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An Engaging Lecture-cum-Demonstration On Raga Music By Vidwaan R.K Shriramkumar

Shuchita Rao

Vidwaan R.K Shriramkumar presented a free lecture-cum-demonstration titled “Exploring ragas through compositions”  at MIT’s Wong Auditorium on Tuesday, November 9 at 7pm. 

A renowned Carnatic violinist hailing from a reputed musical family, Shri R.K Shriramkumar received  initial training from Smt. Savitri Krishnamurthy and went on to study the art of playing the violin from his grandfather, the legendary violinist R. K. Venkatarama Shastri. He also trained in Carnatic vocal Music under Vidwaan Shri D.K Jayaraman and is presently receiving guidance from  Vidwaan Shri V.V Subrahmanyam. With a performing career spanning more than two decades, the artist has performed for all the prestigious organizations such as Madras Music Academy, ITC-SRA, All India Radio, Doordarshan at venues such as the Rashtrapati Bhavan.  Besides presenting solo violin concerts, he has accompanied numerous stalwarts such as Bharat Ratna M.S. Subbalakshmi, Vidwaan Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Vidwaan T.M. Krishna.

In the two hour long lec-dem, Shri R.K Shriramkumar explained that a raga resides in the spaces and microtones between the musical notes, in key phrases that bring out the contours and colors of the raga, in the graces and ornaments that help navigate its structure. Starting with a composition in the universally recognized raga Shankarabharanam, he explained that while the raga could be defined as having seven notes in ascent and descent and as belonging to the 29th mela(family), that description alone would not be a complete description of the raga. A single note such as “Ma” could be sung in half a dozen ways in raga Shankarabharanam by employing different note combinations and ornaments. He explained that ragas have gone through organic changes over time.  â€œA raga pervades compositions, viruttam, thaanam, aalaapana, kalpanaswarams, neraval and more. Learning several compositions in any given raga will not only give insight into the raga but triggers thought process and creativity” he said. 

Shri R.K Shriramkumar then sang at least half a dozen compositions in ragas like Shankarabharanam, Begada, Devagandhari, Reethigowla, Athana and Sahana to illustrate key points that he presented in his talk. He pointed out that Indian classical music is great because it gives equal importance to kalpita sangeet (pre-composed music such as compositions) and kalpana sangeet (imagination). To gain the specialized knowledge that endows a raga with heart and soul, one must learn a variety of compositions in a raga and to listen to the great masters rendering the raga. He ended with a short exposition of raga Ghanta and advice to respect the parampara (tradition) the composition was drawn from - for instance, Dikshitar’s tradition vs Thyagaraja’s tradition. 

Being a weekday evening, about 25 people attended but not one attendee was willing to get up and leave the auditorium when the lec-dem went past its two hour duration. Boston based Dr. Pravin Sitaram accompanied elegantly on the mridangam and Shreya accompanied on the tanpura. Kudos  to MITHAS for arranging this beneficial lecture-cum-demonstration by a very learned and experienced performing artist. 

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