islamabad - Effortlessly playing the works of Mozart and Bach, J. Jerome is a trained pianist, a piano teacher and a piano technician residing in Islamabad. Born and raised in Lahore, Jirome moved to the capital a decade ago. Trained by the famous James Griffin, he runs a music academy at his residence by the name of ‘Pianos galore’, which Jirome launched 5 years ago. Jirome talks about his interest inmusic, the lack of music-teaching facilities in Pakistan and the importance of being able to read music.

Q1) What has been your journey from a music lover to a musician?  Tell us about the challenges you have faced in pursuing piano playing as career path.

I was an inborn musician. Music was in my and heart and soul since childhood. However like most Pakistani parents, mine were also not supportive of my desire to pursue music as a career. I therefore had no access to musical in struments at home. Luckily though there was a church nearby in the vicinity that I lived in, in Lahore. I would sometimes reach the church even before the service began on Sunday. It was here that I could immerse myself in music. Growing older, I had the urge to learn music formally but I could not attend a Music College, because I did not have the financial resources to go out of Pakistan. In Pakistan, there is no university properly designed for music.  However, I had the great fortune of meeting Sir Griffin James at an event in Lahore. Griffin James has been trained from London Trinity College of Music and has also learned piano tuning from Germany. Sir Griffin saw in me an aspiring musician, and in the 10 years that I spent learning from him, he encouraged me, mentored me and contributed greatly to making me what I am today. After moving to Islamabad, I began work as a probate tutor in diplomatic enclave where I taught the ambassadors and their children to play piano. But working here meant my access was restricted to the diplomats whereas I wanted to set up a place where everybody can easily come. Launching a piano academy at my residence in I-8 opened the door for local children interested in learning.

Q2) You teach your students to play the works of famous musicians.  Tell us about your teaching methods. Have any of your students been interested in pursuing a music education?

I teach my students to read and play so that they truly comprehend music instead of skimming its surface. The problem in sub-continent is that we are not trained to read music. The musicians here are only ear-trained –that limits their musical abilities. Ear training and sight-reading are both equally important in training musicians. The course I teach is an international course, which consists of 10 books that are finished over a period of 2-3 years depending on one’s pace of learning. Teaching an international course is beneficial for those learning because if my students move abroad, they can continue from where they left off in Pakistan. I have received great feedback from three American students that I trained in Pakistan who moved to Austria.  After completing the basic course here, they began an advanced course in Vienna. Vienna is known to be the city of music. Their teacher there was surprised that these kids had mastered the basic course in Pakistan and appreciated the authenticity of what they had been taught. This was a great honour for me. I have been teaching for more than a decade now and my students go up in several hundreds.I hold yearly piano recitals where I invite the students’ parents and family members and showcase the talent of my students. I also offer preparation classes for international grade examinations for music – exams that formally assess a student’s ability to play a musical instrument. There are centers all over the world that takes these exams, except for in Pakistan. The reason for that is the dearth of interested students. However, the students I prepare here can fly to a nearby country such as Dubai or Sri Lanka to appear for the exam.

Q3) Piano is an instrument that is customarily played among the elite circles. Is it true then that your students are from a certain socioeconomic class?

That is true. Acoustic piano is quite expensive and hard to maintain. According to Pakistani weather, the piano needs to be tuned twice a year. The process is not very cost effective – you have to calculate in millions. But considering that Islamabad is a city of elite, many can afford to take piano lessons yet don’t do so because they don’t understand the benefits of learning to play a musical instrument. Music is discipline of mind. Learning to play a musical instrument makes you sharper. When you play the piano, many senses are working together at the same time. You are reading, processing, using your fingers, and then listening.

Q4) How does the future of music in Pakistan look like?

Things are getting better. The music industry is expanding, the credit for which goes to platforms like Coke Studio and Nescafe basement. However, piano is still lacking.

Q5) Learning to play a musical instrument is a creative outlet. There is a great lack of such platforms in Pakistan that promote an interest in music. Do you think that is one major reason for the growing violence and extremism in society?

Definitely. One of my teachers, Amir Munawwar used to say to me ‘guitars are better than guns’. I do believe that nations, which are successful today, are inclined towards the performing arts. It is tragic that there isn’t a single institute in Pakistan dedicated to teaching music. There are a couple of options in Karachi such as NAPA and the music department in NCA, Lahore But those are very small scale, and their focus is on making musicologists, not musicians. Punjab University, at one point, set up a music department but no sooner than its inception, a group of religious, right wing students intimidated the administration and the department had to be shut down immediately.  If we talk about piano, the options are even more limited.

There is a piano at PNCA, but it’s in a state of abandonment. There needs to be effort on part of the government to revive this dying sector. I am the only Pakistani piano teacher in Islamabad –my competition is from foreigners. The elites here also know me through word of mouth. My long-term plan however is to create a music lab where I can teach over 8 students at a time, and have interactive sessions instead of teaching on a one-to-one basis. Ofcourse, if I get enough interested students and the funding to establish this.