Focus on melody and rhythm

Interview with Chitravina Ravikiran


Ravikiran, a child prodigy, debuted as vocalist at the age of five, later took to Chitravina, the 21 stringed fretless lute. Chitravina, as is historically referred to in Bharata's Natyashastra, used to be known as Gottuvadhyam, as it is played with the help of a slide (Gottu = slide; Vadhyam - musical instrument)..

Continuing to be a traditionalist in Carnatic music, Ravikiran conceptualised Melharmony, a melding of Indian melodic principles with Western harmonic ones. Premiered at the Millennium Festival in UK in Oct 2000, in collaboration with artistes of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Melharmony has seen many countries in these five years.

On Nov. 24, 2005, Ravikiran came up on stage with Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Keith Peters and others for Carnatica's Bharat Utsav Festival at Narada Gana Sabha. He called it - MELRHYTHM. Revathi R of Kutcheribuzz caught up with Ravikiran amidst his busy schedules and he spoke about the harmony and rhythm of blending Carnatic music with Western classical music.

How did the idea of Melrhythm come up?
My Melharmony concert in Bradford, in the year 2000, was selected among the best five, out of nearly 2000 events from around the world in the Millennium Festival. Recently Prof. Robert Morris, one of the most distinguished musicians and composers in the West presented a paper titled: 'Ravikiran's concept of Melharmony: an inquiry into Harmony in South Indian music'. This was a first of its kind presentation featuring an Indian concept in this conference and was received very well by the delegates consisting of noted music theorists and musicologists from several parts of the world.

But this time it was Carnatica, who gave the concept of Melrhythm and asked me to present it at their Bharat Utsav festival. It was premiered at this festival and so far this has been our only concert.

Chitravina Ravikiran

What is the difference between Melharmony and Melrhythm?
Basically music is a combination of melody, harmony and rhythm. For someone who listens to Western classical or jazz or other systems with an Indian raga in mind, certain chord combinations may appear to use notes quite foreign to the raga. Similarly, for someone who listens to harmonic systems, a purely melodic system may not sound wholesome all the time. Melharmony was created to bridge this gap and the listeners enjoy both melodic and harmonic approaches in one concert.

Melrhythm is the combination of melody with rhythm. I enjoy focussing on two things at one time. Melody and rhythm are inseparable and the theme is good to work on.

 How did the team of artistes come together for Melrhythm?
When the name Melrhythm was given to the concept, I could think of a mridangist only of the calibre of Umayalpuram Sivaraman. He is a traditionalist, but like to explore new ideas and innovative in his approach. Keith Peters is one I thought of for the Western system. It is again the idea of sharing Indian concepts with the Western artises that brings us together in all these new ventures.

Did you have regular practice sessions for this new idea Melrhythm?
Umaiyalpuram and I had discussed about the concept earlier. I had just a day's practice with the flutist and the Tabla player before the concert, as I was back from the U.S, just one day before the concert. Yet, we brought new ideas like playing the mridangam during a raga alapana, as is done in a Nagaswaram concert. We had a 'K K suite' which is Kalyani - Kiravani suite, the 'Joy of the Swan' in the raga Hamsanandi (Hamsa = swan, anand = joy). Most of the pieces are composed by me.

You performed a kriti from the Saptaratna of Oothukkadu Venkatakavi at Melrhythm ...
Yes. The magnitude of his compositions is like discovering a new city. They are of high quality melody, rhythm, cultural, philosophical and musical intelligence. Hence they fit into all kinds of concerts, be it a traditional concert or innovative ones like Melrhythm. Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, one of the doyens of Carnatic music, once remarked in his foreword to a book that Oothukkadu can be considered on par with the trinity of Carnatic music!

Where do you want to take these concepts to?
The aim behind these concepts, Melharmony and Melrhythm is to make the Indian classical music, especially Carnatic music, get its due recognition all around the world. Apart from these concerts, I have written a book on appreciating Carnatic music, exclusively for lay rasikas. The first edition, proof read by 'The Hindu' N. Ram, was brought out in 1995. Later the eminent writer R. K. Narayan, who read the book gave his suggestions for improvement of the content. The second edition is likely to be brought out within a couple of weeks. (The publishers of this book are Ganesh and Co., Chennai).

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