Ashnaa’s Blog – SAMYO/SABRANG at Music India 2016

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I have just returned from a music festival in India and my mind is still buzzing from the thrill of the cocktail of musical excitement I had in Chennai. The concerts each day reminded me of my time in Milapfest Music India when I got to watch many artists that I have idolised for years perform right before my eyes. The summer retreat of 2016 was mind blowing for of us musicians in Samyo, Sabrang and Tarang!

I joined Samyo a year and a half ago, and I am now the leader of Sabrang. Our retreat began with a draining train journey from London Euston all the way to Liverpool Hope University, where our campus was. When I arrived, seeing the beautiful venue reminded me of all the great memories I had from my very first retreat in 2015; I couldn’t wait to get stuck into mysteries ahead for this year! To start off, I have to say that as young, developing musicians, we were all extremely blessed to have so many well renowned artists from all over the world come under one umbrella to to train  us. The gurus we had during our retreat were artists I never thought I would ever get to meet, yet alone to get intensive sessions from them! For Sabrang, we had Sudha Raja, Vijay Rajput and Abhishek Raghuram to mentor us. To say we were extremely lucky is too much of an understatement. Having so many young and talented musicians around me pushes my own boundaries and it is reassuring to have everyone support each other.

Our timetable for each day was strictly broken down into boot camp sessions, a range of sessions with different gurus and music lectures. Every morning and evening of retreat, we had the pure pleasure of witnessing an array of contrasting musicians perform, leaving me almost speechless at times. We had the privilege of watching some dance concerts; we were stunned by each dancer performing various styles including Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi and Mohiniattam. Our boot camp sessions were aimed to provide us with vigorous vocal practice exercises and to warm us up for the full and packed day ahead of us. I’d say that having this hour of intensive practice (not related to our repertoire) was rather effective and I learnt much more about how I should be practising each day, gaining more and more knowledge and advice from our maestro gurus.

The lectures were been beyond riveting, and opened my eyes to some intriguing aspects of music. For me, the most thought provoking lecture was the one conducted by Sudha ji, which was based on choral work and harmonies. Another mesmerising lecture was given to us by the famous Ragini and Nandini Shankar, talking about the origin of the violin, and the differences between Hindustani and Carnatic violin. They gave us a visual representation of these ideas and also had a lot of audience participation which were bonuses to their presentation. I still remember the dance lecture very clearly, given by the stunning Nehha Bhatnagar. I was captivated by her elegant movement and her magical Abhinaya. It was great to have some insight into Indian classical dance during our retreat.

For our first three days, we were learning the repertoire for our concert which we had on the Wednesday. During these three days we had an immense amount of work to do as we had a 45 minute slot to fill, meaning a lot of repertoire had to be learnt, refined and at a standard to present to a large audience in a prestigious venue. Our repertoire consisted of very contradicting pieces and a mix of Hindustani and Carnatic music. Another challenge for us was the range of different languages that our pieces were in but we managed to overcome this boundary in time for the concert. By the time we finished our sound check on Wednesday, it was almost time for our performance. Performing before us was Tarang, who were breath-taking to listen to backstage (hearing them perform was slightly intimidating considering we were performing next!). Despite our short time given to prepare, we pulled off an amazing presentation and gave our maximum effort. Following our showcase, we received multiple pieces of complimentary feedback from a lot of the audience members and our gurus seemed convinced that we did justice to their efforts and the opportunity given, which was reassuring.

For our remaining days, we worked on more repertoire in preparation for our upcoming, big gig which will take place 10th April (Beck Theatre) . In this process, I have explored and immersed into so many styles of music, which isn’t something I do during my vocal class. I’ve also learnt a vast amount about teamwork and how to work as a choir, and having so many other fellow talented members of Sabrang around me enables me to also gain a lot from them as well. Some of our repertoire is in collaboration with Samyo and Samyo Too, so we also get to experience practising with a range of other instruments. This collaboration also allows us to perform some strikingly differing compilations of pieces.

Aside from rehearsals, we also had to prepare for and event called “Team Competition” which occurs at the end of every Music India retreat. For Team Competition, all members of Sabrang, Samyo and Samyo Too are split into groups, and we have to compose a piece based on a given theme, and this year’s theme was “Indian Heritage”. Having Team Competition enables us to enhance our musical creativity and compositional skills. The resticted timing also helps us improve team management and coordination, which are vital for all orchestras. Each group has a guru as their mentor to aid them. Our group was extremely lucky to have HN Bhaskar ji! The experience of competing, performing and watching other groups perform their compositions is so exhilarating. The final day of Music India started with the closing ceremony consisting of a few performances from some members to showcase their progress during the retreat, and awards were given to some candidates, based on their effort and development over the whole year and also over Music India.

The train journey on the way back to Euston is always the worst, considering all the joy of our musical journey coming to an end, until next rehearsal. However it is a good time to reflect on my whole musical experience and how to proceed and work from it. I am inconceivably grateful to be a part of Sabrang and Milapfest, it has been a big step up in my musical journey and one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I never imagined I would get such privileges in my life. I can’t wait for all the preparation, rehearsing and finally our performance at our concert in April!

Ashnaa Sasikaran

Sabrang Choir Leader

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