Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin – Rabindranath Tagore*
During this presentation, musical figures from several distinct traditions were explored in a practice-oriented manner. The figures selected are appealing beyond South Asia where they originated many centuries ago and continue to play a key role in classical and applied music.
Our shared goal was to enable young and old to collaborate in a memorable learning process that blends seemlessly into any chosen subject, academic and otherwise.
The criteria for selecting a particular figure were (1) its flexibility as for combining it with another subject, for instance mathematics, geography or history; (2) its appeal going by prior experience with learners from different age groups; and (3) its scope for variation, movement, visualisation and analysis in accordance with learners’ specific needs and abilities.
As part of integrated music education, Indian music enables even complete strangers to share a useful learning process. This calls for a natural and playful approach to melody, rhythm, hand signs and body movement. In this manner we are prepared to include newcomers – children and adults lacking a common language – to instantly participate in music.
Indian music is valued for fostering memory, analytical thinking, concentration, and cooperation among peers. Its basic concepts are exhilarating and liberating whether or not there is scope for studying Indian culture in its own right. This is a boon in circumstances where verbal or written instructions fail to engage learners. Rather than resigning in the face of such formidable challenges, educators are free to experiment and spread solidarity through instant inclusion – the essential joy of “creating” music oneself. This aspect addresses a common fear among learners, namely to be left behind (again!), be it in music or other subjects – a fear that is all too often justified in competitive modern society.
To help educators to overcome such fears, we build lessons around simple figures that bind tunes, rhythms and movements together into a rounded whole. Some of these may appear familiar enough to “break the ice” if needed; and others are so fresh and mind-boggling as to trigger further experimentation among peers in informal settings – anywhere and anytime. For this to happen, we dispense with technical resources of any kind.
Adaptation is the key to rapidly changing learning scenarios wherein cultural stereotyping, a known stumbling block for educators all over the world, must be overcome. This is easily achieved by integrating Indian music into discussions of academic concepts, or by letting its rhythms enrich social and outdoor activities. Such activities are by definition location specific and all-inclusive.
Educators from Canada, Finland, Germany, Hungary, India, Singapore and Switzerland were among the eleven participants in this one-hour session. They explored a time proven method suited to the needs of a wide range of abilities and learning goals; and this irrespective of participants’ cultural roots.
Mridangam maestro Trichy Sankaran – Photo: courtesy The Hindu
The Hindu, 31 Dec. 2011
Tiruvarur to Texas, Carnatic musicians have transcended global cultures, echoing the seven notes to the West. Trichy Sankaran,to be honoured with the Sangita Kalanidhi today, summarises Carnatic music’s history in America in a chat with critic Veejay Sai
While everyone is aware of how Hindustani music became popular in the West, especially America, with maestros like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s early overseas concert tours, how and when was Carnatic music an active part of the American culture? “It was Tanjore Viswanathan, the brother of Bharatanatyam legend Balasaraswati, who went on a Fulbright fellowship in 1958 to study Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Veena Balachander went in 1962 with Umayalpuram Sivaraman (mridangam) and Vellore Ramabhadran (kanjira, for this tour),” says mridangam maestro Trichy Sankaran. Balachander and flautist Ramani along with the aforementioned percussionists ideated a project called ‘Sangeetam Madras’ and extensively toured North America. By 1963, mridangam vidwan Palghat Raghu travelled as a member of Ravi Shankar’s ensemble. By then a slow process of institutional interest seeped in amongst the American academia. “It was ethnomusicologist Robert Brown of Wesleyan University who showed great interest in bringing Carnatic music to America. He was a student of T. Ranganathan, the other brother (and a senior student of my guru Palani Subramnia Pillai) of Balasaraswati They were invited as artistes in residence at Wesleyan University and that was the first ever such occasion for Carnatic musicians to go there,” adds Sankaran, in fond remembrance of his guru-bhai. Brown’s interest in Indian music grew from strength to strength and he would think up newer methods of spreading it to American music lovers. “Bob, as we called Robert, started an experimental project called ‘Curry Concerts’ which he would organise. These were a combination of a sumptuous Indian dinner followed by a concert and gained popularity in no time. He was one of the few ethnomusicologists who believed that the study of the art is important with its performing element. He put an emphasis on the performing artistes as well,” recollects Sankaran.
Brown later invited several other musicians like K.V. Narayanaswamy (KVN) and Palghat Raghu to Wesleyan. KVN, as an artiste in residency at the university, went on a coast-to-coast concert tour along with Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan and earned fame at the Hollywood Bowl music festival by 1967. Several vidwans left for American shores to take part in festivals like the Monterey pop festival and Woodstock festival. “Brown went ahead to invite Ramnad Krishnan and Ramnad Raghavan. But Krishnan didn’t stay around for too long as he was very homesick and wanted to return to his family in India. But while in America, he was recorded by a music company with T. Thyagarajan (violin) and T. Ranganathan (mridangam),” says Sankaran, with a chuckle in his voice. “The Western students were also not acquainted with our Indian manners. I had an initial culture shock with students addressing me with a “Hey”, but I slowly got used to it and we taught them Indian manners! Here, we were used to people calling us ‘sir”, “vidwan”, and so on. Ramnad Krishnan was in disbelief when students would walk up to him asking, “Hey Krishna, when is my next lesson man?” and he wasn’t used to being addressed in such a tone!” laughs Sankaran heartily, recollecting how many musicians took the effort to culture Western audiences to guru-shishya traditions. […]
Today, Carnatic musicians rub shoulders with world music greats and collaborate with music practitioners from every other genre. The seductive swaras have showed their triumph once again, reminding how great the power of Indian music is.