SCARBOROUGH — Haunting strains of traditional Indian music will fill the Winslow Homer Auditorium at Scarborough High School on Saturday, Nov. 14, when a seasoned performer and teacher of Carnatic (south Indian classical) music teams up with some of his students to perform “Eastern Melodies.”
The Eastern Cultural Heritage Organization will sponsor Vittal Ramamurthy, of Chennai, India, and a half-dozen of his students from as far away as Missouri, in a concert to foster an appreciation of the ancient eastern art form.
Ramamurthy has been performing on the violin and teaching for 20 years, he said in a recent phone interview from California. Though the Indian violin resembles the western violin in some ways, it is held not under the chin but between the leg and chest while sitting on the floor, he said. Research has shown this method of holding the instrument encourages better posture and lessens the pressure on the neck, he said.
The strings are not tuned to the G, D, A, E of western violins, but instead are tuned to the singer the musician is accompanying.
Though the instrument can be played alone or with other instruments, it represents the vocalization of the singer, he said.
“The music system is meant for singing,” Ramamurthy said. “When the vocalist sings, we can copy the sound on the violin.”
The melodies use scales familiar to western music lovers but add ornamentation as part of the performer’s improvisation. Ramamurthy said 70 percent of the music is improvised.
“Once we get to that level, we can get what the singer is trying to sing – like a dialog,” he said.
Ramamurthy learned to play in his native town in south India. He stayed with one teacher in his house for five years, learning the instrument, traveling with him and becoming like family. While it is not possible for him to do that with his students in the United States, he said when he comes to this country, they will take an apartment to be near him to study. Often during summer vacations they travel to India to continue their training.
Though one might wonder if there is a conflict for his students who study and perform classical western music, as well, Ramamurthy said the two styles “complement each other.”
Ramamurthy also said he is excited to play in the Portland area.
“Now this art form is known all over,” he said. “When we started coming here 15 years ago, it was not known.”
ECHO is an organization that is working to preserve eastern cultural heritage by exposing more people to traditional music, dance, theater and visual art forms. Founder Indhra Rajashekar is passionate about what she calls her “mission.” A student and teacher of Bharathanatyam (Indian traditional dance), she has performed at many venues in greater Portland as well as in New York. Though she and her family now live in Scarborough, she goes back every two weeks to New York City to teach.
“(The arts) have to be showcased,” said. “When you write a book it can be published. But art can only be preserved by performances.”
Rajashekar believes it is important to keep children “rooted in their own culture,” but her desire is to share the fruits of that culture with others, too.
“Music brings all hearts together,” she said. “Dance and music are the only areas where we can bring all our hearts together; it’s one way of removing the differences between us.”
As she works to expand the scope of her non-profit, Rajashekar said she would like to provide many different ways for these art forms to be preserved and passed down, using workshops, performances and exchange programs.
“It’s everybody’s duty to pitch in and do something for the arts to preserve them for the next generation,” she said.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.