Carnatic Music - A Therapy for Soul and Challenge for Mind

Posted By : Editor

Being a painter, photographer and a classical musician par excellence, Aishwarya Vidya Raghunath, the Carnatic vocalist from Bangalore, is one such personality the city can be proud of. “Carnatic Music has become an inevitable part of my life. It is a therapy for the soul and a challenge for the mind I always hum something or listen to music. Even when I paint, I usually listen to music. It buoys my mood into a state of euphoria, bringing out the best in me and that helps me paint better. I see ragas as colours! Kalyani is green, Thodi is a deep blue, Bhairavi is rust, Kharaharapriya is orange and so on,” says Aishwarya. Aishwarya speaks about her musical journey and experiences that have moulded her into a performing musician.

Could you talk about your musical journey towards excellence?

Striving for excellence is what the guru inculcates in the shishya. I remember classes with my guru, Smt. Seethalakshmi Venkatesan, who began moulding me into a performing musician. She would insist on perfection before taking the lesson forward. So, the more I perfected a song, the more I was taught that day; and that was my motivation. It is a great privilege to be the disciple of Smt. Vegavahini Vijayaraghavan, scion of the Dhanammal bani (School). Her manner of teaching embodies excellence. Every anuswaram counts, every detail matters. I still remember my first class with Smt. Vegavahini, where I learnt the Goulipantu padam, “Kuvalayakshiro”. I would not be exaggerating in saying that it took me over twenty attempts to get the very first phrase right! And it is this relentless pursuit of doing your best that gives me immense satisfaction. From what I have seen in the music fraternity, excellence is a bar you set for yourself.

You have both the connoisseurs and critics on your side who acknowledge the class in your music. Could you talk more about it?

Connoisseurs and critics are both ultimately lovers of good music and great musical traditions. I have always adored and adulated the music of Sri. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Smt. T. Brinda. Padams, that are compositions based on shringara, have been embraced by the Dhanammal bani. They are famously difficult to render with perfection and more importantly, to learn and assimilate. This is possibly why Padams don’t have too many takers, and are not often heard on a concert platform. I enjoy learning and singing the mighty Padam and the joyful Javali. The doyen, Semmangudi’s music is a delight. His sparkling sarvalaghu swarams and flashes of sheer brilliance would have the audience in raptures. As a disciple of both the Semmangudi bani and Dhanammal bani, I owe this privilege to my gurus – Karnataka Kalashree Smt. Seethalakshmi Venkatesan, Padma Bhushan Shri. P. S. Narayanaswamy and Sangeetha Kala Sagaram Smt. Vegavahini Vijayaraghavan. Bringing together the best of both banis has been joyful and challenging, and I believe it is this unique musical experience that appeals to both connoisseurs and critics.

Could you talk about the new projects that you are working on right now?

At present, I am excited about taking my music to a wider audience base. Come Spring, I will be travelling to the USA on a concert tour spanning over two months and over 16 destinations. I will be accompanied on the violin by Shri. Trivandrum Sampath and on the mridangam by Shri. Delhi Sairam. Working with trusted co-artists who share the same zeal for Carnatic music will be a great joy and a fulfilling experience.

Could you share your thoughts on the belief that the concert format will soon be disrupted as most people listen to music online these days?

It is true that technology helps in bringing people closer to music in a powerful way. Webcasting solutions like Livestream and Facebook Live allow performers and audiences to instantaneously share their musical experiences with their friends. Moreover, there are several online sources and cloud places to listen to music. But, music is both an auditory and a performing art. Hence, there is no substitute for a concert experience. While technology in its multiple forms aids in bringing music to the masses, the aficionados will still seek solace in the concert.

Bharat Ratna Smt. M. S. Subbulakshmi’s performance at the United Nations, T. M. Krishna’s rousing concert this year at Afghan Church in Mumbai and “Naada Pravaha” in commemoration of Shri. Vikku Vinayakaram’s 75th birthday in Bangalore, which has attracted hundreds of music lovers in the city, are all examples of the power of live music in bringing together communities. Indeed, even in the Western world one sees a great resurgence in the concert culture with popular performers like Coldplay reviving the euphoric concert experience of Pink Floyd and Dire Straits in the 70s.

As a classical art form, Carnatic music will go through interesting digital transformations, many predict. Could you share your thoughts on it?

All musical forms undergo evolution. For over a century, technology has allowed for the separation of the singer and the song – the gramophone, the turntable, the 8-track, the tape and the CD have all been party to this. And then the video culture brought concerts into living rooms. Digital transformation is also transforming the way we consume music. A new typology of this consumption is ‘music on the go’. This is bound to affect both the length and the depth of exploration in any music. Whether a classical form of music such as Carnatic music lends itself to such transformation or mode of listening, only time will tell. But at present, the ardent lover of this form of music still enjoys an evening at the sabha listening to their favourite artist.

 What are your suggestions to enhance the reach of classical music? What do you think of having Carnatic Music concerts in open spaces to give a less-serious mood for the listeners?

Carnatic Music is austere but not forbidding; a therapy for the soul and a challenge for the mind. The legendary moonlight concerts at the Suttur Mutt in Mysore are held on a full-moon night, the stage overlooking a temple pond, the light from the moon creating a surreal experience for the artiste and the listener. The series “MadRasana”, a chamber music series conducted in an intimate setting and at a beautiful venue such as Amethyst or Alliance Francoise, embellishes the connect between the artiste and the audience.  The Padma Pushkarani at Kalakshetra is another pristine setting for music. Music in the company of chirping birds and the sound of rippling water makes the art, the artiste and the audience inseparable.

Even at a Western Classical concert, the cardinal principle is to let each member of the audience enjoy the music undisturbed. It is intended to be an occasion for the audience to dress formally, gowns swirling, and bow-ties perfectly aligned, maintaining perfect concert etiquette.

Traditionally, Carnatic music was performed in the prakaras of temples; an offering to the deity. Concerts would go on endlessly and people would throng to listen, while others sat on the verandas of their homes to catch an earful. I believe bringing back this culture would enable a diverse section of the society to engage in an appreciate this art, thus enhancing its reach.

Striving for excellence is what the guru inculcates in the shishya. I remember classes with my guru, Smt. Seethalakshmi Venkatesan, who began moulding me into a performing musician. She would insist on perfection before taking the lesson forward. So, the more I perfected a song, the more I was taught that day; and that was my motivation. It is a great privilege to be the disciple of Smt. Vegavahini Vijayaraghavan, scion of the Dhanammal bani (School). Her manner of teaching embodies excellence. Every anuswaram counts, every detail matters. I still remember my first class with Smt. Vegavahini, where I learnt the Goulipantu padam, “Kuvalayakshiro”. I would not be exaggerating in saying that it took me over twenty attempts to get the very first phrase right! And it is this relentless pursuit of doing your best that gives me immense satisfaction. From what I have seen in the music fraternity, excellence is a bar you set for yourself.

You have both the connoisseurs and critics on your side who acknowledge the class in your music. Could you talk more about it?

Connoisseurs and critics are both ultimately lovers of good music and great musical traditions. I have always adored and adulated the music of Sri. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Smt. T. Brinda. Padams, that are compositions based on shringara, have been embraced by the Dhanammal bani. They are famously difficult to render with perfection and more importantly, to learn and assimilate. This is possibly why Padams don’t have too many takers, and are not often heard on a concert platform. I enjoy learning and singing the mighty Padam and the joyful Javali. The doyen, Semmangudi’s music is a delight. His sparkling sarvalaghu swarams and flashes of sheer brilliance would have the audience in raptures. As a disciple of both the Semmangudi bani and Dhanammal bani, I owe this privilege to my gurus – Karnataka Kalashree Smt. Seethalakshmi Venkatesan, Padma Bhushan Shri. P. S. Narayanaswamy and Sangeetha Kala Sagaram Smt. Vegavahini Vijayaraghavan. Bringing together the best of both banis has been joyful and challenging, and I believe it is this unique musical experience that appeals to both connoisseurs and critics.

Could you talk about the new projects that you are working on right now?

At present, I am excited about taking my music to a wider audience base. Come Spring, I will be travelling to the USA on a concert tour spanning over two months and over 16 destinations. I will be accompanied on the violin by Shri. Trivandrum Sampath and on the mridangam by Shri. Delhi Sairam. Working with trusted co-artists who share the same zeal for Carnatic music will be a great joy and a fulfilling experience.

Could you share your thoughts on the belief that the concert format will soon be disrupted as most people listen to music online these days?

It is true that technology helps in bringing people closer to music in a powerful way. Webcasting solutions like Livestream and Facebook Live allow performers and audiences to instantaneously share their musical experiences with their friends. Moreover, there are several online sources and cloud places to listen to music. But, music is both an auditory and a performing art. Hence, there is no substitute for a concert experience. While technology in its multiple forms aids in bringing music to the masses, the aficionados will still seek solace in the concert.

Bharat Ratna Smt. M. S. Subbulakshmi’s performance at the United Nations, T. M. Krishna’s rousing concert this year at Afghan Church in Mumbai and “Naada Pravaha” in commemoration of Shri. Vikku Vinayakaram’s 75th birthday in Bangalore, which has attracted hundreds of music lovers in the city, are all examples of the power of live music in bringing together communities. Indeed, even in the Western world one sees a great resurgence in the concert culture with popular performers like Coldplay reviving the euphoric concert experience of Pink Floyd and Dire Straits in the 70s.

As a classical art form, Carnatic music will go through interesting digital transformations, many predict. Could you share your thoughts on it?

All musical forms undergo evolution. For over a century, technology has allowed for the separation of the singer and the song – the gramophone, the turntable, the 8-track, the tape and the CD have all been party to this. And then the video culture brought concerts into living rooms. Digital transformation is also transforming the way we consume music. A new typology of this consumption is ‘music on the go’. This is bound to affect both the length and the depth of exploration in any music. Whether a classical form of music such as Carnatic music lends itself to such transformation or mode of listening, only time will tell. But at present, the ardent lover of this form of music still enjoys an evening at the sabha listening to their favourite artist.

 What are your suggestions to enhance the reach of classical music? What do you think of having Carnatic Music concerts in open spaces to give a less-serious mood for the listeners?

Carnatic Music is austere but not forbidding; a therapy for the soul and a challenge for the mind. The legendary moonlight concerts at the Suttur Mutt in Mysore are held on a full-moon night, the stage overlooking a temple pond, the light from the moon creating a surreal experience for the artiste and the listener. The series “MadRasana”, a chamber music series conducted in an intimate setting and at a beautiful venue such as Amethyst or Alliance Francoise, embellishes the connect between the artiste and the audience.  The Padma Pushkarani at Kalakshetra is another pristine setting for music. Music in the company of chirping birds and the sound of rippling water makes the art, the artiste and the audience inseparable.

Even at a Western Classical concert, the cardinal principle is to let each member of the audience enjoy the music undisturbed. It is intended to be an occasion for the audience to dress formally, gowns swirling, and bow-ties perfectly aligned, maintaining perfect concert etiquette.

Traditionally, Carnatic music was performed in the prakaras of temples; an offering to the deity. Concerts would go on endlessly and people would throng to listen, while others sat on the verandas of their homes to catch an earful. I believe bringing back this culture would enable a diverse section of the society to engage in an appreciate this art, thus enhancing its reach.

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