A career in music, however soothing it might sound, is not for the faint-hearted. There are many whose musical careers have gone awry and several who have given up and switched to safer careers. And then there are those who gave up a professional career for music !
Debashree Das Gupta, our next pathbreaker, is Associate professor of Vocal Classical at Shankar Mahadevan Academy and a freelancer in the field of Music Therapy as well as Music Education.
Debashree talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about pursuing a 5 year Law degree, being a litigation lawyer for a year and then quitting her job to pursue music and music therapy full-time.
For students, start exploring life and different aspects of education as early as possible so you get to know what drives you!
Debashree, tell us about your background?
The sense of music was simultaneous with the sense of language in me. I remember, my parents had recognized my interest when I was 4 years old. I was born and brought up in Ranchi, Jharkhand. My family was always inclined towards any form of Art, So music was very much encouraged. I studied in a Hindi Medium, State Board School. My parents and brother always encouraged me in whatever I did. They tried their best to give me the required exposure in music as much as they could. I happened to be an academics oriented person with a substantial amount of participation in music. I used to take part in state as well as national level singing competitions. But pursuing music as a career was not the objective at all. Maybe back then I used to rely on social validations. I realized the value of music after my schooling.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
As I was not very clear about my career objectives in life, I chose a course based on my natural inclination. As I always used to feel that I had a “sense of justice”. I had pursued a 5 years B.A.LL.B Course from National University of Study and Research in Law Ranchi. But I am extremely grateful for those 5 years, as the course taught me a lot about life and professional skills. Now I strongly believe that the purpose of education is much wider than just a job.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
I chose a career, which is different from the course that I pursued in my graduation.
Soon after I graduated, I needed a well paying job to become independent- socially and financially. Unfortunately, that did not happen according to my expectations. This, along with other factors affected my mental health badly. To heal myself I started giving more time to music in different ways. In that phase there were multiple questions which used to pop up in my head. One of them was, “if one fine day i wake up and find myself absolutely away from my familiar environment and people. What will be that factor that will help me live a hopeful life there?”
This was the point, when I had found the purpose of my life. The answer was “Music”, what in Music? “If music is helping me when I am in a bad shape, why cannot I help people who are in need, through Music?”. Even though I was pretty sorted about my long-term career objective, due to financial obligations I had planned to work for a few years in Law and then change my path to Music Therapy.
I shifted to Mumbai after this. That time, I did not have an assured job in hand. But I had taken that uncalculated risk with a conviction that I will have to get something.
So I worked as a litigation lawyer for a year, but here I experienced the turning point. I was doing pretty good in law, but I was dishonest. I used to think and research music therapy, even when I was in office. So I felt I was being disloyal to my profession and this led to a state of immense frustration. After a lot of dialogue in my head, I quit my job in Law to pursue music and music therapy.
In my life there have been many who were influential in this decision making. But there was a movie named “ALIVE INSIDE”, Which had influenced my mind the most. I watch it time and again
My parents , brother and my Music teacher were the biggest support in my journey, along with my extended family and friends. Though it took time for everyone to grow that faith in me that “Music therapy is real, and I am passionate about it.”
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
To be honest, as soon as I realized that Music and Music therapy are the things which I wanted to pursue for the rest of my life, this was the biggest ‘certain’ plan that I felt I had made so far.
So i will describe my journey in the below mentioned steps-
1) Survival in Mumbai– After quitting law, my next challenge was to sustain myself in the city of Mumbai. I needed a job in Music. At this juncture, my music education helped me. I had started applying as a Music teacher in different schools in Mumbai (P.S: no prior experience in music teaching). I had applied to Shankar Mahadevan Academy as a music teacher. Within 1.5 months I got a basic job with them in a school in Mumbai. I learnt patience and few teaching skills while working there in the school for a year (Later i shifted to another project of Shankar Mahadevan Academy and Online teaching now).
2) Networking– I had to/used to put a lot of time in networking. It was strange, the zeal to meet people, look for opportunities came very naturally. 95% of the meetings were futile. But I used to make sure that even if things didn’t work out, I still remained in contact with them. But thankfully 5% of that networking worked. I even used to visit NGOs and different organizations on my own, just to see and know people.
3) Private music teaching sessions– Eventually people started approaching me for private sessions in vocal music. This aspect helped me a lot. I used to give my best, without anticipating the rewards.
4) Courses in Music therapy- I had a vision in mind, but I had no degree or academic backup in music therapy. Even though by then I had read many articles and books available online on Music therapy. But I did not have the finances to pursue this field for Bachelors or Masters. I started exploring online courses. I did two certificate courses on Music Therapy. One was from Berklee College of Music, Boston and Another was from Chennai School of Music Therapy. Both contributed quite a lot to my understanding.
5) Started talking to people about Music Therapy– I started talking to people in my network about my interest in Music Therapy with a hope to get to work with anyone who was in need. I connected with people on social and professional networking sites. So for the first two years it was all about work with hardly any visible outcome.
6) Music therapy Workshops and personal sessions– Eventually with networking and regular study in Music therapy, I could convince people about my vision. I got a chance to do a short workshop on Music Therapy at the renowned Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai for cancer survivors. It was very successful. After which I got another workshop in the same hospital for Dialysis Patients. Additionally I started working with kids with special needs, elderly people and few NGOs.
7) Talks on social media– Recently I was a part of a few awareness talks on social media.
8) Vision of pursuing higher studies in Music Therapy– I envision to pursue Higher studies in Music therapy, so that I can contribute in the field with a better understanding. This will enable me to even contribute in the field of research in Music Therapy. Research, being a major interest area of mine in any field.
How did you get your first break?
I got my first break in Music therapy as well as music education through my own networking. Once I was confident about my work, I could speak about it and that is what always clicked.
What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
1) Survival in Mumbai- Financially, I used to receive peanuts in the initial 1 year. My family supported me whenever I needed it. Though, by then my material needs had almost gone to minimum. My only goal was my work. I never felt like giving up, even though I used to be extremely tired physically but on the work front my mind was always active. Eventually with networking and hardwork, I started receiving better responses, because of which I could sustain myself. This is when I realized, Hard work will never go in vain.
2) My own health– In this duration my physical health was very weak and affected. I had faced multiple severe health issues. Family and wellwishers had suggested that I take a break and go back home. I did go back home for a month, but my work and faith were the biggest motivating forces, I used to bounce back every time. One thing I realized here is that work life balance is a real thing, else after a point of time the body will not support our work.
3) No Godfather in the industry– Not having a guiding force in the field of music and music therapy was a challenge. But when I met my teacher Mrs. Shampa Pakrashi , in Mumbai , I started believing in my goals more than ever. Additionally i feel, “Honest work” is the biggest key to creating a mark in one’s area of work. Honest work attracts people who guide and help us in our professional journey.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do?
I work as an Associate professor of Vocal Classical in Shankar Mahadevan Academy and as a freelancer in the field of Music Therapy as well as music education.
AS A MUSIC THERAPIST:
So far, I have done two certificate courses in Music Therapy and rest I am self-taught. The objective of my work is to meet the needs of Mind and body through different techniques of music therapy. This is an evidence-based methodology. Music Therapy is the professional use of music and its elements as an intervention in medical, educational and everyday environments with individuals, groups, families or communities who seek to optimize their quality of life and improve their physical, social, communicative, emotional , intellectual and spiritual health and wellbeing.
So, I understand technically one should pursue a minimum of bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy. Such courses are very much common in the western world, where Music Therapy is a recognized stream of therapy. But if I talk about India, it is still at a nascent stage. In India, there are few Diploma courses. And one or two colleges are there which provide masters in Art Based Therapy. Though I would say that, Music is very intuitive. Along with the Courses, one should have the ability to connect or build rapport with the patient. Otherwise the techniques are not absolutely impactful.
In my journey ,I experience the internet as an easily accessible library. We all should utilize it as much as possible. As my resources were limited, hence I had to rely on ebooks, articles and journals.
Additionally I used to have limited time in a day, so whatever time I had, I used to dedicate it to train myself in music therapy.
I never categorize any opportunity related to music as very important or less important. I attend every meeting or gathering, wherever there is a slight chance of exchange of ideas. Every information, every contact is important.
I have an open-ended approach for selection of my clients. I have been working with kids with special needs to Elderly people from different day care organizations. So far, I have had more experiences in treating people with psychological needs.
I don’t have a certain professional routine for everyday, because I have therapy sessions some days, and some days I don’t. But there are few activities which are certain, everyday I learn something new about Music Therapy and techniques. Stagnancy has no place in the world. Additionally I sharpen my music skills everyday.
AS A MUSIC EDUCATIONIST:
I have a senior diploma in Hindustani vocal classical as well as light music.
To become a music educationist, one should have a good knowledge of the subject. Educational requirements might vary from Diploma to Doctorate in Music. There are multiple universities in India which provide music education.
Currently I am working as an Associate professor(Vocals) in Shankar Mahadevan Academy. I teach different vocal courses to different age groups, Elderly people, learners who are from underprivileged backgrounds etc. The purpose is to spread the joy of music. Additionally I am associated with a project of Shankar Mahadevan Academy, named as Inspire India Project which works towards spreading music education to the financially underprivileged population of the society.
The days when I have classes, the entire day goes in teaching. I hardly have time to do anything extra. But on those days also I do some practice for my own growth. I give a lot of importance to mental health.
Overall, Even though my professional life does not look very organized, my work uplifts my life condition. The moment I see a recipient of music “happy” or “free of worries” at least for some time, That’s my everyday reward. I forget about my own worries.
Secondly I get to meet different people everyday, get to hear stories and learn from them too. My work life motivates me to do something better everyday.
How does your work benefit society?
Money is important, indeed. But once the ends are met, I try to help people through whatever I have experienced in life, through music and music therapy. I would humbly mention that I have been doing most of my workshops in Music Therapy as honorary.
Additionally, more than anything I want to spread the awareness of music therapy to every corner of India. Mainstream medical treatments are already there, but music therapy helps the mainstream treatment. As it has a healing element in it, with no side effects. As most of the functions in our body are controlled from our brain.
Through music education and opportunities that I have received, I have been able to train 200-300 people so far. Age groups of learners are from 2.5- 85 years. I can only do my bit for people and the society, to make it a better world. But, contribution to society is not optional for me. It is necessary, and it will always remain so. For this I have even associated myself in different mentorship programmes, as a mentor to help women and girls from different parts of India and the world.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
As I mentioned every music session is memorable for me.
To mention some of them,
On the music therapy front, The experience of my first music therapy workshop in Jaslok Hospital for cancer survivors will always remain close to me. It gave me immense happiness the moment I saw smiles on every participant’s face. It was not a music concert but it was my first attempt to address a targeted population through music therapy.
Another great memory, there was a music training project (Shankar Mahadevan Academy) in one of the slums in Mumbai. The participants (ladies above 50 years of age) did not even know how to read and write. They prepared and managed their performance in front of a big crowd and dignitaries of Rotary Club of Mumbai. They sang a full hindi song with confidence. The amount of confidence which was instilled in them through this project was remarkable. Their achievement feels like my own.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
1) Start exploring life and different wings of education as early as possible.
2)Assess your own personality, this is one of the most important aspects to be successful in the field of work.
3) One should accept failures gracefully and courageously.
4) It is always beneficial to learn something new everyday. It contributes to the person’s overall growth.
5)Honesty towards the profession is very important for success, else we would survive but we won’t be able to internalize the success. Everyday would feel like a struggle.
6) It is completely fine to try different professions in a lifetime, as long as one is able to sustain and survive.
7) There is no alternative to hard work. Results might not be visible immediately, but hard work is like savings. They appear as “luck” at a later point in life.
I have always found this question very tricky.
Though in the near future i wish to pursue Masters in Music therapy, so that i can get into the research aspect of Music Therapy as well.
Two points are important for me – Ultimate goal of reaching out to as many people and hospitals as possible through music therapy AND I have an everyday objective of learning and growing for the sake of my long term goal. The causes that I create today will have their effects tomorrow.
I believe in a slow but steady and firm approach in life.