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Impressive Carnatic Vocal Debut By Hari Narayanan

Shuchita Rao

Despite a steady drizzle, little could dampen the excitement at Hari Narayanan’s Carnatic vocal arangetram held on the afternoon of Sunday, September 3. Over 300 guests consisting of young learners, stalwart vidwaans, academics, businessmen, dancers, choreographers and experts of non-Indian musical traditions gathered together to celebrate a debut performance featuring a young man born and raised in a family steeped in the classical arts. Hari’s love for music was carefully nurtured for ten years by the acclaimed Carnatic violinist and award-winning teacher Smt. Tara Anand who has established an impressive track record of grooming promising musical talent in the Boston area.

The concert venue was the majestic Shalin-Liu performance center located at the tip of the Cape Ann peninsula in the town of Rockport, MA. The large concert stage set in front of twenty feet tall glass windows gave the members of the audience a sweeping view of the deep blue Atlantic Ocean with silver white surf periodically washing against granite cliffs. To the right of the stage, as viewed by members of the audience stood a tall and shiny brass lamp in front of exquisitely framed photographs of the South Indian classical music trinity, Saint Thyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Syama Sastri. To the left of the stage stood a mahogany podium with a brilliant orange exotic flower arrangement at its base. High ceilings in the auditorium created an acoustically rich space and tiered levels for seating guests had a packed sabha of music connoisseurs waiting eagerly for the concert to begin. Hari’s parents Smt. Sunanda and Shri. V.G. Narayanan, master musicians Smt. Aparna Balaji and Shri. Pravin Sitaram could be seen sitting alongside several young students of classical music while Hari’s Guru, grandparents and close family members sat in the first row facing the stage, paying rapt attention.  

Hari’s father, Shri. V.G. Narayanan opened the program with a warm welcome to the concert attendees making the audience laugh with his remark “The only thing Sunanda could not custom order for this arangetram was the weather.”  Following a brief talk on the subject of Carnatic music and an eloquent introduction of the artists by Smt. Tara Anand, the four performers promptly began a 2.5 hour long presentation that engaged the audience from start to finish. Senior performing artist Shri. Ravi Balasubramanian on the Ghatam, talented youngsters Shri. Tarun Bangalore on the Mridangam and Sow. Sahana Srinivasan on the violin provided sensitive support to vocalist Hari who had an endearing stage presence which reflected a readiness to embrace the challenge of a full-length debut performance.

Commencing with a varnam, “Sarasijanabha”, composed in raga Kamboji by Vadivelu, Hari created a strong impression with a well-groomed voice which was particularly lustrous in the lower register. He showed command on the melodic and rhythmic aspects of music, singing in single and double tempos with complete comfort and ease. In the next offering, the melodious “Vaatapi Ganapatim Bhajehum”  in Raga Hamsadhvani, Hari’s clean delivery of the many musical variations in systematic progression exhibited his sound musical training and skills.

The works of composers such as Thyagaraja, Dikshitar, Syama Sastry, Pattabhiramayya, Ambuja Krishna, V.V Sadagopan and H.M Bhagavatar set to a variety of raagas such as Saveri, Vachaspati, Atana, Todi, Khamas, Behag and Saurashtram were presented with sincerity and devotion.  Meaningful lyrics in Sanskrit, Telugu and Tamil languages found enhanced expression in riveting musical compositions. For instance, Syama Sastri’s weighty composition in raga Saveri  â€œShankari Shankuru Chandramukhi” described Shankari, the consort of Lord Shiva as the graceful, benevolent and powerful protector of the universe . The fervent appeal to Lord Rama in Thyagaraja’s “Anupama Gunaambudi” asking for compassion was replete with bhava(emotion) and rendered at a brisk pace. “Gaana Mazhai Pozhigindraan Kannan” in the Tamil language was a raagamaalika composed by Ambujam Krishna and set to tune by Shri V.V Sadgopan, (a family treasure according to Hari’s maternal grand-uncle Shri. Madurai R. Sundar) and performed with great flair. The sprightly thillana towards the end of the performance in raga Behag touched everyone’s hearts including the non-Carnatic-literate members of the audience. Concert attendee Tatyana Dudochkin, pianist and faculty member at the New England Conservatory and teacher of Hari’s younger brother Shriram said “I simply loved the improvisatory aspects of Hari’s music”.

While each of Hari’s accompanying artists was a seasoned player, it was the coordinated play by the team of four that made the performance truly remarkable. Sahana’s sweet tone on the violin and pleasing imagination, Tarun’s confidence and command with the Mridangam and Ravi’s elegant embellishments on the Ghatam provided support to Hari and brought joy to the young and old alike. What was particularly impressive about the arangetram was not just the choice of musical items presented but the thoughtful sequencing of the compositions and Hari’s ease in switching seamlessly between varied tempos. The centerpiece of Hari’s performance,  Dikshitar’s architecturally grandiose “Sri Krishna Bhaja Manasa”, presented in a sustained tempo in the raga Todi was balanced beautifully with the effervescent “Marubaari Taala Lenuraa” in the lilting Khamas raga. The fluid rendition gave wings to my imagination – the vision of Smt. Sunanda Narayanan (Hari’s mother) giving life to the javali with masterful abhinaya came to my mind. As opposed to the Hindustani concert format, where music items proceed from very slow tempo to faster tempos, Hari’s concert format switched rapidly between slow and fast tempo offerings, engaging listeners very effectively.

The maturity of Hari’s written description of his musical journey titled “Finding my voice” in a beautifully designed brochure with arresting photographs was an attractive offering that added to the evening’s presentation. “Carnatic music is to me more than an art form. It is a part of my very identity and brings me closer to my otherwise geographically distant heritage. It is a spiritual connection to my ancestors – one that is woven into the fabric of my household and one that I will forever cherish as an integral part of myself.” wrote Hari in a reflective tribute to his musical legacy.  His great-grandmother, the late Smt. Ananthalakshmi Sadagopan was a trail-blazer Carnatic vocalist while his grandmother, the multi-talented Smt. Sujatha Vijayaraghavan has the distinction of being an author, musician, dancer and choreographer among other achievements. It was a touching sight to observe Hari’s humility in accepting the blessings from his grandparents, close relatives, friends and Guru absorbed in observing the minutest aspects of musical detail. 

At the end of the concert, in an emotional speech, the respected musician and Guru, Hari’s maternal grand-uncle Shri. Madurai R. Sundar paid tribute to Hari’s Guru Smt. Tara Anand’s roots in tradition and modern methods of teaching. Smt. Sunanda Narayanan also thanked Smt. Tara Anand for enriching the lives of Hari and his fellow classmates with the anubhava or experience of learning Carnatic classical music.

The arangetram event was a wonderful example of successful event planning and execution as much as it was a display of musical knowledge and skills acquired and perfected over a period of ten years. The choice of the location with emails showing parking map of Rockport with a friendly advisory for impending rainy weather, the arrangements of a bus to transport the elderly to a cozy guest house where a delicious hot dinner whetted appetites, designer favor bags with tasty boondi laddus, warm thanks and goodbyes from members of the Narayanan family made the event a memorable experience for all. Kudos to Hari, his Guru and his family and good wishes for a promising musical journey ahead.


(Photo credits: Ganesh Ramachandran )

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