Introducing Carnatic Music at Northeastern University

“What is the composition of the audience that comes to such concerts?” This was one of the questions a student at Northeastern University posed to me earlier this week. I had been invited by Prof Francesca Inglese at Northeastern University to introduce carnatic music to two of her classes ‘Topics in World Music’ and ‘Musical Communities of Boston’. After two years I was interacting with students in person(Yay!). It was such a joy to talk about carnatic music (and sing) to an audience that was not so familiar with the genre.

Despite having been a performer for decades and now as a teacher at Ahmedabad University, it’s questions such as these that make me stop and reflect. Speaking for myself, it is easy to get caught up in the daily practice, teaching and the occasional public performance. Classical music of course whether western or Indian is very much targeted to a niche audience and has its own class and caste constraints.

The students had a range of questions relating to learning, voice modulation and rehearsals, training methodologies, improvisation on stage to how audiences sit or interact with performers. We also talked about the merits and demerits of the traditional gurukul system. I walked away with the sneaking suspicion that I may have learned more and there is still much to be understood.

The icing on the cake was when I gave a short demo of a typical carnatic concert – the students sat in front of me cross-legged on the floor and even followed the beat performing the tala (rhythm). Thank you Professor Francesca. Go Huskies!

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