Srikanth Chary, an accomplished Bay Area-based veena artiste, frequently performs on television and radio, and is a graded artiste of the All India Radio. He has released three studio recordings (“Janani,” 1996; “Tiger and Silk,” 2002; “Ethereal Melodies,” 2007) that have won rave reviews from music connoisseurs worldwide. He has performed in many concerts in the United States, India and Australia.
India Currents met with him recently on the eve of his “Music in the Park” concert in Palo Alto.
You’ve had such a distinguished musical career. Most artists choose to train only a handful of students during their lifetime, but you set up a full-fledged music school. Could you tell us more?
Srikanth Chary: Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my music journey and perspectives with you. I started the Nada Nidhi Music School in 1989. I must confess that when I initially started teaching, it was not with a vision of establishing a music school.
I was approached by a few people who wanted to learn the veena. I embarked on music teaching with a bit of hesitation since I wasn’t sure how to approach it. However, I soon realized that I loved teaching. Given how much my own music gurus had imparted to me, I felt an obligation to share this valuable art with the next generation.
You have been a disciple of several top artists. Could you talk about their influence on you?
Chary: In high school, I had the opportunity to learn music from Sangeetha Kalanidhi Kum A. Kanyakumari while she was touring the U.S. She spent a summer in the Bay Area giving music classes and workshops. Having that opportunity to learn from her during that summer has indeed been such a blessing in my life. I even had the privilege to perform with her onstage on a couple occasions, and the atmosphere that she exudes is magic.
Since the early 1980s, I had the additional blessing to learn from the maestro Padmabhushan Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman. My music today is primarily a reflection of the Lalgudi bani on the veena. Lalgudi Sir’s attention to detail and his innate reverence for anything beautiful are what guide my music today.
All my music gurus — Sri Devakottai Narayana Iyengar, Smt. Kalyani Sarma, Kum A. Kanyakumari and Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman — have nurtured me and imparted so much to me. It is because of them that I’m able to pass on this music to the next generation of musicians.
Which style of veena playing do you follow? Can you elaborate on the differences?
Chary: There are indeed many styles, or banis, for veena playing. Combining different left-hand and right-hand techniques on such a complex musical instrument leads to different styles. For example, the Mysore style focuses on extensive splitting fingers of the left hand while playing. This allows for execution of fast phrases. The right hand also strums multiple strings simultaneously or in rapid succession, delivering a full sound.
The Andhra style introduced many instrumental effects and Western techniques in traditional Carnatic music.
My style adheres strongly to the gayaki (vocal) style. I try not to limit my fingering techniques to align with a particular veena bani. Instead, I have conducted independent research and experimentation to use the appropriate technique to bring out the bhaavam of the music. This calls for flexibility in employing techniques such as deep gamakams, split fingering, rapid strumming, spuritham phrases, etc. — all tailored to bring out the right mood and emotion of the music that I perform.
You will be sharing the stage with your kids. Could you tell us more?
Chary: I’m really looking forward to the “Music in the Park” performance organized by Swara Lahari. My two children, Hrishikesh and Priyanka, will be joining me in this performance. I have been training them since they were 6 years old, and I am so proud of the musicians that they have become.
When we perform together, we stay true to the bani that I have imparted to them, but we each bring our creative ideas to the stage and experiment as we perform, and we derive a lot of energy from one another. In this performance, we are also joined on mridangam by Bay Area father-son duo Ravindra Bharathy Sridharan and Santhosh Ravindrabharathy.
The pandemic has forced everyone to re-think the way they operate. How has your music school dealt with coaching kids in a virtual setup?
Chary: I truly cherish the human face-to-face interaction between guru and shishya. However, the pandemic forced me to institute online classes. Due to time-lag and sync issues with an online platform, it was challenging to have students play together in class. For this reason, I converted most of my group classes to solo classes. This has afforded me a deeper insight into the strengths and weaknesses of each student, and has allowed me to tailor my teaching technique to meet the individual needs of each student.
A unique development during the pandemic was the virtual Nada Nidhi project submission. Usually, Nada Nidhi celebrates every Vijayadasami with live music performances by all the students. Due to the pandemic, this has not been possible for the last two years.
Instead, we organized a virtual project. Each student submitted a five-minute video where they presented something related to their veena education. I had such amazingly creative submissions — one student compared her journey of learning the veena with learning the piano; another combined her own art along with her own music; yet another analyzed music used in the film industry and added her own veena soundtrack to enhance moods. These are all accomplishments that I would not have been believed possible three years ago!
What is your advice to children who want to pursue the art form but may be overwhelmed with the idea of taking it up?
Chary: When a child begins to learn Carnatic music, it is a family commitment. The parents will need to make sure that they do everything possible to supply that child with the environment and infrastructure to succeed in this endeavor. In addition to the obvious transportation to and from music class, this entails going to live concerts often, engaging in music discussions with the child as a habitual family activity and making sure the child has sufficient bandwidth to practice and listen to music.
Given this support and the right atmosphere, the child will integrate himself/herself into the music community, make friends with people with similar music interests (this is extremely critical to make sure that the child doesn’t feel isolated when they pursue music) and begin to experience the joy of music. Having trained so many students and having my own children go through this, I can assure you that it is all worth it in the end. When the music bug bites you, there’s nothing in the world that can give you the excitement, challenge, joy, peace and bliss that music offers.
The free “Music in the Park” concert with a veena trio featuring Srikanth Chary, his son Hrishikesh and his daughter Priyanka takes place at 5 p.m. Saturday at Mitchell Park, 600 E. Meadow Drive, Palo Alto. For information, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/music-in-the-park-series-veena-trio-tickets-331352142177.
Anuj Chakrapani’s inaugural Beats and Strings music column originally appeared on India Currents on July 11.