The aesthetics of rhythm

EXPOSITIONAnoor Ananthakrishna Sharma played his own jathiswaram, Panchajanya and a thillana with an ensemble  

For the legions of music-lovers who confine themselves to concerts and stay off workshops and lecdems, the recent seminar organised by the Percussive Arts Centre (PAC), was a telling demonstration of what they miss out on. A galaxy of experts from Palghat Rajamani, A.V. Anand, Trichy Shankaran, to Anoor Ananthakrishna Sharma, demonstrated - - with lucid commentaries - - a large and interesting variety of permutations and combinations possible with regard to arithmetics on percussion. These included koravais, theermanams, and mukthayas with variations in purvartham (first half) and uttarartham (latter half).

Rich variety

Where do you get to hear such a vast and richly varied range of percussion strokes in any regular concert, anywhere? It was great value for laya lovers. Keynote speaker Rajamani, mridangam vidwan and son of Palghat Mani Iyer used a power-point presentation, to demonstrate the five nadais (subdivisions of a beat). Beginning with the elementary principles, Rajamani proceeded through advanced aspects to esoteric features, thus appealing to laymen and cognoscenti alike. The bottomline of his lecture - - once you have mastered the mathematics and perfected it, it's aesthetics that has to rule. The most brilliant and technically flawless composition will have no appeal if it's not aesthetically pleasing. Anand, accompanied by his student N. Amrit, came on next for "Special Formulations in Percussion Involving Over One Nadai". Taking as a basis, a variety of mukthayas and theermanams, he demonstrated a series of nadai changes in arithmetic and geometric progression. Beginning with simple structures involving one nadai change, he proceeded to highly complex formulations involving three to four nadai changes including one with three nadais constant in purvartham but changing in uttarartham. Anand ended with a mohara and mukthaya in which both had chaturasra, khanda and thrishra nadais. Shankaran's exposition was on "Aesthetics in arithmetics". It's a topic that lends itself to understanding through demonstration rather than lecture and Shankaran wisely spent more time on the former. With Giridhar Udupa accompanying him on the ghatam, he drew repeated applause for the brilliance, precision and rich variety of his stroke play. Comparing the art of drumming to writing, he said drumming begins with alphabets, and then progresses to words, sentences, and finally essays. And the pinnacle is reached when you are able to provide aesthetic satisfaction to listeners. "Finally, all your mathematical calculations and kanakkus have to be musical," Shankaran concluded. "Arithmetics for percussion ensembles and orchestration" was Anoor Ananthakrishna Sharma's topic. He played several compositions of his own including Panchajanya (a jathiswaram in five ragas each with different nadai and edupu) and a thillana with an ensemble featuring (besides his mridanga), two tablas (Udayraj and Madhusudan), khanjira (Guruprasanna), rhythm pad (Arunkumar), and konakkol (Somshekhar). Vocal accompaniment was by Kalavathy, Geetha, Harini and Sharada. V. Krishna, head of PAC, confined himself to organising and compering.

Time constraint

The only dampener was the packed schedules which meant a near-total absence of opportunity for interaction with the experts. Actually, it is the possibility of this interaction, which draws many a student and connoisseur to such events. For instance, in the morning, Rajamani threw a challenge to the gathering. He asked that the chittaswaram in Viriboni varnam (Bhairavi), which has two avarathanams, be sung - - while keeping to these two avarthanams - - in chaturasram (two), thrisram (three), khandam (five) and thrisram higher tempo (six). Additionally, he wanted to know at which points the speed changes would occur. As he himself said, there are hundreds of correct answers possible. However, though many in the audience had answers, only one was allowed to be voiced. So, it makes sense to stretch such seminars over two days making it more satisfying for audience and speakers alike.