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March 2017 - By Sashwath Mahalingam

Often, it is when a youth musician reaches an able stage of proficiency that he/she attempts to take on musical challenges, such as kalpanaswarams in different nadais, rendering fast-paced krithis, or rendering songs in different nadais, in order to expand his/her knowledge and increase his/her capabilities. We have seen how improvement and hard work have played out well for any musician, but when such challenges, be it layam or voice-wise, are added into the picture the standard of music rises tenfold. On March 5th, 2017, at CCC, each one of the performers onstage demonstrated their ability to take up these difficult technical and voice-based challenges and prove each of themselves capable of becoming a professional musician.

Gayathri Bhaskar - The event started off with a 15-minute performance by Gayathri Bhaskar on the vocal, Vittal Thirumalai on the violin, and Pranav Tirumalai on the mridangam. Gayathri began with a beautiful alapana in Reetigowlai, detailing all the exquisite prayogas of the rakti ragam. This was mirrored by Vittal melodically on the violin. The alapana was followed by a viruttam in Tamil on Lord Vinayaka, which was then followed by Papanasam Sivan’s classic Tatvamariyatharama, set to Adi Talam. Before concluding, Gayathri took up a few brisk kalpanaswarams on the 3rd line of the charanam, madisEkaran maganE. Throughout the swarams, Gayathri showcased all aspects of Reetigowlai, a rather challenging must for any rakthi ragam. This included a nice porutham-based eddam to eddam korvai by Gayathri, which was then followed by a short samam-to-eddam mohra and eddam-to-eddam korvai by Pranav Tirumalai. Throughout the performance, Pranav enhanced the performance with his dynamic beats on the mridangam.  

Sripradha Manikantan - Following Gayathri’s auspicious starting performance was another 10-minute slot performance by Sripradha Manikantan on the vocal, accompanied by Gowri Datta on the violin and Sriram Srivatsan on the mridangam. Sripradha begun with another classic but ageless Vinayaka composition, Vallabha Nayakasya, composed by Muthuswami Dikshitar in the ragam Begada, set to Rupaka Talam. Throughout the song, Sriram kept up the energetic mood of Begada with his invigorating accompaniment on the mridangam. Following the performance, Sripradha rendered a three-ragam viruttam in Shanmugapriya, then Mohanam, then Sindhu Bhairavi (Kandhar Anuboothi). Throughout the viruttam, Sripradha displayed her extremely pliant voice, as well as her great diction, especially in the Sindhu Bhairavi section where her melodious method of voice modulation accentuated the bhavam brought out from the ragam. Throughout the viruttam, especially in the Shanmugapriya section, Gowri Datta brought out the emotion of each and every ragam with her rendition and mirroring on the violin.

Anika Sundararajan - Following Sripradha’s passionate performance was a performance by Anika Sundararajan on vocal, Prahlad Saravanapriyan on the violin, and Umesh Gopi on the mridangam. Anika begin with the daunting and haunting ragam Chandrajyothi for ragam alapana, which she rendered with melody and true depth and understanding of the complex ragam. Prahlad accompanied for the first time on violin (living up to his promise of doing so in 2017 :) ) and even for a first timer on the CCC stage, decided to take up such a challenging ragam for alapana, and handled it very well, with an equal demonstration of high-depth understanding of the ragam and its prayogas. Following this, Anika sang Tyagaraja’s delightful composition Bagayanayya, set to Deshadi talam. Bagayanayya in it’s own sense is special because it is an ekaika krithi, the only composed in a ragam by one composer in the entire trinity. Following this, Anika melodiously rendered Papanasam Sivan’s Srinivasa tiruvEnkaTa in hamsAnandi set to Adi Talam. Throughout the performance, Umesh Gopi kept up a confident and spirited accompaniment on the mridangam.

Kashyap Balaji - Following Anika’s melodious performance was a performance by Kashyap Balaji on the vocal, Aishwarya Anand on the violin, and Rajeev Devanath on the mridangam. Kashyap Balaji sang Muthuswami Dikshitar’s first ever composition, Sri nAthAdi guruguhO, in ragam Mayamalavagowlai, set to Adi Talam. Dikshitar songs in general are known to be the most challenging in the trinity krithis, especially when one is obliged to sing a madhyamakalam, or a middle-speed section that typically ends up in the last line of the pallavi, anupallavi, or charanam of a Dikshitar song. Kashyap nevertheless managed to confidently render the song onstage. Aishwarya Anand contributed to the energy of the ragam Mayamalavagowlai with her accompaniment on the violin, while Rajeev Devanath, with his mischievous smile, kept the audience in layam with his mature accompaniment on the mridangam.

Gaurav Rajan - Following Kashyap’s professional performance was a performance by Gaurav Rajan on the vocal, Sahana Prasanna on the violin, and Shrikanth Shivakumar on the mridangam. Gaurav began with a captivating alapana in the ragam Shankarabharanam, using aesthetically correct phrases throughout to further demonstrate his knowledge and understanding of such a broad ragam. This was mirrored mellifluously by Sahana Prasanna on the violin, where she managed demonstrated her knowledge of Shankarabharanam (both as a vocalist and violinst) in her rendition. Following this, Gaurav took up Thyagaraja’s composition, Bhakthibicchamiyyave, set to Rupaka Talam. He took up a few kalpanaswarams on the pallavi of the song, where once again he demonstrated the use of melodically appealing prayogas. Gaurav then concluded with a nice eddam to eddam korvai (for taka thalli). Throughout the performance, Shrikanth Shivakumar demonstrated strict adherence to layam in his accompaniment on the mridangam.

Kavya Kodungallur - Following Gaurav’s awe-inspiring performance was a veena solo by Kavya Kodungallur, accompanied by Sriram Subramanian on the mridangam. Kavya began with an emotionally lifting alapana in Gowri Manohari, which albeit being a melakarta ragam is still challenging by itself. This was followed by Gowri Manohara, Papanasam Sivan’s composition set to Adi Talam. Kavya’s rendition of the song throughout appropriately brought out the emotional ambiance of the ragam while demonstrating skill to take up such a ragam on the veena. Throughout the rendition, Sriram Subramanian enhanced the tone of the song with his energetic, yet appropriately toned accompaniment on the mridangam. 

Sashwat Mahalingam - Following Kavya’s veena performance was a composition of Garbhapurivasar in kANaDa, set to Adi Talam, rendered by Sashwat Mahalingam, accompanied by Apurvaa Anand on the violin and Santhosh Ravindrabharathy on the mridangam. In her alapana, Apurvaa demonstrated an immense use of traditional as well as rare and praiseworthy prayogas of the ragam. Doing the same in her niraval and swarams, Apurvaa also managed to throw in some nice and appealing kanakku. Santhosh, with his spirited performance on the mridangam, kept up the energy and rhythm of the performance throughout.

Vidwan Sri Vivek Sundararaman - Following Sashwat’s performance was a Feature-a-Guru segment by Vidwan Sri Vivek Sundararaman Mama. Vivek Mama presented his segment on Kelvi Gnanam, or ‘listening knowledge’. As you might guess, the presentation detailed how rasikas usually think in a concert, and what we as youth musicians should look out for in each and every performance, including but not limited to tempo, connection to historical renditions by stalwarts (example: “I have heard KVN Mama sing this same song before”), emotional connection, and raga identification. Vivek Mama also added his humor into his presentation, including puns and audience-perspective-related notions in a concert. Thus, not only was the presentation informative to us youths on how being a rasika can help dramatically improve our quality as musicians, but also was lively as Vivek Mama was able to get his point across while bringing in things the audience could relate to. We would like to thank him for taking time to provide us with such a well thought-out and spirited presentation.

Aparna Thyagarajan - Following Vivek Mama’s presentation was a 25-minute violin solo by Aparna Thyagarajan, accompanied by Akshay Aravindan on the mridangam. Aparna began with a dulcet alapana in Kharaharapriya, encompassing the use of traditional as well as light and captivating prayogas. She also demonstrated high level of mastery on the violin with her use of brisk phrases in the ragam. Aparna then proceeded to render Tyagaraja’s classic, Pakkala Nilabadi, set to Misra Chapu. For her manodharmam elaboration (niraval and swaram), Aparna took up the line ‘Manasuna dalachimai”. Aparna’s niraval combined the use of bhavam and adherence to melody as well as bringing out the liveliness and spirit of Kharaharapriya. Her swarams included elegant sarvalaghu patterns as well as nice porutham-based kanakku that eventually led into an interestingly based samam koraippu, and a samam-to-eddam korvai. This was followed by a mohra-korvai by Akshay, where in the korvai, Akshay played the first two iterations in mEl kalam tisram, then the third iteration in chatushram, thus earning the audience’s appreciation for taking upon such a rhythmic challenge. Throughout the performance, Akshay kept up the lively tone emitted by Kharaharapriya ragam with his animated accompaniment on the mridangam.

Yazhini Thillaikumaran - After Aparna’s lively performance was a concluding 10-minute performance by Yazhini Thillaikumaran on the vocal, Srishiva Manikantan on the violin, and Rahul Swaminathan on the mridangam. Yazhini auspiciously ended the program with Thyagaraja’s legendary pancharathanam “Entaro Mahanubhavulu”, in Sri Ragam, set to Adi Talam. Yazhini demonstrated excellent voice culture by taking the krithi at a rather brisk pace and keeping the audience in sync. Srishiva took up the challenge of accompanying to such a grand and vibrant krithi in addition to the brisk pace it was rendered at. Not to forget, because it was a concluding slot it would have to be sung in such a way that would leave the audience truly satisfied with the event, thus making it an extra challenge for all the performers. Throughout the performance, Rahul kept up the fast pace with his exuberant accompaniment on the mridangam, and concluded with a very complex but enjoyable teermanam.

To conclude, as mentioned earlier, each one of these performers demonstrated their ability to take upon new challenges and make it their own, all while demonstrating their musical capability and raising the standard of music in the Bay Area even higher than before. The first and foremost credit goes to each and every Guru in the Bay Area who constantly train and push their students to do new things and bring out the best of themselves. It follows that the parents of these performers who keep up with these constant demands for training, practice, rehearsals, workshops, etc. deserve credit as well for putting up with such difficult and tedious tasks. Thanks to all Gurus and parents for making it possible for each and every performer to shine. Next, shout out to every volunteer in CCC, including but not limited to the sound team (headed by Namdev Uncle), the PPT presentation team, and Padma Aunty, the main coordinator, for helping contribute to the event’s success. Finally, credit goes to the audience of parents and youth musicians and rasikas who take time every month to support and encourage us kids to work hard and do better than before. Best wishes to the performers, and looking forward to seeing the standard they set going exponentially higher and higher in the future.

Review by Srishiva Manikantan (about Sashwat's segment):
Sashwat Mahalingam - "Sashwat’s vocal rendition was accompanied by Apurva Anand on Violin and Santhosh Ravindrabharathi on Mrudhangam. Sashwat started with a vibrant Alapana in Kanada, 22nd mela janyam. The Alapana of Kanada was extensive and showcased the wide possibilities of this feat that bestowed an awesome feast to the audiences' ears. This was followed by Kamalambana krithi composed by Sri. Garbhapurivasar in Deshadhi Talam. Sashwat delivered the song flawlessly with his mellifluous voice. His Niraval in Anu-charanam, vara garbhapuri, proved his fullness of knowledge about the scope of this raga, and he made it explicit as he handled the kalpana swarams at ease with  nice korvai at the end. Sashwat sang with total involvement, enjoying every nuance himself. While the violinist was reciprocating his kalpana swarams, Sashwat enjoyed every bit of it thereby demonstrating the "Rasikatvam" on stage as explained later by his Guru, Sri Vivek Sundararaman. Sashwat  rendered with full of Bhava while adhering to tradition. He passed on his vibration to the audience, who thoroughly enjoyed his music. His stage presentation was excellent and very encouraging to the accompanists.
 Apurva, the violinist, gave a very matured and professional accompaniment. She responded adequately during swara exchanges. The mrudhangist, Santhosh, gave a "Thani" which was loaded with all elements mixed in the right way to make it wholesome. "