VR Venkataraman: My name is VR. I am an ethnomusicologist and I play the south Indian Percussion drum called Mrdingan. I’m also a professor of Mathematics .
Aishu Venkataraman: My name is Aishveria Ventakaraman. I play the violin I play Jazz, Western Classical but mainly I focus in South Indian classical also known as carnatic music.
Srivnia Venkataraman: I’m Srivnia Venkataraman …. , Aishu’s mother. I am a physician. I sing carnatic music… when I’m stress, I sing!
Aperna Venkataraman: My name is Aperna Venkataraman …. What’s unique about me, I like to read and dance. I’m learning drums with my Dad.
Family Origin/How came here
VR: My family originated in S.India in the princely state of Kerla. The Southern most tip of India beautiful place, music just flows in the tap water. Anybody who comes from Kerla, two things always happen: They know how to cook and they know to play music.
1987 was when I came to this country. I was 20-21 when I got invited to San Diego State Department of music.
A Prof. of SDState has visited Bombay and had an opportunity to listen to me speak and communicate to the audience the art of drumming technique. He walked up to me and said, we are looking for somebody who speaks fluent English and communicate their art form, would you like to move to San Diego?
Taught music and simultaneously wanted to pursue my degree in math. I will teach music, get a salary and use the salary to pay my tuition to go to school.
(I still have my association with SDSU. Big family.
I live in Long Beach. I’m a consultant for the Long Beach unified school district. )
Srivnia Venkataraman r: Family from South India a place called Tamil.
I came to this country after I got married to my husband. My husband and I had an arranged marriage. My parents arranged our wedding I just had finished Med School. We met for five minutes before we decided we will be married.
And within ten days I was married and a month I was here. I had no one in the US except my husband. When we came here we didn’t know we will live here forever, he was at school, teaching. But one thing led to the other, and I decided to do my residency here and we waited for a couple of more years and we never got the chance to go back. Soon came Aishu, then I had Aperna. Aishu is now 13 and Aperna is 9, looks like we are permanently settled here.
The good thing about here…even though we are so far away from home, we get almost everything of our culture: dances, concerts. The food. We visit India very frequently. We go once a year, and go to all the concerts during the December season.
We feel this is home now. We have our culture here too.
We live in Long Beach. Cerritos: little India. If you walk streets, Pioneer bld, we feel we are back home. The way people dress there… society, the South Indian music society, concerts every Sunday.
(VR: It is very hard not to appreciate the fact that although we are away from home, the neighbors, surroundings, have helped us adapt to a home away from home.)
Family’s Music History
Srivnia Venkataraman r: I learned music when I was very young. I have learned a lot of traditional priers.
I think that’s one of the reasons why I got married into this family because my mother in law wanted me to appreciate the music they had in the family.
I remember the first time we met she asked me to sing and at that time I didn’t realize how big a family of musicians they were. After the wedding she sat down and she pointed out all the mistakes I had made and she perfected my music once again.
I have learned to appreciate music and now listening to them practice 6-7 hours a day, music just runs and I hear myself humming along the way when I’m driving. We live the music.
Aperna: Listening to my Dad play drums and to my sister play violin is very peaceful because when I walk around the house I just start singing from out of nowhere. And I think, well some day I will be just like Aishu, the way she’s been famous.
VR: Aishveria’s teacher, Professor Krishnam is the most renown south Indian violinist alive.
Prof Krishnam has been integral part of training and teaching music for 3 generations in my family.
My late departed mother was his premiere student and had been learning for well 55 years from him.
(When Aishu was 4 years old Prof. Krishnam recognized her potential and started on the Suzuki style. Aishu started playing violin at 18 months of age and by the time she was 4 years she was taken under the wing of Prof. Krishnan and she has been training with him for the last 7-8 years.
VR: The music has been in our family for 70 years.)
Aishu: Honestly, I didn’t really chose the violin. Being only 1 and 1/2 or 2 years old I didn’t know how to think by myself. So my parents helped me along and told me: today we’re gonna start you off on the violin and that’s how I chose! (And honestly, there is not regret there. it has been great. It helps me along, it’s been a little hard, and then after encouragement and hard work and perseverance I come this far. Starting off on the violin is been one of the best things for me.)
(VR to Aishu: talk about your day)
Aishu: Oh gush! I have a class at least once a week, sometimes 2 or 3. And these classes are exactly one hour. And that hour not a second is wasted. Every second I learn something new. My teacher, when I look at him I get scared…he is out of this world.
(And then after that you think good, is over, then when you come home you have to sit with your mom or dad and work on what he has given you because that one hour has just changed everything.)
The practice is rigorous. At least 4-5, if I’m lucky get six hours a day. Just to get one line, two lines, just to be ready for the next class.
Along with that the practice also plays a lot because this summer I’ll be going to Berkley college of music.
(As every year progresses school gets much harder. More tests… and that minute where you think, you know, I’m gonna sit down and I’m gonna relax and gonna watch 30 min of a show… but those 30 min could use them to practice violin. To make life easier in the long run. 30 min I could gone out play with my friends… this same 30 min I’m not gonna get 2-3 years from now.)
VR: If you don’t practice for one day, your personally know about it. if you don’t practice for two days, your accompanist knows about it. a week, your audience….
No room for slipping or compromise. Practice, practice, practice until your wrists breaks and then practice for another hour.
If you want to attain a certain level of perfection, the only word that will get you there is practice.
Mother: Knowing Ainshu, she’s a perfectionist. Both they practice in the morning, practice for two hours, goes to school, after homework practice again until 10-10:30pm. I have to drag them to dinner.
South Indian Music/Instruments
The music of South India has instruments that are very ancient like the drum I play, called… It is a double-headed drum. The word MR. Means clay, dangan means body: body of clay.
The uniqueness about this drum is you have to be able to recite the drum syllables before you play it on your drum. The process is, the teacher teaches you the lesson, you memorize it, you practice it vocaly…
Very similar to rap. Vocalize it, bring it to body and soul before you can bring it to the drum.
I’m going to give you an example of what vocalizing is. I will vocalize it and then reproduce it on the drum. (example: voice and drum)
Aishu: the violin is just the basic violin. But the tuning is what makes my instrument very different, very unique.
The tuning is not the standard G D A E. its more F D F D. It makes the music a little bit more melodious, it has a different touch.
Compare my music with Mozart is day and night. First of all we sit down.
VR:The scroll of the violin is kept at the ankle of the foot and the chin-(dress?) is under the neck.
Ainshu: I’m going to play the basic scale in the karnatic style with the bends and twists. (scale example)
Aishu: Western music and Indian classical music are completely different, no way the same. It’s very hard to transition from Indian classical and go next day to orchestra and have to read off the chart. Indian music it’s basically through listening and trying. So I have to listen to my teacher and try to reproduce exactly what he has given me which is very strict discipline. Then there is the ability to change it after you learn it and give it a little life, some variation. While in western when you read the chart it tells you… crescendo, make it louder,….
VR: The music of South India has no written notation. It is imparted from teacher to student in a very traditional format of Gurukola. The guru or teacher siting under the tree with the disciples siting around trying to absorb the knowledge.
It is very similar to Jazz in the form of improvisation.
(VR: the drone that you here is the reproduction of a long neck luth called the tambura.
The tambura in Indian music is a frame of reference for the scale in which the main artist will be performing. The long neck lute is now substituted by an electronic box or the tambura.)
Improvisation and Indian Music
Indian music has not fixed structure. We do not pre–decide which pieces we are going to play on stage. Everything happens on stage.
The improvisation goes also in the same manner. We start slowly, we do a crescendo, we build it up to a nice mid-range and we take it to a crescnedo and wrap it up.
Aishu: I’d been playing music for such a long time… explore my options regarding music. With the Summer at Berkle I hope to get a degree in performance. Finish that degree before high school is over. I’m also good in math and science… explore my options in medicine.
VR: she shows potential of becoming a star. I’m sincerely hoping she will strive for perfection. Win a Grammy in the filed of world music.
Mother: Great performance artist. Doctor: help me with my practice. Both.
VR: September 11 was a very unfortunate incident. Things did change for a short period of time. The strictness of how things were handled was the same among weather you were an American national or Indian national. Things had to be done.
If we don’t train our children to understand other cultures, other musics, what kind of a world will be presenting for the future generations to come? Encourage our children to explore other cultures… should be the biggest lesson.
Music is divine. Doesn’t matter if it is Afghanistan music, Persian, Jazz….it is divine.
Aishu: I think I am familiar with all types of music. I listen to a lot.
I’m a big oldies fan. I love listening to oldies music. And since I come this far with Indian music, it has been what I been primarily listening to. My dad says, you have to listen to 5-6 hours a day before you can play something. Listening is the key to success in anything.
I really have been listening primarily to Western classical and Indian music mainly.