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Dr. Saravanapriyan Sriraman - Expert Speak

Dr. Saravanapriyan is a premier violinist and Guru in the San Francisco Bay Area. Born in Namakkal, he grew up in Chennai and is now a scientist in the Silicon Valley semiconductor industry. He has won many awards, including Best Violinist from VDS Arts Academy and Mylapore Fine Arts (1992). He has performed prolifically both as a solo and accompanying artist in India and North America. Dr. Saravanapriyan is the founding director of Nada Lahari Sangita Vidyalaya ​in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

How did it all begin? Who are your gurus?

My family has no background in Carnatic Music. On a whim, my parents enrolled me in Violin lessons with Mrs. Komalavalli Srinivasan when I was 8. She was an excellent teacher.  Quite old by then, she had difficulty hearing. However, she could look at the placement of your finger on the violin to gauge if you were playing correctly or not.  I then learned from Thiruvarur Sri Balasubramaniam and later from veteran Tirupparkadal Sri Veeraraghavan. Since 2002 I have had the good fortune of learning advanced techniques and concert presentation from Lalgudi Sri G.J.R.Krishnan.

Can you please share memories of your first stage performance?

My first stage performance was a duet with my guru Thiruvarur Sri Balasubramaniam. In a Navaratri series at Parthasarathy Temple, Chennai, he was scheduled to play with another senior disciple. On the day of the concert, this senior disciple had to cancel due to illness and my guru called upon me to fill the spot.  I joined him on stage having very little idea of what he had planned to play. The main piece was in Kambojhi and he let me play the Raga alapana. 

How do you prepare for a concert?  

As an accompanist, the violinist in a Carnatic music concert has to be an all-rounder. He needs to maintain a delicate balance of shadowing the main artist while taking care to not overshadow them. In preparation, it is very important to practice popular as well as obscure ragas and be able to play at ease manodharma be it alapana, kalpana swarams or tanam for all of them. Improving dexterity to follow fast songs, swara patterns and their underlying rhythmic structure is also very essential. In addition, during accompaniment, it is important to watch the body language of the artist and respond accordingly.    

As a main solo artist, the choice of compositions and ragas to include is always a challenge for a Carnatic instrumentalist. While it is important to include familiar compositions that the audience will relate with, one also needs to present newer pieces to keep things fresh.

As a teacher, what do you try to inculcate in a student? 

I think it is very important to inculcate a love for the art form as well as the value of saadhana and discipline. I talk to my students about my own path and that of my gurus and their gurus to highlight the passion that goes into dedicating your life to the art. It also brings peace and a sense of balance which is also something I try to communicate to my students. While performance is necessary to hone ones skills, I discourage premature public performances as well as learning with the sole goal of performing.

Is it important for all violin students to also take vocal lessons?

Yes! In my opinion, it is very important for violin students to take vocal lessons in parallel. I usually do not admit violin beginners unless they have had at least 8 months of vocal lessons and have basic understanding of shruti and layam. Additionally, it is beneficial if they get vocal lessons in the same Baani as the violin lessons. This prevents confusions in renditions of kritis and general aesthetics.

How much emphasis do you lay on teaching music theory? How do you teach it?

A balanced approach is employed to include music theory. For beginners, basic exercises of Sarali varisai, Janta varisai all the way to Alankarams, are also taught in popular melakarta ragas. Layam aspects are introduced through basic konnakol solkattus, alankarams applied to common talams in vogue and nadai variations. Depending on their level, they may or may not appreciate the actual theory behind these but they learn the exercises and are able to relate back to them at a later time when the application to context is clearer.

Carnatic music has a thriving following in the SF Bay Area. Do you feel that it provides ample performing/listening opportunities for a young musician? For more experienced musician such as yourself? 

There are plenty of opportunities for students of every level to perform here in the Bay Area. Most importantly, students need to learn a lot by observing their gurus in concert, a lot of which cannot be taught in regular classes. They can observe the camaraderie of the artists on stage and the teamwork that goes into presenting an outstanding concert. They can learn the art of accompanying by keen observation. They can make note of the choice of compositions presented and ask questions about it later and so on. Another area that would be greatly beneficial is to have more lecture demonstrations.

How do balance your dedication to music with the pressures of a full time job and spending time with your family? 

The balance comes from my wife’s support. With a full time job taking up my work week and Music taking up my weekends, my wife’s support in managing the home, our child’s needs as well as scheduling my music classes, concert performances and music events takes a big load off my plate and gives me time to concentrate on the Music. Often, our family time is also centered around music. Ultimately though, my passion for the art keeps me going and we recognize as a family the peace, emotional balance and spirituality it brings to our lives. I am grateful to my family and Gurus for their continued guidance and support and feel truly blessed to be able practice this “Nadopasana”.

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