From Cartoon to Bliss Divine: The Practice of Music

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From Cartoon to Bliss Divine: The Practice of Music

Ghanavenothan Retnam, music director of Bhaskar’s Arts Academy, generously shares his precious tips on the practice of music — as the inaugural music concert of Raga Sandhya is held at SOTA Concert Hall, in a momentous occasion for Swathi Bhaskar’s Orchestra…

Q: Would you tell us how this orchestra came about and what you hope to achieve with it?

GR: Our late Mr K. P. Bhaskar had envisaged an orchestral section then which worked within the parameters of Carnatic music.  It was his dream to form a progressive orchestral ensemble, seeking to bridge the traditional and contemporary music forms in Singapore.  The existing Bhaskar’s Arts Orchestra with the Gurus and Nrityalaya Youth Orchestra merged as Swathi Bhaskar’s Orchestra to be the most radical and visionary classical and contemporary orchestral ensemble here in Singapore.

Raga Sandhya featured talented young artistes in various disciplines, interacting with each other, giving them a learning experience in this platform as an educational initiative. It aims to bring Swathi Orchestra to greater heights with new commissioned works by different composers, expressing its creativity through a journey of identifying an Indian idiom of music in Singapore.

Q: What do you think of the challenges facing young musicians who practise Carnatic music in Singapore today, compared to before?

GR: How Carnatic music is defined changes constantly and with each new generation of artists as well as listeners, Carnatic music evolves with the interests of the prevailing culture. For the sake of future generations, there has to be greater interest shown in Indian Classical music over interest in cinema or other forms of music, so that it remains culturally relevant. If not, today’s youth will bypass it for more modern forms of expression.  It’s a challenge for Swathi to be geared towards.

Q: Would you describe a little on the kind of Guru Shishya relationship that you experienced when studying music as a young boy?

GR: The Guru-Shishya bond I had with my music Guru, Pandit M Ramalingam, a tradition found in the yesteryears of musical study, was an exercise of exuberance. To have mutual respect and commitment with obedience and devotion was my foremost aim in reverence of him, and a subtle embodiment of realising oneself in any art form.

Nowadays, there is much usage of technology available in terms of notations, books and recordings even net searches unlike my time, where it was sheer hard work that would pay off. Back then, until I did my ‘sadakam’ or practice in the morning, I would not be given my breakfast. That stringent was the learning process.

My Guru emphasised on more listening rather than just reading the scores, so that the improvisational content is stored for one to be more creative at play.  Those days, he would ask me to watch and listen to cartoon music, to see how much richness in the orchestrations could be interpreted. I had the rarest opportunity to have shared ragas like Mohanam, Shankarabharanam and many more with him, in other musical forms like western classical, jazz and new age music.

Q: How important has music been to Indian culture traditionally?

GR: Music plays a pivotal role in Indian culture – from dawn to dusk, from birth to death, sadness to joy and is a pathway to the divine. It is believed to have medicinal and therapeutic values in curing various ailments. It does help to reduce stress in daily life, help to calm down or animate a person in moments of bliss.

Q: What advice would you give to young musicians today or to parents who are considering to let their children learn classical music?

GR: The study of Indian Classical music helps to improve memory.  The youth should not just learn music for learning’s sake.  Try to practise it further and to cultivate the feel of “Rasaanubhava” – the essence of expressional quality, as an aesthetic enjoyment.  Music helps to develop greater interpersonal skills in communication and enhances the quality of life. As it is said in the Vedas – “Sangitha Gnanamu Bhakti Vina”. Music conduces to bliss divine, let us embrace that wonderful virtue of MUSIC in our lives.

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