The auditorium was filled with men, women, and children dressed in their best Indian attire. On the stage were seated stalwarts of Carnatic music such as Chitraveena Ravikiran, Neyveli Santhanagopalan, Carnatica Brothers – Shashikiran, and Ganesh, Nagai Murali, Mannargudi Easwaran, to name a few. Also present on the stage where talented musicians from the U.S. For a moment, I thought that I was inThiruvayaru attending the Thyagaraja Aradhana. But, I was sitting in the Waetjen auditorium at the Cleveland State University, Ohio attending the 2016 Cleveland Thyagaraja festival, waiting to listen to the Pancharathna kritis.
The Cleveland Thyagaraja festival was started thirty-nine years ago under the initiative and leadership of Sri V. V. Sundaram. Since then, the festival had become the most prominent Carnatic music event in the world, outside of Chennai. The ten-day function is attended by rasikas from all over the U.S. This year, the festival is dedicated to the memory of Bharath Ratna, Smt. M. S. Subbalakshmi, who brought Carnatic music to the world stage. The highlight of the function includes, the Sustaining Sampradaya, an educational and training program for students of music to learn from stalwart musicians from India; concerts by leading musicians such as violin maestro Sri V. V. Subramaniam, Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sri T. N. Seshagopalan, Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sri T. N. Krishnan, Chitraveena Ravikiran, Aruna Sairam, Sikkil Gurucharan, Ranjani and Gayathri and others and concerts by talented young musicians living in the U.S. Most of these youngsters were born and brought up in the U.S. Yet, their talent and performances exhibited professional quality. It is laudable that they have inherited the best from two cultures – India and the U.S. During the ten-day celebrations, each day, the programs start at 8 A.M. and continues throughout the day with a fifteen-minute break in between concerts. The programs include not only concerts but also Choir, Symphony, Carnatic Jazz, Tala Vadya cutchery – each conducted by a senior musician – for example, Sri Neyveli Santhanagopalan, Sri Shashikiran, and others.
The Comfort Inn – Downtown, walking distance from the Waetjen Auditorium, is where the artists and visitors stay. During the Aradhana celebrations, the Comfort Inn lobby is not just a waiting area for the residents. The lobby is filled with rasikas discussing concerts, senior musicians waiting with their accompanying artists to be escorted to the auditorium, and Americans lost among the crowd of Indians. The lobby also reverberates with young artists practicing their korvais and swara kalpanas and seeking input and advice from their friends. Often, a senior musician standing nearby, overhearing a youngster’s conversation, would voluntarily offer suggestions to improve the presentation and performance. The few Americans standing at the lobby also would join the cultural exchange by posing questions on Indian music and evincing interest in wanting to know more about it, while simultaneously taking a curious look at the unfamiliar instruments – the Mridangam and the Veena. It is indeed fascinating to see the unfettered intermingling of senior artists, junior musicians, and rasikas – a sight that would be rare in Chennai during the busy December music season.
While Cleveland Aradhana is the leading Carnatic music celebration in the U.S., there are also numerous other Sabhas in most major cities of the U.S. that promote Carnatic music by organizing concerts of visiting musicians and hosting annual composers’ day and giving a stage to the local artists. The enthusiasm showed by the Indian community, the number of youngsters learning Carnatic music, and the concert-level caliber exhibited by the youngsters, reinforces the view that Carnatic music will continue to preserve its glory and its nurturing will, slowly but steadily, shift to North America. However, the credit for fostering Carnatic music and for inculcating interest in the music into a new generation of Indians, particularly those growing up in a different culture, goes to the Cleveland Aradhana Committee. Kudos to Cleveland Aradhana committee for its invaluable contribution to the sustenance of Carnatic music and for creating Thiruvayaru in Cleveland.