Perambulating the Bounds

Monday, March 06, 2006

Nashville Aradhana

A week ago Saturday I had the good fortune to attend several hours of the Aradhana at Sri Ganesha Temple. An aradhana is an all-day gathering of practitioners of Carnatic music. Performers, mostly vocalists, from all over the Southeast came and performed. The event has a pedagogical level – the theme this year was the Post-Trinity composers, which refers to the many composers in South Indian music who came after a trio of 19th century musicians (Tyagaraja Swami, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Shyama Shastry)

who are considered the guiding lights or founders of South Indian music. Rather than something like a fiddler’s convention, where everyone comes in and plays selections of their choosing, the program was coordinated to avoid repetitions and demonstrate the styles of as many composers as possible. The aradhana is also considered to have a devotional character, and ended with blessings by the Temple priests for the performers and all in attendance. Some concerts at the Temple, depending on the material presented, have a more devotional character than others and therefore involve the priests officiating at some point.

I got there around 4:30 and stayed through the end of the performances at 10:00. The entire day started at 10 in the morning I believe. I’m afraid that I have not always made it to the end of the concerts there, but it is highly recommended. Some of the music’s effects occur through the temporal immersion. I could feel the solid beats of the mridangam for easily a day afterwards somewhere inside my body.

This program provides a chance to hear many vocalists from Nashville or nearby. It is surprising to realize the depth of talent present locally among people who cannot make their living doing this. Then again, it is really not so surprising, and not so different from the way people make music in every other community around here.

Let me mention some of the names of participants who stood out. Keep an eye out for their names, and if you are ever aware that they are performing, try to catch them. (And I apologize for any spelling errors in these names.)

Preetha Narayan: soon to graduate from Vanderbilt, trained as a classical violinist as well.

Sandhya Mudumbi. From Nashville but in college in St. Louis. In the tillanas (group songs) that ended the program, she served as a lead female voice balancing Sankaran Mahadevan. She matched his voice well, and gave that performance great energy. She’s also a talented dancer.

Ram Kaushik: From Nashville, and I hadn’t put his name and face together before, but I see him at a lot of these concerts and he gave a concert himself at the Temple in December I think. Which I missed. Too bad. I particularly enjoyed his phrasing, which seemed to be placed behind the beat like a jazz musician.

Ramesh Rebba. From Detroit, and provided some insights on the variety of voices that this music accommodates. He has a reedier timbre, which gives his singing a different energy.

Sankaran Mahadevan gave the final solo performance. He organizes the music program at the Temple, and he organized this aradhana. He also teaches many of the people who performed. And as I’ve posted before (link), he is a superb singer and this came out even more clearly through comparison with the others on the bill. This is not to denigrate the quality of the others, but simply to acknowledge that his place of honor in the final spot was well-deserved. An event like this makes it clearer how he is participating in the work of building an outpost of Indian culture here that extends back to India in immediate ways.

It was a complete pleasure to attend at least part of this musical day, and afterwards I had a great conversation with Monica Cooley, Sankaran’s wife and the main teacher of Indian dance in the community (Global Education Center, Vanderbilt, her own studio).

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