Priya Purushothaman – Hindustani Vocalist

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Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya

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Photo: Hari Adivarekar

A couple of weeks ago I made a long overdue trip to Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya, a school tucked away about 40 kms from Dharwad, Karnataka. KSV gives children a free education, food, and accommodation with a strong focus on Hindustani classical music as part of the curriculum. Most of the students come from rural parts of Karnataka.

I reached the school at around 6:45 am, and was lured in by the mixed sounds of students singing paltas, playing bansuri, sitar, and harmoniums. Students were dispersed in different corners, doing their morning riyaz. The campus is very simple and completely immersed in nature – atop a small hill, with cottages scattered around for classes as well as student hostels. In the center is one large common area, an open space with a covering where the students gather to eat their daily meals and where the school hosts their monthly programs. In the morning, after the students finish their early riyaz and get ready for the day, they are in their music classes until 1 pm. It was great and unusual to see this entire chunk of time being utilized exclusively for music, and academics for the latter half of the day.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised at the tremendous attention span of these children, but coming from urban-twitter-facebook-internet-dictated attention capacities, I was blown away. During my time at KSV, I conducted a two-day workshop on Nature and Song with a small group of students. Through this theme, we explored the ancient connections between nature and Raagsangeet, and the ways in which nature inspires and informs music to create art that captures the beauty that we are surrounded by but often miss. In each session, of about 3 hours, the students were so focused and involved – not a trace of restlessness or distraction for young adults and teenagers. It was very heartening and said so much about the many advantages of remaining isolated from so much noise that clutters urban lifestyles.

To say that the students are passionate about Raagsangeet would be a huge understatement. For many, it defines who they are and is just an extension of themselves, like a limb. Unawares, many of the children run along singing their heart out or hum while swaying on a  swing. There is a constant musical thought running through their minds. They have a completely unpretentious and sincere respect for their gurus, which isn’t some formal lip service or protocol that they have imbibed. They feel it from deep within, and admire them. For that matter, they admire Hindustani musicians in general, the way many kids nowadays would fawn over Shah Rukh Khan or Justin Bieber. I’d never been to a place where Hindustani music was considered so cool – in so many cities, we find people trying to convince listeners, students and patrons that this art  is worth sustaining. In Kalkeri and Dharwad, it stands very much in the center of the culture. When I performed at KSV, it was the first time I had ever sung for an audience that wasn’t comprised 75% of senior citizens. Seniors were in the minority, and youngsters filled the space.  And they were excited to be there.

Whenever there are concerts in Dharwad, interested students take the bus to Dharwad to attend. While I was there, about 15 of us and a couple of volunteers went to Dharwad to hear Sri Kumar Mardur. The students could not get enough of the music, and even though it was nearing 10 pm and they hadn’t eaten anything since lunch, they had to be forced to leave to catch the last bus back to Kalkeri. They could have sat for longer, engrossed in the music.

I could go on about KSV – the wonderful energy and untouched spirit of the students, the unaffected love for music, the commitment and dedication of students and staff (who keep a school of 200 students running against all odds). I can’t wait to go back sometime soon and work with the students some more – the eagerness with which they learned and  the joyfulness with which they received the knowledge was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had.

For more information about the school, and to make donations, please visit www.ksv.org.in. The school gets many applications for students that they cannot accept because they don’t have enough funds. It is possible to sponsor a child’s education, or to donate for other specific areas as well. Please consider doing so – it has the power to change a child’s entire life and future.

Also, for a touching photo essay about the school by Hari Adivarekar, visit here.

A picture from the performance, courtesy Prashant Harogeri.

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Gharana vs Paramapara?

Last month, Sursagar (a concert organization in Bangalore) began a concert series based on the theme of “Gharana,” which is scheduled to present various master musicians and their disciples throughout the year to showcase each gayaki. The year began with the Agra Gharana, for which I gave a short recital followed by a performance by my guru, Smt Aditi Upadhya.

Although, in my opinion, Gharanas  are hard to find in their pure form amongst contemporary performers, the essence of the gayaki (style) and the parampara can certainly characterize a concert. A parampara is the lineage of gurus and shishyas and the knowledge and style that each has shaped and passed on. A parampara may contain influences from multiple Gharanas, so it is not exactly a subset of a Gharana. A parampara is a product of individual thought and improvement upon a style, whereas a Gharana is a school of thought and aesthetic style that has essentially been fixed an popularized by legendary musicians and strictly adhered to by followers. A Gharana is static while a parampara is dynamic.

For instance, my guru and dada-gurus belong to a parampara that can be traced to Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, Pandit SN Ratanjankar, Pandit Dinkar Kaikini and presently Smt Aditi Upadhya. Pandit SN Ratanjankar was a staunch disciple of Bhatkhandeji but also studied with Ustad Faiyaz Khan. Pandit Dinkar Kaikini was most greatly influenced by the gayaki of Ustad Faiyaz  Khan, though his scholastic understanding and training were all under Pandit SN Ratanjankar. He was also influenced by aspects of the Kirana, Jaipur and Gwalior gharanas. He himself had told me not to write or say that he “belongs to the Agra Gharana,” because technically, only those born by blood into the Gharana family hold that claim. This all goes to show that the Gharana method of classification can get pretty complicated, and the parampara viewpoint can reveal the evolution of a style in a way that more accurately represents the actual style of music being performed nowadays. In many concert announcements, when we hear the artist’s pedigree, there are quite a few gurus and styles mentioned, and this is only natural, because artists want to imbibe the best of everything that they hear. The students of these artists will also be a product of this slightly mixed style, rather than the big Gharana headers that everyone clings to.

All of that being said, the concert was meant to highlight features of the Agra Gharana style, so I attempted one aspect of the Agra gayaki that is its trademark: the khyal-ang Nom Tom alap. The Nom Tom alaap is most known in the Dhrupad style of singing – it is a very gradual, meditative, progressive (melodically and rhythmically)  unfolding of a raag. In the Khyal-ang Nom Tom, the pacing of the alaap is slightly faster than in the Dhrupad style, and the treatment of the notes and timing of the meend are also more in the style and tempo of the khayal genre (faster than Dhrupad). The powerful and regal effect of a well-executed Nom-Tom alaap come across through the full throw of voice, open ucchaar, heavy gamaks, and laykari.

This was my first attempt at a Nom Tom alaap – I enjoyed the process of discovering the raag in all its melodic, rhythmic,and phonetic aspects. The Nom-Tom also brings the sound quality of the voice to the forefront – understanding the voice and its capabilities, textures, dynamic range, timbres, and countours. This area of vocal study is truly endless and self-exploratory in nature, especially because there is only so much that we scientifically understand about how vocal cords and their surrounding resonating cavities function. Finally, the abstract rhythm of a Nom-Tom alaap, which gradually becomes more concrete, is like an invisible and slow metronome that holds all the notes together into meaningful phrases, instead of allowing them to randomly tumble out into space.

The clip above is a short excerpt from the alaap, followed by the madhya-laya teen taal bandish by Pandit Dinkar Kaikini, Karam Ki Daro. Raag Shri.

 

 

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!

 



Welcome!

Dear Friends,

Welcome to this website, and thank you for visiting! This Blog is a space that I will be using for announcing events, discussing and sharing music (all kinds), and hopefully engaging in a dialogue with other music lovers out there in cyberspace.

I recently read an extremely inspiring speech by Karl Paulnack, Director of the Music Division at the Boston Conservatory, that captured everything I felt about music but had not been able to express. It also added conviction to some of my beliefs that were perhaps on shaky grounds beforehand – some ideas that I struggled with for myself. What is the purpose of music, and why are we drawn to it? Why is it necessary, and how does it enrich our lives? Why is it indispensable?

“Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it,” Paulnack says. “Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.”

With these beautiful thoughts, I’d like to start off this blog, and promise more posts to come soon!