Anita Kulkarni, Founder President of Renu Foundation of Arts, New Jersey, has insights and expertise in both the Fine and Performing arts with professional qualifications in Architecture and Hindustani music. Her thoughts on music are spot on in terms of what Indian music offers to the world as an art, philosophy and therapy.
How is living and teaching in New York different from doing it in Mumbai?
In Mumbai, in India, in addition to one’s own initiative, the surroundings are continuously contributing to the experience of arts. Umpteen Guru’s and schools and nrityagrams are teaching Indian dance and music, hundreds of performances happening, your neighbor is practicing some art and your radio and TV are broadcasting it too. This is learning at conscious and subconscious level, with some of it deliberate, and a lot just automatic. Once you leave India, you take Indian art away from its roots. You lose what the surroundings endlessly offer. Then it is only your passion, conviction, commitment, dexterity and command that will make up for the missing nourishment, the gone component. In that respect it is hard doing it in New York. But in the plus side there is a wider audience of all ages and ethnicities who can derive joy from a foreign art and an extraordinary one at that, brought to their door step. America makes me particularly proud of my Indian legacy of art.
How can Indian artistes and performers become carriers of a larger Indian culture abroad?
If there is a solid footing and founding by way of systematic past learning of the craft under a Guru, an artist should share his/her knowledge through writing / public speaking / organizing / performing / teaching, working towards building an awareness for the art form and spreading joy. Quality is key. Work should qualify. The individual’s integrity and self-assessment tremendously matter.
Anita Kulkarni, Founder Director Renu Foundation for Arts
What is the main driver for Indians in the US to learn and imbibe a culture from which they are essentially cut off?
Unlike three or four decades ago, for serious takers of art and culture there are many avenues in the USA now. Look for Indian organizations, performing art centers and art non-profits of all sizes and stature offering courses / lessons in Indian art and culture. There are great artists who are teaching Indian music and dance in many US metros. Many universities and community colleges also offer courses in Indian art. And owing to the increasing Indian population in the US, there are many Indian artists traveling to the US on concert tours. E-learning is another new avenue. Proper research is imperative on the student’s part. One must verify the competence and credibility of the teacher; and also ensure that the style of the art form is fitting with his / her personality and wish.
Does Renu have a studio space?
Currently my home studio is the Renu studio where we conduct the workshops, art shows and small events. For large group rehearsals we hire studios in New York City or wherever it is convenient depending upon the artists in collaboration. Large public events are of course theatrical, and we seek the venues of playhouses, black box theaters or proper professional auditoriums.
Your dance production was taken to France. Can you describe the experience?
The stage production “Panorama”, an integration of Kathak and BharataNatyam was a troupe of 8 dancers performing on the music of my fusion album “Panorama”. The show featured story-based dances showcasing shades of love, spirituality, celebration and more. The show was invited to France to Armor Indo-French cultural festival in Morlaix, France. It was a sold-out event in a beautiful historic proscenium theater, and I watched the show from the rearmost row noticing that the audience was spellbindingly still on their chairs. We did give brief orientations into the story at the beginning of each dance, but the overwhelming feedback at the end by the French audience only told us how they thoroughly admired the dances, the costumes, the music and the poetry each dance depicted. According to me it spoke volumes of how the music was translated into dance at our end.
Living abroad, in New York/New Jersey one sees material prosperity all around. Indian music offers something different. How do you think the pure notes of Indian classical music can make their way into the hearts of people in cities like New York or London or Paris?
Life in a metro is charming and glamorous but it’s pace and inherent challenges can be stressful! Music is unconditionally therapeutic. Experiencing music at a deeper sensory level creates a beautiful state of meditation. This is harmony with nature, and harmony with self. We must understand and appreciate this on a subtle level. This is how.
All living things have a sound to them, and ‘Omkar’ – the hum of the universe is that sound. The seven musical notes are born in the Omkar. Listening to raag music becomes meditative, as it connects you with your surroundings in a special way. With intent music listening we start resonating with the universe. This harmony is the ultimate relaxation, a healer, the peace, the joy. Music is regarded as an excellent stress reliever. Music works wonders in controlling the heart rate, anxiety and depression. In the morning, at the end of a busy workday, before meals or at nighttime, quiet listening to Classical music will center your mind and body, and relax you thoroughly by releasing good hormones.
As a classically trained musician do you think that an untrained ear can appreciate Indian music? And what is the kind of Indian music that appeals more - instrumental versus vocal, Hindustani over Carnatic?
Indian Classical music is a very richly developed art and science, complex and intricate in its structure. And it unfolds on two planes – struck and unstruck. (Aahat and Anaahat). It may take years, decades, even a lifetime; the grammar and technique of the former can be learnt in theory and practiced for proficiency in the large part. The latter however, is mostly on a deeper (higher?) plane. It is about perceiving, feeling, reading and imbibing the sublime, the ethereal – the element that makes music truly uplifting. Music scholars wrote the fundamentals centuries ago, and we as music students continue to strive for the wisdom. Yes, indeed music appeals to any ear, trained or untrained. However going by the proverb “Knowledge is Power”, the full transformative power of music is likely to go untapped in case of an untrained person.
Secondly. It is clinically proven that our bodies respond to the sound of music, as our auditory nerve transmits the wave signals of music to brain. Music soothes us, lifting stress. So many examples from everyday life! Surgeons playing music in their operating rooms to enhance concentration and focus, a baby falling asleep with a lullaby, Gospel music destressing the folks in the trying olden times (of slavery), the famous ‘Blues’ music originating in the cotton fields, and the rhythmic folk music from various cultures! Even when heard casually, music has a distinct positive effect on our body and mind. Using the power of knowledge, this impact can be taken to another level of well-being. For this reason music is best if heard with awareness and knowledge!
As for the type of music, all genres are beautiful; and what appeals to whom is greatly culture-specific depending on where one’s familiarity and training is/was. Speaking for myself, I relate to North Indian vocal music the most as my training and conditioning is in that type.
How do your ideas of creativity merge in architecture, dance and music? All of them occupy spaces, literally and in our minds. How do they transform these spaces?
Trained both in Architecture and Music almost for equal amount of time-quality-intensity, I see that my sensibilities in music and architecture share auras in a subtle but vivid process, making my creative journey especially synergetic. Music inspires me in a way like nothing else does, transporting me from a still/passive/idle, often listless mind-state to a world of imageries where I start seeing new shining masses of spaces with distinctive colors and forms seamlessly flowing from each other, into each other, making up a building or an interior. Conversely, I have often seen music in 3-D! As a raag bandish goes into improvisation, with its emotion I start seeing beautiful dancing silhouettes of men, women, sometimes groups, their choreography, their costumes – vivid with colour, flow and texture, their entering and exiting the stage, their pausing and freezing in formations, narrating a story that is unfolding before me in an organic process. I see the dance architecture and the stage architecture in its entirety. I see the full picture. The creative abundance experienced with the merging of music, dance and architecture is just unparalleled! I have been lucky to have met artists who resonated with my vision and together we have been able to bring much work to the wider global audiences. Their standing ovations and profuse warm greetings backstage certainly make our day, and that is most gratifying!