This year marks the 20th anniversary of Trinity Center for Music in the Bay Area. The Saratoga-based school will celebrate its anniversary with a production titled “Salutations to the Guru.”
Trinity’s director, Anuradha Sridhar, has been a tireless teacher, performer, and ambassador for Karnatik music in the Bay Area. Groomed in a milieu that traces its roots back to the most significant Karnatik composer of all time, Saint Thyagaraja, the strains of music have been handed down in her family like a precious heirloom, from generation to generation. Her grandfather, Lalgudi Gopala Iyer, was an innovative teacher and a versatile musician who showed musical agility over a range of instruments. Sridhar, who has vivid memories of learning sessions with him, is the daughter and disciple of his fourth child, Lalgudi Srimathi Brahmanandan, the reputed sister of violin maestro Lalgudi G. Jayaraman.
The spark and skill Sridhar displayed at a young age was honed by her mother. When she performed on Doordarshan at age seven, several senior musicians of the era called her parents to commend her performance of Papanasam Sivan’s famous work “Ennathavam Seidhanai” in Raga Kapi. They had noticed that the child had imbibed, very early indeed, the Lalgudi tradition or bani—with its emphasis on purity of sound, emphasis on raga bhava (emotion), understanding of the sahityam (lyrics), and mastery over layam (rhythm).
For Sridhar, the responsibility and privilege of belonging to such a family set in early as she began to be groomed for the stage. She has performed with her mother from the time she turned 12, accompanying her in later years in performances in India, Singapore, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States. Sridhar still continues to accompany senior musicians around the country and also performs duets with her mother and guru in the Chennai music festival season.
Over the last many years Sridhar has invested a substantial part of her musical energy into grooming young artistes in her studio. Since 2003, many students of the Trinity Center have excelled at music competitions held in Cleveland and in the Bay Area. In the last four years, Cleveland’s top prizes in kriti and in the improvisational aspects of raga alapana, neraval, kalpanaswaram, and pallavi, have gone to Trinity’s students; judges have praised the children’s diction, adherence to purity and tradition and their passion in rendition. Many of these students have also distinguished themselves in the Bay Area as youth musicians of high caliber, both as vocal and violin soloists and as up and coming violin accompanists.
Trinity Center has also received California Arts Council grants for the advanced training of its students. The Trinity team, bolstered by the vision of its guru, took home the first prize in the “Best School Competition” in the 2009 Cleveland Aradhana.
Sridhar and her students are also beginning to make an impact on music-related initiatives in the mainstream. In November 2009, they were invited to be part of a Youth Music Initiative for the San Francisco World Music Festival that involved musicians from many genres and cultures, including Kyrgyzstan, Tibet, Taiwan, North and South India.
The challenges of imparting a Karnatik music education outside its organic setting in Chennai are manifold and Sridhar is sensitive to that. Karnatik music cannot be taught without putting a Karnatik “eco-system” in place, she says.
“You have to teach the students who are born and raised here the values that we in India grew up with—such as compassion for elders, respect towards them and obeisance to the guru,” she says. Where it pertains to the issues of pronunciation, accent, and the meaning of the lyrics as intended by the composer, Sridhar is exacting. She seeks out the help of experts to get at the correct words as well as the literal and the larger, philosophical meaning of a composition. She demands that her students do the same.
“A wholesome, soulful musical presentation grows out of the utmost shraddha (dedication) to the art form,” Sridhar says.
“Salutations to the Guru” will be a musical tribute to all the gurus in Anu Sridhar’s lineage. The performance will present the versatility of all its students, featuring their instrumental, vocal, and percussive skills. The students are working with single-minded focus, exactly in the way their guru prescribes, hoping that their efforts will linger in the minds of their audience long after the tunes of the evening have faded away.
Sept. 11, 4 p.m. Jewish Community Center, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $15. (650) 704-1720, (408) 504-3763. www.anuradhasridhar.com.