Music

On a high note

WEDDED TO MUSIC Geetha and Frank Bennett Photo: M. Moorthy   | Photo Credit: M_MOORTHY

Percussionist and composer Frank Bennett has a great love for South Indian classical music and instruments.

Frank attributes his groundingin ‘mridangam' to his gurus Ramnad V. Raghavan, T. Ranganathan, and Palghat T. S. Mani Iyer.

“Teach a westerner an Indian instrument and you will get to know the meaning of patience,” Frank laughs, before his wife and popular veena player Geetha Bennett who quips: “Teaching Tamil to Frank also demands a lot of patience.”

But, at times, Frank surprises Geetha by speaking a few Tamil words fluently. “He will be the first one to buy a ‘learn to speak Tamil' book when it hits the market,” she smiles.

Accomplished

Daughter of legendary veena player S. Ramanathan, Geetha is a multi-faceted personality. An accomplished veena artiste, she is also a short story writer and a singer. “I have sung in the Hollywood feature film ‘The Guru.' I am foremost a musician. Passion for writing erupted way later. I am exposed to so many different things in my life since I live in a foreign land and writing is an outlet,” she says.

Geetha has written over 300 short stories and says that she drew inspiration from eminent writer Usha Subramaniam. “I read a lot and mystery fictions are my favourites. I am honoured to have my short story ‘Vidhiyaasam' included in a collection edited by famous author Shivasankari.”

“And she is also a good cook,” Frank interjects. “I am passionate about cooking. Whenever I get to taste a dish, I make it a point to go through the recipe book and try it out at home. I can make Italian, Chinese and Continental dishes,” Geetha says.

However, Frank's favourite is the Morkuzhambu,' which Geetha prepares. “Also the tasty Idiyappam and dosa,” he adds.

Preferences

Frank mostly prefers to stick to music, but gardening is a hobby he pursues intensely. He also admires tennis stars Williams sisters –Venus and Serena. “Both are highly talented. They are from Los Angeles and we too live there.”A die-hard fan of the late Sheik Chinnamoulana, Frank refers to the ‘nadaswaram' maestro as his hero. “Now-a-days his grandsons are very popular in the U.S. They will be performing there in April and that's good news for their fans,” he says.Well-trained in veena as well, Frank is a disciple of M. A.Kalyanakrishnan, Muthulakshmi Ranganathan and Dr. S. Ramanathan.

“I am basically a percussionist and attracted to ‘mridangam' more. I had to give up veena because of a sports injury I sustained during college days,” he shares.

Frank, who holds a doctorate in Musical Arts from Yale University, has been an orchestrator for a number of Hollywood feature films including, Spy Kids I and II, America's sweethearts, Princess Diaries, Scream 3, George of the Jungle, The American President. He has also worked on television shows ‘The West Wing' and ‘The Simpsons.'

He admits that ‘tabla' is more popular among Hollywood musicians compared to ‘mridangam.'

Indian connection

“‘Mridangam' is mostly used in films that have Indian connection. I have used the instrument in the film ‘Blind ambition,' which is a story about a blind young girl from India participating in a marathon,” he says. Frank has accompanied his wife Geetha on ‘mridangam' during concerts in India, Hong Kong, Canada and many venues in the U.S. And Geetha says that holding the attention of audience is not easy. “I have learnt from ‘Maharajapuram' Santhanam to strike sync with the audience by addressing them at the beginning of the show. It certainly helps.”

Having spent years in the West, what does fusion mean to Geetha? “Fusion needs musicians to understand both systems. If they do it, the result will be awesome. I have worked with great musicians and have made my own contribution drawn from my exposure to Carnatic music. I am exposed to western classical, blues, jazz, pop and fusion through my husband and son Anand, a bass player,” she adds.

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Printable version | May 4, 2021 1:06:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/On-a-high-note/article16853978.ece

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