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Teaching the choir

Rahman's KM Music Conservatory in Chennai has been fostering musical excellence since 2008, offering a range of courses in Hindustani and Western classical music and technology

Photo: Courtesy Trippy Samaa
Photo: Courtesy Trippy Samaa

Oscar-nominated romantic musical La La Land may have charmed the globe but it may have left Indian music enthusiasts pondering over the dearth of full-blown musicals in the country. A.R. Rahman, however, believes there is scope for that, especially given the Broadway-style shows his students at the KM Music Conservatory (KMMC) produce regularly.

Founded in 2008 by the AR Rahman Foundation, the conservatory is a higher-education institution offering a range of full-time and part-time courses in Hindustani and Western classical music and technology. Applicants can opt for the two-year diploma or pursue shorter, intensive courses in preparatory, audio engineering or electronic music production, certificates in foundation, composition or Russian piano studio; or take part in summer programmes.

Also Read | A. R. Rahman: ‘I am an instrument’

Rahman’s sister, Fathima Rafiq, is the executive director while a host of internationally renowned musicians are part of the faculty and advisory panel. They include L. Subramaniam, ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, opera tenor Matthew T. Smith, percussionist Srinivas Krishnan, pianist and composer Pushkar/Riccardo Carlotto, voice trainer and composer Wendy Parr and violinist Ladislav Brozman.

The institute works in collaborative partnership with the UK’s Middlesex University, offering higher-education qualifications through its certificate and diploma courses.The former is a one-year comprehensive course designed to equip students with fundamental musical skills; the latter is a two-year programme where students can specialize in either performance or composition. Rahman has already received invitations from England and Dubai, and states such as Himachal Pradesh and Goa, for building branches of the school in these places.

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“My philosophy is, let’s do one properly and give it the best we can. So that’s why we just stuck to one place and are trying to bring excellence to what we do," Rahman says of the group of gifted performers (KMMC students) who tour with him regularly. Last year, they put up a show called Sound Unbound, combining the three musical acts of opera, Russian piano and a cappella for a packed audience in Chennai. In 2010, they had orchestrated and produced Rhyme Skool, a two-part audio CD album of nursery rhymes, narrated by actor Katrina Kaif, that Rahman supervised the music for. It was sold under the Saregama India Ltd label.

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“There’s so much light on their faces that when you visit the school, you feel like you’ve been transformed. From 2008, it’s been one of the best things for me. When I feel low, I go sit there and feel really charged," says Rahman, adding that it’s his sister who is in charge of the day-to-day administration. He continues to be its chief mentor and guiding spirit.

“I know there’s still room for improvement. If they say let’s get a better piano, I’ll pay for that," he says.

Photo: Flickr/KMMC

Meet the alumni

Trippy Sama, a Delhi-based open world music collaboration, was started in 2015. Four of its nine members had studied for some time in the KMMC in Chennai—now expanded to the KM College of Music and Technology. From left: The KMMC’s Makrand Sanon, percussion and throat singing; Rahul Sharma, didgeridoo, overtone singing and percussion; Karthikeya Vashist, flute; Arman Ali Reza Dehlvi, vocal, harmonium, percussion, sursangam; Azaan Khan, vocal, guitar, electronics; Hemant Chakraborty, vocal, ragaphone, percussion; Jayant Parashar, drums and whistle. Amulya Shastri, Carnatic vocalist, and Bintang, percussionist, guitarist and vocalist, are not in the picture.

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