Swati recently gave her first solo performance.
Students of Std. X this year might be envying their younger schoolmates, who will have the choice of skipping Board examinations from next year onwards, under the recently announced education policy. Everybody in this year’s batch, though, is working hard, hobbies neglected, till the big exams are over. Everybody? Not quite. Swathi J. Bhat, in Std. X at Bal Bharati Public School, Pitampura, took time out to practise her music really hard.
Swathi’s guru, T.V. Manikandan, presented her in her first solo vocal concert recently. “She sang for two hours, and people in the audience who are knowledgeable about music were pleased,” he says. Swathi has been learning Carnatic vocal music from Guru Manikandan since she was nin.
She has received a gold medal and many first prizes from the Nehru Bal Samiti, which holds competitions for children learning classical music and dance. Swathi is keen on her studiestoo. She won the ‘scholar gown’ from her school for high academic achievement. She has also won an award for excellence in Sanskrit.
The performance took place at the Delhi Tamil Sangam auditorium. It was a two-hour show. Any student of music knows it is a feat to sustain a solo song recital for two hours at the start of one’s career. Not only does it require lung power, it also requires lots of mind power, because classical music has two aspects: the part that you learn by heart, and the part that you create on the spot, called improvisation.
The part learned by heart includes the words of the song, and some passages of notes. But every song is based on a raga. And before the actual words are sung, the singer introduces the raga by singing ‘aakar’ — which is like humming, holding the mouth in the shape of ‘aaa’.
This introduction is called the alapana of the raga, and it is not a pre-composed piece of music. Later in the song, the singer also changes the way the words are sung, lengthening some words, repeating some phrases, and so on. This part is called the neraval. The alapana and the neraval are two examples of places in a concert where the singer has to improvise.
Guru Manikandan says he guides his students in improvising, but doesn’t spoon feed them, because then the students would be forever dependent on him and they would have no future. Swathi is lucky. The future beckons.