The 173-year-old journey of Musée Musical, the oldest music store in Chennai.
BY SADHIKA ARORA
“For music is what brings us together, helps us go through the dark weather.
For music is meditation, music is the language of the nation
For music takes you back to the past, for music has no barriers, no caste”
The Pick to Piano
“Music is a universal language,” “This is not just a musical shop, we are an institution, we sell happiness, we serve happiness!” says Kishore Das, CEO of Musée Musical, at Mount Road, Chennai.
My curiosity about this place was piqued ever since my friend told me about this place (Musée is pronounced Muzze).
I imagined it to be a small shop selling thrifty instruments. My perceptions changed as soon as I entered the three-storey white building with yellow lights reflecting from the crystal glasses. I left my bag at the counter on my left, which was being manned by a cheerful guard.
High ceilings and heavy wooden doors complement the colonial architecture. Black-and-white portraits of legends such as the doyenne of Carnatic vocals M.S. Subbulakshmi, sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, and Hindustani legend Bade Ghulam Ali Khan adorn the wall at the entrance.
Musée Musicals– the P2P store: from the pick of a guitar to the piano, Musée Musicals is the one-stop shop for music. From selling high-quality musical instruments to offering courses in music,, Musée Musicals has it all.
The oldest music store in Chennai houses more than a hundred Indian and international brands. Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like:
Musée Musicals has a history dating back to 1842. Musée is a French word meaning “museum”.
Post-Independence ,the Indian music industry faced a dearth of musical instruments. Many of the instruments that had to be imported were prohibitively expensive, thanks to a 330 percent duty levy.
Also, the country did not have the infrastructure to produce good quality instruments. In 1996, the Indian government finally liberalised the import policy after repeated pleas from the music industry. Following this, playing an imported musical instrument was no longer only for the deep pockets.
“1996 was the turning point–when the government finally liberalised the policies, though we lost an entire generation of music from 1947-1995”
Where it started —The Heritage and the Associations
Musée Musicals has a rich heritage.
The site where the building is now was an elephant stable for the Parthasarthy Temple earlier. But then, the black elephants went out and the white elephant, the piano—the queen of all instruments–came in.
The institution–which is what Musée Musical is–has always been popular among the music makers of Bollywood and the Tamil films. Many musicians from the film fraternity, including maestros such as Ilayaraja and A.R. Rahman, have been associated with the institution.
G.V. Prakash, L. Subramanian, Veena Balachandar, Karaikudi Mani, to name a few –they all are part of the rich tradition of Musée Musicals.
It has always been a part of their musical journey. While some of them learned their music here, the others have bought their first instruments from the shop. “We have never looked at involving celebrities in any of our projects so far,” says Kishore. “We’d like to encourage talent as we believe this is the place where celebrities are made,” he adds.
For some, it is all about selling instruments, but for Kishore, happiness is what matters. He believes in education. The company’s tie-up with the Trinity College of Music, London, which began in 1901, has seen annual enrolment grow from just two students to the 10,000. It is a fine training ground for the musical talent who take the Trinity music and practical exam every year. “When we started conducting exams way back then, the two students who appeared the first year apparently failed,” laughs Kishore.
From manufacturing instruments since the 1950s to starting a School of Music to becoming a centre for music examinations and being a part of Madras Musical Association, Musée Musicals has travelled a long way in the business of music. “In 1995, we bought five pianos from Holland and it took us three years to sell them,” says Kishore.
“Today, we import 15 international brands and sell about 25 guitars a day. We help promote music in any fashion, from organizing concerts to teaching the visually impaired,”
The institute also has a music teaching school right across the road. The students,tuning themselves to the rhythms of violins, guitars and pianos, are form various age groups and cultural backgrounds.
“In India, you have many languages, but music has only one language, whether you learn it in Australia, America, or in Chennai, the medium remains the same.” Kishore believes in nurturing a music culture amongst the young talent and promoting music not just as a passion but also as a “career.”
Kishore believes in following the morals and principles established by Misquith and Company.
“Who knows, there maybe somebody to take the charge, after me and Inshallah, the institution might go on for another 175 years.”
For more, please visit: http://www.museemusical.in/