The Theremin: Magical Music!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been watching Midsomer Murders quite obsessively these past few weeks. When I say obsessive, what I mean is, I’ve watched all the little extras they include…cast biographies, ‘The Making Of…’ documentaries, cast interviews, even maps of the fictional County, several times over! You know – all the stuff that you wouldn’t watch unless you were a die-hard fan or just plain loony 😛 Me, I’m both 😀

That’s how I stumbled upon the Theremin, an amazing musical instrument that one plays without ever touching it with your hands! To a musical novice like me (I don’t play any instrument, unless vocal chords are counted ;-)) that just seemed…fascinating! I had to know more! I love the title music of the Series and have always wondered how that eerily haunting tune was made. I always assumed it was a human voice, some opera singer perhaps? Now, thanks to Wikipedia and Youtube, I know otherwise!

The Theremin! I for one would never have thought it was a musical box 🙂

The Theremin is named after its Russian inventor, Professor Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928, the year my Grandma was born! Wonder if that has anything to do with the pitch of her voice 😉 The player moves his hands in front of two metal antennas (the main part of the instrument), that sense their position. The instrument produces a single note whose pitch is controlled by the player’s right hand & volume with the left. The electric signals from the Theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker. I’m still not sure how all this works, except I gather there’s physics involved, which I confess was never a favorite subject of mine! All I know is what I see, a musician making music by waving their hands in the air…Magical 🙂

I know now it’s been used in movie soundtracks, by Rock bands (Zeppelin, Rolling Stones), and in concert music over the years. This is the title track from Midsomer Murders that I love so well, played by Celia Sheen. So here’s to this weirdly wonderful musical instrument! Do let me know what you think!

The ABBA Choir!

No sooner do I write about ‘living in a fugue’, the Universe conspires to lift up my mood. Almost like a divine response to my SOS 😉

My friend M had passes to a music concert for Monday evening (her daughter was playing the piano and singing with the choir), and although she asked me to go on Friday, I couldn’t confirm until Monday morning, life being what it is. When I got up Monday morning, my head was heavy and still spinning from the after-effects of another full week & busy weekend, with no alone time. I desperately needed to get away from it all. What better way than music right? Thanks M – I owe you one 😀

Had a busy morning meeting with the printer, making changes to the Bulletin that I’m editing for our Pediatrics Association (not my preferred way of beginning the week!). Then picked Ishaan up from school and by the time I had lunch and put him down for his nap, it was time to leave for the concert. Whether you believe it or not…I’m convinced Time is flying even faster than it normally does…it’s being a pain! Finally, we were on our way to Margao. It’s an hour-long drive and at last I felt myself begin to unwind. I think I might have given M a headache with my chatter…Sorry M 😛 Just blame it on your great company 🙂 We were early and had time for a leisurely coffee before making our way to the venue.

The concert showcased the NAMAH Chorale, a 35-member a cappella choir (singing sans instruments). NAMAH, is conducted by Dr. Christo Fernandes, a diminutive man of enormous talent who is the driving force behind another group – the Choir of  The Goa Institute of Management, where he teaches Human Resource Management. As I said…a man of many talents! The singers come from different backgrounds (students and senior citizens, local & international talent are all welcome!), and most have little if any musical training! As Christo mentioned yesterday, NAMAH started as an experiment. An attempt to see whether people from different walks of life and no musical background, could make music together. Needless to say…they can & how! I have attended their concerts before and they are brilliant 🙂 Another thing I love about NAMAH is their innovation…they sing hymns, but they sing Pop as well and while that may not appeal to purists, I think it’s wonderful! Music is Music and that’s that! This concert was called ‘Thank You for the Music’ and was dedicated to ABBA, which made it very special for me coz I’m a complete ABBA junkie 🙂 And to add to the cool factor, all proceeds were donated to charity. Three schools received musical instruments and books to help their under-privileged students discover the musician within! What could be better?

Maxie Miranda, who plays the guitar, opened the concert with a couple of Brazilian songs, sung in his trademark accent. He was followed by a dance performance – a fusion piece with two dancers performing in different styles, contemporary and Bharatnatyam, a classical Indian dance form. They were followed by the Goa Institute of Management Choir, which started with a hymn and ended with a popular Bollywood number sung in Choir style! They had all of us clapping and clicking our fingers to the music! They were followed by the famous local band, Alcatrazz that enthralled with ABBA numbers. Their lead singer Sandra, has a wonderful husky voice tailor-made for ABBA songs and when she launched into Mama Mia…I could hardly stay put in my seat 😛

They also sang ‘Does Your Mother Know’, ‘Voulez-vous’ & ‘Waterloo’ J Finally it was time for NAMAH to take center stage and they had us enthralled from the start. They sang the famous Tagore poem, ‘Where the Mind is Without Fear’, and followed it up with a fabulous rendition of the patriotic Vande Mataram, a song that never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

Then on to a tribute to Boney M with One Way Ticket, to the Beatles with ‘Yesterday’ (another favorite), and then, it was ABBA time again! Money, Money and I Have a Dream and for a grand finale, Thank You for the Music. The songs make me nostalgic and remind me how awesomely talented ABBA were. I know the lyrics to every song and they take me back to a time when I was young (oh so young!), and carefree! Happy Times! So if you’re reading this and are not an ABBA fan…keep it to yourself 😛 If you are…share your favorites!

It was a wonderfully, uplifting evening 🙂 A much-needed energy boost to begin the week with! As is wont in Goa, we ran into friends…an old school friend and a medical school classmate…both after more than a decade, both wonderfully warm & essentially unchanged 🙂 Don’t you just love it when that happens? J We went backstage to meet with Christo and the others and by the time I got home it was 10.30 pm. The house was asleep except for Mom, who was up (of course!), and had dinner waiting 🙂

It was rather Perfect! I felt happy & pampered and peaceful. Amen 🙂

Heartbeats, The Music Within!

I haven’t written all week, in case you’ve noticed! (I hope someone has!) Got busy with Life, reading the two new Pseudonymous Bosch books hubby got from Singapore and re-reading Harry Potter! Am on Book 3 now and enjoying myself thoroughly! On the bright side got the X’mas tree up; found two gifts to send to Ishaan’s Christmas party (No mean feat considering they were not supposed to exceed Rs.50/present. Finally settled for magnetic puzzles at Rs. 80/- each!); and attended a fantabulous concert called Heartbeats: The Music Within, featuring Ustad Zakir Hussain on the tabla, U. Srinivas on the mandolin, Selvaganesh on the kanjira, Siva Mani – percussionist extraordinaire and Shankar Mahadevan lending vocals. An excellent ensemble of musicians, that made for an intensely pleasurable musical interlude Saturday night, here in our very own backyard @ Kala Academy!! Their music is reminiscent of Shakti, a band that featured three current members Zakir, Shankar and Srinivas with John MacLaughlin.

PJ and I attended the performance together on a free pass (Thanks to Sushma, her Mom and my friend and the chap who gave it to her!), and consequently had fabulous seats…3rd row from stage, bang center 🙂  Being back here, at Kala Academy, after all this time, brought on wholesome nostalgia. I have great memories of the many concerts here, from school and college, some that I attended, many that I participated in. Nothing’s changed from all those years ago…the amphitheatre (where the performance was held), was just as I remembered it; the canteen outside has been spruced up and apparently the bathrooms are good, but that’s not something I’m about to test anytime soon 😛 (I have a thing about using public bathrooms anywhere, and especially in Goa!) The green lawns behind the academy stretch out to the Mandovi river and the atmosphere on this Saturday evening is buzzing. There’s a cool breeze, children running around on the lawns, people sitting around enjoying a snack before the performance, invitees like us standing in queue to be let in, others looking for the entrance to their seat-blocks, and almost everyone talking nineteen to the dozen 🙂 We do too…it’s a given, I’m with a teenager 😉 An opinion a second is how it goes 😛 I’m not complaining, just stating facts! I happen to enjoy teenagers – especially when they don’t belong to me 😛 But I digress…again…it’s a habit…yeah I know, am working on it!

To the performance then…in a word, Mesmerizing (this has become my favorite word with which to describe music that I like). Shankar is center stage with Srinivas on his right and Selva Ganesh on his left. The trio are flanked by Sivamani and his bewildering array of instruments and the Ustaad with his tablas! When Shankar starts to sing, you know right away this is going to be a special evening! His voice, smooth as honey, instantly transports me far from the madding crowd. The others join in and the head-bobbing, finger-clicking and foot-tapping starts instantaneously as the music takes hold, not stopping until the echoes from the last note fade away, two hours later. They play from the soul, weaving the performance together seamlessly, through various combinations, pairings of instruments or ‘jugalbandis’, and solos. Much as I enjoy their combined harmony, I’m blown away by the solos! Sivamani is a genius percussionist! That man can make music out of…well…out of most anything! He has a penchant for inventing instruments and this time is no different when midway through a performance I notice he’s making music on what looks like a ridged metal breastplate that he wears on his chest using spoons! He makes music among other things, with 4 bicycle bells on what appears to be a simple length of pipe, an empty 20 liter plastic container of water and on the speakers that line the stage! The man is 50 years old, tending towards rotundity, his trademark bandanna in place, playing with the infectious, youthful passion of a teenager! A teenager with genius, I might add 🙂 A performer par excellence! Here’s a glimpse of his talent, from a performance at a Rehman concert.

The ‘kanjira’ solo by Selva Ganesh is a revelation! I have never heard nor seen this instrument before but it’s now one I won’t forget in hurry! He plays the small, hand-held frame-drum with glorious panache. It’s a mystery how he makes that tiny, humble-looking instrument thrum the way he does…one-handed! Here’s what I mean!

The mandolin likewise is a revelation! I’m not familiar with the instrument, but in the blink of an eye I’m enamored of its mellifluous notes, as Srinivas’s hands caress the strings. It boasts killer looks too…this one is a snazzy black and turquoise affair that looks awfully like an electric guitar. The last piece is the ‘piece de resistance’…beginning with Shankar’s honeyed voice, incorporating a three-way jugalbandi between all three percussionists and ending in a crescendo of musical energy that washes over us all, at once wave-like and earthy. I could have sat there all night 🙂

Here is a clip of Srinivas and Zakir Hussain in a ‘jugalbandi’…

As I leave, I think about why the music has touched me so deeply and I realize that it’s all in the name really! Very aptly called, Heartbeats: The Music Within, that’s what resonates through the entire performance, the music they carry within. The camaraderie between the artistes is obvious and sincere. They compliment each other on stage and after a while, they seem lost in their own music, playing for themselves, oblivious to the effect on and response from their audience. And isn’t that the secret of making memorable music? To play like no one is listening, unfettered? That’s what comes through and that’s what I carry with me as we make our way towards the exit.

These chaps obviously Live their music, and this evening we’ve been given a glimpse of their passion – Of the Heart, For the Heart, From the Heart!

p.s. My only regret is that I didn’t carry a camera, coz I wasn’t sure about security and I had no intentions of being parted from it if the need arose. I have since scoured Youtube for videos of their performance, but can’t find any 😦 so am including one of Shakti just so you get a feel of their music.

Have a great week ahead, People 🙂

Last Minute Homework and an Evening with Chopin!

This is me, being my sorry Saggitarian-self and mother…by which I mean – random & haphazard!

Ishaan starts school tomorrow after a 3 week break and I remember he has one page of homework still left in his school folder. Yup! Just one day before! Am I not brilliant? It’s a Diwali ‘diya’ that he has to color (God save us all!) and a picture of two puny firecrackers (the kind that go BANG!), that he has to say ‘No’ to by drawing a red cross. I’m glad they’re the kind that go ‘BANG’, coz the rest he loves and I couldn’t honestly make him say ‘No’ 😛

So after he’s showered, I sit him in his high-chair and lay the sheet in front of him, get out the Crayola box and try to get him to hold the red crayon in his hand so we can make the X. That goes Ok, only I think, because it’s all too sudden and he has no time to react! After that it’s all predictably downhill!! He grabs the red crayon and makes a few random strokes over the ‘diya’, after which he loses interest (it’s been a whole 5 seconds already!!), turns the page over and scribbles all over with a blue one. I make a few half-hearted attempts to direct his attention back to the task at hand, but who am I kidding? He’s not going to be coloring anything for a long time to come and frankly I don’t give a Damn!

Here’s what we started with…

Before we began...

And here’s what he accomplished in the 5 minutes he sat in the chair!

5 sec of coloring!
Creative genius on the back of his homework 😛

p.s. haven’t bothered to time him, if you noticed!

Sunday evening was fun! A close friend and her daughter (whom I shall just call M & N), took me along for a piano recital by Russian Pianist – Natalia Kapylova. The private concert was in honor of Chopin’s 200th Birth Anniversary on the 21st of Nov. The recital was at the Art Chamber (which doubles as an art gallery), a fitting venue, with its ivy-covered red-brick walls and castle-like architecture. The I-95 restaurant next-door, which we wandered through while waiting for the recital to begin, looked promising! It’s on my ‘to visit’ list 🙂 This is Goa however, and while we are surrounded by beauty, we are also victims of circumstance! In this case an unexpected power outage, means indefinite delay, as we sweat it out in the damp, autumn heat. Inside, an examiner from the London School of Music is conducting exams, which are now necessarily delayed. Outside, members of the ‘Namah’ Choir group, young girls and boys, smartly dressed in black suits, mill around enthusiastically, taking pictures and practicing for their performance, that we will sit in on, seemingly oblivious of the sweltering heat. Oh for the nonchalance of youth!

The Venue...

During the black-out, Natalia arrives with her family (her daughter looking droll in a pale, pink kimono) and stops to chat with M & N, whom she knows from previous encounters. She’s a stunning woman, svelte with delicate features, dressed in black with a string of pearls and the most gorgeous pair of crimson patent-leather heels, this side of the Mandovi 🙂 We are, all three of us, instantly covetous! Never mind that we would never balance on them for 2 sec, or what our lower backs would suffer if we tried 😉 When I manage to drag my gaze away from her shoes, I notice her hands – musicians’ hands she has – long, fluid, delicate fingers designed for precision, skill and harmony! Like surgeons’ hands…they’re powerful instruments! As suddenly as they had disappeared, the lights come back on and after a 40 minute delay, we finally enter the large, square hall of the Chamber, with its red floor, white-washed walls and domed ceiling, and make our way to our seats. The edges of the dome overhead are scattered with intriguing metallic characters, that look like Russian letters, but what do I know? I’m no linguist. I forgot to ask what they were…goes on my ‘to do’ list.

Natalia, Prof. Tutin & Chris from 'Namah'

The space is dominated by the gleaming, black Steinway Grand. I’m no musician, but I tell you, there’s just something about being in the presence of a Grand piano, that makes you sit up straighter. It’s quiet dignity demands respect and reverence. Like being in the presence of royalty! The Recital begins with the Choir. This is an exam, but I see no signs of nerves on the young faces 🙂 They start with Vande Mataram and immediately I have  goose-flesh. They are good these kids! There’s something inherently soul-stirring and heart-warming about Choirs, isn’t there? All those voices raised in unison in praise of God and country…invigorating 🙂 They sing O Come All Ye Faithful and We wish you a Merry Christmas next and the effect is magical 🙂 Yuletide is the air! They end, surprisingly, with a great rendition of a popular foot-tapping Bollywood number! We are all impressed but more importantly, so is the examiner 🙂

Natalia is next. She enters to enthusiastic applause, receives a bouquet of lilies, which she hands over to her daughter, walks over to the piano and the recital begins. For the next hour I am ‘Lost in Chopin’! The music washes over me – mesmerizing. I’m no music critique, but if I had to decribe Chopin’s music in one word (as if!), I think that would be it – mesmerizing or perhaps haunting?! In an instant it is a storm…loud, angry and insistent; in the next it is a gentle stream, a tinkling brook going merrily on its way! At times it seems like a conversation between the sea and river, mountain and hill, the strong and the weak…at once urgent, exhilarating, deep and robust! Natalia is engrossed, which lends Soul to her performance. Her head bobs vigorously as her fingers fly over the keys, and ever so often, one hand rises gracefully upwards in slow motion, while the other dances over the ivory. She plays several pieces with interestingly flowery, surgical names like fantasy F minor, Nocturnes E flat major and C sharp minor, Etude F minor and Fantasie Impromptu (the pièce de résistance), among others. She ends with Mozart’s Turkish Rondo, which delights me, coz even I know this one!

All too soon, it’s time to leave. There’s some frenzied picture-taking and we are on our way home. M and I make plans to meet up more often (we have a pathetic track record for friends living within a few miles of each other!), in the future, for concerts and otherwise. I hope she won’t be scared off by the fact that I talked my head off on the way to the venue!! It’s just so good to have a peer to talk to…and it’s been a while since I did 🙂 So, Sorry M, if I gave you a headache 😛 It was meant as a compliment 😉

And thank-you for a fabulous evening, I won’t forget in a hurry 🙂

Happy Monday People!

3 Songs for Freedom

Rather like 3 coins in the fountain! Indians and music go way back…and given our history, it isn’t surprising that we have a host of emotional songs to stir up those good old patriotic feelings, pay tribute to our martyrs and express our love for our country. Why stop at one when you can have a thousand, eh? 🙂 Hey! I’m not complaining! In recent years, a lot of the old songs have been remixed and reincarnated in new avatars, presumably to attract the youth, who necessarily do not identify with India’s freedom struggle, the way old-timers do. Being born in a free country, it is hard for them to identify with the ignominy of British occupation and the horror of Partition.

I was born a good 3 decades after India won her freedom and it’s the same for me. I respect the struggle and am touched by the countless tragedies suffered by those who fought for their country, but much of it remains remote – stories from long ago that I read in school text-books or saw in fuzzy B &W movies! I never bothered with the National Anthem after I left school. However, recently I’ve had occasion to hear it played frequently at International sports events, when a modern hero has done his country proud, and before every movie in cinema halls! I have come to love it afresh – the soulful lyrics & the simple yet powerful melody, bring tears to my eyes every time! (Maybe it’s ‘coz I’m older and am going soft!) I recognize the genius of the Nobel laureate Rabrindanath Tagore who composed it and I doff my hat to him and country, both.

Here is a little gem I found on Youtube, the anthem, recited in Tagore’s own voice!

Here is a more contemporary version, by A. R. Rehman and India’s foremost musical artistes – Soul-stirring!

This is the original composition of the song Vande Mataram (India’s National Song), in Sanskrit, from the movie Anand Muth.

And this is another revival by A. R. Rehman. Superbly done as always!

This is another song that I love and was quite the rage when first released 🙂 It speaks of national pride and unity in diversity, staples of freedom songs in India! I love that it has music from all corners of India…that’s true integration 🙂

And finally, my absolute favorite patriotic song of all time. A tribute to the martyrs of India (and Heaven knows She’s had more than her share!), this song brought tears to Pandit Nehru’s eyes, when he first heard it in 1962, and never fails to do the same to me. Music by C. Ramchandra and lyrics by Kavi Pradeep. Sung fittingly by Lata Mangeshkar, India’s own  ‘Nightingale.’

Alrite, I know, that’s 4 songs, but who’s counting! There are many more songs that I love, but that’s another post, another time!

Meanwhile…’Jo shahid huye hai unki zara yaad karo kurbani‘…

Jai Hind!


A dear friend of mine organized a dance festival a while ago that showcased Indian Contemporary Dance. It was my first serious exposure to the madly chaotic yet strangely serene world of creative arts – and I enjoyed every loony minute of it!!

I’ve always had a secret yearning to be creative in the way great artists and authors and dancers are. Creation is mystical to me – often mundane always magical!

The festival allowed me to interact closely with artists practicing their art of dance and I came away impressed by their dedication, moved by their courage, mesemerized by their passion. They seemed normal enough during the day, but on stage at night, they were transformed into mystical beings, lost in their world of song and dance, oblivious to us mere mortals fated only to watch.

I come from a family that loves music and the amalgamation of music and dance at the festival made me think of the music in our everyday lives and inspired me to write this next poem…


Music is all around…

In raindrops falling soft and light,
Or thunderstorms, crackling bright,
In the quick march of army boots,
And the low notes of a night owl’s hoot.

In the pitter-patter of little feet,
In the silence of a golden sleep,
Dreams unleash their silent beats,
Music dwells in every heartbeat.

In a baby’s cry and a mother’s sigh,
On quivering lips and mountains high,
In a lover’s song and the temple gong,
Loud and clear, pure and strong.

In the timeless changing of seasons,
And sometimes, for no good reason!
All around us music plays,
In lullabies and ‘Amazing Grace’.

From swaying trees and rustling leaves,
In the trickle of water before the freeze,
Or wafting by on an ocean breeze,
Music brings a sweet release.

Through the gay abandon of letting go,
In the eyes of parents, all aglow,
In the laughter of children and magic of song,
All around us music abounds.

In the maddening chatter of teenage voice,
Where old friends gather and rejoice,
In nostalgic melodies and modern rhymes,
Music takes us, on a journey through time.

In a beautiful dancer’s form and grace,
Music claims eternal space,
Swaying hips and tapping feet,
Moving to the rhythm of soulful beats.

Over and under, inside and out,
Whisper, holler, yell and shout,
Can’t escape it, won’t let go,
Makes spirits sing and passion flow.

In the stillness of morning and calmness of dawn,
Lie infinite beginnings of magical songs.
Conquering boredom, softening thorn,
In every moment, music is born.

– Harsha