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My Experience At Crescendo 2011

Pranav Ghatraju

“GOD is the doer; you are but the instrument”. – Baba

As I rejoice in the innumerable congratulatory notes and loving words from my family and friends, I recall this above quote from my beloved Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Atlanta, GA, (yes, on Mother’s day) participating in my first competition in Hindustani music. I’ve been a student of tabla for the past 9 years, first at the LearnQuest Academy under Dr Nishikant Sonwalker and for the past couple of years at the Ustad Sheik Dawood Academy under Ustad Shabbir Nisar (residing in Hyderabad, India with my Guru ji over the summer months). Every time my friends talked about the Cleveland Aradhana competitions, I’ve longed for one such competition for Hindustani music and there it was for me.

Crescendo is a North Indian Classical music competition for all age groups and categories across the entire continental US, conducted by Swarganga, (www.swarganga.org), a non-profit initiative based in Atlanta, GA. The usual process is that after registration, participants will go through two online elimination rounds by uploading a 5-min audio clip to the website that friends, family and supporters will have a chance to vote. Although public rating (40%) is helpful, the final decision (60%) is done by a panel of reputed musicians from across the world to announce the semi-final winners. At that point, public rating is closed and the winners prepare themselves for in-person appearance for the Semi-Final, Final and a Mega Final rounds in Atlanta.

For the semi-finals, finals and mega-finals, participants could bring their own accompanists or Swarganga team will provide the same for a nominal fee.  Up to the final round, one will be judged within their own age group and category. In the Mega-Final round, Instrumental, vocal and Tabla finalists will compete with each other within their own age group. The mega finalists in each age category will be eligible to perform for a commercial CD that will be released post event in the following year and will be given a chance to perform during the upcoming music season in India. The judges for the in-person rounds in Atlanta included Smt Manjiri Asnare, Sri Suyog Kundalkar, Sri Sanjay Deshpande, Sri Prithwiraj Bhattacharjee and Sri Pritam Bhattacharjee, all renowned musicians in their chosen art.

Now, how I got into the competition is quite interesting. It was not until the first week of April that we found out about this competition. Then we contacted the organizers if I could enter that late in the game where all the ratings for the entries were closed. Since all participants in the initial rounds were selected for the semi-finals, I could participate by uploading my audio to their website but would not have any ratings going into the competition. My father and I contacted my guru ji, who readily provided the short list of pieces and agreed to spend time with me over Skype since the time was short.
All that I experienced over the week-end in Atlanta was total bliss and it went by like a fast-forwarded movie. Saturday was the semi-finals round and I enjoyed accompanying a young and talented vocalist from our area for her vocal competition. I was very excited when she made it to finals and subsequently to mega finals in the vocal category. I had the pleasure of accompanying her through the mega finals as well although we both were competing for the same prize! Saturday evening brought us serene and mellifluous Hindustani classical music, the concert by the judges and I enjoyed every bit of the ambience.

Before I realized it was Sunday and I was in the mega-finals. There was a tie between Rishabh Iyer, a phenomenal Sitar player from Detroit, MI and myself, and they declared both of us as winners.  It was a great experience meeting so many talented artists, some younger than me, working hard with passion and dedication. I owe a lot of my success to my parents, my guru(s), our family and friends who support and encourage me unconditionally and ultimately to the Lord and hope to continue my riyaz with full vigor. For more info on Cresecendo, please visit http://www.swarganga.org/crescendo/2011/.

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