The world renowned institution is also a cultural hub.

Twenty years of steady work to promote and cherish Indian music - some silent and strong enthusiasts have made the campus of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Boston, the U.S., vibrate with the sounds of melody. MITHAS (MIT Heritage of the Arts of Southasia) was founded in 1993, by MIT (music) Senior Lecturer, George Ruckert, and MIT alumnus Moez Rawji. The commitment was to bring quality music, Carnatic and Hindustani, to the local residents.

The idea was a huge hit with music lovers from Boston, its neighbourhood and other parts attending the programmes, organised during Fall (September-November) and Spring (March-May). Apart from 6-8 concerts the itinerary has lec-dems (2-4) and at least one workshop. MITHAS is right now celebrating its 20 anniversary with an impressive line-up of artists, including V.V. Subramanyam, Akkarai Sisters and Sandipan Samajpato.

Impressive line-up

On September 29, Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and his sister, Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, are releasing “An Incurable Romantic,” biography of Lalgudi Jayaraman by Lakshmi Devnath. They will regale the audience with a violin concert.

Partho Bose will present a sitar recital on November 3.

Meticulous planning and execution go into the whole exercise. “MITHAS gets offers from leading musicians to perform at the festivals. So it is always a sumptuous treat,” informs Sudhakaran Prabhakaran, post-doctoral scientist at Harvard University and MITHAS Board member. He was in Chennai on a holiday and wished to share information with the readers of the supplement.

Planning begins months ahead with the details, including transportation of the artists and their stay, decided well in advance.

The venue is the Wong Auditorium of the MIT. “With the acoustics provided by Bose, it is a pleasure to both perform and listen,” says Sudhakaran. The fare is a mixture of both Carnatic and Hindustani. Hundreds of locals turn voluntary workers to make the celebrations success. There is a corpus fund but volunteers do spend out of their pocket when necessary. “We love music and the experience is a reward by itself.”

MITHAS, full-fledged body with a Board, an executive committee and Advisory Committee, has showcased stars such as Ali Akbar Khan, Zakir Hussain, Hariprasad Chaurasia, T.N. Krishnan, Balamuralikrishna, Veena Sahasrabuddhe, T.N. Seshagopalan, Shahid Parviz and Pt. Jasraj. The Artist Advisory Board has as members Chitresh Das, Swapan Chaudhuri, Zakir Hussain, Zubin Mehta and T.M. Krishna.

“The mission is to provide for the Indian Diaspora a link with the great legacy of our arts. Young children, born and brought up here, are thus exposed to the rich cultural legacy of India.” Local aspirants are also given an opportunity to perform during the festivals.

Deep knowledge

One of the founders of and Artistic Director for MITHAS, George Ruckert, performer, composer, arranger, author and teacher has a deep knowledge of both Western and Indian music. He earned his Master’s in Western Music theory and composition from Queens College, New York. His training began in childhood, when his mother Lavinia Norton, music and dance teacher, introduced him to the piano.

Setting aside his academic career, he came under the tutelage of sarod legend Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and went on to become one of the ustad’s senior-most disciples. He served the Ali Akbar College of Music near San Francisco as teacher and director. It was his dissertation on the music of his mentor that earned him doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley. He has written a text book on the subject besides publishing numerous articles.

A resident of Boston, he is a Senior Lecturer at MIT, where he teaches music – Indian, Western and World and is sought after to present recitals and recitals and conduct workshops in the U.S. and abroad.