The unique Cup O’ Carnatic web series by renowned veena player Jayanthi Kumaresh, introducing classical music to anyone with an ear for melody, has been extremely popular.

Veena player Jayanthi Kumaresh
Features Music Sunday, July 11, 2021 - 18:00

As her fingers stride along the strings of the veena, the musician simultaneously has her viewers engrossed in a story she is narrating. This unique Cup O’ Carnatic web series by renowned veena player Jayanthi Kumaresh, introducing classical music to “anyone with an ear for melody”, has people hooked in the millions. Jayanthi, among the many senior musicians who have provided umpteen digital packages in the last four years, not just engages people in melody, but has taken her role to “have a slice of the classical Carnatic genre passed on to the next generation” seriously. Jayanthi, daughter of violinist Lalgudi Rajalakshmi, is married to violinist Kumaresh.

In an exclusive interview with The News Minute, Jayanthi shares her memorable experiences in the making of her web series that is amazingly connecting with people across continents. Jayanthi’s delve into her new Academy for Veena also shows her single-minded focus in propagating the sacred instrument, although the national instrument of India has been having a leaner presence on concert platforms in the last few years. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

How did you visualise so many segments for your Cup O’ Carnatic series, the latest addressed with a story-and-raga combo for the younger lot?

For the last few years, Carnatic music and Carnatic musicians were in the phase of enjoying the new-found social media. It suddenly struck us that we could reach an entirely new spectrum of audience in their homes with just one click. We keep talking about cultivating the next generation for Carnatic music, and now we see them fully geared and receptive to receive arts in many forms. The best way to build an audience, we felt, was to take away the clichés, ‘Does one need to be knowledgeable about Carnatic music?’ ‘Will I understand it?’ ‘Is it too complex?’… etc.

The Carnatic genre is one of the most scientific, systematic and advanced systems of music. From my decades of performances, interactions with rasikas, and teaching experience, I felt it necessary to break it into short, not-so-overwhelming modules that people can easily absorb and assimilate. Thus was born Cup O’ Carnatic Season 1 in 2017.

I was lucky to be born in a family where music is a way of life with people practicing, preparing for a concert or gathered for deep melody discussions. Today’s kids rarely get the ecosystem needed to sow the seeds of music and nurture them. With a Master’s in English Literature, I’ve always been passionate about drama and storytelling. It has always been my goal to make music interesting and engaging for children. I wanted to expand the boundaries of Cup O’ Carnatic and take it to the little ones too. I believed the best way to get their attention was to convey the music in the form of a story. I’m humbled and overwhelmed by the response I’ve received from kids around the world expressing their joy after listening to these stories presented musically. I’m pleasantly surprised that a huge number of senior citizens too are enjoying theses capsules for kids.

Will online offers soon be the norm, post the pandemic?

The digital concerts did help us when we had to maintain social distancing. Nevertheless, the response to such concerts – with impressive international audiences – has been amazing. So probably a hybrid model where people who cannot go to live shows and want to enjoy from home should be worthwhile. The choice to watch it digitally will make things interesting, as we artistes would still love our fans back with their applause and encores.

Why the name Cup O’ Carnatic?

A couple of reasons. Carnatic music is a vast ocean and the episodes aim to only give a small glimpse of this world – in a cup. And the hope is that you will be able to watch an episode in the time it takes for you to finish a cup of tea or coffee.

When Cup O’ Carnatic started, I had no idea that it was going to be an interesting journey with so many seasons and flavours. The virality of Season 1 eventually resulted in four seasons altogether. During my travels within India and overseas, many rasikas of varied age groups approached me requesting that I continue the series as they felt truly connected to Carnatic music than ever before.

Cup O’ Carnatic – Guess the Raga series is currently on my Instagram – a short one-minute video with a visual and audio/video clue to guess the name of the raga. The goal is to help youngsters familiarise themselves with raga names in a fun and motivating way, which is being well received.

And every division that followed in the series addressed varied requirements?

In 2019, I was thinking of song lists and pallavis to perform at the Ramanavami season in Bengaluru followed by the Chennai music season. One of my students came up to me and asked, “Just like musicians prepare for the music season, don’t audiences have to prepare? Can we make a Cup O’ Carnatic series to focus on audience awareness at music festivals?” That’s how I developed another web series, Season of Carnatic – 30 days, 30 episodes, 55+ ragas. Listening is an integral part of learning and I wanted to encourage rasikas to listen to as much music that is available for free on YouTube. As part of Season of Carnatic, I shared links of various musicians that will help rasikas familiarise themselves with the ragas in the episode.

And the Fun series?

The Cup O’ Carnatic – Fun series during lockdowns was another big draw. The pandemic surely called for some lighter thinking for people locked up at home and watching streaming media constantly. We wanted to reach out to teens and youngsters in their twenties. That required us to speak their language and understand their world to show them how cool classical music is. That was how the Cup O’ Carnatic Fun series came about. Suddenly my morning practice hours transformed from Kalyani Varna to Fur Elise, James Bond, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Pink Panther. Finding Indian ragas that connect to these melodies was a beautiful process of discovery for me. I had a great team that took care of the graphics, editing and the creative work.

With more than 3 million views cumulatively on social media, these four web series have had a tremendous reach amidst the younger generation. The Fun series alone independently garnered 1 million+ views.

You have started the Jayanthi Kumaresh Academy for Veena (JKAV), very gratifying in the context of the instrument not being as popular as the violin and flute on concert stage?

It has been my life’s mission to create an academy of excellence for the veena, like an IIT for the veena. There are three different levels in the journey of a veena player. The first journey up to a proficient level of playing kritis (songs) is quite smooth. The next jump to the manodharma (improvisations) requires specialised training as one uses the gamaka technique and expression (embellishments) on the instrument. We have several vainikas who have attained this level of proficiency too. But the jump from this level to attaining a level of excellence is a quantum leap.

During the lockdown, I found myself wondering if maybe an online academy would open the doors to vainikas worldwide instead of a specific geographic location. So I recalibrated my vision and moved it from a brick and mortar centre to a bits and bytes digital academy that could be accessed from anywhere around the world.

Six months old, JKAV aims at honing the skills in the level 2 and level 3 proficiencies. These master classes will throw light on the techniques, repertoire, practice and creativity, and the effective use of these tools in the betterment of performance. The academy will soon roll out a continuous education programme with a stipulated syllabus for veena students at all skill levels.

JKAV can expect a culmination of your gurus Padmavathy Ananthagopalan and Balachander’s styling (baani) from you? How much is the blend a new thought process on the veena?

Baani, or the signature styling one stamps in, is born through several aspects. If we say this is Lalgudi or the Semmangudi school, we speak about artistes and their styling, which is a culmination of their life experiences – their training, upbringing, the society they lived in, performances they attended, musicians who influenced them and the experiences they assimilated. All this permeates through their music which is their best mode of expression and thus is born a person’s baani. Similarly, the amount of training I received from my aunt and guru Padmavathy Ananthagopalan, one of the most meticulous and disciplined professors of music, and veena virtuoso Dr S Balachander were different and diverse life experiences.

As I grew up, I had the influence of my uncle, maestro violinist Lalgudi G Jayaraman, and other senior musicians for my scholarship study, apart from Hindustani music in jugalbandis. As part of my doctorate, I had the opportunity to research several different schools of veena playing. All this made its way into the fabric of what would be called ‘Jayanthi’s veena baani’. I believe that I’d definitely like to keep the spirit of what my gurus taught me. But the experiences that I’ve had in my life journey will definitely suffuse the way I play and teach but cannot be branded as the best musician is constantly evolving.

Watch all episodes of the Cup O’ Carnatic series on YouTube here

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