This edition of Mind Your Own Business features Aditya Balani, co-founder of the Global Music Institute, a contemporary music institute located near New Delhi.
(Pictures by Mohit Kapil)
How do you see the Global Music Institute (GMI) as a stakeholder in India’s creative ecosystem—from the point of view of education, and as part of the larger picture?
Educational institutions play a vital role in any creative ecosystem. By being one of the hubs for cultural activity, we encourage a different form of dialogue than other avenues of social interactions centered around music. Needless to say, those are equally important, but spaces where we can have a dedicated dialogue on music via workshops, masterclasses, and concerts can open up a whole range of possibilities. At places like GMI, there is a 24×7 immersion in music and art which really speeds up the absorption process in a focused manner.
How would you describe the institute’s approach to musical style? Are there certain genres of music GMI caters to, exclusively?
Even though it is a common misconception that GMI is primarily a jazz school, we are open to and do teach all contemporary music genres as part of our curriculum. It could be that we are one of the few schools that offers jazz or improvised music courses, however, that’s not all we teach! We have courses that delve into world music, electronic music, western classical, Indian classical, and folk music as well.
Our arts and music courses are designed to enable students to engage with other art forms and subjects like design, film, photography, musicology, ethnomusicology, and inter-cultural studies. We encourage our students to be well-versed in many musical styles and broaden their perspective as much as possible. Many of our students and alumni are singer-songwriters and/or play in blues, pop, electronic, rock, and fusion outfits.
What are the challenges you face in finding faculty?
While selecting our faculty, we look for versatile and proficient players who are great educators as well. We look at their professional experience, educational background in music, teaching experience, and various other factors to find the right fit for our programs. Though we get a numerous applications for faculty positions, we go through a thorough screening process.
Since our courses are quite intensive, making even our faculty fairly busy through the week, great musicians in India and abroad who fit the bill are unable to come on board as our full time faculty owing to their performance and travel schedules.
What challenges, if any, do you face in reaching out to potential students?
Since the inception of GMI, we haven’t engaged much in marketing and promotion. It has mostly been an organic growth by word of mouth, through our alumni and students. However, we do want to reach potential students who may not have a direct link to us and we are trying to spread the word online as much as possible. Now that we have a residential campus, we have potential students from different parts of India and also from countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Information is quite scattered on social media and most people aren’t even aware there is a possibility of higher education in contemporary music with degree and diploma programmes. For more popular streams like engineering, medicine, or even fashion, many students are actively looking and searching for colleges to study at. What we have come to realize is that even though there is a lot of interest in music, sometimes students don’t even consider searching for colleges/programmes due to lack of information about education and career opportunities.
How accessible do you think music education is in India, both economically and culturally? What is your opinion on the state of music education in India, and what do you hope to achieve with GMI (the long-term vision of the school)?
Music education is quite a broad term and various forms fall under that umbrella. Additionally, different regions of the country have access to different avenues. Some of the more cosmopolitan cities have access to a wider range of genres to choose from, while rural areas might have access to very specific classical, regional, and folk traditions.
In my personal opinion, Hindustani and Carnatic music are definitely more accessible than Western and Contemporary music. From beginner to intermediate levels, there are local music teachers and schools spread across for both styles. In the last decade or so, the Rockschool and ABRSM curricula have also become quite accessible and popular.
If we look at it from a cultural perspective, parents mainly encourage their children to learn music as an extracurricular activity. As long as it doesn’t interfere with studies it is taken as a positive trait and something to add to their CV. This ethos is reflected in the accessibility of music education in schools too. Music is mostly viewed as something to engage in your free time and all serious efforts should be made only towards academic pursuits. If more students had access to a good level of music education in their primary and secondary schools, they would discover and hone their talent early on.
For higher studies, there are colleges across India offering Bachelors, Masters, and even PhD degrees in Hindustani/Carnatic music; for contemporary music, however, there is still a huge gap. On a positive note, we are seeing a shift where parents are keen to enroll their children in college level music programmes rather than traditional degrees. Gradually, people are discovering and exploring viable career options in music.
How does it change things for GMI to now be part of the Berklee Global Partners?
Berklee Global Partners is a collective of institutions representing a worldwide community whose goals are to seek out and develop innovative educational experiences, explore and engage in creating career pathways for performers, nurture entrepreneurial opportunities, and support affordable pathways to higher education.
We have been closely working with Berklee College of Music for many years now. Both GMI and Berklee have a global vision for music education, and they have been extremely supportive and understand our vision and mission as an institute. We are working together on collaborative programmes and are in the process of finalizing our credit transfer agreement that makes it possible for artists to start their path to Berklee from India.
Most of our alumni who have joined Berklee have been placed in higher level courses and have performed really well. With our current arrangement, we are creating a pathway where musicians can study for the first two years at GMI and then transfer to Berklee to complete the final two years and earn their degree.
Have you explored the idea of collaborating with other schools, both nationally and internationally?
In addition to Berklee College of Music, we are also forming stronger partnerships with leading institutes from countries like Ireland, UK, Australia, Sri Lanka, and Korea. These partnerships will help students develop a global awareness by offering opportunities for exchange and collaboration between institutions.