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Vocal Recital: Sreshtaa Rajesh

Meera Ramesh

Throughout her ten-year journey in Carnatic music, Sreshtaa Rajesh has demonstrated astounding talent and a fervent passion for the art form. Under the tutelage of Smt. Aparna Balaji, of Abhyaas School of Music, she has not only developed her musical abilities, but also grown into a hardworking, ambitious, driven individual. As a close friend of Sreshtaa’s, I have seen her avid curiosity blossom into an unconditional passion. On May 18th, 2019, seventeen-year-old Sreshtaa Rajesh completed a scintillating vocal concert at Mary Rowlandson Elementary School, exhibiting her skill and love for the art form. 

From a young age, Sreshtaa and I have bonded over our love for Carnatic music and dance. Ragams, or musical scales, are a crucial aspect of Carnatic music, for they provide the framework for composition and improvisation. To our young and imaginative minds, ragams were pathways to new worlds, and our vehement avidity pushed us to explore them. On this auspicious day, Sreshtaa captivated the audience by opening up these pathways for their exploration.

Sreshtaa began the concert with a beautiful invocation, reciting the slokams on the acharyas of Kanchi Peetam, followed by Innum En Manam, a Pada varnam in ragam Charukesi and set to Adi talam. In just the first few seconds of this beautiful piece by Lalgudi Jayaraman, her vocal maturity and confidence were brought out. Her clear and calm voice resonated with every viewer, and she truly transcended the stage.

In the next piece, Shri Mahaganapathim, in Atana, Sreshtaa invoked Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. After she amazed the audience with her delivery of the song, she pulled off an even greater feat: kalpana swaram. Manodharma, or the extemporaneous aspect of Carnatic music, is a unique characteristic of this artform that distinguishes it from several others. While singing the kalpana swarams, Sreshtaa’s ability to think spontaneously while maintaining the bhavam and signature of each ragam truly demonstrated her proficiency.

After this rendition of Shri Mahaganapathim, Sreshtaa enthralled the audience with Swati Tirunal’s composition, Bhavayami Raghuramam. It is a ragamalika - a song composed of multiple ragams woven together. Since each ragam has a unique set of notes, switching between them is a difficult undertaking. When singing the swarams, Sreshtaa astonished me with her ability to make swift transitions between multiple ragams in a mere matter of seconds, a notable example being from dhanyasi to mohanam, two very disparate ragams. The changes from shuddha rishabam to chatusruthi rishabam and saadhaarana gandharam to antara gandharam could easily throw off the average singer, but Sreshtaa remained unfazed.

Sreshtaa followed this keerthanam up with three shorter songs: Triloka Matha Nannu, Manasa e Tulorthune, and Telisi Rama. Her effortless renditions not only reflected her own personal skill, but also her esteemed guru’s training. Smt. Aparna Balaji’s ability to thoroughly understand each student’s strengths and weaknesses is well-known, and I have seen her mold Sreshtaa into the beautiful singer she is today. Hailing from a family of musicians herself, Smt. Aparna Balaji has been an active performer for the past twenty years, featured in concerts in both India and the US, playback tracks and music albums. Today, her firm belief in giving back to the music community shone through Sreshtaa’s presentation.

Next, Sreshtaa presented Nidu Charanamule, showcasing a plethora of skills. She began with a brief alapanai that captured the essence of the ragam Simhendramadyamam. As a viewer, I marvelled at her ability to give this ragam a life of its own. In the high portions of the alapanai, she had complete control of her voice, and her command over intricate sangathis received special attention from the audience . Sreshtaa went on to perform neraval, at “ Evagaani Nainannelukora “ - the composer is seeking salvation by any means . Sreshtaa executed challenging sangathis and created her own, which are difficult feats in themselves, let alone spontaneously in front of a large crowd. Sreshtaa further showcased her manodharma skills in her kalpana swaram. Doing kalpana swaram for misra chapu, a cycle of seven beats, is a daunting task, but Sreshtaa maneuvered the tricky pauses and counts with absolute certainty. Sreshtaa appeared at ease, keeping a smile on her face. At the end of this complicated section of swarams, my mouth was open, absolutely stunned by Sreshtaa’s prowess.

The accompanists—Raghav Jayakrisha, Pravin Sitaram, and Rasika Murali Mohan—further enhanced Sreshtaa’s scintillating music . Dr. Pravin Sitaram has over twenty-five years of concert experience, and his sensitive and unobtrusive approach to mridangam accompaniment has been appreciated by one and all. He has accompanied several artists of high caliber and repute from both India and North America. His disciple, Raghav Jayakrishna, is a senior at Acton-Boxborough Regional High School and has been learning mridangam for the past nine years. The guru-shishya bond between Raghav and Dr. Pravin Sitaram was particularly notable; by building off of one another, both Raghav and Dr. Pravin Sitaram channeled their creative energy to create a dynamic sound, emphasizing certain swarams and highlighting certain sections of the krithis. With their upbeat rhythmic patterns and vibrant energy, the mridangists truly enhanced the performance. During the tani avartanam, both mridangists showcased their true artistry as they captivated the audience with electrifying rhythmic patterns that kept viewers at the edge of their seats. Rasika Murali Mohan accompanied Sreshtaa’s singing on the violin. Her melodious playing complemented Sreshtaa’s singing flawlessly, especially during the kalpana swarams. Rasika began learning violin at the age of seven from our esteemed Smt. Tara Anand, and has since become an accomplished violinist. She currently teaches Carnatic vocal and violin at the Saikripa School of Music in both Norwood and Cambridge, MA.

After this intricate piece replete with her artistic touches, Sreshtaa performed Thiruppugazh and Gangadeeshwaram. Composed in the beautiful ragams of Hamsanandi and Sindhu Bhairavi respectively, the lighter songs brought a new energy to the concert. I was particularly impressed with Sreshtaa’s ucharippu, or diction, in the Tamil piece.

Finally, Sreshtaa concluded with a Thillana in ragam Khamas. The brisk and upbeat thillana served as a fulfilling end to the concert. After the mangalam, the audience gave her a standing ovation . The concert was truly a manifestation of the fruits of Sreshtaa and her guru’s hard work, talent, and creativity.

In all aspects, Sreshtaa continues to be a huge inspiration to me and all her peers. She will be attending Brown University in the fall, and I cannot wait to see the positive influence she will be spreading to the rest of the world. I wish her all the very best for her future endeavors!

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