Carnatic Chamber Concerts was conceived of and founded by Ms. Padma Mohan in January of 2009 to serve as a hub for musical exchange and learning for children pursuing the learning of Carnatic music here in the United States. Monthly concerts were held in rasikas’ homes, and children presented short musical segments based on their level. The monthly opportunities served to motivate the participating students to practice harder, and while attending the concerts, all the students benefited by listening to and encouraging their peers. Another aspect helped all students grow musically – a student learning vocal music learned to work with instrumental and percussive accompaniment, while those learning instruments got to hone their skills accompanying vocalists. The segments ranged from ten to thirty minutes, allowing all students an opportunity to present songs of varying complexity.
This organization soon grew from its humble roots into a large organization that started presenting monthly concerts at the auditorium at Shirdi Sai Parivar in Milpitas. In spite of is growth, the organization has stuck to its original principle and does not charge for membership; it only requires that students attend the monthly concert series regularly.
For the tenth anniversary event, the 204 students were split into ten groups, with each group focusing on compositions that highlighted something unique about a number from 1 to 10. Veteran gurus Akila Iyer, Arvind Lakshmikanthan, Gopi Lakshminarayan, Hari Devanath, Kasthuri Shivakumar, Natarajan Srinivasan, Rama Thyagarajan, Ravindra Bharathy Sridharan, Saravanapriyan Sriraman, Savita Rao, Sandhya Srinath, Snigdha Venkataramani, Srikanth Chary, Srinath Bala, Shivkumar Bhat, and Vivek Sudararaman worked with the groups of students for over a year, training them to present songs tied to each number. In each group, students were drawn from various schools and there was a lot of coordination involved in having the students perfect the material under the watchful guidance of the lead gurus assigned to each group.
The work done over several months came together beautifully onstage – no detail was overlooked. Vocalists sang the sangathis in unison, percussionists and instrumental accompanists on the violin, veena and the flute served to dovetail in sync with the melody, the beats of the mridangam, ghatam and the ganjira added a delightful rhythmic punch to the songs one after another. In keeping with the theme of rivers, the songs seemed to flow and cascade from these committed youngsters onstage. Coordinated outfits added to the visual neatness and organizational logistics were planned to work seamlessly,, considering that there were over 200 children drawn from multiple music schools.
The theme song at the end – Aananda saagara lahari was penned by Vidwan Shivkumar Bhatt in four languages – Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil. As I walked out of the auditorium, I heard several audience members humming snatches from various songs that were presented. When young voices unite and sing in sincerity and abandon, the songs are sure to make a mark in the hearts of listeners, and that is what I heard in the lobby and beyond. A concert by young students which left a mark on all those who attended!
Nirupama Vaidhyanathan is the editor of India Currents magazine.