Bridging traditions

Classical musician Dr S Sowmya wishes to build a firm bridge between the past and the future - between the great and hoary traditions of classical music and the current generation, writes Aruna Chandaraju

Dr S Sowmya

Classical musician Dr S Sowmya’s career record reads like a comprehensive list of the most prestigious awards and rewards that exist in Carnatic music. Now, topping that, she has become the Sangeeta Kalanidhi designate for 2019-20. For the uninitiated, the Sangeeta Kalanidhi is the most coveted and esteemed (non-governmental) award in Carnatic music and is bestowed by Madras Music Academy. Sowmya has now become one of the youngest female musicians to win this honour and among the very small group of women artistes to do so.

This is one of the highest recognitions of her musical prowess. However, after so many achievements, including this recent award, one wonders if there are any peaks left which she aspires to conquer. “Oh, yes, music is like a vast ocean — there is so much more for me to learn, and so much more to share. Most importantly, I want to build a firm bridge between the past and the future — between the great and hoary traditions of classical music and the current generation. I want to ensure the dissemination of the highest values of Carnatic music among the public especially the youth and children.”

Commanding voice

Indeed, this vocalist and vainika’s life has been a pursuit of excellence with persistent efforts to spread the fragrance of her art. She was recognised as a child prodigy. Her talent was evident even when she was a child. Sowmya was barely two-and-half-years-old when she began recognising ragas. Her first teacher was her father M Sreenivasan, a chemical engineer by profession and musician by passion. Sowmya became a disciple of renowned musician and musicologist Sangeeta Kalanidhi S Ramanathan when she was barely six. Later, she came under the tutelage of T Muktha, one of the legendary Brinda-Muktha duo of the Veena Dhanammal school. Years later, she even became their accompanist at concerts. “This was a privilege. I am ever in gratitude for their teaching and the honour of accompanying them onstage,” she says.

She began giving solo concerts from a young age and won the Cultural Talent Scholarship for Instrumental Music (Veena), Department of Culture, Government of India, New Delhi at the age of ten. She began performing widely across India and abroad as she grew older.

Known for a husky, bass voice and absolute command over shruthi and laya, Sowmya also has a vast repertoire of compositions. Besides this, her manodharma has also been commended for its high creative level.

Alongside, she continued her regular academic pursuits and shone in them too. She acquired a Master’s degrees in Chemistry and Indian Music, and was a top-ranked scholar at the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai as well as the University of Madras. She earned a doctoral degree from the University of Madras for her research on the physical characteristics of the mridangam. As she explains: “I was able to do this because the research involved knowledge and interest in the two fields --- science and classical music --- which are very close to me both personally and professionally.”

For posterity

Moving with the times, she began employing the potential of digital spaces for Carnatic music. Along with fellow-musician N Shashikiran, she established Carnatica, an institution for teaching classical music and dance, talent search and archiving. She went on to co-author Nadanubhava: The Horizons of Carnatic Music, which she has called the world’s first comprehensive, interactive CD-ROM on Carnatic music as also Nadopasana: My Own Carnatic Tutor, an educational VCD for those who want to go the self-taught way and includes karaoke elements. Sowmya has even been adjudged several talent shows. Recently, she even played a mother’s role in the Tamil movie Vaanavil Vaazhkai. But these are occasional forays. She spends most of her time performing and teaching.

So, which role does she enjoy more — that of performer or teacher? She replies: “I enjoy both roles and believe they are equally important.” Sowmya also continue on her lifelong quest for excellence in music. 

 

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