If one were to look from a distance, social media has been greatly beneficial for the arts. There is no denying that it has led to a much needed democratization, with now even the most obscure of art forms becoming accessible to the masses.
Multiple open platforms such as YouTube have allowed artists to become self-sustainable. In turn, the constant influx of content from multiple ends presents the viewer with infinite options. However for the novice, solely relying on such platforms to learn something may not be the best way to go about it, especially if the art form in question is a classical discipline.
For singer Mohammad Aizaz, there is no substitute for the real time presence of a teacher. “In classical education, the teacher and the student have to sit across one another. It’s termed as seena ba seena,”the 32-year-old singer said.
Not only has he gained validation in art circles as a performer, being a regular on PTV’s classical program Firdous-e-Gosh for five years , collaborating with the likes of Meekal Hassan and fusion outfit Mughal-e-Funk, Aizaz himself is a teacher with some of the most recognised names learning under him.
“The people that I have trained have always been very respectful no matter how famous they are,” he said “Part of the reason is that I myself have always been very selective of the students I take.”
For Aizaz consistency holds great value. Those unable to show it, even if they are public figures aren’t welcome. “If I am getting paid for imparting a certain skill, I am answerable to the creator if I am not able to do it right. Yes I have rejected some big names. If Iam working hard and they leave midway then who’s hardwork is getting wasted?” he put it point blank.
Despite being in a position where renowned artists are coming to seek his tutelage, Aizaz still consider shimself a student of the game. “I’ve been fortunate that I never hit the ceiling. I never had to stop and think on what is next,” he said.
Having started his musical training at the tender age of five Aizaz is of the school of thought that a discipline like classical music can’t be self-taught. “You need a teacher to lay a certain foundation. Even if you have unlimited material at your disposal on let’s say YouTube, you will still need someone to guide you on what to look for,” he exclaimed.
Aizaz got his first taste of formal training under the guidance of Tina Sani. “I studied under her for two years during which she taught me the basics including vocal culture and talafuz (pronunciation). She was the one who laid the foundation,” he said.
The next few years while he continued to train on his own, Aizaz calls it a period of struggle as he was unable to find a teacher. It wasn’t until after he graduated from university that Aizaz began apprenticeship under the guidance of Abdul Rauf Sahab who himself was the student of renowned film composer Salim Iqbal.
However that relationship lasted for only about a year. “I personally felt that my learning at Abdul Rauf sahab was at an end. I wanted to pursue advance training in the classical field. Rauf sahab’s specialty was to train people in ghazal singing. But I wanted classical knowledge. Nothing wrong with his method of teaching,” he said.
As he bid farewell to Rauf Sahab, Aizaz struggled to find a mentor.
This time around it was the teachers themselves that became a deterrent his quest for formal training. “Unfortunately most people I had approached became really greedy. They made ridiculous demands at times even asking to buy them a house,” he said.
According to Aizaz the long tradition of Rasm-e-Shagirdi wherein a student also tends to serve the teacher in other matter, has been misconstrued. “If you’re tending to the teacher out of love and respect it makes sense. But if it becomes an obligation then things get uncomfortable,” he said.
Distraught Aizaz wrote a letter to the Shrutinandan institute where he was referred by Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty to his students Brajeswar Mukherjee and Anol Chatterjee. Aizaz has been training under them since the last eight years, through skype. “I had to pay for the first two years but after that my teachers told me that I didn’t had to pay. You’ve proved yourself enough,” he said.
Simultaneously he has a teacher in Pakistan as well, Faheem Mazhar Sahab with whom he got acquainted during his stint at PTV. “When I have concerns with what I am learning through skype I go to Mazhar Sahab to address them. With him you can say I uphold the Rasm-e-Shagirdi,” Aizaz said.
Currently working on his solo album at A for Aleph studios, with a single in the pipeline at Big –Foot music, despite all he has achieved for Aizaz the stature of a teacher holds no equal. “I once heard Noor Jehan say in an interview that it’s shameful to see kids identify as self-taught. Surely they deserves a guide,” Aizaz said.