Of Ragas and Rhythm, Times of India

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Diptiman Dewan Apr 11, 2012

Trichy Sankaran, faculty of fine arts, York University, Canada, speaks to Diptiman Dewan about the Indian music studies programme

It was back in 1971 that Trichy Sankaran, faculty of fine arts, and the late Jon Higgins, started the South Indian music programme at the University of York, Canada.

On how it all started, Sankaran says, "Higgins invited me to join him to teach courses in rhythm, performance, theory, and also perform with him in concerts. The Higgins-Sankaran duo continued until 1978 when Higgins left York University and I took over the South Indian music programme as the chief director."

Over the years, the holistic approach in teaching the programme has made a positive impact on the approach and understanding of rhythm of western performers, says Sankaran. Further, the introduction of adaptation techniques and concepts in the programme enabled western drummers (Jazz drummers in particular) to adapt to their own instruments.

According to Sankaran, the pedagogical style of teaching combines the best of both East and the West to create a holistic blend. His collaborations with Western musicians in performance, particularly with groups like Nexus, World Drums and Gamelan, among others, and contemporary world music ensembles have had far-reaching effects in the deepening of the understanding of Indian culture in Canada as well as in the evolution of the programme.

A course on Solkattu studies (spoken rhythms and patterns of hand-clapping used by classical South Indian dancers and musicians) created by him has influenced students from the undergraduate to graduate level over the years to take up teaching, performance, and research.

Says Sankaran, Indian music in general has attracted westerners for its melodic varieties, use of drone, rhythmic sophistication and improvising qualities while Carnatic music in particular, has been appreciated for its rhythmic character, enchanting melodies, and drum improvisation besides compositional structures.