Keeping the Tyagaraja tradition alive

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Bay Area – Every Easter weekend, the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhna starts. Celebrating the legendary Carnatic composer Tyagaraja, the Aradhna is the biggest Carnatic music festival outside of Chennai. It goes on for 2 weeks, and starts on the Friday before Easter. On that day, the first event starts.

The first event is the youth music competition. Students practice for months for the vocal, violin, percussion, layam (vocal rhythms), and other contests. I was one of those students. Starting at the end of December, I started practicing 3 mridangam (percussion) thani avarthanams (solo segments). The first was adhi tala (8 beats), then misra chapu (3 ½ beats), and finally kanda chapu (2 ½ beats).

The first step for a percussionist is learning how to play to the tala (rhythm) and know that you are playing correctly, as well as correct yourself very quickly by using placements. Every time a syllable comes on a beat, it can be used to check your place in relation to samam (beginning). I learned to make the placement charts to practice them. One of the last things I learned was to say the sorkal (smaller layam section) and loop the thani avarthanam with a recording to make sure I am playing the sol (percussion sorkal) correctly and not just adjusting to the placements.

After the contests, there are normal and group concerts with incredible artists, individual students singing small songs in 4 minutes in a concert hall. At the same time, people watch the individual mini-concerts of previous winners. After that there was youth group concert and that was mostly the end of the festival’s day.

The next week is full of concerts and many famous people traveling all the way from India come for the “biggest musical event outside of Chennai.” These concerts are, many times, once in a lifetime experiences with incredible ensembles and great music. Those are the main events of the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhna.

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