In Conversation With Kala Ramnath: Nurturing The Future Of Indian Classical Music

By Ojasvi Kapoor
February 15, 2024
In Conversation With Kala Ramnath: Nurturing The Future Of Indian Classical Music

Kala Ramnath, a globally celebrated violinist,she belongs to the Mewati gharana, a lineage of musicians. She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Academy Puraskaar in 2016, Rashtriya Kumar Gandharva Sanman in 2008 and the Pandit Jasraj Gaurav Puraskar in 1999.

Absorbing all these influences Ramnath has successfully developed a style of playing that is truly unique, and has played a huge part in bringing violin into the mainstream of Indian classical music.

In an exclusive chat with ,she talks about future of violin and classical music in india.Here are edited excerpts:

Q1.How has been your  musical journey so far,What inspired you to pursue the violin, and what drew you towards Indian classical music?

I started my musical journey at the age of 2, coming from a musical background. My grandfather initiated me into the world of music by introducing me to the violin. This choice was rooted in our family's musical legacy, as we predominantly embrace a lineage of violinists. In the broader context, I represent the seventh generation in my family's musical lineage. The initial three generations were dedicated to vocal pursuits, followed by the subsequent three generations specializing in the violin.

My grandfather's intention in teaching me the violin wasn't driven by a desire for me to become a famous violinist; rather, it was because of our family's strong musical heritage. He believed in the importance of having music as a skill, a tradition carried on by our ancestors. Music, for him, was not just a passion but a means of resilience in times of difficulty. He instilled in me the idea that possessing musical skills could serve as a valuable resource in navigating life's challenges. While his goal wasn't to make me a renowned musician, he aimed to equip me with the ability to navigate life through the art of music.

Reflecting on my childhood, I recall diligently practicing the violin every day. I am immensely grateful for the foundation laid by my grandfather, and I realize the significance of having pursued this path. Music has become more than a passion; it has evolved into my career. I am elated to have the opportunity to not only embrace the musical heritage of my family but also to share the gift of music through teaching.

Q2.How do you feel about the global recognition of the violin as a Western instrument, despite its roots in Indian classical music?

I was recently in the company of Dr. L Subramaniam, and during our conversation, I shared an interesting observation with him. The instrument we commonly recognize as the violin today was not explicitly referred to as such in its early history. Instead, there existed an instrument resembling the violin, which can be found in sculptures in the southern regions of India even to this day.

In the Chitambhranam Temple, constructed in the 10th century, there is a sculpture depicting a person holding and playing an instrument akin to the violin. Similarly, in the Mysore Temple dating back to the 8th century, there is a sculpture portraying a lady playing a similar instrument. Going further back, the Vedas mention an instrument called "dhanurveena," where "Dhanu" signifies a bow, and "Veena" indicates an instrument played with a bow. This instrument traces its roots back 7000 years.

It's worth noting that the earliest depiction of a violin-like instrument in the Western context dates back to the 15th century. Therefore, the violin, as we know it today, has ancient origins in India. It was an Indian invention, and although it may not have been known by the same name, it predates the Western recognition of a similar instrument. The violin can be rightfully regarded as an Indian instrument that found its way to Europe, rather than being inherently Western in its origin.

Q3.You've performed on renowned stages at prestigious music festivals globally, such as the Sydney Opera House, London's Queen Elizabeth Hall, and New York's Carnegie Hall. Can you share your experience, and highlight your favorite collaboration to date?

It doesn't matter where I am playing, but as soon as I step into that sacred place where I have to perform, something unfolds that neither I nor any other artist can fully comprehend. There is an inexplicable force at work, and it's fascinating how it happens. Engaging with the audience becomes an intuitive process – one look at the audience, and you understand the connection you are establishing.

This, I believe, is the grace of the almighty. It is incredibly beautiful to witness your music resonating with the hearts of the audience. Two years ago, I had the privilege of performing at the Royal Albert Hall with Freda Kalos Painting, where I interpreted her paintings through music. Additionally, I interpreted compositions from the 19th and 20th centuries at the BBC Festival, once again held at the Royal Albert Hall, this time accompanied by the BBC Festival Orchestra. I also composed a violin concerto for the violin. Presently, I find myself playing with numerous orchestras, and the journey continues.

Q4.How do you envision the future of the violin in India, both in terms of preserving its traditional roots and embracing contemporary innovations?

While conversing with Dr. Subramaniam, he expressed his desire to teach the violin to students. He highlighted an observation that many universities with music programs tend to be theory-oriented rather than practical-oriented. The intricacies of the violin, being one of the most challenging instruments to play due to the absence of frets, make it a unique and demanding pursuit. Learning the violin typically requires 15-16 years of dedicated practice.

Dr. Subramaniam emphasized the need for a shift in focus, advocating for the creation of more violinists with a practical orientation rather than a heavy emphasis on theory. This approach would enable students to not only understand the theoretical aspects but also develop the necessary practical skills to proficiently play the instrument.

Q5.What we can expect in terms of classical music business in 2024?

The landscape of the music industry has undergone significant transformations over the years. In today's dynamic environment, keeping up with social media trends and fostering collaborations with artists across different genres has become crucial. This not only adds a vibrant dimension to your musical expression but also provides additional leverage when organizing concerts and live events. Embracing the power of social media and diverse collaborations opens up new avenues for creativity and audience engagement in the ever-evolving world of music.

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