Saturday, November 28, 2009

Songs From the Cave of the Heart

Saturday, November 14, 2009. The day of the Aradhana had finally arrived. Previous to this, Naadha Rasa students had been studying for months, learning new songs and adding a special veena performance to the event. Hours beyond count in class and at home had been spent by each student as they honed the notes to perfection with total dedication, sweat and yes- anxiety.

I added the word anxiety as Nirmala’s students love her and wish above all to make her proud and please her with every Naadha Rasa performance; therefore some anxiety is normal. I can speak for Steve as I lived with every hour he spent practicing… listened to him sing, stop, start again until I felt I knew the songs and could get up and sing with the group if necessary! I felt his anguish when he wondered if he’d ever commit certain parts to flawless memory- to get each inflection of gamaka correct. If this was my experience, then I imagine you could multiply it by each team member and the families who encouragingly stood on the sidelines with their loved one(s).

Steve woke up on Friday with a sore throat and found he was unable to hit the necessary notes. He steamed his head and rested for the better part of the day hoping for the best on Saturday. Friday evening he picked me up from work in Eden Prairie and we went straight to the Mandir for a group rehearsal. We walked upstairs and made our offerings and prayers to the Deities…first to Ganesh for assistance in assuring a stirring performance and then to Saraswathi for her blessing on the event.

Nirmala met the group in a classroom; listened to them sing, afterward speaking with each individual about their part and what they could do to focus upon for improvement. As always, she told the class to sit with spines straight and keep a smile on their faces. She encouraged them not to be intimidated by the group coming from Chicago to participate in the Aradhana. (The group would be here in Minneapolis for the first time carrying with them a high reputation for excellence) Rehearsal continued and then the class dissembled to go home and prepare for early arrival on Saturday morning.

Steve woke up Saturday morning with no voice whatsoever, feeling heartsick with disappointment. He steamed his head and worked on doing gentle voice warm-ups to little avail but soldiered on regardless. I felt compassion for Steve but was excited for many reasons - one being that I was finally able to wear the new gorgeous salvar kameeze given to me previously by Indira and Kamlakar! The day started out mild as we drove to the Mandir; the sun was out and the skies were blue, all making for an auspicious beginning.

We arrived at the Mandir close to scheduled agreement and the group gathered for a quick rehearsal. When it came time to set up the amps for the veena performance, there was a problem with power outlets and an amp but the situation was ironed out with the able help of sound men Joy and Stephen. (Joy and Stephen were there as IMSOM was the sponsor for this final event of the music season) IMSOM was a presence at the Mandir in hopes of membership for the 2010 season ahead so Nirmala encouraged all Naadha Rasa members to sign up and give support to our local Indian music community.

The MCs for the morning portion of the Aradhana were Shruthi N., Mahati and Ganesh. Each young person did a fine job but I have to give special kudos to Shruthi as she was (in my opinion) flawless in the pronunciation of each name/composition, etc. without hesitation. She comported herself in a manner much as someone with years of experience speaking and relating with large audiences.

The program began with Sandhya and Rohith performing a duet for the songs Valachi and Namasthe Paradevathe. Valachi’s composer is Patnam Submanya Iyer, Ragam: Navaragama Lika in Thalam: Adi. Namasthe Paradevathe’s composer is Muthuswamy Dikshirar, Ragam: Devaranji, Thalam: Rupakam. It is a special honor to begin an event and these young people rose to the occasion with flying colors. It was satisfying to hear them sing so confident, to see them smile and appear without nerves. Later, I found from speaking to their parents that the two of them had practiced hours together over Skype-the dedication they gave to study was apparent to all present! I really loved the attention detail to fashion sensibility- both performers were attired in complementary shades of oranges and cream which presented a perfect visual.

Ganesh’s vocals were strong and I heard a maturing of his abilities from the last time I had attended one of his performances…he brims with promise and is headed for greatness if he continues studies and practice. Priya did an outstanding solo of Krishna Mukunda Murare and you would never have guessed this young lady used to be so shy! Mahati’s vocals were beautiful and moving as were those of Shruthi R. Both young women offered songs showcasing their individual talents and I felt extremely proud of them. Shruthi’s choice of song was very different, challenging and fascinating as to the structure involved- I’ve not heard this composition before and was enthralled. The song was Dokakuna, composer Thyagaraja, Ragam: Bilahari, Talam: Adi.

The Naadha Rasa ensemble performed Mathe and Shobhane delivering and charming to great applause. Steve could not sing anything but the lowest notes, however, he looked straight ahead speak/singing all the words perfectly as his practice had paid off regardless of illness. Congratulations to Rohith, Priya, Shantha, Joe, Shreya, Mahati, Sandhya, Shruthi, SriVidhya, Poornima, Sruthi S., Steve and Pratap!!! Overall, Naadha Rasa delivered best efforts and unified frame of mind as they sang with great fidelity and joy, marked by passion, verve and self-confidence.

It was enjoyable listening to the line-up of young Chicago musicians presenting for this event and fun to see their young mridangam artist accompany each performance. With the showcased talent rendered, it was made evident they also have a gifted guru in charge.

A special mention of one Chicago performer who touched my heart - a 14 year old singer named Hari Ravi who had me in tears at one point with the immense emotion he conveyed in his solo selection of Sri Krishnam Bhajamanasa, composer Dikshitar, Ragam: Thodi, Thalam: Adi. I sincerely believe the young man will be an unmistakable talent, promise and potential force in the Carnatic field if he continues this path in life. I spoke with his father during a lull between songs and he told me Hari has been singing since he was a small boy.

Seated in the auditorium the scent of delicious food being prepared in the kitchen wafted our way so we took time to run over and satisfy our hunger and hush our growling stomachs. When we were in the common dining hall we laughed for some time with Sriram Pidaparti who gets great pleasure relentlessly teasing me (in a good way!) It is an honor to have a resident composer in our midst - Sriram is a composer with many songs, one of which is our temple mangalam Sri Ganeshaaya.

We were delighted to discover that some friends we had invited earlier in the week were already in the dining hall and looking forward to hearing the music. Many times people promise they will come and for one reason or the other never seem to make it. Seeing Jay and Swathi with their beautiful kids added some additional ‘heart’ to our day!

Winding up the end of the morning’s presentations, the Naadha Rasa veena ensemble invigorated the audience as they performed Shakthi Sahita. The veena peformers were Steve, Shreya and Sruti S. with Joe assisting on guitar. The performers played fluently; sang their parts with zest and the result was loudly applauded by the audience. It took hours of intense study/devotion for the group to present so beautifully and they deserve acknowledgment for their efforts. At this time I’d like to make mention and give thanks to Padma for her role as adjutant- Nirmala’s go-to person for Naadha Rasa. Nirmala always manages to find a capable, competent woman to interface with her and the class and Padma radiated an aura of calm as she kept an eye on the stage and performers, checking to see where she might best offer assistance. Her presence and knowledge is greatly appreciated by all.

It would be doing a disservice if I neglected to mention our esteemed Sriram Natarajan and the delightful grooves he provided with his mridangam whilst accompanying Naadha Rasa and later with our other esteemed rhythm master Balaji Chandran for the large group performance in the afternoon. Nirmala, who possesses that rare combination of popularity and stature, was lead vocalist and produced emotional hues of vocal and lyrical beauty as always. The group of vocalists that made the ensemble complete lent considerable talent individually and collectively- Big kudos to Mythili, Pallavi, Prabha, Roshini, Sudha, Mahati, Bharthi, Shruthi, Ganesh, Veena and Shanti with special thanks to Padmanaghan Govindan on violin.

When our time at the Mandir came to a close, we were tired yet filled with a certain serenity which stayed with us driving home, throughout the evening and into Sunday.

Krishna Guha: November 25th, 2009

The Krishna Guha was originally planned to be held at the home of Pratap and Prema Mysore, who had graciously intended to host the event but the RSVP response was so overwhelming they had to move it to the Hindu Mandir in order to accommodate the scheduled dinner/ music concert.

In Sanskrit the meaning of Guha is a secret place (cave) in the heart- smaller than the smallest yet greater than the vastest spaces… it is the place where we find our true Self and in which we discover ourselves in the Divine. When one is “connected,” one’s inner peace/work is created in this Guha. On a personal level I understand this concept well, but have never before known a word given to describe it... this is the place I go when life becomes overwhelming, when I need to turn over situations I cannot control…where I look for my inner peace and the love of the Universe…a place that allows me to recharge and go on with my life and the inherent challenges it contains.

I left work late afternoon in Eden Prairie, drove home to central Minneapolis, changed clothing, and collected Steve to make our way back west to the Mandir. By the time we left Minneapolis, the air had turned remarkably frigid carried by a strong wind which found its way to every inch of exposed skin. We were concerned that we’d be late as we battled rush hour traffic in pre-Thanksgiving travel mode but upon arriving at the Mandir found that the event was running quite a bit behind schedule, so spent time visiting with Jaya, Shridar and their kids along with Kamalakar, Indira, Prasana from Rochester and other acquaintances.

Shruthi R., Priya and their friends were occupied collecting donations and handing out tickets for the dinner. Young Samskrit Natarajan loves to tease Steve and that night decided to cling to him like a vine. Steve laughingly asked Shruthi if he could trade Sam in exchange for our food ticket but it didn’t fly so we paid our donation and went inside.

There were two featured visiting artistes from India: Tanjore Murugaboopathi on mridangam and Raghavendra Rao on violin. Our own Sriram Natarajan performed on kanjira along with Balaji Chandran on ghatam and Marcus Wise had been invited to lend his talent on tabla. Nirmala Rajasekar with veena was centered like a jewel in the middle of the percussionists, surrounded by a wall of sound. Poornima was put in role of MC for the evening. It sounded like this was her first time performing as MC but she carried on at the appropriate times. She made the announcement that Nirmala will be receiving two prestigious awards at the Chennai Carnatic Music season in December 2009.

Unfortunately, this particular performance was distracting throughout by sound issues and it was evident watching the musicians on stage that they were unhappy with the situation. I will add that this is not the first time the Mandir has had this problem and it is with hope that in future there will be a working, competent sound system put into place.

By my tally, Nirmala did approximately 11 compositions and as Kannan informed me later, most of them were Tamizh in origin- they were in praise of Lords Krishna and Murugan -one of numerous names for Subramanya, son of Shiva and Parvathi. Kannan told me stories of Murugan, patron Diety of Tamil Nadu who is known as “God of War.” Kannan wanted me to understand that Murugan was one for justice and goodness, not war for the sake of war. I so appreciate the friends who relay the back stories/legends of the various Dieties. I’ve done my own research and Steve is extremely versed in Sanskrit lore but there is so much more to absorb and the gift of oral history is one I cherish- Thank you Kannan and others who continue to share these epics!

Everyone in the uncertain times we live in is affected by daily reports of gloom/doom/loss and war. Many have no outlet for their feelings or a place to keep the emotions from festering…if there is no place for expression, the feelings can then turn into despair and illness of body and spirit. Music is a wonderful way to unleash pent up energies and I dare say I witnessed some of that during the performance. Few vainaka use the lowest string to such great advantage and fluidity as Nirmala does as shown during the alapana section of the Ragam Thanam, a Tamil song Ka Va Va. Her fingers told stories open to interpretation through tones, inflections and rhythms- it felt to me as if she released much through her playing that evening.

Steve compared the violin for this section sounding at times like beams of light dancing on water. I found the violinist to be most technically accomplished as he shadowed Nirmala’s veena but was not finding myself moved by him as emotionally as was Steve. In this particular concert, veena aside, I was completely under the spell of the rhythm section. The guys appeared to be having so much fun and I believe I saw the normally very sober faced Marcus Wise actually crack a rare smile during the performance. The drummers took us for an amazing ride in rhythms with vigorous energy, coordination, and force along with continual sound dynamics.

Mentionable highlights of the evening were compositions by Tyagaraja: Samaja Vara Gamana; Ragam: Hindolam. Papanasam Sivan: Senthil Andavan, Ragam: Kharaharapriya and by Sriram Pidaparti. (Sriram as I’ve mentioned many times before is our Mandir composer) It was fascinating to hear an instrumental interpretation of his composition in praise of the presiding Deity of this Mandir: Varadaraja (Vishnu) in the Ragam: Saraswathi.

By the end of the concert people with children long past their bedtimes had already departed for home and the rest of us found our way to the dining hall. The place was freezing; however, the food was hot and delicious and the company was excellent. Steve and I were joined by Ameeta Kelekar, the president of IMSOM, with whom we shared a scintillating conversation. Michelle Kinney dropped by to say hello and later Kannan found his way to our table. Leela came over to see how we were doing and we thanked her for the remarkable work she does with the food preparation for Mandir events. Bless you Leela!!!

Lastly, I wish to thank all the friends and folks who made a point of coming over to me, thanking me for writing the Naadha Rasa blog and telling me how much they enjoyed it and looked forward to reading it. My heart is sweetly touched and I really appreciate all your kindness and generosity of spirit. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!


SriVidhya said...

Marie Aunty:
I felt like I lived the day over again! You went through every single event that happened very clearly! Thanks Alot!

goldenknitter said...

Thank you Merrie Aunty! I love how the trade of Samskrith "didn't fly!"

Shruthi R

MK said...

Thanks back to you Shruthi and to you SriVidhya! I wish to apologize to SriVidhya for not having your name in the line-up (not on my original list) and I have fixed it to reflect that. You are a precious and valuable part of the vocal team! :-)


Padma said...

Hi Merrie!
Loved reading the update. Thanks for posting it.

Sending warm weather wishes to Minneapolis from Hyderabad!