The great cellist Yo-Yo Ma has said, “There’s a moment where you can go into nature — always, at any moment, and figure out some parallel to what is happening in a sound-centric world.” Beyond Oceans was reminiscent of fall colors – it brought together the classicism of the Nadalaya School of Music, founded and directed by Shanthi Shriram and Shriram Brahmanandam, and the richness of Around the World, a global music ensemble founded by their son Arun Shriram. This fusion music concert benefited Inclusive World, an organization dedicated to developing the skills and abilities of differently abled individuals. Inclusive World is based in San Jose, California, and their vision is to help these individuals find avenues for continued professional development and social immersion. The event was organized on Saturday, September 8th, at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale.
The musicians included Wei Wang on Chinese percussion, Aditya Satyadeep on Indian violin, Alex Henshall on trumpet, Arun Shriram on mridangam, A.V. Krishnan on ghatam, Harini Krishnan on Indian keyboard, Morgan Swanson on guitar, Rob Goebel on cajon, Nandhan Natarajan on saxophone, Priyanka Chary on veena, Vijayakumar on keyboard, Kavya Iyer and Anivartin Anand on western violin, and vocal music was provided by the South Indian classical music students of Nadalaya School. The very sight of such variety on stage – of musical systems, of instruments, of musicians ranging from grade schoolers to accomplished artists, held together and swayed by music, was awe-inspiring.
The ensemble offered a twelve-course musical feast to a full house at Shannon theatre. They made an auspicious beginning with a mallari (traditional temple music) in the raga Gambhira Nattai, originally composed by the violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman.
Eastern and Western musical influences were tightly braided throughout the concert. For instance, when they performed an improvisation of Saint Thyagaraja’s Nagumomu in raga Abheri and John Coltrane’s Blue Train, the group seamlessly blended the two influences to create a whole new sound – a true hallmark of any good fusion music collaboration. At the same time, they played pieces where each style was preserved in all its glory, such as the Chinese drum (dagu) performance, Laya Vinyasam (improvised exposition of rhythmic patterns) on the mridangam, and a group rendition of chittaiswaram (improvisation in solfege) in the rare raga Pasupathipriya. This interplay made the performance pleasurable for the puritan in the audience and the casual listener alike. The music was interwoven with a slideshow which featured trivia about musical styles, instruments, artists, and composers.
In the end, they performed a medley, including One Day by Matisyahu from the famed “Kindness Boomerang“ video (a must watch clip that portrays the power of simple acts of kindness). Shanthi Shriram, who has been a Carnatic music teacher in the Bay Area for several years and who was one of the artistic directors for the show, recalls orchestrating the finale as an unforgettable experience – “A Tibetan song set to Indian Madhyamavathi raga flowed right after Brindavani thillana and then into an English song in major scale, then finally into a Spanish song which represented our Mohanam scale. The most interesting aspect of the whole concert was how the Chinese drum dagu flowed so well with Indian percussion instruments like mridangam and ghatam. This was something I had never imagined possible.”
Arun Shriram, the talented mridangam player, cherishes rehearsing with the artists of Beyond Oceans for months on end. One can imagine the camaraderie that develops as a result when he says “Performing with these musicians on stage was also a different experience from most stage performances I’ve been in. Although we were determined and felt the pressure of providing an entertaining performance to the whole audience, it felt as though it was just another rehearsal- we smiled at each other, we used visual contact as cues to play some particular section of music, and we had fun!”
Shriram Brahmanandam, a mridangam artist and co-artistic director at the Nadalaya School, reflected on the unique musical scene here, which allowed this kind of experimentation to come to fruition.
“We are indeed very lucky to live in a multicultural society like the Bay area. This truly gives us the opportunity to expose our students to various enriching experiences of working with and learning from artists of diverse musical systems. This learning involves different dimensions – learning to appreciate the beauty of instruments and musical systems different from ours, working with artists of different nationalities, the process of focusing and bringing out the synergies between various musical systems, and of course experiencing the final outcome – beautiful fusion music that brings out the best from all systems.”
He is right about the most admirable aspect of the concert, “The icing on the cake was the fact that all these efforts raised significant funds to help a noble cause such as Inclusive world.” With a noble gesture, these good samaritan musicians have set in flight a kindness-boomerang.
Dinesh Rabindran is a rasika who lives and works in the Bay area.