Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Supporting The Arts

By Chitra Srikrishna

It was billed as an informal panel discussion. When rasikas get together, conversations can easily go down one of several well-trod paths - depending on the people present. Many deteriorate to barely disguised gossip sessions, some griping about what ails Carnatic music and a few into constructive exploration of what positive change can be wrought. To be fair, I have been particularly fortunate in having attended many a lec-dem and the occasional panel discussion, which has been truly edifying. So it was with many questions and some excitement, at the chance to finally meet V. Ramnarayan, the editor-in-chief of Sruti magazine in person that I set out. The event was hosted by Dhvani, India Performing Arts Society of Central Ohio. 

“Our magazine faces additional challenges above and beyond those faced by all print magazines” says V.Ramnarayan. Given the intimate house-setting, the evening begins with Ramnarayan walking us through the history of the magazine and his own journey. For those not familiar with the story, the magazine was the brainchild of Dr N. Pattabhi Raman, a retired UNDP official. Pattabhi Raman, incidentally Ramnarayan’s uncle and an ardent rasika, started Sruti in October 1983 not long after he first returned to Chennai. His vision for the magazine was ‘adherence to high standards of authenticity, objectivity, sophisticated writing based on thorough research, and a healthy respect for individuals and institutions, balanced by an equally healthy irreverence towards holy cows’. 

Ramnarayan, himself an author of several books including “Cricket for the Love of It” and “Third Man” is a natural raconteur. His tale of the Sruti journey, in many ways gave rise to many questions that sabhas, performers and rasikas face on a daily basis. Three prominent issues were discussed both in the questions that attendees posed as well as within the Sruti story. 

Supporting the arts 

Financial viability or business models that allow the arts - be they sabhas or magazines such as Sruti to not only survive but to thrive and evolve was a major theme that arose. There was a mild foray into willingness or lack thereof of rasikas to pay appropriately for concerts. Questions such as “Why are so many Carnatic concerts free?” “Why are people prepared to pay in the thousands to hear a Pandit Jasraj sing but not so for an OS Tyagarajan concert?” were raised. The consensus - not just from the Sruti story but the experiences of sabha secretaries--was that sponsorships were the viable and reliable means of economic support upon which a viable arts organization can be run. While some discussion of whether such sponsorship itself can act as a source of influence or “pressure” was briefly touched upon, the present climate fortunately presents benevolent sponsors who have largely remained hands off. 

Expanding the audience even while preserving the tradition

‘What can be done to improve subscriptions to the magazine?’ we wondered aloud. Much like cultural organizations or sabhas which depend largely on sponsorship Sruti thrives largely from advertising revenue and less from subscriptions from readers. But the question of raising the readership numbers still comes up. Sruti, as a magazine focused on primarily Indian classical art forms, is already a niche publication. Despite Indian magazine and newspaper readership growing relative to the rest of the world where print is under siege on every front, Sruti too is not immune to the forces of digital media. Ramnarayan mentioned how Sruti has attempted to adapt with apps on both Android and iOS - as a publication on the Magzter platform. The concern that expanding the audience, somehow implies diluting the core premise of uncompromising quality was at times palpable. Does writing for a larger audience outside of the classical arts aficionados come at the cost of diluting the standards? I for one felt that this is a false dichotomy. What lessons if any could be drawn from other magazines such as the New Yorker or Harper’s Magazine, which were the original inspiration for Pattabhiraman, was a question that came up. 

Adapting to the digital and social realities 

Given the panel was happening in Columbus, the conversation turned to how many young non-resident artists are beginning to pursue classical music seriously. Young artists both resident and of the NRI variety, as with most millennials are digital natives - active on social media promoting both their own work and that of others. How has the magazine tried to hold the interest of the millennials? This is the demographic that is constantly texting, posting pictures by the second on social media and tweeting live as events unfold in front of them. 

Ramnarayan did discuss several specific things that he’s attempted including getting the top artists themselves to be both writers and readers of the magazine - to attract an audience and building community. He’s also hired a slew of young people, in many ways more representative of the young listeners (“Are there too few of them” was a question that popped up in the discussion) and continues to experiment with article formats to have a mix of both longform (the original intent and continued focus) and more “newsy” reportage.

The discussion eventually veered towards the quality of performances and the dearth of critics in the field. The lack of space in media for classical music has always been a concern for musicians and rasikas. The consensus was that with the exception of The Hindu, classical music concerts and dance performances do not get enough media coverage and that the situation is unlikely to get better. This in many ways would make Sruti and its digital descendants even more critical.

Following the discussion there was a scrumptious meal served to the guests. The ardour with which the discussion continued over the meal, gave me the sense that the panel discussion had been a great start to Dhvani’s fall season. 

Chitra Srikrishna is a musician who blogs at chitrasrikrishna.com

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Saturday, 15 October 2016

Friday, 14 October 2016

Bharatanatyam in Brussels

Students of Nada Brahma
In the past decade, much of Belgium has woken up to the undeniable presence of India – not only in the political and economic, but also in the cultural scene. Although largely influenced by Bollywood films (big banner releases worldwide also happen in Brussels and Antwerp multiplexes simultaneously), the sheer increase in the number of globetrotting Indians opting to live in this tiny country for short periods of one to three years or more, meant avenues to pursue Indian art and culture were more visibly sought by these expats. Exposure to the “exotic” culture by way of Indian neighbours or increased travel to the Indian subcontinent and easy access to information by Westerners have piqued their interest and involvement in some truly ethnic forms of Indian music and dance. The Europalia festival in 2014, featuring Indian music and dance legends performing all over Belgium also did much to help the cause. While the South Asian dance scene is more pervasive and quite mainstream in neighbouring Netherlands with its large Surinamese population with Indian roots, the Belgian community is discovering the Indian community as not only highly skilled professionals for the labour market, but also with an enriching art and culture heritage.

Today there are at least a bunch of schools for Indian music and dance run by either Indians/ Asians (clicmusic – Sangit School Brussels for Hindustani music; Artlounge9 – for primarily Bollywood based and semiclassical dance) or by Westerners who have taken to the vibrancy of India’s cultural palate (Mayasapera dance company specialising in a variety of classical dance forms of India, and Bollywood fare as well). One such school – Nada Brahma – run by the Belgian guru Eric Rozen specialising in Bharatanatyam recently held its annual dance event Natya Mala in Palais du Midi in Brussels.

Eric Rozen himself has been active on the Belgo dance and music scene for over 20 years. Once he witnessed his first guru Monica Kunz’s Bharatanatyam performance there was no turning back for him he says. She introduced him to her own guru, the Bangalore-based dancer Nirupama of the Nirupama-Rajendra dancing couple fame, from whom he still learns regularly.

Alone and with many of his students, Eric has visited Nirupama’s school to train under the watchful eyes of the accomplished artist for many years in a row. Nirupama also visited Belgium in 2013 on the behest of the dance school to conduct a workshop. Many senior students of the school have given private programmes ranging from conducting beginners workshops to Indian community-organised events including for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Brussels in March 2016.

The choreographies in Natya Mala 2016 were by Eric’s own gurus with minor adaptations done at Brussels. The students of the school are a truly international mix coming from Japan, China, Canada, France, Greece, Italy, Belgium and India, ranging in age from seven to until you can move your limbs in a coordinated fashion for the adavus. Which also means varied competency levels and skills of the participating students.

The programme opened with a pushpanjali in Arabhi, followed by the alarippu, jatiswaram in Kanada, and Natesa Kavuttuvam in Hamsadhwani. The heavy pieces of varnam in Natakurinji and a tillana in Kathanakutoohalam were performed by many senior dancers whose years of experience shone brilliantly. In an effort to confirm to a classic margam, with a specific sequence of dances with increasing difficulty and stamina level showcasing the repertoire of the dancers, the Belgian guru did manage to give space and exposure to every student of the school given their different levels of expertise.

You need to discount the fact that abhinaya relating to many Indian mythological stories is not easy for many Westerners to emote who have not grown up listening to or watching these play out in every corner of India. But what was palpable in all the students was their enthusiasm and effort in learning an intensive, rigorous, traditional, religion-based classical dance form so foreign to them and presenting it to the audience, many of whom had probably never seen a Bharatanatyam performance before. The performance in the next years would benefit from more sponsorships and promotion, more coordinated outfits of the dancers and a real theatrical stage considering that the classicism of this art form is no less than the European Ballet.

Brussels grows an inch with every non-Western performance and is heading to be on par with many other international cities, appealing to a truly cosmopolitan crowd and giving space and nourishment for music and dance expressions from lands far too east and ignored for too long. 

(A student of dance)

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Thursday, 13 October 2016

South Asian Dance Retreat returns to Columbus

By Fenella Kennedy

The South Asian Dance Retreat (SADR) was organised for the third year at the Ohio State University, Columbus. It was supported by the Barnett Center for Integrated Arts and Enterprise in collaboration with the Department of dance, The Ohio State University, and involved Kala Pradarshini dance school run by senior Bharatanatyam dancer Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala in Chennai. The two-week intensive, led by Parvathi and Odissi dancer Kaustavi Sarkar, brought together Indian classical dance and music from different countries to collaborate, teach, share and grow from each other’s practices. 

The class structure consisted of a series of exercises and basic movement patterns aimed toward improving body alignment and coordination. The techniques demanded a strong sense of rhythm, musicality and body awareness. The students learnt excerpts from the established repertoire in Bharatanatyam and Odissi, along with their historical, cultural and socio-political context. The two-week dance intensive culminated through two showcases of the participants and the choreographers.

Kaustavi Sarkar's years of experience as an Odissi dancer were amply displayed in the grace and clarity she brought to teaching and performing. She is also a respected scholar in multiple fields of dance research – this year she received the Hayes Research Award for The Arts in recognition of her interdisciplinary work on Odissi dance, Critical Theory, and Motion Capture Technology. 

Her co-organiser, Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala, brought a similar pioneering spirit to the art of Bharatanatyam as a performer, teacher, choreographer and organiser with over three decades experience in Chennai. Parvathi aims to create an intelligent synthesis of classical culture and contemporary resources, collaborating with distinguished musicians and making innovative use of multimedia in performance. 

The decision of the university's Dance Department to co-sponsor this year’s retreat was a testament to the efforts of Kaustavi and Parvathi, and allowed for a broader range of classes and instructors than ever before. Students came from all kinds of backgrounds, several countries and experiences, from beginners, to those who had been dancing their whole lives.

What made SADR special was the showcasing of the workshop participants in their own event. Parvathi’s mature and critical teaching techniques were beautifully demonstrated by a spellbinding performance by the students. The performances at the end of the retreat clearly showed how each dancer had been celebrated.

Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala celebrated the patient serenity of Seeta in a luxuriously textured embodiment of love, endurance and dignity; while Kaustavi’s presentation of Draupadi and Radha, with dancer Sriradha Paul, was engaging in its conspiratorial scheming, which culminated in a breathtaking group tillana jugalbandi of Bharatanatyam and Odissi choreographed specifically for the event by Parvathi and Kaustavi. Both of them acknowledged that the teacher’s worth is by the way a student performs, and this showcase received a standing ovation for several minutes, asserting the quality of their work.

While the first part of the showcase was the students of the SADR, the second was to highlight the guru-sishya parampara through Samanvaya, the succession of teachers and disciples in traditional Indian classical dance and the nurturing of the pedagogy of oral transmission practices.

Samanvaya was a tribute that brought together gurus and their sishyas from three different dance legacies of the two different Indian classical dance forms of Bharatanatyam and Odissi. It featured Bharatanatyam gurus Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala (Director of Kalapradharshini, Chennai, India) and Priya Gajaananan (Kalabhavanam, Columbus, Ohio), and Odissi guru Kaustavi Sarkar (Odissi at Ohio State and Kaustavi Movement Company), with sishya Shreyah Mohanselvan (a teenage dance prodigy and high school junior at Columbus Academy, Gahanna, Ohio). It is interesting to note that Shreyah had her Bharatanatyam arangetram in Columbus, Ohio at the age of 12 under the tutelage of Priya Gajaanana; her Odissi manchapravesa in Chennai in August 2015 at the age of 15 under the guidance of Kaustavi Sarkar; and her Bharatanatyam debut in Chennai, under the guidance of Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala. The disciple was truly blessed to have the opportunity to perform with her three gurus and made them proud.

With the deities Siva, Jagannatha and Ganesa gracing the stage, the programme was a visual delight and treat to the audience in the harmonious sequencing of the different items – an invocation to Ganesa in Bharatanatyam and to Durga in Odissi, depiction of the love of Krishna and Radha in Bharatanatyam, and the playful interactions of Radha and her sakhi in Odissi. Last but not least, an exploration of the many interpretations and connotations of rain in the strong Dikkugal ettum in Bharatanatyam, and the melodious and soothing Varsha duet in Odissi left the audience spellbound.

Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala captured perfectly the sentiment behind the event in her speech, “We senior artists would like to pass this art to the new generation. We encourage the younger generation to take on this art with passion.” The performance ended to a resounding standing ovation and concluded the annual South Asian Dance Retreat hosted by the Department of Dance.

Indian classical dance has found a passionate champion in the Mid-West, and Columbus will look forward to Kaustavi Sarkar and Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala's  future collaborations and the return of the SADR next year.

One student commented that the highlight of the retreat had been the chance to experience and compare different forms of Indian classical dance; another praised the “tireless and whole-hearted commitment” of her instructors and peers. Dance Department chair, Susan Hadley, valued the retreat’s connection to the local community: “I would like to see the retreat return in the future, continuing to provide a bridge between town and gown, global and local, music and dance.”

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Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Padma Sugavanam

Young Voices
(Conversations with emerging artists)

(As part of Sruti's policy, honorifics and titles are avoided as far as possible, even when the writer or artist employs them as a mark of respect to their seniors. This blog post is no exception).

By Sushma Somasekharan

Meet Dr Padma Sugavanam, an A-grade artist with All India Radio, who trained under the gurukulam environment with guru Seetha Rajan. A winner of the ‘’Most Outstanding Vocalist’’ award in the junior category of the Music Academy in 2014, Padma loves old poetry and languages. In evidence during her recent conversation with Sruti were the aesthetics and vision of her musical pursuit. 

How did you come to learn music?

My parents noticed that I loved singing as a child; I had to be pulled away from mikes. Although they had no background in music, they returned to Chennai from Canada when I was hardly four, and decided that I should train in music.

I started lessons with Geetha Ramachandran, and later trained under Sangita Kala Acharya Seetha Rajan, in the Semmangudi bani. For twenty years, I trained in a gurukulam environment, spending nearly all my waking hours at my guru’s house. While I did my B.A. Music through correspondence, I soaked in music through the day -- listening, analyzing and discussing music, witnessing Seetha Mami’s practice, teaching juniors, researching. 

I am 35 now and married into a musically inclined family. My husband is a student of Hindustani music, and my mother-in-law is also trained, in the lineage of Sri Mysore Vasudevacharya.

When did you decide to start performing? It appears that you entered the performance arena at a much later age than your peers. Why is that so? 

When I was 18, I won the Sangeetha Shri award from RR Sabha (Trichy) after a gruelling 3-day competition with advanced manodharma. At 22, I was awarded an AIR A-grade as a double promotion when I applied for a B-High grade. These awards and grading gave me the added belief I needed, and concretised my dreams of performing.

Simultaneously, I was fascinated by scholars of the calibre of Prof N Ramanathan. My time with my guru instilled in me that academic scholarship was important. Hence, I pursued a PhD in Sanskrit and Musicology, interpreting musicological manuscripts from 2 BCE to 1600 CE. I also learned Telugu, and taught at the SV College of Music and Dance (Tirupati).

Music is ultimately a performing art, but marrying that performance with a strong knowledge in music theory was extremely important to me. I wanted to chart a path for myself, equally intense in theory and practice, academics and performance. This is why I performed very selectively until I completed my PhD. This time also helped me introspect and form clear views on music, before going full-steam into performing.

What was your PhD research about? What is its influence on your music today? 

My PhD was a research on Kohala, a dramaturge and contemporary of Bharata. His works have been lost, and it was a challenge to triangulate indirect inferences from other manuscripts and works. One author who referenced Kohala significantly – Abhinavagupta - has deeply influenced my musical aesthetics. 

Abhinava’s aesthetics has made me appreciate that music as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It is not enough if I focus on singing just the alapana, niraval or swaram well. The bigger picture has other intangibles that I need to get right. I think it is also due to the influence of his aesthetics, that I am a stickler for the ‘sound experience’ of my concerts!

You have spent much time studying both languages and music. So where do you find yourself now? Are you swayed more by the music or the language? 

Language is rightly called the mother of culture. In my opinion, language gives us forms of expression, including poetry and music. Sanskrit, for example, has the ability to create new words spontaneously (through grammar rules of samasa), the variety of phonemes (aspirated, unaspirated etc),and the rhythmic structure of syllables (hrasva, dirgha, pluta)–offers a fantastic playfield for composition.

Each language has its unique ingredients. Knowledge of Tamil, Sanskrit and Telugu, allows me to appreciate poetry and its import – it adds to musicianship. I find poetry and music equally beautiful, and inseparable from the overall aesthetic experience. While singing Chinnanjiru Kiliye in a concert in the US, I felt almost overwhelmed – it is hard to say whether it was Bharatiyar’s poetry (on love towards a child), or the music itself. I think it was both.

You sound so passionate about languages, and poetry and its combination with music. How would you define your musical values? What can a listener expect, when she comes to your concert? 

My musical values are to pursue excellence rather than popularity. Only if I am true to myself as an artiste, can I be true to the audience. I present music that is true to my sense of aesthetics - a traditional pathantara with weighty sangatis in consonance with the pristine raga bhava which also reflects the essence of the lyrics of the song. I also work hard on the sound experience – vocal clarity, tonal purity and resonance (I place a mike for the tambura).

Although I am considered to possess a flexible and fast moving voice, I believe in singing with restraint. I sing vilamba-kala items in every concert – I love the grandeur and majesty of the slow gait. I am from the old school in this respect – I prefer Test cricket over T-20! Even in Hindustani music, vilambit is considered the true test of an artiste’s mettle.

The ideal concert for me would be a sublime experience - where the artistes and audiences acquire a match in wavelength. I enjoy subtlety in musical expression, and admire musicians who gain popularity without resorting to populism. Music should intuitively appeal to the uninitiated, even before it intellectually appeals to the scholar. That’s the experience I want to give to my listener as well. 

What would be your one lament about the ‘’kutcheri scene’’ today?

I believe that the common rasika (i.e. non-disadvantaged, non-underprivileged), needs to take ownership of ‘asraya’ – since we have long moved away from ‘Rajaashraya’, where the king patronized musicians. Today, several sabhas struggle for funds because most rasikas are habituated to expect free concerts. Paying Rs 400 is fine for a pizza, but not paying Rs 100 for a 3-hour concert with 20 years of sadhana behind it? This culture has numerous undesirable consequences, and it needs to change.

Your opinion on collaborations and other genres of music. 

I enjoy all genres of music - but don’t want them getting mixed up. Music is without boundaries, but it should not be without identities. Classical music should not sound like fusion, and vice versa. Today, there is a trend of presenting a non-native version of Pooriya Dhanasree under the name of Pantuvarali. I love both these ragas but wish they would flourish with distinct identities, in their own genres.

I appreciate creative collaborations. Collaboration with dancers, is a welcome trend (in fact, in ancient musicology, dance, drama and music, were almost inseparable). I am now collaborating with a scholar of Tamizh and Vaishnavism, to present pasurams on a divyadesam relating to an area of my research interest – Bridal Mysticism. I am firm on the view that I will not experiment for the sake of experimenting; I would like to collaborate in a meaningful way, with serious musical thought and sensibility.

There are opinions from the public that Carnatic Music has not roped in newer and fresher audiences and is a dwindling art form. Having spent much time in the teaching side, in your opinion, how can the teaching structure be adapted to be more inclusive of all interested students and be made compelling for the new comers? 

Carnatic music has excellent ambassadors for the future – talented, professional in approach, well-educated, articulate – and this tribe is increasing as more youngsters take to music. In the foreseeable future, Carnatic music should flourish as a niche art. Hence I do not agree with the opinion that it is a dwindling art form.

I do think that sabhas, audiences and formats of presentation – will all change. We will soon have Carnatic music presented through virtual reality platforms. As Darwin said, it is not the strongest or most intelligent species that survives – but the one most adaptable to change. We need to adapt our music to new pedagogies, new formats of presentation, taking full advantage of technology. Amidst these changes, though, we need our musical values to remain unchanging.

Chitravina Narasimhan has developed a brilliant music pedagogy, to teach young children through association with day-to-day objects – where the child is constantly learning, without even realizing that something is being taught. We need to develop such pedagogies outside the rigid classroom structure, and introduce classical music through non-musical objects, folk music, drama and so on. I too picked up many facets of music in the gurukulam, just by being in a facilitating environment.

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Thursday, 6 October 2016

Let's bring the gurukula back

By Nagaraj Havaldar

(As part of Sruti's policy, honorifics and titles are avoided as far as possible, even when the writer or artist employs them as a mark of respect to their seniors. This blog post is no exception).

Guru Brahma  guru  Vishnu guru  devo  Maheswaraha,
Guru  sakshaat  parah  Brahma tasmaisree gurave namaha.

Shishya Sawai Gandharva and Guru Ustad
Abdul Karim Khan
This verse explains in its totality the importance of the guru in learning. The term guru means not just a teacher. It envelopes a huge canvas of different characters like a mentor, friend, philosopher, guide and so on. In the context of the Indian classical art forms, the gurukula plays a vital role. As a student of history, archaeology and Hindustani classical vocal music, I am convinced, both culturally and historically, that there is no substitute for a guru and the gurukula.

We  all  know  that  Indian  classical  music  is  mainly passed on across generations via the oral tradition. We do have a few texts on music and musicology, but solely by studying them in depth on his own without the proper guidance of a guru, I am sure nobody can become a performer.

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, the doyen and founder of the Kirana gharana, started the Arya Sangeetha Vidyalaya, during pre-independence days. He had no fixed financial support from any quarter, but his zeal to spread and impart music was such that he would take a seven year bond from the student committing him or her to stay under his tutelage. As a result he could produce gems like Sawai Gandharva, Suresh Babu Mane, and Hirabai Badodekar. Sawai Gandharva in turn trained all time greats like Gangu Bai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi and Firoz Dastur, to name a few.

Guru Patnam Subramanya Iyer and Shishya Mysore
Karnataka is one state in India which has produced great musicians from both the Carnatic and Hindustani systems. The Wodeyars of Mysore, who were benevolent rulers,  were  directly  responsible  for patronizing both the systems. Mysore Vasudevacharya, as a young student, was sponsored by the kings with a scholarship to go and learn from Patnam Subramanya Iyer in Tamil Nadu under the true gurukula system. The rigour of his training with local gurus had been obvious.

Before Vasudevacharya   started   learning   from   Subramania Iyer,  he  was  auditioned and thoroughly interviewed with regard to his previous learning. Despite knowing what ragas the student had already learnt, Patnam again started teaching him the raga Begada.  Vasudevacharya thought that as it was the first day of learning, the guru had refrained from taking him to the unknown territory of a new raga.

But  as  days,  weeks,  and  months  passed,  Vasudevacharya's individual training continued in raga Begada, though he was also allowed to learn other ragas when the guru taught other students like Tiger Varadacharya. As a young, exuberant, passionate and willing student, Vasudevacharya, however, was keen to learn some less sung and complex ragas during his individual sessions. He also expressed his apprehension that, when he was to go back and give an update on his learning, he would have to present something new to the king and the court musicians in Mysore in order to renew his scholarship. But the guru emphatically said that the sishya must go and present Begada which had taken a new dimension and a path by now. Basically he had imparted the methodology of developing a raga through Begada.

My guru Pt. Madhava Gudi's 28-year long association with his guru Pt. Bhimsen Joshi was a unique chapter in the history of Indian classical music. In our university education, ten years of schooling, two years of Pre University, three years of undergraduate study, two years of Masters, and four years of intense research can fetch a student a doctorate. This is 21 years of schooling and learning in different institutions, under different teachers. In the case of Madhava Gudi Ji, he always felt incomplete about his learning and conceded that he would not be able to sing a few ragas as exquisitely as his guru did. His story of learning from Bhimsen Ji began on a different note altogether. After an intense audition, Bhimsen accepted to teach the young Madhav at the age of 16. Madhav Gudi was a shy and innocent lad  never dared to ask his guru any question or request him to teach a particular raga or bandish. It so happened that as he started living under the true gurukula system with his guruji, he also took part in mundane household chores. He would drop off the children at school, bring vegetables from the market, and iron the guru's clothes for the concert. Madhav ji also had the privilege of being a permanent tanpura saathi of Bhimsen Joshi. This routine continued for almost a year and a half without any direct  taleem being imparted. The guru was happy that the disciple had become an integral part of the family but the sishya was worried about not being trained.

Shishya Madhav Gudi and Guru Pt. Bhimsen Joshi
One fine day Madhav gathered all his courage and asked Bhimsen, "Dear guruji, it has been close to 18 months since I came here. But for doing some chores, playing the tanpura and being with you (a privilege) I feel that my taleem has not started. May I ask you why this delay sir?" Chewing his pan, Bhimsen Joshi said, "Dear Madhu, who has delayed your learning? It is you, who were happy, busy doing the mundane chores. If you had asked this question just ten days after your arrival into my gurukula, I would have started to teach you right away. Please introspect; it is you who delayed the learning process, not me". My guru Madhava Gudi always said with absolute gratitude that, after this incident, his learning was 24/7. He even recalled learning a bandish in a car, with Bhimsen Joshi using the horn as both a drone and a metronome.

These gurus had a method, a vision of their own. It may look eccentric and strange to us, but they did produce great musicians who carried the tradition forward and passed it on to the next generation.

I had the good fortune of learning from Pt. Panchakshari Swami Mattigatti, a disciple of  Pt. Mallikarjun Mansoor under the true gurukula order. Mansoorji and Mattigattiji had a strong bonding over twenty years. The guru was available to the sishya for any query on music even in the middle of the night. He did not allow the sishya to write down the bandish. He would teach the sthayi or the first half of the composition), ask him to memorise the words and the tune, and then teach the antara or second half of the composition. Mansoorji would even give a surprise visit to Mattigatti's room to have a random check of whether he was doing his morning riyaz.

Guru Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur and Shishya Panchakshari Swami Mattigatti
Despite this kind of a musical association, Guruji was a man of few words. The two of them never had a routine conversation about anything other than music. Once it so happened that Mansoorji had a concert in Dharwad, his hometown. As the concert  venue  was  not  too  far  from  the house, they loaded the instruments in a tonga and guru and sishya walked behind it. After a few steps, the disciple noticed that Guruji's dhoti had a big hole. The student was in a dilemma whether to tell this or not to Mansoorji. Mattigattiji finally gathered all his courage to inform Mansoorji that his dhoti had a hole in it. As if he had anticipated this question, Mansoorji, said, "Hey Panchakshari! Tell me who is the singer? Me or my dhoti?" He then said imperiously, "Just tie a knot to cover the hole. Let's go and sing." Mattigattiji would always recall that Mansoorji gave an immortal concert that night.

It is the need of the hour to establish a true gurukula, to invite gurus of this nature and stature to propagate, preserve and promote our classical music. For all his strict tutelage under his guru, Mattigatti Guruji was a compassionate teacher. I was fortunate that he often stayed with us in Bangalore for a week or ten days, taught all the rare bandishes and ragas of the Jaipur school. This process continued for a period of eight years from 1996 to 2004. He was kind enough to allow me to record the classes. He had the vision to involve my young sons Omkar (vocalist) and Kedar (tablist) to be a part of my learning.

Mattigatti Guruji once accompanied me to the studio for a live broadcast at AIR Bangalore. At the last minute, we found out that the second tanpura player was unable to make it in time. I was about to cancel the live broadcast, but without a second thought, Guruji offered to play the tanpura for me. I fell at his feet and requested him not to do so. But he said, "I am only concerned about a good live performance. I will do anything for that, even if the singer is my disciple."

These are a few of the many great masters who stand as pillars of strength and reference for future. This kind of learning in Gurukula enables the student to imbibe everything about the music, the tradition, the Gharana, the pedigree and so on. Right from the way of tuning the tanpura to selecting a raga and what to sing for which occasion and other nuances can be inherited only by such a long and in-depth interaction and association with a guru. This is only possible under the Gurukula tradition. We can safely infer that this is true of Dance, Sculpture and other art forms too

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Indian arts to the fore in Melbourne

By Shobha Sekhar

Australia usually conjures images of cricket in the minds of many Indians. But there is more to this island continent tucked in the southern hemisphere. With a constantly burgeoning Indian immigrant population and Melbourne being voted the world’s most liveable city for an unprecedented sixth year in a row – the city scored a near perfect 97.5 out of 100 – with top marks in healthcare, infrastructure and education, Melbourne’s art loving Indian immigrants have much to offer and share with the rest of the globe.

Melbourne boasts a cultural calendar bursting at its seams. Events by resident senior artists, students, music and dance schools in annual concerts, and overseas artists from India constantly beckon the population to attend. It is the worry of organisers not to clash – and hence the need to have a web calendar to crosscheck the availability of dates!

For the sake of brevity this story will cover only the Carnatic classical music scene and organisers.

Australia--particularly Melbourne--is a multicultural society. We strive in this part of the world to propagate classical music to a broad spectrum of aspiring students regardless of nationality, religion, caste or even those who may be intellectually or socially challenged.

It may come as a surprise but there are several families who can be financially strained. These students get fee concessions. Being far away from the Indian roots – its culture and values, I strongly advocate to keep in touch by learning and practising some Indian art form. Many students may not blossom into performing artists but I believe the music education will help them appreciate India’s rich legacy.

One of the main organisers in Melbourne is Sridhar Chari through his organisation InConcert Music. Sridhar has been a disciple of Kumbakonam Rajappa Iyer and Umayalpuram Sivaraman.

Sridhar also learnt flute from Thiagarajan Ramani and teaches both mridangam and flute to aspiring students at his Laya Vidhya Centre.

Sridhar is the early bird who begins the year with a concert on 26 January – when both India and Australia celebrate their Republic Day.

In March 2016, Neyveli Santhanagopalan, Nagai Muralidharan and  Mannargudi  Easwaran gave a memorable concert preceded by a choir. About 30 vocalists sang a song written (about Australia in Tamil) and composed by Santhanagopalan.

Three music schools in Melbourne paid tribute to M.S. Subbulakshmi during her centenary year. On 6 May students of Jayshree Ramachandran’s Sapthaswara School of music enthralled the audience by rendering many songs and bhajans popularised by MS.

Sridhar conducted InConcert Music Festival as a tribute to MS on 17 June  with a short multimedia presentation, songs from the silver screen by several artists and a thought provoking ‘Talking Dance’ presentation by Dr. Priya Srinivasan.

Shobha Sekhar’s Kalakruthi School of Music, which is affiliated to Music Academy, Chennai, also had a two-day annual festival where students from her school and universities (where she lectures) presented songs popularised by M.S.  Subbulakshmi.

Two schools successfully had charity events to raise funds for Monash Children's Hospital which is part of Monash Health, Victoria’s largest healthcare service. It is a network of paediatric health care  services across Monash Medical Centre, Dandenong Hospital and  Casey Hospital. A new hospital is being built and is slated to be opened in 2017. 

Kalakruthi School held a successful charity event ‘Kala Kiran’ on 20 March. R.T. Chari, a Vice President of the Music Academy, Chennai, was the chief guest. The event had three segments: Nada Yoga, an interactive yoga session for voice, a panel discussion to debate and plan future trends for classical arts in Australia, and a bhajan led by teachers of various schools.

Uthra Vijayaraghavan’s Keerthana Music School runs an annual school concert in April to promote young talent and to give an opportunity for the students to perform in front of a large audience. This year, the school and its members decided to run a special charity concert as part of the 11th annual school concert, in support of the Monash Children’s Hospital. The concert on the 9 April was a showcase of talents of all the students of the school, who gave commendable performances, accompanied on the violin and  mridangam by students from other music schools in Melbourne.

A major festival held annually for the past 30 years is Ravichandhira’s Mummoorthy festival (see Sruti 383, August 2016).

The Iyer Brothers are veterans in Melbourne who established their Pichumani School in 1990. The school held its 26th annual school concert in May where junior as well as senior vocal and veena students performed.

Sundari Sarimpalli and her Swara Sadhana School celebrated the 10th anniversary this year with a concert by all her students.

The latest major event was VISHWA – a confluence of music and dance by leading schools of Victoria (State) under one unifying Umbrella Organisation FIMDV (Federation of Music and Dance Schools of Victoria), held on 13 August to celebrate India’s 70th Independence. It was one of Melbourne’s most well attended programmes in recent times. The title VISHWA was coined as an acronym for Videshi (foreigner) and Swadeshi (citizen).

It was heartening to see a wide cross-section of nationalities including Alex Pertout, Former Head of Improvisational Studies from University of Melbourne, and all age groups – grandparents, parents and children – sitting in the front rows and watching with rapt attention). The women resplendent in bright sarees were complemented by their partners in equally captivating kurtas! 

Vishwa began with a welcome speech by its president Rama Rao. Vasan Srinivasan, Trustee, invited the guests of honour Jim Grivokostopoulos and Multicultural Commissioner C.S. Srinivasan. They spoke about the contribution to Australian society by Indian immigrants and the rich tapestry of art forms they bring along with them.

Sridhar Chari and his students from Laya Vidhya Centre commenced the musical segment with a mallari on the flute and percussion instruments – mridangam, ghatam and khanjira.

Vishwa Vitthala gave a spirited start to the vocal music section. Presented by Shobha Sekhar and Jayshree Ramachandran (both vice presidents of FIMDV), the two abhangs in praise of Lord Vitthala who reigns supreme in this viswa or world,  brought to the fore the invigorating beauty of the 13th century poet-saint Dhyaneswar and 16th century poet-saint Tukaram. The vocalists’ presentations were rejuvenated by violinist Murali Kumar (violin), Sridhar Chari (mridangam) and Pandurang Torvi (tabla).

This was followed by Ek Sur  – a garland of patriotic numbers in a string of ragas and languages by Rama Rao and Uthra Vijayaraghavan, Secretary, ably supported by the percussionists of the day (Sridhar and Pandurang) and young keyboard artists Sandeepan Pushparaj and Ravi Kumar. 

The instrument ensemble PravAha demonstrated the coming together of different styles of music (Carnatic, Hindustani and Western saxophone), different instruments and sounds. Pravaha which means “flow’ aptly described the music as it streamed from one instrument to the other. Vainika Ramnath Iyer played Kalyani raga, followed by Nicholas Buff on the saxophone (raga Yaman), Gopinath Iyer (veena), Saby Bhattacharya (sarod), Murali Kumar (violin), followed by Radhey Shyam Gupta (sitar). Sridhar and Pandurang on percussion supported in their respective Carnatic and Hindustani styles. The sound emanating had to be judiciously balanced by Charles Walker as the different instruments had very distinctive volumes and sounds. The energetic and culminating teermanams and  tihai were well appreciated by the audience. Kudos to Ramnath (who coordinated the concert) and his team for working together to present this 'Swara Pallavi'.

The intermission was spiced up by food from Biryani Mahal and was a precursor to an equally spicy dance segment.

Jhansi ki Rani is the story of the brave Indian warrior-queen from Jhansi. Tara Rajkumar (Trustee, FIMDV) directed the dance-drama. Enticingly coordinated by Ushanthini Sripathmanathan (secretary) and Meghala Bhatt, the story was brought to life by narrator and researcher Soundarrajan Iyer. This was an amalgam of different dance styles which highlighted the oft repeated phrase  'unity in diversity'. 

Ushanthini and students of Natyalaya, in well designed costumes, portrayed the opening scenes of the legendary tale Jhansi Ki Rani - Lakshmi Bai, showing her expertise in sword fighting and leadership qualities to gear up an army in spite of adverse conditions and pressure tactics by the British in colonial India.

Ushanthini (Bharatanatyam) set the stage for the story to unfold. Mohini Bordawekar made a convincing presentation in Kathak with her chakkars well timed and flawless. Shyama Sasidharan (Kuchipudi) portrayed the fierce Rani Lakshmi Bai appropriately with poise.

Nithiya Gopu, one of the best dancers Tara has mentored, played her part in the Mohini Attam style. The flowing movements as well as the Kalaripayattu (a martial art which originated in Kerala) appropriately narrated Lakshmi Bai’s conquests. The dancers came together in the final episode where the great warrior's prowess, unfortunately proved to be no match for the British might in arms and numbers. The finale Vande Mataram again by all leading dancers in their respective classical styles was a fitting tribute on Independence Day. Jhansi ki Rani, effectively sent a strong message of women empowerment and a motivation for women to stand up for themselves in the face of repression or suppression.

The National Anthems of Australia and India aroused the auditorium with power and patriotism. Harmonious indeed!