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July 2017 - By Sashwath Mahalingam

Carnatic Music has progressed greatly over time, both geographically and chronologically. Not only have the methods and means of learning, teaching, and enjoying such an art have changed, but so has its geographical range, from being limited to Southern Indian regions such as Tamil Nadu to spreading all across the United States, Canada, and Australia, just to name a few countries where the art is recognized. Even though all these changes have taken place, one rather important factor in the system remains; the gurukulam. Albeit different countries have different standards and values to inculcate and the youths in each grow up learning different principles of life from the outer environment, the spread of Carnatic Music is unique in the way that universally, the gurukulam or any form of face-to-face/interactive learning under the guidance of a guru is recognized as the best and most superior form of learning this art. Students in different music schools/gurukulams all across the globe learn based off a school’s padantharam, and not only does the padantharam carry a style for rendering certain krithis and interpreting certain ideas/aspects of music, but each values certain principles that make their style of the art unique from others. These principles of music are carried on as a legacy over many generations to come, from the most legendary of the stalwarts to our generation of youths in the 21st century. The July 16th, 2017 CCC event that took place displayed this phenomenon as many different students who sang/participated in the event brought their own style as well as a style inculcated by their guru(s) to the stage.

Yuvanand Saravanan - The event began with a 10-minute performance by Yuvanand Saravanan on the vocal, Preetika Ashok on the veena, and Sachin Venkat on the mridangam. Yuvanand commenced with the Vasantha varnam, set to Adi Talam, composed by Tacchur Singaaraachari. In addition to the regular thrikalam (1st and 2nd speed in the purvangam), Yuvanand included a nice mathematical combo in the charanam where he rendered each chittaswaram in 1st speed then transitioned to do it in 2nd speed consecutively, while maintaining a 1st-speed talam. Following a short alapana by Preetika, Yuvanand then proceeded to sing Tyagaraja’s Samajavaragamana in Hindolam, set to Adi Talam. In his presentation Yuvanand exhibited good rhythm control (laya sense) and voice control complementing his confidence on stage even for a first-time performance where one tends to get nervous. Preetika’s accompaniment on the veena was bright and spirited, and helped give a good start to the set of recitals. Even without vocal precedence, her Hindolam alapana struck melodious chords and was handled with confidence. Sachin Venkat’s steadfast accompaniment on the mridangam helped match the stable, firm pace/rhythm set by the vocalist, and helped keep both the mridangam and the vocal rendering in sync throughout.

Deeksha Venkateswaran - Following Yuvanand’s vocal performance was a rendition by Deeksha Venkateswaran on vocal, Prahlad Saravanapriyan on violin, and Umesh Gopi on mridangam. Following a brief outline of the ragam Mandari later mirrored by Prahlad, Deeksha rendered the Mandari varnam “Vanajaksha Ninne Kori” by Mysore Vasudevachaya, set to Adi Talam. Following this was Tyagaraja’s krithi Inthakannada, in ragam Bilahari, set to Rupaka Talam. Deeksha chose to take up a few swarams in the pallavi following the krithi rendition. Throughout her performance, Deeksha showcased a bold and strong voice, which gave her the capacity to display a variety of gamakams such as brigas and jaarus throughout both her krithi renditions as well as her manodharma. Her Bilahari swarams contained a variety of nice sarvalaghu patterns combining various classic Bilahari phrases of different lengths and complexities. Prahlad’s accompaniment on the violin provided a strong contrast as he helped to bring out the more subtle nuances in both his Mandari alapana and his swaram responses for Bilahari. Umesh’s overall accompaniment on the mridangam showed high improvement and increase in mastery. His playing helped provide a brisk-paced mood to both pieces, which was very much appropriate and needed. Needless to say, this combination of vocalist, violinist, and mridangist helped make the experience for the audience a wholesome one.

Varnika Kailash - Following Deeksha’s rendition was a 15-minute performance by Varnika Kailash on the vocal, Aditya Satyadeep on the violin, and Akshay Aravindan on the mridangam. Varnika began with a quick alapana in the ragam Purvikalyani, followed by an equally brief response by Aditya. She then proceeded to render Ananda naTam ADuvAr thillai, set to Rupaka Talam, composed by Neelakanta Shivan. Following her rendition, she proceeded to do swarams on the pallavi of the song. Her swarams included elaborate kanakku patterns taken on both the samam as well as another different eddam on the pallavi, naTam ADuvAr thillai. Her style of gradually building up kanakku from simple sarvalaghu patterns to complex, elaborate kanakku that gradually leads to a mathematically challenging korvai resembled much of the padantharam her school falls under, that of Sri. Neyveli Santhanagopalan, which is one of yet many examples of the “legacy” pattern mentioned earlier. The kanakku she used built up in a 6 pattern (tatha,tham,,) style, eventually leading to a samam-to-eddam korvai following a similar pattern. Throughout the performance, Aditya incorporated Varnika’s briga-like style whie also bringing in his own jaaru-emphasized, smooth-flowing style. This was demonstrated in both his alapana where he helped provide a whole dimension to the ragam using this jaaru-like style, as well as the krithi and swarams, where each piece of kanakku was matched while also using classic Purvikalyani phrases. Akshay’s accompaniment on the mridangam was at par with both these standards as he followed both styles by building up and toning down wherever necessary. He played a nice mora-korvai at the end involving a samam-to-eddam korvai much like Varnika’s.

Shivani Seshan - Following Varnika’s performance was a rendition by Shivani Seshan on the veena, accompanied by Shrikanth Shivakumar on the mridangam. Shivani began with an alapana in Charukeshi. She utilized most of the alapana to take it slow and phrase-oriented, setting the right mood for Charukesi. She also included various brigas in the middle, which, although difficult to be played on the veena, were handled well by her. Following this was Tyagaraja’s composition, Adamodi Galade, set to Adi Talam. Throughout her performance, the artist brought a different dimension to the ragam on the veena, one more phrase/gamakam-oriented. In contrast to this, a violin would help to bring out the more jaaru-like aspect of the ragam. Shrikanth’s accompaniment on the mridangam was very apt for this piece. Throughout the piece, he provided a calm and stable tone with his accompaniment on the mridangam, thus helping to emphasize the mood of the ragam and the piece.

Shriya Ganesh - Following Shivani’s rendition was a performance by Shriya Ganesh on the vocal, Vishaka Ashok on the violin, and Arush Gopal on the mridangam. Shriya sang the Ninnukori varnam in ragam Mohanam, set to Adi Talam, composed by Ramnad Sreenivasa Iyengar. Throughout the rendition, Shriya demonstrated a great voice range as she covered various different octaves throughout the varnam. She handled the piece with a good pace and a good control over that pace. Vishaka’s accompaniment was bold and melodious throughout the varnam and properly complemented Shriya’s rendition on the vocal. Arush’s accompaniment on the mridangam was flexible and well-adjusted to each moment on the krithi where it was necessary to tone down or build up. All three performers were newly introduced in this event, and all three displayed great confidence even for the first time on the CCC stage.

Vishnu Kumar - Following Shriya’s performance was a rendition by Vishnu Kumar on the vocal, Srishiva Manikantan on the violin, and Shrikrishna Shivakumar on the mridangam. Vishnu began with the viruttam, ADum parivel, in the ragam Kharaharapriya. This was followed up by a short alapana by Srishiva on the violin. Subsequently, Vishnu proceeded to render Papanasam Sivan’s classic, Sendhil AnDavan, set to Rupaka Talam. Vishnu sang with clear involvement and rasikatvam in both his viruttam and the krithi, as he enjoyed both what he was rendering throughout, as well as his fellow artists’ accompaniment. His highly mature and pliant voice helped complement his energy and enthusiasm as he brought the brightest of nuances of the ragam Kharaharapriya. Srishiva’s accompaniment on the violin was at equilibrium with this standard as he set the appropriate tone for both the viruttam and the krithi on the violin throughout. His alapana demonstrated his highly improved skill and musical knowledge as he matched Vishnu’s energy and bhavam in each and every phrase he rendered. Shrikrishna’s accompaniment brought out the right ambiance of the ragam as he played in a relaxed and tranquil manner. This helped balance out the energetic rendition by Vishnu, and yet again helped make the performance harmonious and organically synchronized.

Rhea Ram - Following Vishnu’s rendition was a performance by Rhea Ram on the vocal, Yogitha Balasubramanian on the violin, and Ananth Kumar on the mridangam. Rhea began with a brief alapana in the ragam Begada. In her alapana, Rhea managed to bring out all the classic phrases in Begada, thus giving the complete scope of the ragam in such a short span of time. This helped make the alapana aesthetically correct and pleasing. After Yogitha’s response on the violin, Rhea proceeded to render Tyagaraja’s krithi, Lokavana chatura, set to Adi Talam. Throughout her rendition, Rhea demonstrated how resilient her voice was, both in her expanded voice range and her voice flexibility. Yogitha’s accompaniment on the violin helped highlight the most important phrases every moment in both the krithi in the alapana. In her response, she combined the classic phrases that were used while also bringing out a different aspect of Begada, one involving more coherence. This helped provide even more scope into the ragam, and made the overall rendition feel complete. Ananth’s accompaniment on the mridangam was quite velvety throughout the performance, and helped enhance the consonance overall.

Pramati Bharath - Following Rhea’s performance was a rendition by Pramati Bharath on the vocal, Aishwarya Anand on the violin, and Avinash Anand on the mridangam. Pramati commenced with an alapana in Bhairavi. Her display of the ragam was quite grand but not too flashy. She utilized many characteristics and sancharas of the ragam as anchor points of emphasis and added bhavam, including the bashanga swarams and complex brigas, thus displaying her extensive musical knowledge of the ragam. Following Aishwarya’s response, Pramati rendered Tyagaraja’s jewel Koluvai, set to Adi Talam. Her rendition helped balance the mix of elements of bhavam and clarity, a rather challenging task for musicians in general. She took up swarams on the charanam, “manasu ranjilla”. Her swarams combined classic kanakku patterns (such as 3+5) with classic Bhairavi phrases, including those involving bashanga swaram alternations. Her sarvalaghu effortlessly flowed and gave a feeling of professionalism as she used a variety of patterns and extended them for a long period of time, followed by a nice korvai including porutham. Aishwarya’s accompaniment on the violin was equally dulcet as she utilized every nuance to bring out the bhavam in the ragam, particularly jaarus and bashanga swaram alternations, in both her alapana and kalpana swarams. Avinash’s accompaniment on the mirdangam was kinetic and yet steady as he matched every kanakku and pattern with little additions of his own. Following the kalpanaswarams, he rendered a nice mora-korvai following the same porutham pattern demonstrated by Pramati in her swarams.

Vid. Sri. Srikanth Chary, Vid. Shivakumar Bhat, and Vid. Natarajan Srinivasan - Following Pramati’s rendition was a long-awaited Feature-a-Guru session, except this time with multiple teachers taking the stage. Vid. Sri. Srikanth Chary, Vid. Shivakumar Bhat, and Vid. Natarajan Srinivasan decided to focus our attention this month on the significance of our Gurus and Gurukulams beyond the scope of just music itself, and what principles we as students should be following under such privileges. In the interactive session, the Gurus talked about the insignificance of money in the larger scope of the gurukulam, mainly how it teaches us much more than how to sing or play an instrument, such as humility, discipline, and respect. They also helped to cover the culture change from India to USA, and how it has changed methods of learning. All three gurus made the very clear point that despite these drastic changes, the expectations we students must follow under a gurukulam are unchanged no matter where you go. However, taking into account geographical differences, the gurus also mentioned how to relate this to our daily lives in the USA vs. India, and how it makes it more important to understand what we’re in for learning music. Finally, they took the perspectives of three of their students on how the progression of this art compares to other parts of life, how this art is unique in their life, and how this art has changed them over time. Overall, this Feature-Gurus session was very valuable as it gave us students more insight into the musical world, our musical journeys, and how we should weigh this art in comparison to other aspects of our daily lives.

Abirami Sambamoorthy - Following this valuable session was an Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi by Abirami Sambamoorthy on the vocal, Priyanka Chary on the veena, and Santhosh Ravindrabharathy on the mridangam. Abirami chose to take the ragam Saraswathi up for her RTP. In her alapana, Abirami utilized a lot of well-heard phrases of the ragam as well as her own creative phrases. Some of these phrases included skipping many swarams across the ragam scale, which is rather characteristic of the ragam Saraswathi. Priyanka’s response on the veena emphasized a more jaaru-based alapana  that provided yet another dimension to this ragam as she rendered it. Following this alapana, the thanam exchange between the vocalist and violinist was excellently done. Abirami’s thanam style was done as a gradually building up style, where she would take a pattern or a few patterns on each anchor swaram and elaborate on it rhythmically. Additionally, she gradually increased the speed of her thanam successively as she went up higher in the octave, providing a climactic feeling once she reached the upper shadjam. All of Priyanka’s responses in the thanam exchange were equally scintillating as she handled the tough, skippy nature of the ragam with ease on the veena, where it is particularly challenging to handle evenly/unevenly spaced out ragams such as Saraswathi. Abirami then proceeded to the Pallavi, which was set to Khanda Jathi Triputa Talam, Chatushra Nadai. The pallavi sahityam was “Saraswathi nee gathi bharathi, vidiyuvathi dayanidhi kAttaruL”, taken 1.5 aksharams from the samam. Both Abirami and Priyanka’s niraval responses provided a large scope of the ragam as they covered many different octaves in a short span of time. For her thrikalam, Abirami chose a “hexakalam” style, where she sang the Pallavi in keezh kalam, chatushra tisram, keezh kalam tisram, sama kAlam, sama kAlam tisram, then mEl kAlam. She effortlessly transitioned between each kAlam in her thrikalam. Following this, Abirami’s swarams began with simple sarvalaghu patterns, where eventually she transitioned to kanakku patterns taken on different eddams by nadai (such as singing swarams in tisram and landing them on the tisra nadai version of the Pallavi such that it lands on the aaradhi). She covered various nadais including but not limited to mEl kAlam, tisra nadai, chatushra tisram (which is a challenge in its own), etc. Priyanka took up to match all these kanakku challenges perfectly during her responses on the veena. Following this was a nice korappu and a eddam-to-eddam korvai. Santhosh’s accompaniment on the mridangam throughout was tireless and energetic, as he matched every kanakku challenge with joy and enthusiasm. He concluded the Pallavi with a nice mora-korvai from eddam-to-eddam, similar to Abirami’s korvai.

To conclude, each performance today was unique in the way each performer and accompanist showcased a unique style they have developed over time, with unique areas of strength and certain principles of music that they emphasize in their singing/playing. These styles have come about not just because of a performer’s strengths/desire to display these strengths, but also because of the principles/qualities a guru has imprinted in their students. Each student is obligated to sing in accordance with the standards of their ownpadantharam, with a little variation over time by generation. It follows that the credit goes to our gurus first for the way they have taught us, shaped our talents, and made sure we bring out the best of us while also adhering to the strictest of musical standards. The commitment to this art is not only due to the performer’s dedication and practice, but also the trouble each parent goes through to make sure that us students, in general, have the best opportunities to continue this art, practice it, and perfect it. Finally, venues such as CCC, and the volunteers running it behind the scenes, give us a stage to perform on such that we as students get to showcase this art, collaborate/interact with other musical students, innovate new concepts and produce different pieces of work, and enjoy what we are doing overall. Best wishes to each and every performer to continue with the art and contribute greatly to our musical society in the future.