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World Music Instrument: The Voice in South Indian Classical Music

The voice in South Indian classical music (also known as Carnatic music) is versatile and expressive. Decades of training are required to meet the demands of the tradition, including the ability to sing at least three octaves (the typical opera singer has about a two-octave range). Professional singers typically learn hundreds of compositions in six languages (Sanskrit, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, and Hindi) and in a variety of musical forms, including bhajan, slokam, varnam, keerthanam, kriti, padam, javali, ragamalika, ragam-thanum-pallavi, and thillana. Each of these forms has its own musical structure with some requiring improvisation. Whereas Western music employs two main melodic modes (major and minor) on 12 pitch centers, Carnatic vocalists typically learn dozens of ragas (a group of five, six, or seven pitches that go together as a set), which they perform on a single pitch center.

This article is one in a series of reports on the fascinating variety of musical instruments that audience members encounter through Center for World Music programs. 

 

Similar to the way Western classical music singers learn scales using the solfege syllables Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do, South Indian classical vocalists use a system of syllables called sargam: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa. The three-octave range is notated with dots below (lower octave) and dots above (higher octave) as follows:

Carnatic system of syllables

Tanjore Tambura

There is no system of fixed pitches in South Indian music, so each singer chooses his or her own central pitch (Sa), one that will allow their voice to cover three octaves. They typically use this pitch for their entire careers. During a performance, that chosen pitch is sustained as a drone on a tambura (plucked string instrument) or, in the modern era, on a sruti box (a bellows-blown reed instrument, now often electronic). All learning is done traditionally by ear and by memory as repertoire and style are transmitted from guru to disciple. Instruction may involve daily lessons and practice for an intensive period of ten to twenty years before reaching a professional level. Even then, study typically continues over a vocalist’s entire lifetime.

Concert performances in South India can take three to five hours with a vocalist presenting several types of compositions all from memory with little or no rehearsal with the accompanying musicians, who typically include a percussionist and a melodic accompanist who follows and echoes the vocalist’s lead. About three-quarters of the way through a concert, a main piece, lasting anywhere from 45 minutes to one hour, will be performed to showcase the improvisational abilities of the vocalist and accompanying musicians. The vocalist’s improvisation can involve singing many musical pitches on a single syllable, singing in three octaves or more with the sargam syllables, or choosing on the spot a portion of the song’s lyrics and melody and varying those. Carnatic vocalists have a distinctive virtuosity that both marks their musical identity as South Indian and contributes to the great diversity of traditional musical cultures in the world.

See the renowned 20th century artist M.S. Subbulaksmi performing Jagadodharana (“Supporter of the Universe”), a composition by Purandaradasa (16th c.) and Pakkala Nilabadi (“Standing by the Side [of Lord Rama]”), a composition by Tyagaraja (18th–19th c.).


K. S. Resmi is a performer and teacher of Carnatic music. For her full resume, please visit www.ksresmi.com. N. Scott Robinson, Ph.D., percussionist and ethnomusiciogist, is chair of the Music Department at San Diego Mesa College.

Events

South Indian Classical Music: K. S. Resmi

South Indian Classical Music

Featuring K. S. Resmi
April 18, 7:00 pm, La Jolla Community Center

In an abundance of caution, this concert has been postponed due to the growing concern caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19). We are thankful for the flexibility and understanding of the musicians, sponsors, and community in this quickly evolving situation. The price of the tickets will be refunded.
This Event has been postponed.
K. S. Resmi is a leading vocalist and teacher in the South Indian, or Carnatic, tradition of classical music. A disciple of the renown performer and scholar Dr. K. Omanakutty Amma and now a student of Guru Lalitha Sivakumar, Resmi has studied Carnatic music for more than 35 years. She has performed on numerous tours throughout India, as well as in the USA, Germany, and Scotland. With nineteen CD recordings to her credit, she was the first woman to be featured on a recording of the music of the famous, elaborately costumed Kathakali dance of Kerala. She has also studied the Carnatic vina—a long, pear-shaped lute—as well as Hindustani (North Indian classical) vocal music.

K. S. Resmi earned her B.A. and M.A  degrees in South Indian vocal music performance at the University of Kerala in India, where she is currently nearing completion of her PhD. She taught Carnatic vocal music as a full-time faculty member in the Department of Indian Music at the University of Madras (2004-2007). Previously, she taught music at the Malabar Gopalan Nair Memorial Music and Research Center in Kerala (1995-2004).

In the United States, she has performed fusion concerts and recordings with Amrit Nataraj, Larry Coryell, N. Scott Robinson, Mark Holland, Dave Ballou, Shane Shanahan, Brandon Terzic, David Kuckhermann, Ensemble Datura, the Dale Ockerman Project, Oxymora, Yousif Sheronick, and Steáfán Hannigan.

K. S. Resmi currently lives in the U.S., splitting her time between San Diego and Baltimore.

For this special performance, Ms. Resmi will be accompanied by Siddharth Ashokkumar, violin, and Raamkumar Balamurthi, mridangam (barrel drum).

Listen to K. S. Resmi’s music on her YouTube channel.

Directions & Parking

For detailed directions to La Jolla Community Center via car or by MTS bus, please visit their location webpage. Street parking is available on Bonair. If you prefer, valet service will be offered on the curb in front of the Community Center.

Click this link to view the Passport to Worlds of Music Concert Series Booklet.

Thanks to our 2019-20 Concert Series Sponsor!

Rice and Haeling Development Group Logo

And to our Concert Sponsor, Jane Wheeler of Contemporary Madness Studio!

Virtual Encounters: South Indian Classical Music featuring K. S. Resmi

This is the first of six programs in the Center for World Music’s Spring 2021 Virtual Encounters with World Music and Dance series.

South Indian Classical Music

Featuring K. S. Resmi with Ethnomusicologist N. Scott Robinson
Free Live Stream – View the Recorded Stream

This 50-minute live-hosted music and discussion event will foreground the human experience expressed through Carnatic vocal music, the classical tradition of South India. Among other topics, K. S. Resmi will explore the significance and transmission of South Indian vocal music through a carefully curated selection of videos. Joined by ethnomusicologist N. Scott Robinson, she will discuss the rich cultural context of the tradition and how practitioners are adapting their methods of transmitting this deeply meaningful and ancient art form in a time of connective technology. Special guest appearance by K. S. Resmi’s student, Esha Basoor, and musician Mark Holland.

Registration is free. A link to the live stream will be provided in your confirmation email. If you’d like to support the artists and the program, donations will be welcomed.

K. S. Resmi will be addressing questions from the audience. Guests will be invited to log into YouTube to comment and ask questions of the artist.

About K. S. Resmi

K. S. Resmi is a leading vocalist and teacher in Carnatic music tradition. A disciple of the renowned performer and scholar Dr. K. Omanakutty Amma, Resmi has studied Carnatic music for more than 35 years. She has performed on numerous tours throughout India, as well as in the USA, Germany, and Scotland. With nineteen CD recordings to her credit, she was the first woman to be featured on a recording of the music of the famous, elaborately costumed Kathakali dance of Kerala. She has also studied the Carnatic vina—a long, pear-shaped lute—as well as Hindustani (North Indian classical) vocal music.

K. S. Resmi earned her B.A. and M.A  degrees in South Indian vocal music performance at the University of Kerala in India, where she is currently nearing completion of her Ph.D. She taught Carnatic vocal music as a full-time faculty member in the Department of Indian Music at the University of Madras (2004–07). Previously, she taught music at the Malabar Gopalan Nair Memorial Music and Research Center in Kerala (1995–2004).

In the United States, she has performed fusion concerts and recordings with Amrit Nataraj, Larry Coryell, N. Scott Robinson, Mark Holland, Dave Ballou, Shane Shanahan, Brandon Terzic, David Kuckhermann, Ensemble Datura, the Dale Ockerman Project, Oxymora, Yousif Sheronick, and Steáfán Hannigan.

K. S. Resmi currently lives in the U.S., splitting her time between San Diego and Baltimore. Learn more about K.S. Resmi at www.ksresmi.com.

About N. Scott Robinson

N. Scott Robinson is the Chair of the Music Department at San Diego Mesa College. He holds a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Kent State University. Scott is also a world percussionist/jazz drummer who has performed on the Grammy Award-winning CD Harlem Renaissance with the Benny Carter Big Band. Scott has performed and recorded with a long and varied list of prominent musicians of many disciplines including jazz, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Bulgarian among many others.

As a solo artist, N. Scott Robinson brings a breadth of diverse experience in world percussion traditions to the stage and classroom. He has given clinics, panel discussions, and concerts on diverse styles of hand drumming for national and international organizations.

Download the event poster, here.
Download the event program, here.

This series is sponsored by:

Rice and Haeling Development Group Logo

This event is sponsored by

Grant Support

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