learning mantra rightly.
I frequently get requests from people from different places around the world, who want to learn Indian music - maybe because they heard me in a concert or because they have my CDs or somebody's else- sometimes they would like to start singing lessons, sometimes harmonium, sometimes tabla. Which is nice - I love to teach, because through teaching I also go on learning each day something new.
But a little bit more difficult, is when I get proposals like, 'we want you to lead a 3 day intensive music workshop' in which they also tell me, 'the students should finish it knowing how to lead a kirtan with the instrument and how to tune it, and sing along etc, etc.' Then I really have to laugh. And I start thinking about these Indian kids who humbly start learning an instrument at the age of 7 or 10, and they go on all their life learning it... and only when they really know the system in and out, will they present themselves in a concert... and at the beginning very humbly too... since they know there are so many maestros better than them, even when they had been playing during years.
As I was a teenager, I used to take a train for 5 hours to attend my tabla classes... and that was during many years. So, just as we wouldn't go to a doctor that studied medicine in a 3 day course, it is also absolutly impossible to learn Indian music 'fast.' Also the was some mantra singers are pronouncing the mantras is embarassing for us in India to listen.
True Indian music is both difficult to learn and practice. It requires a big commitment, huge patience, trust in the teacher... and hours and hours of practice. Also, the Indian music system, scales and notes, are completely different to what some people may have learnt in the music school, and it is all played with improvisation, not with written notes. So it is a whole new understanding.
Additionally, Indian music has also a very strong connection to India's heritage, energy and culture... and most of the instruments are being played since an ancient age, so it's a system to be absorbed slowly and with proper understanding. An additional factor to consider, is the right pronounciation, the voice training, the mood and the rhythm of the mantra.
With the current 'marketinized' approach to mantras, yoga and new-age music in the west, it is really a shame when some singers, as part of their marketing campaign, start selling unproperly presented material as a 'healing product.' Unfortunatelly many people in need, buy this, and in reality it is simply not going to work... because mantra is not just pronouncing or singing a melody of a text; there is a whole science and the right learning on how to use the tool is needed for a mantra to work. That's why also traditionally in India, mantras were only given by Gurus, enlightened beings that could 'see' through the sound. Actually, there are very few who mastered this science, and that also, was after a lifetime of dedication (not doing entertainment concerts, but the real mantra practice.) What is being presented as kirtan in the west is also mostly bogus... unfortunate but true.
There is much more involved in these ancient bhajans and prayers than just putting Sanskrit in a melody. That's why sometimes when we go to an Indian temple, and we hear a humble Hindu priest in a corner chanting mantras by himself during hours, it sounds really authentic: because he's using it for the right purpose and in the right manner.
So, as a music teacher who started learning Indian music since 7, I have some students that I accept - but i always tell them, i would like to see a certain earnestness in them - and respect for this milenery music culture. They also know they have to be extremely patient and that the learning will go on for years... even maybe a lifetime. If the reason to learn Indian music is solely commercial or for the public domain, then it is definetly the wrong reason... and it will lead to the wrong direction - creating more of the fake and not sharing this science properly.
When a student wants to hurry up his learning, I tell him, 'can you imagine myself taking a 1 month course in tango singing lessons, and after that going to Argentina to present a tango show?' I would make an embarrassment of the tango culture and I would ridiculize myself presenting such material. Yes, it sounds very funny... and that's how it is. That doesn't mean I am not a talented musician and singer... but unfortunatelly as much as I like it, I will never be able to do tango! just because i was not raised in that culture, energy, music and atmosphere. Another thing is to do it for onesef... but when one wants to sell the music and make a profit out of it... the intention is totally different.
As the Spanish phrase says, 'zapatero a su zapato' ... the cobbler should stick to his last; meaning people should concern themselves with things they know something about.
Yes, it's possible to learn Indian music and Sanskrit and i love to teach it too, but it requires the right attitude and the right reasons behind.
In the end, it is all a matter of consciousness.