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Carnatic music meets Gregorian chants

Posted on 08/02/2018 in The Hindu

  • By Saraswathi Nagarajan

    Aruna Sairam and Dominique Vellard explain how they created a rich and colourful aural tapestry with their music for the ‘Heaven and Earth’ musical series

    “It is a musical conversation, a dialogue and not a fusion,” says leading Carnatic vocalist Aruna Sairam. The Padma Shri recipient was in the city with French musician Dominique Vellard to create aural bridges with their new music series ‘Heaven and Earth,’ for the Bonjour India festival.

    She says the two singers aspire to travel along parallel lines but speak the same inner language through their choice of verses and pieces of music. They hope to celebrate the differences and the connections between the two cultures and the music through their recital.

    Two traditions

    While Aruna belongs to a rich and unbroken tradition of Carnatic music that has been passed on orally from guru to shishya, Dominique’s musical legacy can be divided into many periods. “In the medieval ages, liturgical music was monophonic, much like classical music in India but then came a period when it increasingly became polyphonic. For the kind of music that I am rendering, I had to research and delve into texts and notations to rediscover the music. I will be performing the monophonic music and the melody that was popular between the 10th and 14th centuries,” explains Domnique, who renders Gregorian chants.

    Both the musicians agree that their kind of work requires a great deal of homework but since the two have been in tune for the last 22 years, they have a perfect pitch to base their work on.

    “For this concert, which we conceptualised specially for the Bonjour India programme, Dominique and his wife travelled to India for 10 days in February last year and again for 10 days in October. We sat together and discussed the framework of the idea and what to choose and what to discard. I would say that if our first concert together, ‘Sources’, was more inward-looking to discover the roots of our musical tradition, we have evolved and transformed during the year. This particular one, ‘Heaven and Earth’, is more outward-looking and probing. We were trying to derive inspiration from the elements and the universe and trying to tap into the common spirituality that runs like a thread in both traditions of music,” says Aruna, while Dominique nods his head in agreement.

    Range of emotions

    Their interaction explores a gamut of emotions from love, romance and longing to the quest for spirituality and a greater love that connects all of humanity.

    “Hence the title ‘Heaven and Earth,” says Aruna.

    The series was premiered in Thiruvayiru in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu.

    Captivating treat

    A summer shower did not dampen the enthusiasm of music buffs who thronged the open-air auditorium of Bharat Bhavan in the city. But one wonders why organisers insist on holding concerts in this space, where there are hardly any facilities for parking. For reasons unknown, the beautiful Vyloppilly Samskrithi Bhavan suddenly seems to have fallen out of favour for hosting such events. Had it been held at the Koothambalam of the Vyloppilly Samskrithi Bhavan, the veteran musicians and the listeners would have had a greater and better experience without the rain playing spoilsport.

    However, thanks to the musicians and the listeners, the concert was not postponed but was instead shifted to a hot and stuffy indoor hall. Thanks to the generosity of the musicians who did not have the support of sound system, the patient audience had a captivating treat.

    Both the musicians remained anchored in their style of music even while their rendering soared in harmony. The programme was made of text and music. Aruna sang carefully chosen Carnatic compositions, including Swati Thirunal’s Dhanasree thillana , she also read excerpts from Tirukkural, Sangam poetry and Silapadikaram, for the narrations. Dominique echoed it in French maxims, poems, Latin and medieval music.

    They were supported by Padma Shankar on the violin and Sundar Kumar on the ganjira.


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