Kaveri Sridhar did something unprecedented. Someone who was trained in the traditional Mysore baani of Carnatic music decided to make an unusual choice
From the pristine Mysore baani legacy of the legendary Veena Seshanna to conducting choirs which sing English, Russian and Indian-language songs, might seem like a great distance, but musician Kaveri Sridhar has taken the leap with ease and success. In fact, after a conversation with her, it seems the Seshanna legacy actually paved the way for her success in choir-conducting!
But, to begin right at the beginning? Kaveri Sridhar is a respected vocalist, performer, teacher, music-composer and producer; trained extensively in Carnatic music and Hindustani. She has many titles and several national and regional awards for singing and teaching to her credit. She is an AIR-and-Doordarshan-approved composer and artiste. Kaveri is also the great-granddaughter of musical genius, Veena Seshanna.
Kaveri’s first teacher was her father Swaramurthy V.N. Rao, Mysore Asthana Vidwan and Seshanna’s grandson. He gave her rigorous training in Carnatic music’s Mysore baani. He even made her study Hindustani music under Seshadri Gavai. After her father’s death, she underwent advanced training under S. Ramanathan, R.K. Srikantan and Neela Ramgopal. All the while, Kaveri was also performing to wide appreciation. Her tryst with choir singing began in 1982 when she was chosen to attend an NCERT camp on community-singing and was selected Outstanding Teacher at its conclusion. She was made Resource Person for teaching choral music and community singing to school music-teachers throughout India.
This wide exposure to harmonised singing inspired her to establish Bangalore Youth Choir (BYC) in 1984 and conduct it ever since while composing many songs for its repertoire.
Kaveri, a doctorate in Indian Choral Music, beams as she says: “BYC is Karnataka’s first ever non-religious choir. A professional choir singing Indian language songs was a new concept then (there were many western choirs/church choirs). Today BYC is celebrating its silver-jubilee. It’s the only Indian language choir participating in Glorious Choir Festival on par with western choirs. It has to its credit 300 performances across India and two choral music-cassettes for the first time in Kannada –– “Navabhaavakusuma” and “Koodihaadona”. BYC and its junior counterpart Mayura Choir use all major Indian languages and have a wide repertoire of classical, light, and folk songs, with emphasis on patriotic and national-integration themes.”
For Kaveri, the initial challenge was to create awareness and interest in choir-singing in a state where it’s not known widely. Few even know that though choral singing evolved from a natural process of refinement of the age-old community-singing; yet different from the latter. Even now, she says, many people still confuse choir-singing with group-singing. She explains the differences: “Choir members sing at different levels in a chord system and sometimes join to sing in unison. Choirs are divided into four groups –– female voices into sopranos and altos; and male into tenors and bass. Choirs use the canon system i.e. while one group is singing in one melody, the other follows after a gap of one or two bars and harmonises their notes with the first group, though it’s a slightly different melody. Finally, this synchronisation and harmonising creates a vastly different impact from that of the group singing.”
The other big challenge was to understand the intricacies of this process given that she had no background in western music. She laughs: “My father was so insistent on maintaining in his children, the purity of the Mysore baani, that he carefully controlled the classical music/musicians we were exposed to. He would not even like us listening to folk and film music! So, I managed my choir duties of composing and conducting just by judging which combination of notes sounded pleasing to the ear –– a judgement for which my Indian classical background prepared me. Luckily so far, no pianist, harmonium-player or guitarist has found fault with my chord system.” Today, Kaveri’s world is an eclectic mix of Carnatic; Hindustani; and variety-rich choir music. And she dreams of taking her choir group to an international level and show the world that Indian language songs can also be choralised with the same effect as typical western choral music.
Bangalore Youth Choir will celebrate its silver jubilee on September 3, Ravindra Kalakshetra, Bangalore, 6 p.m. As a run up to the event there is a three-day workshop on choral music at Adarsh Bhavan, Malleshwaram. For details, call 98455 69043.