All the world’s a stage

Ambika Shaligram
Friday, 10 January 2020

Renowned musicians, violinist Dr L Subramaniam and singer Kavita Krishnamurty explain why it’s necessary for students today to have a more holistic approach towards music

All those who have pursued Indian classical music diligently are well-versed with the concepts of legacy, absorbing new traditions and striving to ensure that music touches the lives of one and all. Meet a family, which has a rich legacy in music and through relentless pursuit is keeping the tradition alive.   

Dr L Subramaniam, Kavita Krishnamurty and their children — Bindu Subramaniam, Ambi Subramaniam — and their granddaughter, Mahati were in the city on Wednesday to perform at the 29th Lakshminarayan Global Music Festival (LGMF). A Spanish orchestra, Symphony Orchestra of Castile and Leon (OSCyL), which was also a part of the LGMF, performed for the first time in the country.

A REGULAR FEATURE
Ahead of their performance, Dr Subramaniam speaking to the media representatives, announced that thenceforth the LGMF would be an annual feature in the city. 

“The Lakshminarayan Global Centre for Excellence has tied up with Vishwakarma University. Under it we have started a BA (Hons) Music course in Vishwakarma University VU). Our philosophy behind starting the programme is to be able to bridge the gap between the gurukul system of learning music and college education,” he says.

Elaborating on the need to introduce higher education in music, the noted violin player says, “Most of our great musicians, performers have come from the gurukul system, they didn’t study music in college. Indian classical music is a practical art form, which means that you need to learn from a guru and practise it. You cannot read 200 books and become a great performer. You might know the music theoretically, but practically, you won’t be able to execute it. The college education system till today hasn’t been able to produce anybody of the stature of Pt Bhimsen Joshiji or Pt Jasrajji or MS Subbulakshmiji. We want to bridge that gap. We want to create a syllabus which will be 70 per cent practical and 30  per cent theory. In fact, I am writing a textbook, because we don’t even have textbooks.” 

As a part of the course, students who have enrolled for BA, will also get an on-the-job experience. “The VU and LGCE have tied up and therefore it will now be hosting the LGMF every year. During the LGMF festival, the students will learn how to organise events, what does working backstage mean, how to handle the sound... Nowadays, everyone has to know a little bit about digital media. All this has become necessary. You need to have a holistic approach because times have changed,” he adds. 

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE GLOBAL
Initially, the festival was held in one city. But soon after L Subramaniam got many requests to perform in different cities. “Slowly, we started to perform within the country. Over the years, we became a global festival,” he  adds. It was in the ’70s, that the musician started using the term, ‘global’. Explaining his reasons, L Subramaniam says, “The practitioners of Western music thought that only their music is classical and everything else is folk or ethnic. Our classical music system finds it roots in the Vedas. I wanted to change the perception of Westerners. We thought with the global music festival, we can have representations of all traditions and cultures.”

His wife, noted playback singer, Kavita Krishnamurty adds, “The LGMF has been presented annually in New Delhi, Bengaluru and then we have had shows in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad and in Pune too. We have also performed in 22 countries internationally and American, African, European and Japanese musicians have performed with us. Of course, the LGMF predominantly features Indian classical music. Every year, we have different themes. In the past we did ‘Visions of India’ with Gangubai Hangal, Balamurali Krishna, Wadali Brothers, Suresh Wadkar, Pankaj Udhas. Another time, we had ‘Violins for  Peace’ concert in which Dr Subramaniam invited violin artists of different genres like Western classical, Indian classical, Norwegian folk, Arabic violin, Gypsy violin and so on.”

When asked what it means to be global, the Nimbooda-Nimbooda singer quips, “As a student or an artist, your main interest can be in Carnatic or Hindustani music, but today you have to work with musicians across the country. It’s therefore imperative for you to understand the traditions of Hindustani music, the complicated taala system of Carnatic music or the harmony in Western music. Once you do that then you can play with any musician on any stage in any part of the world. That music will come through understanding and not guess work.” 

IT ALL BEGAN WITH VIOLIN
The LGMF is dedicated to Dr Subramaniam’s father, Prof  V Lakshminarayan. His vision was to see the instrument to be played by a solo artist and not just remain as one to be played by the accompanist. “Violin and piano are the main instruments of Western classical music. Violin was introduced in India by Balaswami Dikshitar. Balasawami heard the Westerners playing the violin in then Madras. He was fascinated with the instrument and introduced it to the Indian audience as an accompanist instrument. Westerners stand and play, but Balaswami sat down and played it, because that is how Indian music is played,” explains Dr Subramaniam.

What makes the violin so unique? Violin is a fret-less instrument, it can be played with slight ornamentation and an artist would be able to sustain a note for a longer time like a voice. Prof Lakshminarayan wanted it to be played across major concert halls as a solo instrument, because of its potential. So he created a lot of techniques like multiple plucking, playing it with left hand and right hand. “My father made the instrument more flexible, he worked on the techniques and that’s why I was able to play in all the major concerts as a solo musician. The India violin has now become visible and prominent,” he adds. 

“See, a non-Westerner playing the violin in the Western world has to be very good. Therefore, Yehudi Menuhin inviting Dr Subramaniam to play with him in his orchestra is a very big thing. He has also played at Lincoln Centre, Kennedy Centre as a soloist.  It’s not our personal success, but we would like to say that an Indian artist’s improvisational techniques have been recognised and appreciated. Prof  V Lakshminarayan’s contribution is absolutely great,” points out Kavita.  

See, a non-Westerner playing the violin in the Western world has to be very good. Therefore, Yehudi Menuhin inviting Dr Subramaniam to play with him in his orchestra is a very big thing. It’s not our personal success, but we would like to say that an Indian artist’s improvisational techniques have been recognised and appreciated

Our philosophy behind starting the BA in Music programme is to be able to bridge the gap between the gurukul system of learning music and college education. We want to create a syllabus which will be 70 per cent practical and 30 per cent theory. In fact, I am writing a textbook.

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