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Musee Musical is a part of Chennai's heritage.

Since 1901, with Trinity College,  they have promoted western music in south India.

Set back a little from the busy Mount Road in Chennai is a quaint old shop called 'Musee Musical'. For the past 100 years, in association with Trinity College, London it has been fostering western classical music in south India. The business itself is 150 years old. Its current premises [- since 1932] used to be elephant stables and you'd say it's an appropriate residence for this long lived institution.

Musee Musical sells western musical instruments, conducts classes and arranges every year for a visiting examiner from Trinity College, London to test and certify its students. So far over 15000 students have appeared before Trinity examiners. For some decades now, Indian instruments are being sold and Indian music taught as well.

Three strands:

The fascinating story of Musee Musical in a way epitomises India's reputation as a land that welcomes ideas and cultural infusions. India is a society in constant churn; adapting, innovating and internalising. Musee Musical is one of the numerous little known institutions dotted all over India, that grew for a specific purpose and doggedly pursue their mission.

Its story can be told only by following three independent threads that have their origins in Madras, Gujarat and Europe.

In 1842, Misquith & Co began business in Madras [now, Chennai], selling and servicing western musical instruments for the large European community. It had branches in Bangalore, Coonoor, Ooty and Rangoon.

The second strand, in chronological order, begins in London where the Rev. Henry George Bonavia founded in 1877, the Trinity College of Music. Born in 1847 Bonavia graduated from King's College, London and Christ's Church, Oxford obtaining a doctorate in music. The college was founded to actively spread formal learning of western music throughout the British empire.

1901 saw Trinity represented in Madras by a local Englishman. Beginning with 1906 examiners from Trinity have been visiting Madras. Dr. R. G Bowers the current Chief Executive of Trinity writes: "...the first examiner's visit took place in 1906, when one Dr. Wm. Creser examined two candidates for pianoforte performance certificate, one Sarah May Rawley of Mount Road, and a Grace Hortense Watts of Rundall's Road. Both unfortunately failed. The following year saw four candidates, two of whom achieved the ATCL [Associate of Trinity College, London] and one, the Performance Certificate, while Grace Hortense Watts sadly failed once more!"

Meet now in 1935, Mr. E. A Prudhomme a French citizen and a businessman of standing in Madras. He buys Misquith & Co and renames it Musee Musical. However it was his devoted friend Ms. Amy de Rozario, a lady of Spanish origin but a naturalised British citizen who was to become the soul of Musee Musical, until her death in Madras in 1964.

The Indian element:

The final strand begins in distant Gujarat some 250 years ago when a family of devout Hindus begin to head south looking for a home and livelihood. By the mid 1800s we find them settled in Madras dealing in cotton and textiles. Into this family in 1908 was born M Giridhara Das, a restless spirit and a bold innovator. Seeing little opportunity for himself in the growing extended family's business, MGD, as he came to be known, was searching for new avenues. He was a certified accountant but more inclined to entrepreneurship.

In his twenties, we find him of all things, operating Alpha Phonographics that published Indian music on 78 rpm records and challenging the Gramophone Company of India's brand, HMV. MGD's grouse was that HMV was ignoring Indian music. He was something of a nationalist and realised soon that there was little money to made in that mode!

An odd situation saved MGD and propelled him on to fortune. The financial auditor of Alpha and Musee was one Mr. Sharma, whose son was the talented but troublesome Ranjan, later to become a famous film star. Sharma had set Ranjan to learn the piano at Musee [-which he did masterfully!] and wanted someone to keep an eye on his wild son. By a strange coincidence, MGD was almost the only person whose authority Ranjan somehow respected. Sharma persuaded MGD to join Musee Musical in 1932. There was perfect synergy here: MGD's business was failing and Sharma had a minder for his son.

MGD grew to become a loyal employee, though a trifle unlikely in an establishment devoted to western music, visited as it was by Europeans and Anglo-Indians. He was an orthodox, practicing Hindu and a devotee of Mahatma Gandhi! He sought and obtained permission from Prudhomme to wear the Gandhi cap - the badge of nationalists, then - to work, with the proviso that he removed it as soon as he entered the shop. He was at liberty to don it soon as he crossed the threshold of the shop on his way out; this MGD did with ostentatious display.

Musee Musical matures:

The next twenty years saw Musee become an establishment of repute in the Raj. They were by appointment to the Governor of Madras, the tuners of piano, polishers of the dance floor and managers of the Governor's Saturday night dances. They were by 1935, established in their present premises. The high ceiling of the elephant stables gave the shop - as it does now- a great sense of space. Upstairs in the converted mahouts' quarters music saloons taught - as they do now- pupils one on one. Examiners visited annually without fail, except during the war years. The indefatigable Ms. Rozario got with Trinity's consent, Dr.Alfred Mistowski, a tutor in piano to the Maharaja of Mysore to conduct the examinations during those years.

The trio of Prudhomme, Rozario and MGD were building a lasting business. In the fifties a dying bachelor, Prudhomme sold his shares to the loyal MGD. Rozario the spinster, did so like wise in 1964. And that was how a pious Hindu family came to preside over the propagation and support of western music in south India. Though  MGD had introduced Indian instruments in the fifties, he  was fiercely committed to the association with Trinity.

Many notable names in Indian music have learnt their craft and appeared for examinations at Musee Musical, among them Ilayaraja, L.Shankar, L.Subramanyan and A.R.Rahman.


A third generation of promise:

In a rare happening for a shop in India, the government commemorated the century old relationship between Trinity and Musee Musical by releasing a first day cover in 2001.

Since MGD's death in 1966, his son M. Haricharan Das presides over the shop. He maintains it and the relationship with Trinity with great care. There is a brooding bust of Artur Rubinstein that stands vigil over the interests of western music. As for the elephant stables, they are safe too. M.H.Das's son, Sachin Das, is currently studying architecture and music in the USA. "He repeatedly urges me not to do anything to the building that would alter its character. He wants to maintain it when he returns to take over from me," says MHD.


Musee Musical

67 Mount Road

Chennai 600 002


Phone : 852 2780, 851 6474

Fax: 858 5447

website: www.museemusical.com

email: musee@vsnl.com