The Government Music College - the only formal institution specialising in music in the country - once gave the country brilliant artists such as Shahnaz Rahmatullah, Rathindranath Roy, Khurshid Alam and Abida Sultana.
Even now, there are students with high potential who are really eager to build a career in music. But the institution appears stuck in time, with little or no ability to teach modern music to its students.
Other than tabla and behala (violin), there are no other instruments, such as piano or keyboard, that the students can learn with. There is no scope to learn technical skills such as sound engineering.
Making it as a musician is anyway difficult. In today's world, just sticking to traditional ways makes it even more difficult for students of music to compete on a global platform. The world of music is now a fast paced one and only knowing how to sing will not guarantee a career in music.
Despite the limitations, the young students here are eager and enthusiastic about music. We spoke to Yaar, a student of folk music, who sings and also plays the violin.
"I am really inspired by pala gaan (a kind of folk ballad) and I want to become a music composer in future." Mohima, who plays the dotara, said, "I want to stick to playing the dotara because there are not many female dotara players."
Established in 1963 by Pandit Barin Mazumder, the Government Music College currently has 35 teachers and more than 400 students. It was nationalised in 1984.
Every year, other than teachers' salaries, the college gets funding of around Tk4 to Tk5 lakh, which is insufficient to introduce new subjects, upgrade the current curriculum or buy new musical instruments.
"As a specialised institution, we should bring new subjects so that our students can broaden their horizons," said the Music College principal Krishti Hefaz, adding that they are working on adding history of music to their curriculum.
"We have many extremely talented artists, our folk songs are as unique as they are beautiful. But our singers are still struggling to find a footing on international platforms. We also do not have enough support. For example, for song mixing we always have to reach out to India," she went on.
"We need more people to teach sound engineering and other technical subjects to our students," she added.
Noted musician and teacher Shemonty Monjari believes while traditional music is vital in teaching the fundamentals of music, students also need exposure to different kinds of music.
"I think, in the name of saving our tradition, we fall behind in teaching our students the modern approach to music. After teaching them the fundamentals of music, we need to expose them to world music," she said.
The legacy of Pandit Barin Mazumder
Pandit Barin Mazumder was an eminent classical musician who was honoured with the Ekushey Padak in 1983.
In 1963, he started Music College in the classrooms of one Monowara Kindergarten in Kakrail. Back then, classes were held in evening and night shifts. His wife Ila Mazumdar was also among the first teachers. (Classes began from its current permanent campus in Agargaon in 1986 or 1987.)
Barin Mazumder put his heart and soul into building a music college that would create the finest of artists. He struggled and went against all odds to get approval from the then-Pakistani authorities, who felt a college specialising in music had no place in a Muslim country.
After the Liberation War, in 1973 or 1974, he was wrongly accused of misappropriation of funds and was even sent to jail. After that, he was no longer affiliated with the college and for a long time, there was no mention of him on the college premises. He passed away in 2000.
Now, upon entering the college's main building, there is a large framed picture of him downstairs, right beside the stairs.
Veteran Artist Khurshid Alam remembers Barin Mazumder as a strong personality who never bowed down to anything wrong.
"There was only one BarinDa in the country and there never will be another."
In 1969, Khurshid Alam was one of the first 10 students who started class at the Music College when it was in Kakrail. His grandfather was extremely religious and no one in his family had an affiliation with the world of music.
Barin Mazumder convinced Khurshid Alam's grandfather to allow him to attend Music College.
"The teachers and students were like family members, and BarinDa took special care of those who could not pay the fees. He would help them with his own money," he reminisced.
"Music College was not like any other institution. In one room we had classes and in the next room, BarinDa lived with IlaDi and their children. The environment was that of a big, happy family," the veteran artist said.
Is a career in music possible?
Even in the 1970s, when Music College was passing through its best time and Barin Mazumder was its principal, there was not much scope to build a professional career in music.
"That was the situation even when we studied at the Music College," said Abida Sultana, who completed her BMus from Music College in 1976.
"Shahnaz Rahmatullah, Indra Mohan Rajbongshi, Khurshid Alam - these famous figures studied here, true, but they became great singers on their own effort. The college does not teach adhunik (modern) music. It is difficult to become a popular singer by only learning classical music or Nazrul Geeti."
She added that if there are opportunities for students to learn modern music, it might help in expanding their chance of building a career in music.
Shemonty Monjari agreed there are limited job opportunities when one studies only music and to overcome that, institutions need to provide courses in vocal training, ethno-musicology etc. There should be a lot more research into these areas.
"It is our responsibility to create a dynamic generation who will pursue music with love. Cross-cultural interactions can play a significant role here. When our students visit, say India, they will hear different kinds of music and become more accepting towards them," she said.
"We tend to invest more in musical events, but we do not do much to develop the human resource side of music," she said.
"Many students are graduating every year but they are not finding proper jobs. At best, they can work at TV channels or as music teachers, but such opportunities are also limited," said M A Momin, a teacher at the College, who also completed his Honours and Masters in Nazrul Geeti from the institution.
Momin is not just a teacher, he is also a song producer and at times works on music videos. He mentioned some of his batchmates from Music College work in non-music fields because they could not find jobs related to their degrees.