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In Conversation With Durga Krishnan

Nirmala Garimella

Durga Krishnan is New England’s much sought after Veena artist and beloved Teacher, and that is her best introduction. Whether giving lessons on the Veena to her students or enthralling the audience with her performance at community events, her passion for the instrument and her love for music is unquestionable.


At the time of this conversation, she is animatedly talking about the upcoming Fusion Concert on April 9th in North Andover organized by Manitha Neyam, a non profit. The artists are the famed violinists duo, Lalgudi Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi and Marc Rossi, Jazz artist.


"The beauty of this  fusion concert", says Durga, "is that it promises to be unique because the combination of music offers flexibility and freedom to improvise within guidelines. When Manitha Neyam, the non profit was looking for ideas for a fundraiser in the spring, I thought that this partnership might just work. I urge all music lovers to come and enjoy this superb performance in the wonderful auditorium with great acoustics.”


The conversation steers to how music entered her life. Durga started playing Veena when she was 9. “My father recognized that music was vital for my education and chose an auspicious day to begin my initiation into this art.  As a student at the Carnatic Music College , I was taking vocal lessons, learning  to play the Veena, and soon became a disciple of the maestro Chitti Babu.”


Durga has an interesting story to narrate about how she became a Shishya of Chitti Babu.


“ While I  was learning Veena in Chennai, I sent a  card to Chitti Babu in the form of fan mail against my parent’s wishes requesting to meet and learn from him and was pleasantly surprised to receive a reply four days later. My father reluctantly took me to meet him”, she recalls. "Chitti Babu asked me to play and later agreed to teach me and the rest is .. history”.


What was the Guru Shishya relationship like for her?


“He was a wonderful musician and a great man with much musical experience. His style was unique and he was always a very calm and relaxed teacher. Very kind and patient. Of course he had his quirkiness like all great musicians”, she says with a twinkle in her eye. “While teaching some ragas for example like the Mohan Raga, he would tell us to tease and tantalize the Alapana, unlike the normal course where you develop it in phases. But his influence has been tremendous in the way I teach my students".


In her twenties she continued to pursue her musical education by studying voice and became a respected professional Veena player in Chennai. The year 1974 brought her to the US along with her husband Dr Krishnan. The Krishnans moved from Texas to New York where she performed regularly at the Ganesh temple in Queens and gave lessons before moving to Boston in 1977.


 Her other major influences include the illustrious Lalgudi Family  and her eyes immediately light up when she speaks about them.  “In my mind, Lalgudi Jayaraman is the encyclopedia of music. Growing up, I have always listened to his music and his Tillanas and been fascinated by his ‘Sahityam” To hear the words are so important in music and his compositions are a rare musical choreography. I love his style. It is so pure, no gimmicks. I have been so fortunate to be associated with this family. To me, he is almost like the incarnation of the Trimurthi's in Carnatic music".


On her annual trips to India in December to participate in the Carnatic Festival, Durga Krishnan takes music lessons from the Maestro and the Lalgudi's. Not only did this method improve her technique, but it provided the impetus for constant lesson development and a source of inspiration to positively affect the lives of all those around her. " Being in front of your Guru is a very humbling experience. I realize how hard learning can be and  I think this makes me a better teacher."


Durga Krishnan has always strived to teach at the highest level while still advancing her own musical vision, which has made her a coveted teacher while being a gifted artist.


“I believe that the right encouragement and guidance is key to successful training. I am happy that most of my students have not given up their instrument even after going to college”.


Siddharth Bhasker, a student of Durga and a senior in High School has been learning the Veena for more than 8 years. But it has been a unique way of learning thru the speakerphone between Boston and Philadelphia for the past six years. Says the bright youngster, “When we were living in Boston I took regular lessons from Durga Aunty. When my family moved to Philadelphia we adopted the speaker phone, all the while thinking we will find a better solution but learning this way was so effective that it became a permanent one. Durga Aunty is very good and knows my learning style well. She listens and is very attentive even on the phone. In summer, I travel to Boston for a week to study with her and that reinforces the learning material."


Durga  has seen many of her young students improve their grades and expand their interests, and firmly believes in the relationship between studying music during childhood, the right mentoring from family and teachers, and academic/professional success in adulthood.


"  I believe that music should relieve stress not add to our already busy lifestyle," Durga says. "I want students to look forward  to my class. Many of my students admit that they pick up the instrument just to get relief from their studies and to relax."


 She constantly reminds herself of the fact that she wouldn't be doing what she does now unless her parents and all her music teachers had continuously encouraged her to pursue her musical dreams.


In the end she has but one fervent wish.” I want Carnatic music to be a household name in this country. Responsibility doesn’t end with teaching alone. It is passing on the value, the culture through this fine art. It is the younger generation that will sustain and keep this art alive”.


For details about the upcoming concert on April 9th click here http://www.lokvani.com/lokvani/cal.php?stage=1&event_id=2785


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Durga Krishnan

Lalgudi G J R Krishnan & LalgudiVijayalakshmi

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