The Carnatic Choir directed by Bombay Jayashri is not merely a musical endeavour

Talents are best nurtured in solitude, but character is best formed in the stormy billows of the world.

Johann Wolfang von Goethe

Just a while ago, these 18 kids were yelling and prancing about like they had just found freedom. Within minutes, they take position and sit before their most beloved ‘akka’ like they could care about nothing in this world but music. They shake their head in appreciation, a ‘bhale’ escapes them most inadvertently, and are vigorously keeping rhythm as if their thighs are made of rubber. They quickly exchange glances and in solidarity doff their hats to great pieces of music. From raga Sriranjani to Andolika to Jaganmohini they find their way seamlessly, holding on to Akka’s knowing hands.

Accomplished Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri is the Pied Piper of these 18 children, all set to perform a Carnatic Choir, a first of its kind. But this Pied Piper, the children’s favourite akka, has created a paradise for them – of camaraderie, and bonhomie, through hours and hours of rigorous music. She brings to them the joy of being able to share music, but also the awareness that music comes only with penance like practice.

From time to time musicians and composers have always had different visions for this great art form. While most Western symphonies are orchestral works involving a large group of musicians, Indian classical music centres around the individual performer. Both these forms rest on aesthetic ideals like beauty and symmetry, but they also pursue truth. Unlike Western classical music’s complete adherence to the composer’s vision, the final outcome of Indian classical music can never be pre-determined, it’s something that is achieved at that very moment, solidified by individual talent and aesthetics. What happens if you infuse the elements of a Western classical performance into Indian classical music? To my mind, it appears like a seed sowed in a pot, before the sapling is transplanted in free soil.

Without debating much on the earliest experiment, Pandit Ravi Shankar’s Indian National Orchestra for All India Radio during the Fifties, was among the first to present Indian classical music in the Western idea. Other classy experiments followed, for instance, the remarkable works of Emani Shankar Shastri. Ilaiyaraja too, has done this in the brilliant Nothing But Wind, and the more recent works with Budapest orchestra. Walking in this direction, yet, bringing into it her own bit of novelty is Bombay Jayashri’s idea of the Carnatic Choir. The adherence to the beauty and harmony as envisioned by Trinities forms the larger framework, while seeing their inter-connectedness of thought and emotion comes from her individual perceptions. The children therefore, like the seed in the pot, are expected to learn the discipline of adhering to the rigours of the composition, before they begin to experience the joys of growing roots in free soil.

“It’s great joy to work with children. Unlike adults, they come with hearts full of innocence and so much love for music,” says Jayashri, giving reasons for such an enterprise. To suddenly meet other children who adore Carnatic music is such a happy thing for a child, and that was the most compelling thought, says the mild-mannered Jayashri. “Their transformation is amazing. In seconds they abandon their playfulness to don their musical selves with such seriousness,” explains Jayashri, who has been rehearsing with the kids for five months now. As her committed band of five students polish, tinker, and guide them on finer touches in smaller groups, Jayashri monitors closely with an affectionate word for every member of the group.

As these children get ready to take stage with great celebration, it’s only reiteration of the fact that no art or artiste is complete without a sense of the community. Without empathy for your neighbour all knowledge is sterile. Jayashri’s endeavour echoes the words of the Kannada poet Siddiah Puranika, who in a poem said that salvation for humankind comes only when you learn together and grow together. The Carnatic Choir is therefore, not just a great lesson in music, but also in humanity.