Transcribed by: Divya Mendiratta
Gauri : Welcome to Foundations TV everybody. Our guest today is Deepti Navaratna. Welcome to Foundations TV Deepti.
Deepti : Thank you Gauri. Thanks for having me over.
Gauri : Oh absolutely, a pleasure to have you. I’ve enjoyed our conversation off camera too, but now let me introduce you to everybody. Deepti, as most of you know is a beautiful woman of our community, a beautiful Carnatic musician as well. She has a lot of awards in her name, including a lot of ‘All India Radio National Awards’ from India; while she was there. She also is a proud achiever of the ‘Cambridge Arts Council Grants’, which is helping her with some of her unique and entrepreneurial projects that she has taken up recently. And she has also been awarded the prestigious ‘Saint Botolph Emerging Artist Award’, which has helped her. I guess you are part of the ‘New England Conservatory of Music’ as well; so that has been helpful for you as well. And Deepti besides being a Karnataka Musician, you are also a Neuroscientist.
Deepti : Yes, I’m split in the head.(laughing)
Gauri : And she is good at both, I have to say. Because she has authored many papers, and has been cited in many different write ups as well; in her field of Neuroscience. We will touch that later, but first lets come back to Carnatic music. I want to hear a little bit about your journey as a musician. When you began. And just little bit about your roots may be.
Deepti : I was born and raised in Bangalore. I started learning Carnatic music when I was 4. Growing up in Bangalore, Bangalore has a vibrant cultural scene. It was easy to grab a concert of Carnatic music, go concert hopping to another Hindustani classical music show, or chill at a pub with some cool jazz. I think that environment has also shaped some of what I do today. In terms of my parents, there was no immediate musician in the family, but I was born to an Aeronautical Scientist and an Educational entrepreneur, just like you Gauri.
Gauri : Wonderful.
Deepti : So I guess, the impetus on scientific rigors, and the value of lifelong learning, of creative impressions, those are the values that I imbibed from my parents. And I guess those value have gone way in shaping what I do, and what I value even today.
Gauri : So there is little bit of entrepreneurship that you inherited from your mother. And the music and creative side from your mom.
Deepti : That’s right.
Gauri : And then your exposure to jazz, I think is kind of evident in your music. I’ve heard some of your music. There’s a contemporary aspect to it, which is beautiful. That’s a lovely fusion of Carnatic music with contemporary verse.
Deepti : And just like they say, ‘ not all those who wander are lost’. The broader my exposure got, the deeper my appreciation for Carnatic music happened.
Gauri : That does give us a little glimpse of your Indian background. So tell us more about your journey. What brought you to the US?
Deepti : I came to US to do graduate school. I enrolled in the University of New Mexico, for a PhD in cell Biology and Neuroscience. I guess I did never let go of my roots. Moving to the United States actually forced me to value what I had, and what I had already learned in India. So while I was doing PhD, I was also teaching a course called the ‘Music of South India’.
Gauri : So you started teaching right way, when you came here?
Deepti : Right. So I designed and developed the course. It was a music appreciation course for Americans and world music enthusiasts.
Gauri : And where were you teaching that course?
Deepti : That was offered as part of the music department, at the University of New Mexico. So I was pretty fortunate.
Gauri : Wow. That’s impressive. I’m sure you had the drive and zeal to do something like that.
Deepti : I was pretty resolute about two things. One is, I have to move forward, but to fly high you have to dig deep.
Gauri : It has such a beautiful meaning.
Deepti : So I didn’t wanted to let go of my roots, but I also wanted to move forward. And I wanted to bridge a life that accommodates both.
Gauri : Lovely. So that was your first musical endeavor here in US. And then where did you go from there?
Deepti : After my PhD I moved to Boston. And Boston with its extremely thriving Indian community, and all its opportunities, I was like a kid in a candy store. I wrote several grants. I produced my first album ’Aarohanam’, which is just a CD of traditional Carnatic music. I’m thankful that I got the ‘Utah Arts Council Award’ for that. That supported the production of my first CD. As soon as I moved to Boston, I was also very aware of the thriving contemporary and world music scene in Boston. I wanted to join the ‘New England Conservatory’, which is every classical musicians dream; somewhat. And at the ‘New England Conservatory’, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Gauri : And you were the first Carnatic Musician in there, Right ?
Deepti : That’s right. I was really fortunate to have been the first Carnatic Musician in the history of the ‘New England Conservatory’, to join that program. The program itself is designed to catalyze a musical innovation, and scholarship for traditional artist, who want to take the music to diverse audiences, to diverse communities. And the program is designed for, what they say, musical entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
Gauri : That’s impressive. You have gone beyond the community, you have represented our community, beyond what anyone can imagine. That is really commendable. You make us all proud.
Deepti : Thank you.
Gauri : I know you have a lot of achievements in your name. Which is your favorite one? What was the high moment of your life?
Deepti : I guess when I was 18 winning the ‘All India Radio National Music Award’ was a big shot in the arm. This gives you a lot of recognition, and sort of boosts your spirit, that if you continue to learn and invest in your own arts, you can do something worthwhile with it. And I think the day I heard from ‘New England Conservatory’ that I had actually gotten into that program, was another high for me. But on more personal note I feel my biggest achievement has been, that I have been obstinate enough to stay close to what my true motivations are. I think my purpose is to engage myself in creative endeavors; be it science or music. I see them as high complimentary activities, which are built on the same urge to be creative. So I’ve been obstinate enough to not let go of that motivation, and not fall into any labels of boxes. I believe if you are outlier, that difference is what will help you make difference. So you sort of learn to be an outliers of sorts.
Gauri : That an amazingly inspiration message. I’m absorbing it as you are saying it. That is something that I’m going to hold onto for the rest of my life. I’m sure people who are hearing you today are going to really be affected by what you just shared. To have that consistency, and that drive and that determination that I’m going to make it.
And in the light of that, in the same sequence of things you have an entrepreneurial project coming up and some workshops. So why don’t you tell us about those.
Deepti : The ‘Carnatic Alchemy’ project was born as a musical platform for innovation, sustainability in arts, and to provide a channel that can catalyze community engagements. So like it’s said, it takes a village to raise a child, it takes many hands, both within and outside the community. Arts councils, government, and lot of arts administrative policies which have to work in tandem to actually sustain musical innovations. So the ‘Carnatic Alchemy’ project was basically born with the goal to take musical innovations to diverse communities in the Massachusetts area, and beyond hopefully one day.
Gauri : I’m sure.
Deepti : So we will do concerts, we will promote the creation of new music. We already have a concert coming up on February 22nd, which we will get to in a minutes.
Gauri : Yes, I’m really looking forward to that one.
Deepti : And we will also engage in community activities. And we have announced the Carnatic singing circles workshops, wherein we will introduce the ‘Nada Yoga principles’ or the yogic philosophy behind Carnatic Music to Yoga Spiritual audience. So we have a wide range of activities planned around the idea of taking traditional sounds to diverse audiences.
Gauri : So this ‘Carnatic Alchemy’ project that you spoke of, is Cambridge Arts Council funded?
Deepti : Yes, definitely. Just two days back I got the news about the grant from Massachusetts Culture Council, basically promotes creative economy, as they call it, in the area, and they invest in artist, whose project goals align with the broader arts policies for Massachusetts. So this is big recognition. I’m deeply grateful.
Gauri : That’s great. Congratulations.
Deepti : Thank you. The singing circles workshop hopefully, in years to come,
we will see that being held in assisted living centers, in libraries, in prisons and anywhere there’s a need to contemplate with sound.
Gauri : I think that’s everywhere. Music is language that touches hearts. And makes such a huge difference in people’s lives. So all the places that you just mentioned, I think can really benefit from something like that. That’s great! So this is not just a concert, but is like a whole umbrella that’s going to hold so many different things. Does this project has an end date as well, or is this something like an ongoing motive?
Deepti : Hopefully it will go on and on.
Gauri : That’s great.
Deepti : In addition to the concert, we are trying to take Carnatic music to different communities in and around New England area. We have come up with, what I called the ‘Carnatic Alchemy prize’. And this year’s competition is for children and adults. And it’s based on the musical works of M.S. Subbulakshmi. And as you all know she was the ‘true Alchemist’. 50 years ago she did category spanning work, which is bewildering to me. Sitting here today and going through the wide spectrum of work she has done. So in her honor we have come up with this competition. And I hope that will help raise awareness of Carnatic music, even with North Indian communities, and greater Indian communities.
Gauri : I’m sure. First of all I was totally wowed when I read you biography. And now listening to you today during this interview, it’s kind of a reinforcement. It’s not just beautifying your soul through your own passions, developing yourself, but it’s also radiating that energy out into the community, and even beyond the community. Taking it out to various diverse groups of people, and being able to use that energy, in very constructive and in a very reformative manner. And there’s an encouragement factor with the completion. So there’s a whole lot of different things. What is that you are not doing Deepti, you are doing everything?
Deepti : Not sleeping enough I guess.
( Chukles )
Gauri : You got to take care of yourself, that’s important.
Deepti : And looking ahead, I want to put my mind where my heart is, so when I say this, I’m currently working on a study that involves, using south Indian classical rhythm training for dyslexic children. So you have a learning center here as well. I’m sure it resonates well with your goals as well.
Gauri : It does.
Deepti : In the future, I plan to expand ‘Carnatic Alchemy’ project into education developmental challengers. So as a musician, as a student of sound, you are exposed to a certain vantage points. And as a Neuroscientist, you get to evaluate the same human experience on a totally different level. And I plan to make the most of it. And hopefully apply some of my musical training towards learning disabilities for dyslexic children. We’ll have a kick starter campaign coming soon.
Gauri : I love the way you call yourself ‘student of sound’.
Deepti : I’ve always been.
Gauri : Speaking of you a little bit more. You a have beautiful CD that you are also releasing on 22nd. So including that, what else can the audience expect on that fabulous event that’s coming up, which I’m very looking forward to?
Deepti : The concert on the 22nd is called the ‘Cranatic Cadenzas’. It will be a concert for new music, its Cranatic inspired music. If you are world music enthusiast, and you want to check out a whole new form of voice and instrumental orchestration, then this your concert. If you have never heard Carantic music then definitely this is your show. If have never heard any music…
Gauri : This is the place to go, and enjoy, and appreciate it. So whatever you are in this ladder, you better come and experience it yourself.
Deepti : On more serious note the concert will release my first CD of contemporary classical music.
Gauri : Congratulations.
Deepti : So as a traditional musician you use to do the music in a certain model. So as a South Indian classical vocalist, you sing with a ‘Violin’ and ‘Mridangam’. This music takes the same idea, same aesthetics, but cast in a chamber classical format. Western Classical music also has certain models of music making. So we take the music from one model, and switch it to another model, and Bingo, that makes for some alchemist experiences.So that’s the soul behind the CD and the experiment. And so the CD ‘Ka’ was a collaboration with a Indian American composer at Holy Cross college, Shirish Korde. I’m very happy that the first CD of this experiment has actually culminated and is out. Hopefully you all will be able to join me and come to the concert.
Gauri : Absolutely. You’ve done so massive projects, all along, since you have stepped into this country. You have some great achievement. I know it’s not easy to plan something, and be able to execute your plans, and to be able to accomplish so much. Definitely congratulations to you for everything that you done so far. And all the best for your upcoming event, as well as for the release of the CD. I will certainly own a copy of that one.
Deepti : Thank you so much Gauri.
Gauri : Thanks for coming to Foundations TV.
Deepti : My pleasure.
Gauri : And before we end the video, I do want to give credit to ‘Smita’s Boutique’ for the outfit that I’m wearing.
Deepti : You look lovely.
Gauri : And you look so pretty too, I love the way we coordinated. Thank you so much for coming.
Deepti : The pleasure was totally mine