A successful conference at Boston
By Shuchita Rao
Boston based Learnquest Academy of Music, whose mission is to connect people through music, hosted its eighth Indian classical music conference between 25 and 31 March. Learnquest offers lessons in Hindustani and Carnatic vocal and instrumental music through the year and has conducted successful conferences for eight years in a row drawing visitors from all over the USA.
After a lec-dem-heavy opening leg, the conference segued into a stellar series of back-to-back music recitals featuring more than 20 Hindustani and Carnatic artists from India. The first night took place at a packed music hall within the Berklee College of Music and was marked with a strong presence of people of non-Indian origin. Purnaprajna Bangere, a disciple of HK Narasimhamurthy and grand disciple of the late MS Gopalakrishnan gave an introduction to the Indian system of ragas as well as a competent demonstration of how a pentatonic raga such as Mohanam or Bhoop is treated in the Carnatic and Hindustani styles. Praveen Sheolikar of Bhopal followed next with an authentic presentation of raga Gorakh Kalyan in the Hindustani style. The two artists ended with a sonorous jugalbandi accompanied by Amit Kavthekar on tabla.
Next day, Warren Senders conducted an interactive question answer session on the subject of improvisation in khayal at MIT. Questions ranged from “What do the hand gestures that accompany your singing mean?” to “How do you teach good aesthetics in improvisation to students?”
On Wednesday, 27 March, I gave a lecture-demonstration on thumri with live demonstration of bandish and bol-banao thumris and allied folk forms such as dadra, kajri, chaiti and hori. I also projected several movie clips of performance recordings of master thumri singers such as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Shobha Gurtu, Girija Devi and Kathak dance to self composed thumri by Birju Maharaj.
A festival of music performances began two days later at the Regis College auditorium in the scenic town of Weston, a prominent suburb of Boston where Learnquest has held its conferences for the past seven years. A sense of peace, tranquillity and shared contentment pervaded the atmosphere. Carnatic vocal music by M Balamurali Krishna, the Priya Sisters and Malladi Brothers, and the Sankara ensemble, violin by Purnaprajna Bangere and flute by V.K Raman were complemented by performances in Hindustani recitals by Arati Ankalikar, Uday Bhawalkar and Anand Bhate (vocal), Praveen Sheolikar (violin), Shahid Parvez Khan (sitar), and a grand santoor-tabla finale by Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain.
While kritis, tillanas, bhajans and compositions by several famous composers including the Trinity regaled Carnatic music lovers, a variety of Hindustani genres such as Dhrupad, Dhamar, Khayal, Thumri, Dadra, Hori, Tappa and Abhang pleased the Hindustani enthusiasts. Since all the performances took place at a single location, (Regis College), music lovers from different parts of the world got to experience the two mainstreams of Indian classical music under one roof. Connoisseur Prof. Marc Rossi of Berklee College of Music sitting to my right effortlessly identified raga after raga and a relative layman, Hui Zhong of Taiwan, sitting to my left, meditated while listening to the music performances. Music lovers engaged in discussions on subjects like voice culture, gharana gaayaki, and ragas and talas common to both the Carnatic and Hindustani systems. Photographs and spontaneous critiques of performances this year as well as comparisons on performances from the past years flooded Facebook.
It became evident that the shared experience of listening and ensuing conversations not only gave tremendous satisfaction to music lovers of all ages but also led to learning more about Indian heritage, culture and important Indian traditions. A useful workshop of vocal music designed for junior and senior students of Carnatic vocal music was attended by 40 students who learned beautiful kritis taught patiently by the accomplished Malladi Brothers. “I enjoyed learning music - it was fun” said Sreya Sankar, a third grader residing in Framingham, a suburb of Boston.
The grand finale of the Learnquest 2013 conference was held on the evening of Sunday March 31 at the famed opera style Sanders theatre in Harvard University. Veteran santoor player Shivkumar Sharma was deeply immersed in spinning out a sequence of imaginative alap in raga Kaushik Dhwani when Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna who had just entered the recital hall walked up to the stage to greet him. Shivkumar Sharma briefly stopped playing and warmly reciprocated the greeting. Obviously, music holds the supreme power to dissolve geographical boundaries and bring people of different traditions together. In a fitting ending to the festival, Learnquest Academy’s mission of connecting people through music came alive at this precious moment.