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February 2017 - By Sashwath Mahalingam

Helmut Schmidt once said, “The biggest room in the world is the room for improvement.” In CCC’s event in February 2017, on the 12th (a Sunday), it could not have been more evident how true this quote was and how it showed in each person’s performance, from the beginning varnam to the final RTP.

Manasa Poorni - The event began with a mellifluous performance by Manasa Poorni, a new budding artist, accompanied by Preetika Ashok on the veena and Shrikrishna Shivakumar on the mridangam. Manasa began with a varnam in Lalitha ragam, composed by Vidwan Shri. Neyveli Santhanagopalan. The varnam was composed on Saint Tyagaraja, and was set to Adi Talam. Manasa also took up second speed in the varnam, and in a ragam such as Lalitha, this is definitely a challenge. Following the varnam, Manasa rendered Tyagaraja’s famous Rama Nannu Brova in Harikambhoji, set to Rupaka Talam. Throughout the performance, Preetika emulated the melody of the performance with her dulcet accompaniment on the veena, matching every last swaram and tune perfectly, while Shrikrishna Shivakumar kept the audience in rhythm with his laya-conscious accompaniment on the mridangam.

Urmika Balaji - Following Manasa’s rendition was a mature and professional performance by Urmika Balaji on the violin, accompanied by Vivek Arvind on the mridangam. Urmika began with a soul-stirring alapana in Shanmugapriya. This was followed by Patnam Subramanya Iyer's famous composition marivErE dikkevarayya rAma, set to Deshadi Talam. Urmika then took up kalpanaswarams on the Anu Charanam, Sanutanga Sri Venkatesa. In no way did this concert seem like it was performed by very young artists, given that throughout her manodharmam renditions, which is a challenge on its own, Urmika managed to include some interesting kannaku as well as wonderful sarvalaghu patterns, thus demonstrating a high level of musical knowledge and capacity. Her korvai included a nice twist starting from takita thalli instead of the traditional samam to eddam or eddam to eddam korvai. Throughout the rendition, Vivek managed to keep up a very confident accompaniment on the mridangam, and even took up a mohra korvai towards the end of the performance.

Varsha Shankar - After Urmika’s wonderful performance was a vocal rendition by Varsha Shankar, accompanied by Aishwarya Anand on the violin and Sriram Srivatsan on the mridangam. Varsha began with an aesthetically pleasing Saveri alapana, enhanced with the use of very traditional as well as interesting and euphonic prayogams. Throughout her alapana, Varsha demonstrated excellent voice pliancy in her use of fast-paced phrases. Aishwarya Anand then mirrored this alapana melodiously on the violin, complemented by bhavam and emotion in her playing. Especially captivating was the use of vadi-samvadi notes in her alapana (such as srgsr,pdnpd,srgsr,). Varsha then rendered Tyagaraja’s rarely heard composition on Tripura Sundari, Kanna Thalli Nivu, in Deshadi Rettakalai Adi Talam. Following her spirited rendition of the krithi, Varsha engaged in mel-kalam swarams on the pallavi. Adding to sarvalaghu and interesting kannaku, Varsha further captured the audience with her use of pleasing phrases in Saveri. Throughout, Sriram enhanced the spirit of the performance with his energetic accompaniment on the mridangam. Even though it was Aishwarya’s first time accompanying on the violin, she sure responded well to the challenge of taking kalpanaswarams in a vast ragam such as Saveri. Varsha concluded with an interesting samam-to-eddam korvai, which was followed by a mohra korvai by Sriram.

Srivas Sarva - Following Varsha’s lively performance was another violin solo by Srivas Sarva, accompanied by Ananth Kumar on the mridangam. Srivas began his performance with a soothing alapana in ragam Kalyani. This was followed by Tyagaraja’s composition, ‘Vasudevayani’, set to Adi Talam. Following this rendition, Srivas played a few kalpanaswarams on the pallavi of the song. In his kalpanaswarams, Srivas demonstrated excellent musical control with his use of bhavam-laden phrases and swarams. Throughout the performance, Ananth kept up a very dynamic accompaniment on the mridangam, while also adjusting his accompaniment to the tone and emotion of the ragam and the song in general.

Shreya Virinchipuram - Following Srivas’ bhavam-filled rendition was a vocal solo by Shreya Virinchipuram, accompanied by Gowri Datta on the violin and Akshay Aravindan on the mridangam. Shreya began with a viruttam in Hemavathi, mAta marakata, where she combined melody as well as excellent voice modulation with her use of fast phrases in progressive cycles and lines of the viruttam. Following this, Shreya rendered Dikshitar’s famous composition, Sri Kanthimathim, set to Rettakalai Adi Talam. After this calm rendition followed kalpanaswarams on the pallavi. In her kalpanaswarams, Shreya used many interesting kannaku patterns, including those of reduction where her swarams reduced by one karvai in each succeeding iteration. In addition to this, Shreya introduced many different nadai switches, and not just in normal tisra nadai or mEl kalam tisra nadai, but also in chatusra-tisra nadai, including keezh and mEl kalam,  which is known to be a very interesting laya challenge for many musicians to handle. Throughout the performance, Gowri Datta demonstrated a huge improvement in her mastery and playing of the violin through her accompaniment of Shreya on stage today, keeping up with all the melodious as well as laya-based aspects of the song and the manodharmam. Akshay enhanced the laya-based part of the performance with his kinetic accompaniment on the mridangam, exercising his skill in the interesting nadai changes taking place in the kalpanaswarams on the pallavi.

Anirudh Raja - Following Shreya’s awe-inspiring performance was another vocal solo by Anirudh Raja, accompanied by Aditya Satyadeep on the violin and Avinash Anand on the mridangam. Anirudh started off with a magnificent alapana in ragam Hamirkalyani, where he demonstrated good voice culture with his use of extremely fast-paced phrases and high voice range. Aditya Satyadeep later highlighted this alapana with his consuming alapana on the violin, adding his own element of bhavam into the rendition while maintaining the tone and emotion of the ragam. Anirudh followed this with a rendition of parimaLa ranganAtham, set to Tisra Eka and composed by Muthuswami Dikshitar. After his energetic rendition of the song, Anirudh proceeded to kalpanaswarams on the madhyamakalam verse, Guruguha viditam. To handle kalpanaswarams in such a complex ragam like Hamirkalyani is indeed a difficult task, one which Anirudh handled very well. Throughout the performance, Avinash Anand engaged the audience with his mature and splendid accompaniment on the mridangam.

Adithi Thirumalai - Following Anirudh’s energetic performance was a veena solo by Adithi Thirumalai on the veena, accompanied by Pranav Tirumalai on the mridangam. Adithi began with a dulcet alapana in kAnada, and given how complex the ragam is, this challenge was handled very well. Following this, she rendered a bit of thanam in the same ragam, which is even more of a challenge on top of alapana rendition. Adithi then played Swati Tirunal’s rupaka talam krithi, Mamava Sada Janani. Following her tranquilizing rendition, Adithi took up challenging mEl kalam kalpanaswarams on the pallavi of the song, keeping up the laya aspect while also displaying the true flavors of kAnada ragam, making the performance enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing overall. Pranav brought his energetic and best accompaniment on the mridangam onstage including an interesting (mathematically) mohra-korvai after the rendition of kalpanaswarams.

Vidwan Sri Saravanapriyan Sriraman - Following Adithi’s dulcet performance was a Feature-a-Guru session by Vidwan Sri Saravanapriyan Sriraman. The topic of this session was How To Approach a Raga, and the concepts covered ranged from the various aspects of certain ragams to how different ragams that share similar phrases can be distinguished and how swaram combination alone cannot determine what ragam one is presenting. Overall, the session was very informative to us students as it shows us how broad and complex but classifiable this system of ragams is and how each raga is unique in its own manner. We would sincerely like to thank Saravanapriyan Mama for providing this opportunity to learn more about the depths and comprehensiveness of Carnatic Music and its aspects.

Vivrd Prasanna - After Vidwan Sri. Saravanapriyan Mama’s informative session was a concluding performance by Vivrd Prasanna on the vocal, Priyanka Chary on the veena, and Srivatsan Tennathur on the mridangam. Vivrd began with a beautiful Simhendramadhyamam alapana stressed with melody and bhavam, and demonstrated his high level of musical knowledge with his use of aesthetically appeasing ragam phrases and prayogams. This was followed by an equally outstanding alapana by Priyanka on the veena, where she demonstrated her high level of skill playing the veena by mirroring the fast, yet smooth phrases displaying the ragam’s flavor. Vivrd followed this with thanam in the same ragam, where he demonstrated immense finesse and voice modulation throughout. The Pallavi Vivrd presented was a composition of Vidwan Sri. Neyveli Santhanagopalan, with the sahityam “guru malaraDi paNi manAme thiruvaruL pErA piravI thalai arA.” Today’s CCC event had begun with Vidwan Sri. Neyveli Santhanagopalan’s varnam composition on Tyagaraja, who is often regarded as a guru and a teacher to Carnatic musicians in addition to being composer. This Pallavi was appropriately placed as it concluded with the same type of tribute to Guru (in accordance to the sahityam of the Pallavi). The Pallavi was set to Misra Nadai Adi Talam, 12 matrais eduppu from the samam, which made it all the more a challenge to render and perform. After a few rounds of pattern-based niraval, Vivrd proceeded to an interesting set of thrikalam nadais, he sang in keezh kalam first, then tisra nadai (in misra nadai, this is no easy task),  then mEl kalam (2nd speed), and also because on average each syllable of the pallavi took up 4 matrais, Vivrd decided to perform in mEl kAlam 3rd speed as well. Following this outstanding thrikalam, Vivrd took up swarams in the Pallavi, including some interesting kannaku while maintaining excellent sarvalaghu demonstration throughout. Priyanka managed to further accentuate the liveliness of this Ragam Tanam Pallavi by keeping up with the challenges thrown by Misra Nadai as well as the kannaku used. After a eddam to eddam korvai, Srivatsan proceeded to render a challenging mohra korvai with a full blown, enthusiastic playing of the mridangam.
 
Overall, as mentioned earlier, each of these performers demonstrated a capacity to take up any challenge and improve on their previous skills in music to make each performance better than the last. Not only would one give these performers credit for their hard work and effort, but also to our Gurus, who everyday encourage and inspire us to do more and go beyond our capacity to explore the depths and challenges of Carnatic Music and its aspects. Of course, it also follows that we must acknowledge our our parents, who put up with our constant demands and wants to pursue this music, and go through the hardships of traffic, going to various places in a day at least for rehearsals, classes, etc., and attention to what we are doing music-wise in addition to the duties they already have. Finally, we owe it to organizations like CCC, who because of their constant encouragement of youth musicians, are able to help bring up some of the most hardworking and talented musicians in the Bay Area. Best wishes to all the performers who performed today for a bright and enjoyable musical future.