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A lec-dem by Anil Srinivasan and Sikkil Gurucharan
It was a tryst with music and history. Through a lecture demonstration (lec-dem) titled Harmonics (Voice and Piano) on 13th December held at the Vinyasa Art Gallery, Anil Srinivasan (piano) and Sikkil Gurucharan (carnatic vocal) took the small yet discerning audience through the evolution of harmonics - that which has evolved through the ages and across geographical boundaries in seamless unison. All this happen in an era sans global connectivity, easy access and sharing of information.

Srinivasan, to begin with, traced the western classical music trajectory of the sacred chants from a single voice (homophony) supported by chords to multiple voices (polyphony) by the sixteenth century. He quickly demonstrated the musical progression from J S Bach's period, where compositions and symphonies centered around major chords to the inclusion of minor notes that brought out the moods in music. Playing "C major", his fingers gently wove in the minor notes which did not fail to strike the purported emotional chord in the listener. This transition he compared to the shift from Shankarabharam to Karaharapriya.

In the first half, Srinivasan correlated the variations from the Gregorian sacred chanting, layering of multiple voices over chords, using both hands on the piano to play different tunes to the period when the breakout against the Church and the Renaissance movement took place in European history. In fact, an interesting observation by most musicologists is that the Golden Age of Western Music was around the same time as the Golden Age of Carnatic Music (18th century). "One wonders if it had anything to do with the IQ and wavelength of musicians being the same world over," said Srinivasan. Furthermore, around the time that the Trinity in Western classical (Bach, Beethoven and Mozart) held the music world awestruck, the Trinity in Carnatic music (Sri Shyama Shastry, Sri Thyagaraja and Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar) built the foundation on Indian soil, too.
Bani Across Boundaries
By Shyam Sekhar
Bani is an omnipresent word in the lexicon of carnatic music. Legends across time have evolved, performing styles which are followed by generations of musicians. This performing lexicon has expanded constantly and added to the repertoire of carnatic music and widened its appeal constantly. Each bani is a school of music that has a distinct and characteristic style of expression, and reaches adulation of a high order that transforms it into a cult stature.

Take a look at the Carnatic repertoire itself. It has constantly explored newer platforms and moved from the temples to the royal courts, then on to the sabhas and concert halls until it is finally spilling onto the internet taking up gigabytes of I-pod memory to become pervasive. The instruments used in the concert format, too, have constantly expanded. Some have worked well in their entirety and as support modes to the vocalist. Some did not.

Cut here to Europe. The story of two instruments from Italy- the violin and the piano- and their relevance to carnatic music is truly fascinating. The violin started its journey in the early nineteenth century and has become a constant in every carnatic kutcheri (concert) . The violin's entree was not without its fair share of controversy from the purists. Two hundred years later, we would wonder what the fuss was all about. The evolution of the instrument happened in the hands of generations of virtuoso violinists. Yet, one hardly remembers the first musicians who gave the first carnatic dimension to the violin.

The piano has stepped onto the carnatic platform almost two hundred years after its peer. An evening at a lec-dem made one wonder if I had just got a glimpse of a style which would give the piano an eminent place in carnatic music.

Around this time, explained Srinivasan, despite criticism from purists, which is not unknown in any genre of music, or, for that matter, any art form, musical progression tended to tilt in favour of harmony. Explaining the shift in western classical music from Gregorian sacred chants to Impressionism (derived from thematic representation in paintings and which ground through Chopin's compositions), he beautifully demonstrated the "ripple effect" created in the waters. "With harmony, structure too falls in place," he explained. Indeed the violin and the piano have their nativity in Italy, but the violin has melded into being an integral part of any Carnatic music concert. (see box: Bani across boundaries).

Srinivasan and Gurucharan in an hour explicitly brought out how the piano and voice can respond to each other to create harmony that reaches out to the audiences. Gurucharan sang a padam "Enneramum" (in Devagandhari) by renowned composer Gopalakrishna Bharathi, while Srinivasan deftly responded in a manner that percussion must respond to the vocalist. "The two forms should blend with each other and the music produced should be a dialogue to bring out a harmonic aural treat. The duo beautifully brought out how Arabhi and Devagandhari ragas are derived from the same Melakarta ragas with identical swaras but are aesthetically very different.

He stressed that there is no need to conform to theory like semitones and chord progression but one can concentrate on melody from the heart. Here he deftly played Chopin (poet on piano) "Prelude in C Sharp Minor". The piano and voice can be elegantly juxtaposed to bring out soul stirring music. This was well represented as Gurucharan sang the lullaby "Omanathingal Kidavo" even as Srinivasan delicately wove in the lullaby composed by Chopin- an eclectic expression of Vatsalyam (mother's love).

While there was little time for interaction, the lec-dem clearly established Srinivasan's mastery over the piano and the subject. Gurucharan's rendition was pleasing.
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