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A Cup O’ Carnatic with Jayanthi Kumaresh

Jayanthi Kumaresh, veena

When I met Dr. Jayanthi Kumaresh this time, the first question I asked was, “Do you think a bad person can play good music?” It didn’t take me courage to ask this childish question because knowing Jayanthi Ji, I was sure that she would turn this into a meaningful and memorable discussion.

Dr. Jayanthi Kumaresh is the 6th generation musician from a lineage that has the legendary Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman and Smt. Padmavathi Ananthagopalan as her uncle, aunt and Guru respectively.  To mention her numerous awards and accolades would mean a boring read – her website has all that information for whoever wants to look it up. One of the best things about knowing a person like Dr. Jayanthi is to experience the poise between childlike simplicity and curiosity of a 12-year-old girl and the stillness and grace of a wise Banyan tree that gives shade and shelter to many and is an ecosystem by itself.

Dr. Jayanthi has her hands full throughout the year with her travels and performances around the globe. Keeping her happier and busier these days is the web series that she started last year on Carnatic Music called, “Cup O’ Carnatic”. “We are into the third episode of the second series now, having received an overwhelming response for the first series – much, much over a million views,” she informs me, not without a smidgen of excitement in her voice. Cup O’ Carnatic took birth as a repository of answers for the thousands of emails and messages that Dr. Jayanthi receives from people from all over the world who have questions, queries, doubts and a lot of curiosity about Carnatic Classical Music.

“It is nothing very complicated – I keep the contents mindfully simple and speak and demonstrate a particular aspect of Indian Classical Music for about 3 minutes in every episode,” says Dr. Jayanthi.

In one of her recent episodes, it is delightful to watch how she demonstrates the role of percussion in a concert by explaining in very simple terms, how percussion fits in with every format of a concert, drawing reference with something as commonplace as a tennis game. Each episode of the web series is uploaded on social media every Friday at around 7 am.

Through these emails, Dr.  Jayanthi discovered that there are many people around the world as well as in India, who get intimidated by the technicalities of Indian Classical Music. These queries and emails come mainly from three categories of people:

  • Parents who have learnt Carnatic Music and are settled abroad and want their children to start learning the discipline too.
  • Families that want to take up an amazing challenge by learning a new discipline like Indian Classical Music.
  • Musicians themselves who play a certain instrument but have noticed that their children have a flair for a different instrument and hence are unable to decide what to do.

Technology, she thinks, is helping Indian Classical Music grow in leaps and bounds. But do Gurus of her generation keep themselves updated with all these jargons? “I myself haven’t given Skype lessons till now, but what I think is, the vantage point of my generation is rather high today because we have had the privilege of witnessing the most drastic oscillation in technology – from sending a telegram greeting than to harping on the internet now for instant exchange of thoughts and ideas,” she states. Being part of this huge metamorphosis in technology has made a sub-conscious propulsion towards conveying and teaching key concepts of Indian Classical Music to a Twitter generation in a much more accessible and simpler way without mixing too much technical jargon into the content, she believes.

“There is the huge pressure of academics these days and children today, like us, do not have the time nor privilege to stop by and watch in wonder, a baby laugh or a bird peck on the bark of a tree or enjoy the first drops of rain fall on their open palms,” she affirms.

“It is in this spirit of resonating with the today’s generation that I try and establish the relationship of a friend more than that of a Guru with my students.”

But doesn’t the pace, excitement and immediate nature of technology interfere with the attention span needed for learning and absorbing a discipline as deep as Indian Classical Music? “It takes so much through every minute to build the energy in a room when you are practising, you know? And just one ‘ping’ of a mobile phone can bring this entire network of energy that you have built, falling apart to nothing,” she admits. Practising (anything), according to her,  needs segregation from technology as much as it takes technology to learn something as novel as Indian Classical Music.

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Coming back to my childish question of whether or not a bad musician can play good music, she puts forward her thoughtful views in her usual lucid style, leaving behind a fragrance, as sublime as her music.

“There are two parts to the answer to your question. The first part is that, Music comes as a gift from a few births. You have to accumulate a lot of good Karma from your past if it comes to you as a talent or a natural gift. The second part I believe is that, good or bad is subjective. A celebrated musician who has been bad to me may be good to you and vice versa, so people or musicians cannot really be classified as that. It is the intent and actions during this birth that will determine how his Karma shapes up as a person. But I think a talent like the ability to play good music cannot be tagged with the character of a person.”

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