Classical artists at American High are struggling to fight the decline of popularity for their arts.

Namita Nair

Staff Writer

     As a new era of Tik Tok stars and dancers emerges, the standards to which we once held entertainment in changing. If the video is not 30 seconds long and doesn’t give us a boost of serotonin, you better believe that we have better things to do. This fast-paced, instantly-gratifying culture that is being cultivated is killing the activities that require time and focus, and that have an emphasis on the beauty of stillness. Classical arts are one of the victims of this change in culture, and classically trained students at American recognize this.

     “They have a really big history behind them,” says Isha Kale (10). “It’s really cool to see how it has developed over time, and how it still affects us.”

     As a classically trained Hindustani singer and Kathak dancer, Kale (10) appreciates how much it has shaped her personality and values.

Kale (10) dressed in traditional Kathak costume before one of her performances. “I think I have learned a lot about where I come from through my music and dance.”

     “It has brought me closer to my roots. Even for competitions or different performances, you meet a lot of different people, and you have different mentors from either India, or that actually live here. You learn from them and you learn about how they would think something, or how they would approach a different thing.”

     In contrast, Ashna Khemani (11) was exposed to her art, classical piano, as a skill to learn.

     “I’ve been doing classical piano, since I was four, I believe. Yeah, my mom got me started on it, and then we got a teacher as well and I’ve been with her since that time.”

     Her motivations have shifted through the years, but her dedication to playing piano has grown out of love.

     “I think obviously the first part is pressure from parents and my teacher. But I guess I enjoy it because it’s like you kind of see the immediate result. You kind of listen to yourself play, and it is kind of fun to listen to yourself and to analyze how you’re playing.”

     Most people stay clear from classical arts because they are portrayed as strict and archaic, but Kale (10) disagrees.

     “In classical there’s a lot of different guidelines, you could say, but at the same time you still have a lot of creativity to just flow… like to just create whatever you want in the composition itself.”

       She believes that her foundations in classical music and dance have helped her with other aspects of her life, and have particularly helped her grow as a musician.

     “It’s like a good foundation, because I like to sing…I record other songs and stuff, like Western songs, but I don’t really learn Western music. I think me having a Classical background still helps me with a lot of this stuff so I think it’s really important.”

     But what is it that makes it important to expose ourselves to classical arts? They were created in a different time, and entertained a society that was vastly different from ours. For example, as a kathak dancer myself, I know that this particular dance form was performed mainly by men, since dancing was deemed inappropriate for the proper woman. These are obviously not ideals held by most of society today, so how do these arts pertain to us?

     “Kathak is an extremely beautiful and expressive dance with its own rhythms and movements. If one does not want to learn it, they should at least watch it and appreciate the unique nature of it,” explains Shriya Jagad (11).

     “Especially today, when people are becoming more aware of people’s cultures and traditions, classical arts are one of those few universal forms of expressing one’s culture with others who are maybe not part of the same culture. In other words, classical arts can serve as a form of education for people of other cultures,” Jagad states.

     So what is stopping classical artists from spreading knowledge about the arts that bring them so much joy? Art has always been enjoyed by students at American. We have numerous art electives including AP Art History. Our dedication to the musical picks and intricate dance choreographies, as well as the thoughtful sets and skits clearly demonstrates this, but it seems that the classical arts are being left out more than we realize.

     “There aren’t as many times where you can really show that you do these things. And so that kind of just sucks,” Kale (10) reveals.

Khemani (11) in one of her practice sessions, which can last from 30 minutes to a whole hour, or even a couple hours, depending on her mood. “I enjoy getting in the zone of just practicing a single part over and over until I finally get it right… and it’s a really nice feeling when I master something pretty difficult.”

Khemani reflects on her own journey, explaining that, “I don’t think it’s necessary that everyone likes classical music. Of course, you know, people have their own tastes and even I don’t listen to a whole lot of classical music. But I definitely think it is something that people should at least acknowledge because you know this was all… this music was written in a time when we didn’t have the technology of today, like synths and editing. Everything just had to be played in person, live in one straight go and composers only had acoustic instruments no way to filter change the sound or anything.”

     The hours of blood, sweat, and tears that the classical musicians have poured into their pieces have given us all amazing pieces of art, but they are undervalued. Khemani’s point about the classical arts being the foundation for modern culture could not be more true, without Beethoven and Mozart establishing compositional norms and aesthetics, music would look vastly different.

     Jagad (11), however, believes that for her, it has more to do with recognition of the art in the world, and the lack of representation in media.

     “I have never actually seen an article about Kathak or any Indian Classical dance anywhere in the media” she states.

     “Since a lot of people are not aware of Indian Classical dance, whenever someone asks me what kind of dance I do, I am always hesitant to tell them. It should not be an embarrassing thing to share but since it is not commonly recognized I choose to not elaborate on it very much.”

     Creating a community where all of our passions are recognized and appreciated is crucial. Classical arts may seem nerdy, strict, or even just tedious, but their value in our society should not be dismissed.

     “The things that most people listen to…there are a few Western songs where a lot of Indian classical or Asian tunes would be added into it, like different rhythms. Like, I know in some they use the tabla [Indian drums],” Kale (10) expounds.

     In fact, she explains, “I think this [Hindustani classical music] has helped me a lot, when I’m singing other Western music with riffs. And I just find it really interesting.”

     Khemani adds that, “Parts [of classical music] do still reappear in modern music, and I guess it really does serve as the inspiration for a lot of mainstream and modern music. Just knowing the roots of where our art is coming from…I think that’s a very important part of culture.”

    Creating a community where artists feel comfortable sharing their pieces is something that we should strive for. It is a vital foundation for our society, so putting time and effort into cultivating these arts is of utmost importance. AHS already has fine arts fairs, the Reflections contest, and spirit week dances, but more could be done.

     “Maybe American can introduce a classical dance team that can come together to showcase different forms of classical dance from different cultures,” proposes Jagad (11).

     Kale agrees, stating, “If people actually start to do it [sharing their experiences with classical arts], I think it will not be seen as something like, super strict…So I think it just comes with time.”

     Classical arts and music deserve a chance to survive. Students at American have been reaping the benefits of these studies, and creating an environment where their passions are openly shared, without judgement or fear of embarrassment is something each and every one of us should strive to do. 

     Whether you’re into Beethoven or Kathak, your joy should and can be shared. After all, as Henry James so eloquently put it, “It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.”

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