Artistes are certainly not idle during lockdown. Many are staying connected through social media platforms and are even performing there. Initial shock giving way to enterprise, they have galvanised themselves into active groups helping each other pitching in with moral and financial support.
What are artistes living abroad doing during this period? Again thanks to technology, they are continuing to practise art, teachers among them in touch with their students through virtual classes, be it dance or music.
Nirmala Rajasekhar for instance. The dynamic vainika, based in Minneapolis, runs Naadharasa, a music school. Strong in vocal and with strings, Nirmala collaborates intensely with international musicians and has released albums. She has not let the pandemic interrupt her creative pursuits. At the helm of several initiatives, she concedes that the situation has indeed come as a speed-breaker but finds that there are things to do. She was in the middle of rehearsing for Veena Gaanam 2020 to present in the Cleveland festival.
Also she was getting ready to premiere her ode to Pancha Mahaboothas. “‘Elemental Spirit’ was a western composition commissioned by the University of Wisconsin that I have co-written for about 20-odd instruments with my daughter Shruthi Rajasekar,” explains Nirmala. She is proud to be the first Indian — in 54 years — in their annual Composers Commission programme, which was scheduled March 17-19. (https://www.uwrf.edu/MUS/ CommissionedComposers.cfm)
“The Global Carnatic Musicians Association (GCMA) is an organisation formed by musicians for musicians in June last year. I am honoured to serve on this along with my colleagues and fellow musicians,” informs Nirmala. According to her, it is also relevant to speak of the Board of Directors of the American Composers Forum, with headquqarters in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she is on the Strategy Committee. I mention because of the COVID Relief efforts they both have been doing for artistes in India and the U.S.,” she says.
“Through Naadharasa, we have managed to raise money from our generous patrons and student communities across the world to support musicians and artistes, who have lost income in these challenging times. It is heartening to think that music has been the driving force behind these fund-raising activities in the past four weeks. We are also co-partnering with the India Association of Minnesota to help the local community, including service organisations such as SEWAA which helps elders.”
Nirmala has also been counselling the Senior community in a session organised by the Hindu Society of Minnesota. Both talks and performances – veena and vocal - were done for the Raghanubhava Society. On April 19, she presented a one-hour performance, followed by a short Q and A session for Dhvani, Columbus, Ohio curated by Padma Sugavanam and Shankar Ramachandran. She is getting ready for online festivals.
According to Nirmala, the lockdown has made teaching a different experience. “Normally I teach 15-20 students. But it's a different scenario now. I teach different groups on different days, about two hours each. It seems to be working out. In fact, students like it. Including the younger ones, whom I would normally think need face-to-face interaction to maintain focus. They have been fantastic. There is now no reason to miss a class as there are no conflicts with other activities such as sport or recreation. Even in severe snow, classes are continuing. We are all learning to accept the new normal.”
In New Jersey, Ramya Ramnarayan keeps herself anchored to art through long-distance classes. Fresh from uploading two video clips dedicated to International Dance Day on April 29, Ramya speaks at length on how dancers from many parts of the U.S. are meeting every Sunday to help the dance fraternity raise funds or to stay as a support system. Ramya is offering free abhinaya classes for over 10 dance teachers in her area. Young audiences of New Jersey and Pennsylvania are inviting artistes like her to do innovative projects for public and private schools, which are up and running online.
“I feel this pandemic has united so many artistes and created camaraderie among the arts community like no other time,” says Ramya. “At a personal level, this has made me introspect,” she continues. “... trace my journey from childhood, the teachers who shaped me, shared their knowledge with me, especially Kalanidhi Mami, who enriched my skill and repertoire with her sensitive approach. And I can’t help thinking about the art lovers here — the diaspora, which has nurtured me, encouraged me, let me put out roots, be there with me when I have crossed milestones. This is give-back time, to reciprocate... be there for them and cheer them up in these difficult times.”
So the dance community has bonded to support those, whose livelihood is the art, to explore ways to garner resources and also disburse them through the right channel to the target group.