The problem with Carnatic in the Bay

NRI parents and their children would be better off not participating in spelling bee-type Carnatic competitions

by Chitra Srikrishna

What would you like to do this Friday?” my husband asks. As I peruse the listings for concerts, I am amazed to see how many youngsters are performing Indian classical music. This is true not just in India but also in the US. From Boston to San Diego, classical music and dance schools are flourishing. And this isn’t a phenomenon limited just to big cities. Smaller towns such as Dayton, Ohio, or Nashville, Tennessee, have not only teachers but even sabhas that host performances by musicians and dancers visiting from India, as well as by US-based artists.

The Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival has become the largest Carnatic music festival outside India. Smaller festivals in San Diego and Chicago are now multi-day events, providing rasikas (connoisseurs) immense opportunities to enjoy the music and dance of local and visiting artists.

On a recent visit to California, I am asked to “advise” a young music student. As a professional Carnatic musician, it’s a request I get frequently. “I can sing O Rangasayee too!” declares the girl, whose head barely reaches my waist. “I’ve learnt four varnams and six kritis.” She then effortlessly sings a varnam in the vilamba kaalam (slow speed) and then moves on to the duritha kaalam (fast speed). Her struggles begin when she tries to balance singing the sahitya (lyrics) at that speed and still maintain the taalam (beat)…read more