Reported by Mukundagiri Sadagopan
During the Memorial Day weekend (May 29 - 31, 2010) Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam (CTU), a not-for-profit organization, celebrated its 34th Annual music festival at the Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago (HTGC), Lemont, Illinois..
The festival is held in honor of Carnatic music composer saint Tyagaraja (1767-1847). The main goal of CTU is to propagate Carnatic music and culture among the younger generation.
Accordingly, the prime events were on May 29th, when about 250 children performed Tyagaraja's compositions. During the three days the Utsavam offered a total of twelve events including five concerts by celebrity-artists from India.
The response from the community was extraordinary, with a head count of about 4300 for all programs. The performers (professionals and amateurs) headcount was around 510. At least 400 volunteers worked throughout the year to bring it all together.
After 30+ years the old guard is still performing certain critical duties, but the Utsavam is essentially run by its second tier volunteers who have grown with the organization and are showing extraordinary administrative, professional and artistic prowess to conduct it with grace and efficiency.
The 2010 Utsavam started on May 29 with Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram group invocation, followed by Chetulara (instrumental group) and Pancharatna Kritis group singing. The next item was a group performance of kritis from Tyagaraja's play Nauka Charitramu.
In the 7 hours that followed, students from various Chicago area music schools offered kirtnas to pay homage to the saint. The day concluded with a Bharatanatyam programme "Divine Equations", which was choreographed by Hema Rajagopalan of Natya Dance Theatre, Chicago, with music direction by Chitraveena Ravi Kiran.
On May 30, the festivities continued with performances by children and adults with advanced training. This was followed by two concerts by artists from India. The first was by Gayathri Venkataraghavan (vocal) with B. U. Ganesh Prasad (violin) and Uzhavoor P. K. Babu (Mridangam). The next concert was by Vijay Siva (vocal) accompanied by R. K. Shriram Kumar (violin) and J. Vaidyanathan (mridangam).
The May 30 programme started with children performing the Utsava Sampradaya kritis (USK) at the Rama Sannidhi of HTGC and a short musical interlude by nadaswaram vidwans Shubhan Kasim and Shuban Babu. At this point a group of children performed Kollattam folk dance to a rousingly contemporary treatment of Sara Sara Samare (Kuntalavarali). The vidwans then led the children in a chariot procession to the nearby auditorium where about 60 children performed four more USKs.
This was followed by two more concerts, the first of which was by Prince Rama Varma (vocal) with S. Varadarajan (violin) and Patri Satish Kumar (mridangam). The last concert was by Chitravina Ravi Kiran accompanied by B. U. Ganesh Prasad (violin), Guruvayoor Dorai (mridangam) and Rohan Krishnamurthy (mridangam). The day concluded with a group of children performing Gitarthamu.
Over a thousand plates of meals and snacks were served, including the famous home-cooked South Indian feast on the first day, in order to save the audience from leaving the premises between concerts for food.
All children who performed were rewarded with gifts and certificates. They were photographed, video and audio taped to make this day memorable for them, and to encourage them in their study of Carnatic music. The CTU brochure Tyagaraja Vijayam was published with articles by participants and experts.
As the programs unfolded, the names of performers and details of what they were offering (e.g., the song, raga, tala) were projected on a large screen to help the audience. For the first time the Utsavam took up the "Go Green" cause this year and used bio-degradable cups and plates.
Thanks to largesse from patrons ticket prices were kept low in order to attract the largest possible audience. The Utsavam was sponsored in part by Nagamani and Vidhyasagar family as well as Illinois Arts Council, a State Agency. Arie Ida Crown Memorial Grant and BP Corporation provided matching grants. Donations from many Annadhatas also helped. For more information please visit Website: http://chicagotyagarajautsavam.org/