Treasures from the Past
In Indian music, the harmonium is considered to be one of the most versatile instruments. It is usually used as an accompanying instrument for vocalists. However, some musicians who realized the potential of the Harmonium as a solo instrument in the first part of the 20th century were personalities like Pandit Muneshwar Dayal , Pandit Bhishmadev Vedi, Pandit Montu Banerjee and Padmabhusan Jnan Prakash Ghosh.
Born on 19th May, 1915, Sangeetacharya Montu Banerjee was one of a select few who popularized the harmonium for solo performance.Initiated into music at a very young age, Montu Babu, as he came to be known as, was initially introduced to the tabla, taught by masters like Ustad Masit Khan, Ustad Abid Hussain Khan and Ustad Nathhu Khan. But a chance meeting with Pandit Muneshwar Dayal, the harmonium maestro from Gaya, when he was about 16 changed all that. Montu babu was so impressed by Pandit ji and his harmonium, that he almost immediately started learning the harmonium from him. Within a few months, he set about amazing the music fraternity of Kolkata with his artistry.
As a young man, Montu Babu won the first prize at the Allahabad music conference. To introduce gayaki in harmonium playing, he started learning vocal music from Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan sahib. This soon yielded results and Montu Babu went on to become a sensation at all the major music conferences. He was perhaps the only artiste to have performed with both Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa and Pandit Kanthe Maharaj together at the same time. Accompanying him on numerous other occasions on the tabla were the glorious maestros of the time like Ustad Keramatullah Khan, Pandit Samta Prasad, Ustad Habibuddin Khan, Ustad Allah Rakha, a young Ustad Zakir Hussain and many more. His playing style that epitomised his gharana was adopted by his descendants, including his son, Pandit Maharaj Banerjee, grandson, Pandit Deb Kumar Banerjee, right up to young Suvendu of the present generation