I graduated from Wesleyan in 1984 and, while a student here, attended a Navaratri performance of South Indian vocal music by T. Viswanathan. I was completely seduced by the rhythms, the soaring heights and the visceral lows of his voice. I felt that in one evening I was transported out of my student existence into a culture that was new to me–one where both the pleasures of deep listening as a means to spiritual transcendence and the virtuosic capacity of the human voice were celebrated. Viswa founded the Indian music program at Wesleyan, and I had the great pleasure of working with him in my early years as CFA director (Viswa died in 2002). He taught me so much about his music, his negotiating skills, and his belief that this festival should annually give people on our campus and in our community an opportunity to see some of the finest Indian musicians and dancers working today.
Music faculty members B. Balasubrahmaniyan (Balu) and David Nelson (on mridangam) will open the Festival on Thursday night. I spoke with Balu in between classes today and he told me that in 1990 he was one of only eight students selected to learn Viswa’s family tradition in a six-month workshop in Chennai. Seizing on Balu’s talents, Viswa regularly invited Balu to perform with him on tours in India. Balu now leads our South Indian vocal program at Wesleyan. He has a truly “extra” ordinary voice — sometimes when I close my eyes, I think I’m hearing Viswa.
Friday night brings North Indian music on the sarod, a beautiful guitar-like instrument, performed by rising star Alam Khan. Alam is the twenty-seven year old son of the legendary Ali Akbar Khan, who was widely recognized as one of the leading musicians to introduce Indian music to the West. On Saturday, you can attend free workshops in South Indian dance and in ghatam, a clay pot instrument with a rich, distinctive sound. Also, Avon, Connecticut resident and filmmaker Gita Desai will show excerpts of her new film Raga Unveiled, giving audiences a fascinating window into the world of North Indian Hindustani music. And on Saturday night, the CFA welcomes Karnatak music giant Kadri Golpanath, one of the few players of this tradition on the saxophone. “It’s extraordinary how he is able to play the nuances of this music on a keyed instrument,” Balu said. “He has led a whole generation of musicians who are attempting to play this traditional music on new instruments. We are lucky to have him.”
Finally, on Sunday, A.V. Srinivasan, a great friend of the CFA’s, will lead a Hindu Puja, a religious service celebrating the victory of good over evil, followed by a performance of a work entitled “TriShakti” by Chicago’s acclaimed Natya Dance Theatre, a young vibrant group of classical dancers that are some of the best practitioners of Bharata Natyam working in our country today. I had the pleasure of seeing them in New York and I was taken by their energy, their beguiling facial expressions and the joy in their dance.
So please join us for this year’s Navaratri Festival. You will be transported.
Director, Center for the Arts