Priya Purushothaman – Hindustani Vocalist

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Visiting Manipal U

Two weekends ago I went to Manipal University – after many years  I was back on a University campus (since I graduated from college eons ago). I’d forgotten what it felt like to be a  wide-eyed, anything-is-possible, carefree person in her early twenties. In a town that is pretty much filled with hormone-crazy young people, free from the rules of parents and far away from supervision, you can feel the energy and thirst for fun, friendship and some educational experience (though not as important as fun and friendship) in the air.

I was there to play a small role in the educational experience part. I was invited to give a Lecture-Demonstration on music to Masters students in the Communication department. They were taking a class called “Creative Communication” – which, outside of conventional ideas of communication, really encompasses all art forms. I was asked to speak about Hindustani music, Western classical music, and Jazz. They are three really disparate styles of music, and I have to admit that it was really fun preparing for this talk even though I definitely stressed about it, since my strength was mainly in Hindustani and partially in Western classical. It gave me the chance to watch many parts of Ken Burns’ 10 part documentary, “Jazz.” I highly recommend it to any music lover – it tells a beautiful and compelling story about a style of music that is powerful and rich in socio-political history. I was captivated and transported to a different time period just watching it. And fell back in love with Louis Armstrong.

But, back to the students and talk… despite my apprehensions about speaking for three hours (I’m not a big talker in general!), I was surprised that I managed it and did not even get to cover all the topics I had planned for. In the Hindustani section I did some demonstrations, and for all styles, played quite a few audio samples. This was necessary and really elevated the discussion – after all, the music speaks for itself! It was heartening to see the effect the music had on the students – familiarity upon hearing Beethoven’s 5th, or excitement after listening to Charlie Parker. We compared the styles of improvisation in Jazz and Hindustani, the evolution of harmony in Western Classical, and the creative agency given to the artist in each style. Students asked some interesting questions at the end – Is rhythm more instinctual for humans than melody? Is it easier to tap along to a tune than sing along? What are poly-rhythms? What differentiates musical sound from regular sound? (This ventures more into the philosophy of music, which is another talk in itself).

Looking forward to exploring these ideas and styles more in the future!


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