Chethana Academy: Where music meets passion and excellence

Fr Thomas Chakalamattathu
Fr Thomas Chakalamattathu. Photo: Malayala Manorama

For the people of Thrissur, Chethana equals their world of music. They have this kinship with Chethana Music Academy, that has been in the business for the last 30 years. Situated at the heart of the city, located at Kuriakose Alias Service Society, Chethana Academy have gifted many singers, musicians, and orchestra team to the world of film and Indian music. From Stephen Devassy to actor-singer Aparna Balamurali, they are all trained at Chethana Music Academy. Today on World Music Day, Chethana’s legacy continues to pave the way for the next generation to train in new and old musical instruments. You can find a 180-year-old upright piano made in Germany to the latest grand pianos worth lakhs at the academy. They have imported 8 new sparkling upright pianos from abroad and a brand-new Yamaha C7 Grand Piano for the students this September.

Also, the academy is one of the centres in Kerala that hold the music entrance exams for London’s Trinity College. Chethana’s director Fr Thomas Chakalamattathu is a musician who has a special membership at Trinity College.

Singing early
One of the dream projects of Devamata Province was communication to hasten Educational, Technological, Artistic and National advancement. Chethana is the abbreviated term. It was Pope John Paul 2nd who inaugurated the art-cultural-educational program called Chethana Project. As part of the project, there are 7 educational training centres in Thrissur.

It was in 1992 that the Chethana Music Academy started with Fr John Edapally as the first director. Their aim was to give training in Carnatic, Hindustani, and Western music to youngsters. Within three years, the academy got recognition as London’s Trinity’s music examination centre. Now more than 300 students are trained here yearly and take exams for the Trinity music certificate. The students are mainly trained in Piano, Electronic keyboard, violin, guitar, drums, and Tabala. They are also given training in Western and Carnatic vocals.  The academy has special classrooms and a library that allow you the space to learn music as well as get training in instruments. You can find vintage audio-video cassettes, CDs, music magazines, and journals at Chethana.

Music all the way
Chethana’s director Fr Thomas Chakalamattathu is one of the most well-known musicians from south India who imparts training in western music. He is a postgraduate in Commerce with a degree in Philosophy and Theology. He has secured 8th grade and diplomas in Western music and higher levels in Carnatic Veena. Though it was Fr John Edapally who started the Chethana project and began the music academy, Fr Thomas quickly took over the running. The son of Chakkalamattathu Kallan Kochappu and Rosa, after 9th std, Fr Thomas started priesthood studies at CMI. He got training in Harmonium and keyboard in school. He won the first prize in musical instrumental recitation in school and later won prizes at the college and university level. By the time he came to Bangalore Dharmaram to study theology, Fr Thomas had become an expert on the keyboard. It was also a turning point to get an opportunity to study veena under the Karnataka government’s music department in Bangalore. He was ordained a priest in 1987. Post that he studied piano. And of course, Chennai-based Pianist Handel Manuel’s apprenticeship was doubly sweet. It was also an honour for Chethana to start Piano classes under the tutelage of a Padma Bhushan-winning musician. Later he came to Puducherry to attend the Trinity college exam. Fr Thomas returned to Trissur in 1992, the year he started the academy. In the same year, he took over the running of Chethana Academy from Fr John Edapally.

Windows to dream
The director of Chethana, Fr Thomas Chakkalamattathu has been given the esteemed membership from Trinity College and is also a member of CMI Congregation. In 2019, on December 5th, Trinity College awarded 5 people from various parts of the world with ‘Member of Trinity College’ recognition. And Fr Thomas is the only Asian on that list. The recognition was given after considering his contributions to the field of music education. From India, famous violinist L Subrahmanyam, Sitarist Ravi Sankar, and Murali Haricharan Das (the owner of Chennai’s Musi Musical) have already received the membership.

Gifting musicians to the world
In the last 30 years, Chethana has gifted several talented musicians to the world of music. There are centres for Trinity examination in Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. If over 5,000 students write the Trinity exam yearly, at Chethana it never exceeds 500. But then Chethana is known more for the students who pass out from the academy. From Milan Manoj, who was the fastest to graduate in piano at the age of 13 and the youngest to do so, Martin Charles, the fastest from India to graduate in violin, grammy award winner Manoj George, music director Alphonse Joseph, famous pianist Ralphin Stephen, keyboardist Stephen Devassy, singers Franko, Gayathri Asokan, Job Kurien, Pianist Frijo Francis, young musician Amal Antony, William Francis who debuted as a music director in ‘Kettyolanante Malakha’, veteran musician Jacobi, Rajesh Das, Shomi David, Sangeeth Pavithran, Robin Thomas, Vivek Santosh, Ankita Ganapathy, Violinist Francis Xavier, Sarath Subrahmanyan Kallettil, Henry Kuruvila, famous drummers like Deepak, David, Mathew, western classical violinist Carol George, and actor and singer Aparna Balamurali to Antony Jibi who got admission at Berklee College of Music are some of the names associated with Chethana and Fr Thomas’s tutelage. Meanwhile, there are plans to start a National Music Conservatory organised by the former students of the academy.

Song notes
Chethana never followed the traditional method of teaching technique and offering a training ground. They believe in studiously understanding each of their student's strengths and weaknesses and imparting training accordingly. There are no restrictions here, students can train in musical instruments at any time of the day. Just for that alone, there are 36 special classrooms at the academy. There is also a hall that helps with voice control. Chethana believes in taking only those students who are passionate about learning and giving them all the support they need. And there are over 20 teachers who have dedicated their lives to music. For students, their connection with Chethana doesn’t end once the course is over. They make their presence felt in various fields of music—be it starting music institutes, teaching music or as performers. Chethana is also training students who have autism, cerebral palsy and other disabilities as well as elderly people. Just to train the students there are many teachers who have settled in Trichur from outside states along with their families.  Stephen Devassy’s son Shawn Stephen Devassy is also joining Chethana for training.

Grand piano to drums
For an academy that started with a keyboard, two tablas and two violins, there are myriad musical instruments available now. Now they have 29 pianos including 2 grand pianos, 11 upright pianos, 16 electrical pianos, 40 electronic keyboards, violin, guitar, and 4 drum sets. On September first week Japan’s Yamaha company presented the academy with a C7 Grand Piano which cost around 70 lakhs. Another treasure is a Czechoslovakian-made Bohemia Grand Piano from Singapore that came in 2005. The 180-year-old German-made Upright Piano from North India is also invaluable for the academy. This is made by German company MF Racheal’s. A piano used by the queen of Denmark is also part of their collection. “As used by HM Queen Ingrid of Denmark” is inscribed on that piano. They are also using the drums purchased from Singapore in 1994 for training.

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