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Listening to Life

It was concert time in Singapore and this time around we were at the Kalaa Utsavam and at Bombay Jayashri’s concert. My mother is a big fan and having grown up listening to her records, I enjoy her music as well.

The concert was at the beautiful Esplanade concert hall, with state of the art acoustics and reverberation chambers.  It was my first time there and a great memory to treasure.  What was unpleasant was the fact that even though people knew that the concert was scheduled to begin at 7.30 in the evening, we saw people trickling in past the given time. I wonder if we will ever have the discipline to be in time at such gatherings, as a mark of respect to the performer. Music pervades all boundaries and is such a unifying factor. The audience were a mix of Indians from the South and the other parts, people from the West and East. People like Bombay Jayashri have made Indian music so popular around the World.

Bombay Jayashree was dressed in a simple yet elegant sari and her trademark bindi. From where I sat- The foyer- I couldn’t see much of her expressions but I imagine them peaceful and serene like in the many videos of her that I have watched. She spoke in flawless English, with the learned perspective of a person who has travelled the world, experienced various influences in life and music in particular. She spoke of the oneness of music, of the similar emotions that music evokes in each one of us, of how each of us is a rasika like she is and the rest of the musicians on stage were. Her description of each piece of music she sang that evening was simple and made it feel like we were all musicians in our own ways.

When she spoke, her voice was soothing and calming, much like her music.  Despite being renowned in her field and the glory she has earned in her journey as a musician, she seemed so humble.  She was able to get down to the level of the audience, many of whom were not as informed of ragas and other nuances of music like she was. It made me wonder what makes a person that way. People are known to take pride in their achievements. They love to be told that they are good when they are still learning and have no claim to fame.  A true achiever, like Bombay Jayashri, just does what she does best, and is unaffected by fame and laurels.  Being in the mere presence of such people can be humbling. It was for me.

The other vidwans who accompanied her with their instruments were all fabulous. There was such co-ordination and understanding among them.  I wondered how many hours of practice would have gone into perfecting the final presentation. It was flawless from the beginning to the end.

Bombay Jayashri seamlessly sang various genres of music. Hindustani to Carnatic to Ghazals. Even though there were plenty of tunes from Indian movies that the musicians played on the violin and flute, she sang only one to demonstrate how movie songs are also based on ragas from Classical music.  She understood that a common man’s appreciation of classical music is only possible if she could relate it to movies. After the tunes played, she paused to ask if we sang the tune in our minds. That she said was the true power of music. Among her renditions were a poetry from Bharathiar and Mian Tan Sen’s composition other than compositions by Saint Thyagaraja and her own Gurus.  She switched from Tamil to Hindi, Telugu to Kannada, without missing a beat and took us along the journey as a united group of rasikas. The concert was two hours long but seemed shorter.

I will reflect on the evening for many days. I missed my daughter, who is away at camp, at various points during the evening. I specially wanted to point out to how a piano can be a delightful accompaniment to carnatic music. She dreams of being a musician and I think there were a lot of lessons to take away for young people like her, who want to do so much in short time!

Someday soon, I hope to be blessed with another opportunity to enjoy music of that calibre.

Here is a video I found on YouTube which gives you glimpses of the evening.

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