Folk Art PA

Master: Kiranavali Narasimhan

Apprentice: Priyanka Dinakar
Art Form: Carnatic Music

Kiranavali Narasimhan worked with Priyanka Dinakar, teaching her South Indian Carnatic Music for this Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Apprenticeship in Folk and Traditional Arts. Carnatic music is popularly identified as the classical music system of South India and is associated with the four southern states of Tamilnadu, Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. The melodic system of Carnatic music gives equal importance to melody (raga), rhythm (laya), and lyrics (sahitya). While a large body of this music is found in its thousands of variegated compositions, a musician has the opportunity to bring in spontaneity and excitement through creative improvisations around these compositions. During this apprenticeship, Dinakar learned 10 different compositions spanning different musical forms. She also learned the three types of improvisation: Kalpanaswarams, Neraval, and Alapana. She spent concentrated and focused time on particular compositions, such as the 300-line 72-Melakarta composition, and improvisational melodies in ragas such as Kalyani and Nattaikurinji.

Priyanka Dinakar grew up in a typical family of South Indian origin, constantly listening to recordings of Carnatic music concerts, discussing artists and performances, and attending every concert in the area. Dinakar has studied Carnatic music with Narasimhan for six years, starting when she was eight years old. Carnatic music has become part of her life and identity: "Carnatic music reminds me of who I am, who my family is, and who my community is. It is a place that I can turn to for inner peace and limitless creativity. My relationship with Carnatic music can be compared to an astronomer gazing at the stars; he magnifies a planet on his telescope and is so amazed by the endless outer space that he immediately wants to know what lies beyond his sight. Similarly, I am constantly amazed by the endless possibilities of this art form, and look forward to continuing my journey in it." Through this apprenticeship, Dinakar was able to gain a much more in-depth study of Carnitic music, particularly the more advanced and complicated forms of improvisation. She describes her work with Narasimhan, "I gained a better understanding of the mindset required for improvisation as well as the practice required to hone improvisational skills. Some of my efforts included targeted listening of Carnatic concerts to inspire my own ideas and also practicing with another person or even a group of people to bounce ideas and encourage better extempore singing."

Kiranavali Narasimhan comes from a family of accomplished Carnatic musicians; her grandfather is credited with reviving the lovely slide instrument or Gotuvadyam with pioneering techniques. She first learned Carnatic music from her father: "A very passionate educator, he came up with revolutionary teaching methods, which have allowed me, my elder siblings, and younger cousin to take to music instinctively even from our infancy." Narasimhan has gained much from this teaching experience. She describes working with Dinakar: "Not only is this very rewarding in terms of passing on the artistic heritage to the next generation, but also stretches my own capability as an artist and a communicator." Her hope is that through this apprenticeship, Dinakar will help spread the cultural traditions she has been taught, "I feel that Priyanka will be in the right position to take part in and support the cultural and religious events of the local temples, while at the same time sharing the best of her culture with people from other ethnicities in a country like the United States."