qualified enough to be teaching complicated vocal techniques. And this, despite her multiple Grammy award wins and sparkling career in music. Desi folk give us their take on the subject and weigh in on whether Indian celeb masterclasses are getting it right.

“If a celebrity has decided to start something like this online, he or she is definitely aware of what he or she is doing and only with enough education in a subject would he or she go ahead with deciding to teach it in the first place,” affirms television actor Karan Patel, who feels that each of the celebrities — Indian and otherwise — to headline these online masterclasses is accomplished enough in their field to merit being taken seriously, even in the capacity of a teacher. Television actors Deepika Singh and Shaleen Bhanot agree. Deepika opines, “What Christina is doing will make specialised vocal techniques that she has perfected over her own training through years of singing, accessible to literally anyone with an Internet connection for a nominal price.”

Shaleen adds, “The way fingers are being pointed is actually a little alarming, to be honest. If someone like her, who is a Grammy awardee, decides to share her skills with the world, why should anything stop her? She has enough achievement and experience on her side, and that’s all that matters.”

Dancer and actress Samentha Fernandes offers a wider perspective as she points out that aside from experience, being technically sound is crucial to being the right person to teach an art form. She says, “The Internet is a beautiful thing if used right. Online dance classes by celebs are a great initiative as a concept — they can go a long way in motivating people who can’t afford real time dance classes or just don’t have the time to join them, precisely because the tutors are celebrities they’re familiar with and possibly idolise at some level. As a dancer I love the fact that so many different dance forms are actually being taken to everyone’s doorstep, but as a dancer I also feel that the tutor needs to be technically very sound along with being experienced to teach. Look at Dance With Madhuri, for instance. When Madhuri teaches Bollywood, I know for a fact that no one will question her because she has all the knowledge and skill required to teach it. But if she began taking online classes in Hip-Hop, that would just be wrong.”  

Singer-composer Shankar Mahadevan’s online music academy seems to have addressed this point sufficiently, however, in its inclusion of virtual classrooms and audio input from the student for the purpose of assessment and advancement from one level to another. Shambhavi Verma, a Delhi University student who enrolled for the academy’s Hindustani Classical programme a few months ago, says, “Every bit of the time and energy I invest into the classes is worth it, and the best part is that they don’t require much of either of the two. The virtual classes are 45-minutes long, the same as any real time music class, and I have so many self-help aids to prepare for them at my own pace too.”


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