One of my long time projects, ever since I moved to India, was to tackle its music. I mean, hands on, learn it.
First, I had to chose whether I wanted to deal with the dance aspect of it, learn an instrument or make my voice through its notes. It was a close tie with the last two.
Second, I had to chose which instrument: the tabla? the violin? the drum? the veena? I actually fell in love with the veena and hence decided that was the instrument that would suit me most.
Third, I had to find a music school. I wanted one that catered trivandrumites. Like yoga classes here, you can find music schools who cater to tourists but my objective was not to have a glossy, westernized overview.
I finally found my school. Nadabrahama is located not very far from where I live. When I first went there to enroll, I was met with busy children running to piano, guitar, violin etc with serious over looking parents. I thought it was perfect.
The last thing I had to tackle with before starting my classes was my own apprehension to my lack of knowledge in the musical domain. I had enrolled in veena (which was already a scary thought for me) but also in Carnatic Vocal. This seemed like a major step. I had always admired my mother for her beautiful singing and felt that somewhere, as her daughter, I may not be able to live up to her standard (the things we put in our heads, really....). But I'm not one not to give it a try.
It's been a bit over a month now that I've started. I thoroughly enjoy my time at the school and just can't wait for the week to begin to go there and learn new things.
I love my classes. They each bring me great pleasure in human contact as well as, of course, learning to understand an aspect of my life that I love so much: music.
My veena teacher is a sweet, young woman who is often accompanied by her daughter of no more than 6. I like coming there early enough to watch them tune the instrument together. Her daughter plays beautifully which amazes me each time. Neither of them speak much English. That's ok. I am learning and with my little Malayalam, we get to understand each other. My teacher always gets a kick when I speak her language. During the last class, she dared ask me some more personal questions. The one that floored her the most was when I told her my age! Which makes me think that she is younger than me!
The Veena is the southern sibling of the Sitar and it is the musical instrument attributed to the Goddess Saraswati. It looks very imposing when you see it for the first time but, it is actually very light (although bulky). The strings are made of steel which, after a few lessons, make your fingers tender. When you press your fingers hard on the cords and on the metal bars of the veena, a beautiful, lingering sound comes out. And you're the one making it!
I'll spare you the details of the different parts of the instrument and their use. However, if you would like to know more about Indian instruments, the following website offers a good overview of the available variety:
My Carnatic Vocal teacher is very different. I have become fond of her too. When I first arrived in her class, I found her extremely contempt, belittling her students. As I came to her classes I realized that in fact she had a sense of humor which made all the students laugh, that she knew what she was doing (her voice is loud and lovely) and that her English was impeccable. I like her for the way she is: because she sits at the end of the room like a queen, dressed in her sarees, her head high, her mobile phone always close by, patiently singing with us our false or timid notes. And when we succeed in singing our lines without any mistake and have her smile of approval, it just makes our day.
There is another reason why I really like my vocal class: I'm practically the only adult. The first day of class I opened the door only to find little people (kids) sitting quietly and attentively around the teacher. They all looked up at me (a giant for them) with big, round eyes. They scooted their little bodies to make room for my long legs...
Now I have some buddies, some smiling faces I look forward to seeing. A little girl no older than 4 with her timid smile, a little boy with big, almond eyes and such a sweet smile. The other day he sang his lines, trying very hard. When he was finished, we looked at each other and I gave him a smiling wobble. He looked soo proud. And then there is my very spunky, bucked tooth friend, Aganta. She is no more than 12 and is a real hoot. We're like buds you know. And what an amazing voice she has! And she can hold her breath! She's better than any of the cute 16-20 year old girls that are there.
Examples of a conversation I had with Aganta: she asks, " Do you like spiders?" I reply, " I don't care." She defiantly, " I see one, I squash it." Me, " Do you eat it afterwards?" "HUH?"
Or, "Do you know what is the best car on the market?", "No", "The Toyota Innova", "The best car on the market is one that doesn't pollute the air. It's a bicycle", "HUH? " Hmmm. The other day I told my teacher about water turning into combus, combustion. She didn't believe me."
Or, "See you next Saturday!" "Ok, see you next sunny" "What?" "Next sunny"" Eleena, you gotta practice your malayalam!"
By the way, the title of today's blog is in fact the first notes of the Indian scale. They are called Saptasvaras. Sapta meaning "7". Svaras (pronounced "swaras") meaning notes. They go higher in pitch in the first line: Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni Sa. And then go down: Sa Ni Da Pa Ma Ga Ri Sa.
Anyone want a singer & veena player for a party?