The Piano is majestic: Promiti Phukan

Promiti Phukan is one of the finest pianists and among the most renowned piano teachers of Assam. Phukan started taking her lessons under the able tutelage of Rajeshwar Bardoloi at the tender age of 5. Between 2000 and 2002, she continued her studies in piano at the Good Shepherd Convent in Bangalore. Having completed 8 grades from the Trinity College of Music, London, Phukan has been teaching the piano for almost 15 years now, currently at Maria’s Public School and Ace School of Music, as well as, privately. The fact that her students do brilliantly every year in the Trinity College, London exams stand testimony to Ms. Phukan’s teaching prowess. With performances across Guwahati, Assam and the North east with leading bands as an accompanist, she has also performed for the Doordarshan Kendra as well as All India Radio, besides a number of public events. As a soloist, she had the privilege of performing for none other than the President of India, Pratibha Patil in the year 2010. Promiti Phukan designed and performed the background score live for the play ‘Aah Women’ directed by Sattyakee Dcom Bhuyan and earned rave reviews. In addition, she single-handedly organizes an annual musical extravaganza showcasing her talented students. With performances by distinguished national and international guest artists and by herself, Cadenza, over the years with four successful editions, has been a ‘must go-to event’ for every music lover. She talks to Teresa Rehman about her music and the prospects of the piano in Northeast India

Why did you choose piano of all musical instruments?

Without my father’s vision and aspiration, taking up the piano would have been a distant possibility. My father would tell me tales about how he would sneak into the neighbourhood church to play the piano. Though he was an aficionado of music and the household he grew up in often had visitors like Shri Jyoti Prasad Agarwala, his brother Shri Hridoy Agarwala and similar luminaries in the field of art and music, he could never follow his passion of taking up formal training for an instrument as my grandfather felt it would hamper his academic performance. And he would tell me how he made up his mind that his offspring, if and when he had one, should take up learning the piano.

Rajeshwar Bardoloi was a very close friend of my father’s. I was about four and a half years old when I was sent to his home for lessons on his mini synthesiser. It was a few months later and I still vividly remember the day I woke up one afternoon and heard the sound of a real acoustic piano resonating in our house, and as a five year old I was completely fascinated and in awe of the instrument. That’s how my lifelong relationship with this magical instrument began.

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How would you describe the piano?

The piano is considered the king of instruments and rightfully so. It is majestic! And the sound it produces is the most beautiful and soothing. It is logistically not very feasible to carry this instrument around especially for shows and public performances. Even the slightest movement requires tuning by a professional and of course adequate man power to transport it. Though there are alternatives like portable keyboards and digital pianos, in my opinion, the sound, touch and feel of the electronic ones do not really match up to a good acoustic piano. I am so thankful to my father because of who I was introduced to this masterpiece of an instrument.

How difficult is it to teach the piano to little children?

Well, the earlier you start the better it is. I usually start taking kids at the age of 5 though in the west, it’s much earlier. The child should have very basic reading and writing skills as my initial lessons are very basic theory. However, little children lose focus and attention more easily than the older ones because of which it is extremely essential to keep them entertained by making them do fun based activities, colouring, solving puzzles all related to music theory and practical. My pace of teaching is much slower with the younger kids than with my older pupils. Western theory is very logical and interesting and in my two decades of teaching experience, it is very rarely that a child hasn’t understood the concepts.

How do you plan for your annual concerts?

It takes me close to a year to plan every little aspect of my concert as I do it single handedly. Putting up something like this isn’t easy and after wrapping up each edition I somehow feel that I can’t pull off another one and that I should hang my boots up! But the love and encouragement of well-wishers, the dedication and talent of my students and the urge to provide them a platform to showcase themselves get me going and thus, four very successful editions of Cadenza have seen the light of day. From organising funds, coordinating with guest performers, planning each and every detail of the program to teaching and preparing each child, a great deal of  meticulous structuring and precision is required. To provide each child an opportunity to go up on stage and perform in some capacity or the other and at the same time keeping in mind what will involve and engage the audience, requires immense detailed planning. I have had more than 60 people participate at a time and to ensure the audience doesn’t get bored is not a very easy task. But so far, people who have been able to attend any or all editions of Cadenza have had good things to say and that gives me the satisfaction I look for.

How do people in India react to Western music?

Though I cannot really say how popular it is, western music is prevalent in India and particularly in the North East. This region of ours is so rich musically with so many amazing artists and bands. However, I still feel that it is not very easy to make a career in western music because it is not stable enough. There are so many struggling musicians who land up in Mumbai on a daily basis in the hope of making it big. For some, the dreams materialise but for most they don’t. Most compromise on their choice of music and take to the commercial genre to make a career out of it because that is what dominates the music scene among the masses. However, at the same time, there are a lot of western music bands and artists who are creating good music and producing original compositions but sadly, their demand is limited to a particular breed of listeners.

What are your future plans?

I definitely want to continue teaching and establish my own piano academy eventually to introduce talented and deserving individuals to the piano and create more prodigies and of course buy myself a Yamaha grand piano some day! (that’s been a dream for quite some now).

Teresa Rehman

Teresa Rehman

Teresa Rehman is an award-winning journalist based in Northeast India. She had worked with India Today magazine, The Telegraph and Tehelka. She is now the Managing Editor of The Thumb Print. She has been awarded the WASH Media Awards 2009-2010. She had recieved the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for two consecutive years (2008-09 and 2009-10) for the category 'Reporting on J&K and the Northeast (Print). She received the Laadli Media Award for Gender Sensitivity 2011, Sanskriti Award 2009 for Excellence in Journalism and the Seventh Sarojini Naidu Prize 2007 for Best Reporting on Panchayati Raj by The Hunger Project. She was also featured in the Power List of Femina magazine in 2012. Her debut book is 'The Mothers of Manipur' (Zubaan Books).