Newsletter Issue 1 | July 2020
by Darshana Ramdev and Aditi Bharatee
In April 2019, the South Asian Symphony Orchestra gave its debut performance at the National Centre for Performing Arts in Mumbai. The world, one year later, is almost unrecognisable, as a pandemic sweeps across the globe resulting in an unprecedented shutdown. Despite this, human beings have shown remarkable resilience, finding new ways to adapt and even, make the best of these dark and trying times.
Perhaps we understand now, better than ever, “why the caged bird sings.” Art is our most potent medium, which, while sentient, transcends the limitations of physicality. As venues close their doors, musicians are taking their talents online, finding, in the process, a new avenue of expression. Our own orchestra members have taken it upon themselves to spread their messages of hope, optimism and cooperation, as circumstances threaten to drive us even farther apart.
The South Asian Symphony Foundation has also done its bit to rise above a trying situation. On May 17 2020, SASF co-founder Ambassador Nirupama Menon Rao, joined the acclaimed singer and novelist, Ali Sethi for Talking South Asia. The SASF event, held in collaboration with the Bangalore International Centre (BIC), brought together two very prominent voices of peace from both sides of the otherwise fraught Indo-Pak border.
At a time when conversation is marked by polemic and antagonism, our fences growing ever higher, this dialogue dwelt instead on the rich cultural milieu that ties us together, irrevocably, inextricably. The conversation flowed effortlessly from topics such as the use of metaphor in dialoguing across differences, to the crafting of a South Asian identity and how it is inexorably linked to our shared musical and literary heritage. You’ll find a transcript of the entire conversation here: The Wire – Talking South Asia, and you can watch the webinar here: Talking South Asia.
In another BIC collaboration, acclaimed violinist and pre-concert lecturer at the San Diego Symphony, Navroj “Nuvi” Mehta, elucidated the Power of Music in Difficult Times. Music has the unique ability to bypass conscious thought and reach into the subconscious recesses of the human mind. Plato, Lao Tzu and Khalil Gibran all proclaimed in their writings the seed of truth that is contained in art, and especially in music. Plato declared music a moral law – “It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything”.
In an age where we are at risk of being overwhelmed by our never-ceasing social media and news streams, music provides a space of relief and human connection. Mehta explores the truth and history of communities that are embedded into their music. “A made-up melody says more about your community and your history than paragraphs of words could tell a listener. It says more about life, where you are and when you are than words.“, he says. Shostakovich’s symphonies capture the zeitgeist of Stalin’s fearsome rule and the Nazi threat to the Soviet Union. The grief, pain, anger, suffering and tragedy comes through, but Shostakovich’s sarcasm and wit find place in the music too. Mehta also discusses music by Jerry Bach (Fiddler on the Roof), Dvořák and Mahler, driving home the power of music to bring together people in times of distress. A must-watch for any music lover – you can find the full talk here: The Power of Music.
We are gradually moving from the phases of Lockdown into ‘Unlock’ and a semblance of normalcy is slowly being restored. Until then, let us bear the last of our collective tribulations with patience and fortitude. Our well-being in the years to come depends on it. And as we wait for life as we know it to return to us, there is always music to feed our souls. In the interim, stay well and stay safe!