Tell us about the Western classical music scene in Kolkata.
There is a large growing community of Western classical enthusiasts. 500 students study Western classical music at the Calcutta School of Music, hundreds of music lovers flock to the Goethe Institut – Max Mueller Bhavan to stream live concerts and with the assistance of the Italian, French and German consulates we have a steady stream of diverse performers from Europe.
There is a real curiosity for new cultural experiences, in fact we have grown our audience from a few hundred to over a thousand per concert. That said classical music in this city is not of the same caliber as metropolitans of equal size across the world yet.
What is Kolkata Classics? How did the idea come about for setting this up?
Last year in collaboration with Indian friends and colleagues I established an Indian trust named Kolkata Classics. This trust brings Western classical musicians to Kolkata, engaging artists who donate their time and ability and sponsors who donate venues. I believe that high quality Western classical music should be made available to all regardless of socio-economic class. We feel that exposure is critical. By bringing in some of the best classical musicians from around the world we give the people of the City of Joy an opportunity to hear this genre at its best. In addition to educating children from the slums to the elite, we provide free health services for trafficked women and children.
These performances have inspired students, uplifted the public and given hope to the poorest of our city.
Why is music and its education important?
Exposure to classical music warms the heart, soothes the soul and expands the mind. Listening to classical music energises the same parts of the brain that are used for mathematics and logic. Developing these areas of our gray matter in the young has proven long term aptitude in the sciences as well as the arts. In addition, studying an instrument helps develop discipline, focus, leadership and public speaking skills. Research has proven access to quality music education helps foster self-esteem, engages students in the classroom and increases graduation rates. Not valuing the beauty of music in our schools is a mistake that our societies will not truly see the impact of for many years but once we do it may well be too late.
What are your future plans in India?
I will be in India through summer 2017. We will be bringing in more performers over the next 12 months to perform in Kolkata. This year I am very excited about the Hathor Series, our health fair component of the concert series. Our visiting artists and I are performing for women and children in the red light districts of Kolkata. We are also sharing the stage with local stars in Bollywood and Indian classical genres. Leveraging the gathering of these women we are able to provide vaccinations, health checkups and AIDs education. Our aim is to heal both body and soul of this underserved community.
Additionally, I want to ensure that the Kolkata Classics continues long after I have left Kolkata. To this end I am working to establish an American NGO to complement our Indian Trust, seeking long term support from Indian and American corporate partners. We receive so many wonderful gifts in kind such as venues, dresses and instruments that our operating costs are pretty low. We should be able to secure a long term funding stream to enable this work to continue.
And lastly, I am looking for US based partner organisations to either tour, have student exchanges or otherwise contribute to what we are doing in Kolkata.
About Jennifer Heemstra
Pianist Jennifer Heemstra has performed as soloist and chamber musician, as well as theatrical accompanist and coach throughout the United States and Europe in such venues as the United Nations Rome, American Embassy Rome and Cleveland’s renowned jazz hotspot Nighttown. International Press has acclaimed “Jennifer Heemstra’s finely calibrated piano accompaniment proves you don’t need an orchestra to showcase lovely music.”
Ms. Heemstra earned a Bachelor of Music with University Honors from Michigan State University and a Master of Music in Piano Performance from the Cleveland Institute of Music. During her seven years in Cleveland, Ms. Heemstra worked as a Lecturer and Staff Accompanist for over 350 performances in the music department at Case Western Reserve University, performed with the Cleveland Opera and Lyric Opera and founded Gershwin ’29 a cabaret of Golden Age hits.
In addition she concertized regularly with renowned members of the Cleveland Orchestra and was a featured soloist in broadcasts over the fine arts radio station WCLV. In Rome, Italy Ms. Heemstra was the Musical Director for Chicago and Into the Woods at John Cabot University. While teaching at the American Overseas School of Rome she founded Viva` Voce! Music Camp. Ms. Heemstra maintained private studios in both Rome and Cleveland before her most recent move to Kolkata in March.
Since her arrival in Kolkata she has performed for over 42,000 people in 50 concerts. Ms. Heemstra created the Kolkata Classics, a concert series promoting high quality western classical music to the masses regardless of socio economic status. She has performed at the ICCR, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Saint John’s, the Goethe-Institut-Max Mueller Bhavan, Jorasanko, Kala Mandir, The Oberoi Grand Hotel & has established a private studio.