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Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Journey in the Music World

My Journey in the Music World

A dedication to all my Teachers

By Avinash Ananth

My Interest :

I have always had the unique passion for classical music. According to my parents and all the aunties and uncles who knew me as a toddler, I had a unique ability to recognize certain Ragas (melodies) in Carnatic music, in particular ‘Hamsadwani’ and ‘Mohana’.


For some strange reason, these ragas made me sad to the extent, that I would start sobbing anywhere those two ragas are sung, played on an musical instrument whether in classical style or filmy music or even folk, devotional music style and in any language. My parents would have to take me out as soon as these ragas were sung or played. My grandmother, a firm believer in the Hindu concept of ‘punarjanma’ (rebirth), used to say that some unpleasant memory associated with these Ragas must have been carried over from my previous life to this life. I have no memory of any of these episodes and as I grew older and started preschool, I got over these emotions, but my passion for music stayed with me, which led me to learn to play Mridangam, a South Indian percussion Instrument.
When I was about 5 years old, a group of musicians from India came to our house and were rehearsing for my sister’s Bharatanatyam dance debut concert. At that time many other girls were also having their dance programs and during the performances, I would only watch the mridangam artists. My interest got so intense that when my parents bought a set of bongos, I broke it apart and put the pieces together in the shape of mridangam and started playing. Seeing this parents decided to get me into mridangam lessons.

My Early days and My First Teachers:

My first teacher was a UAB graduate student who was a quite accomplished mridangam artist by the name Kasturirangan Rajagopalan, who started me on the basic lessons and fingering techniques. From then on I became even more interested in this divine art. When I started my basic lessons from him Mr. Rajagopalan was kind enough to allow me to learn using his instrument since, I did not have my own instrument. My parents were then convinced enough to purchase a small mridangam for me. He laid a strong foundation for my future mridangam lessons. 
My mother’s cousin from California introduced us to a professional mridangam artist from Chennai, Vidwan Sri. Neyveli Narayanan, a wonderful teacher and an accomplished artist. He came to our house one summer and stayed with us for a month and taught me the different Thalas (the rhythm patterns used in Carnatic music) and showed fingering techniques to play them. He came to Birmingham during the summers to teach and he was also teaching me through Skype. 

Events Leading to My Rangapravesha:

Vidwan T.V. Ramprasad, a well-known vocalist from Karnataka gave a concert in Birmingham, Alabama and stayed with us for few days. Accompanying him were violinist Vidwan Vittal Ramamurthy and the most vibrant mridangist I have ever come across, Vidwan Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan. Vidwan Ramprasad informed Vidwan Vaidyanathan about my interest in mridangam and my training. Vaidyanathan Sir took a keen interest in teaching me more advanced lessons. I was nine at the time and from then on he started coming to Birmingham and started teaching me very intensely with the aim of preparing me for arangetram (a debut concert) within two years.
Teaching was very intense in the sense that he did not know English and I did not know Tamil. We both would get frustrated and he would call my mom to translate to get his points across. At the end of the first year he got confidence and started talking about the arrangement for arangetram. Since I was a kid at that time, I really did not understand all the fuss about it and about the artists they were talking about and their mastery over the art.
I was so fortunate to have Vidwan Sikkil Gurucharan who has the most pleasing voice and at the time an upcoming artist, who is now a household name in South India and abroad. There was confusion about the ghatam artist. Initially, the ghatam artist was supposed to come from Canada, but he had conflict and could not come. This was a blessing in disguise.
Since the time was very short, Vaidyanathan Sir and my parents quickly decided to bring from Chennai, one of the most famous ghatam artists Vidwan Karthik who also has a PhD degree in Sanskrit. On the violin we had a very accomplished violin artist from Katnataka, Vidwan Sri. Vittal Ramamurthy. We also had a unique percussion instrument called morsing by Sri. Surenthar from Canada.  Morsing is a small string instrument, played using the mouth and tongue. Thus, we had a famous vocalist and well-known violinist and two outstanding percussion instrument artists for the concert.  
I sat with such outstanding artists for a well-planned three hour concert.  The guest of honor was the famous vocalist Vidushi Smt. Aruna Sairam, a household name in India. Fortunately, since I was twelve years old and still very immature, I did not have any nervousness or stage fear or anything like that.  I was so fortunate to be in the midst of such great artists.
It was a coincidence that my arangetram took place in the same hall where my sister’s bharatanatyam arangetram was arranged, in Alys Stephens performing arts Center at UAB. Most interestingly, majority of the audience heard Carnatic classical music for the first time. Both my parents and my teacher were worried that I may not be able to sit for a three hour long concert at a stretch. When you sit with such esteemed artists time flies like crazy.
The most important aspect of the mridangam arangetram is the ‘Thani’ part (where only percussion instruments are performed, and the artist’s mastery is tested), which was the highlight of the concert. My teacher performed Konnakol, (saying the lessons in words). I started the Thani part on Mridangam, which was followed by ghatam and then morsing.  When no one expected, my teacher started konnakol, which we all had to follow, at three different speeds. The synchronization of three percussion instruments and konnakol was such that it sounded like a new and unique instrument. This went on for 40 minutes. My teacher made sure that audience also participated in the rhythmic patterns that were played.
Thus the stage was not just limited to artists but the entire concert hall was a big stage! To my surprise, everyone was giving us a standing ovation.  This is a sweet memory that will last forever in me.

The Sustaining Sampradaya group:

Soon after my arangetram more great things came by my way from the tutelage of Tiruvarur Vaidyanathan Sir. I got an opportunity to perform with the Sustaining Sampradaya group, which consists of young talented musicians from North America. The concerts were held in the Cleveland ‘Aradhana’ which is the largest Carnatic music festival in America. With that group I also got an opportunity to travel to Chennai, India for the December music festival season where many great concerts in South India take place. We traveled to various prestigious halls to perform like Narada Gana Sabha, Sri Krishna Sabha etc., including New Year’s Eve concert at Music Academy. We went to the vintage home of classical music called Tiruvaiyyaru, the resting place of Saint Tyagaraja, one of the greatest composers of Carnatic music. This is the place where the biggest annual Thyagaraja  Aradhana takes place, which concludes on the day Saint Tyagaraja attained salvation. In this music festival, most of the leading exponents of the Carnatic music gather under one mantap (tent) and perform together the ‘Pancharatna Keerthanas” (five gems) composed by St. Tyagaraja. I had the great fortune of performing there with them. We also went to Srirangam and Trichy to perform which are some great temple sites in South India. Performing in such places like Lord Ranganatha temple and Sri Sharada mutt gave me goose bumps. I am very grateful to Sri. Sundaram Mama, for arranging all these unique concerts. 
I also had great previlage to take lessons from the visiting artists to Birmingham like Vidwans Tanjavur Murugabhupathy, Guruvayur Dorai, B.S. Anand, T.V. Gopalakrishnan and few others. Most recently, I have been training with Vidwan B.K. Chandramouli and his son, Vidwan B.C. Manjunath, who are both great Mridanga artists from Bangalore. Under the tutelage of Vidwan Chandramouli, I got a memorable opportunity to play at the World Kannada Conference in Atlanta. I was fortunate to accompany some great Carnatic music vidwans and vidushis such as Suma Sudheendra, Manasi Prasad, flute B.K. Anantharam and Sri. Vidyabhushana Swamiji and other highly accomplished artists.
Thus I have been most fortunate to be exposed to so many great artists and I am forever grateful to all my teachers. I am still a junior artist who has lot more to learn. Music is like an endless ocean when it comes to learning and mastery. I look forward to more opportunities in the future and continue my journey in the wonderful world of Music. 
Avinash Ananth

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Vaman & Neela Mudgal
Birmingham, Al 35244
03:24 pm

Great Avinash. Keep up the good work. Do not forget to hug your parents.

By the way, let us go to Atlanta, to watch final four/ March madness. Just kidding….

Take care and God bless you. Say hi to your mom and dad.

Vaman Mudgal

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