In Conversation with Dr. Jayanthi Kumaresh

A little over a month ago, I got to meet a remarkable musician, an exceptionally wonderful Veena player, a patient listener, the humble and delightful Dr. Jayanthi Kumaresh. Here’s how the conversation went.

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How did you envision and ideate Parallel Strings?

“The idea and vision of Parallel Strings started back when Anil Srinivasan and I were performing individual concerts for Milapfest in the UK.

They suggested doing a story – music combo concert. We had an amazingly positive reception to the idea and we did a similar themed concert in Delhi last week. We could see that the audience was enthralled and irrespective of the age groups, tiny tots to elders were all absolutely attentive and appreciative.

The Piano is a wonderful western classical instrument, and I believe that Goddess Saraswathi of the Western world would be playing a Piano.

During a casual conversation during a practice session in the green room, Anil and I, just played the Veena and Piano together and we were fascinated with how well the Veena and the Piano sounded together. They sounded like long-lost friends reminiscing about the days gone by!

Anil is a wonderful human being and one of the most talented musicians I’ve come across. I am looking forward to the Parallel Strings concert.”

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You have always shown a keen pursuit for learning, which is evident from even the shortest of conversations one has with you. What did you choose to study about, for your doctorate?

“After a double masters in English Literature and Music, I was keen on choosing a practical subject for my PhD thesis. I decided to take up some analytical studies of the different banis of playing the Saraswathi Veena… My studies also focused on how the Saraswathi Veena originated, how it evolved, how it had been cited in the Sama Veda period, its sight, structure, and sound, what it is today, what its future could be, and so on…”

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That was an absolutely deep and meticulous list of topics that you seem to have covered as part of your thesis! I am sure you dedicate the same level of thoroughness to each of your endeavors, including the Indian National Orchestra (INO). Speaking of INO, how has Bangalore received such an idea? How amenable have you found Bangalore to be, when it comes to welcoming new genres in music?

We have had 2 INOs here in Bangalore, and the reception has been amazing! Bangalore for me, is a place which doesn’t judge you. Bangalore doesn’t have a pre-conceived notion of what something should be. This gives us a big platform to try out new ideas, especially compared to “traditional” places such as Chennai. I believe that the “traditional” image that Chennai has is more of a façade – a cloak from under which many people do not want to come out. Of course, INO was inaugurated in Chennai, but because of the variety of musical interests of the people in Bangalore, and the amount of acceptance to all forms of music, I find the latter’s approach to be much broader, and the appreciation for instrumentalists, much better…

We ran a festival called “Vadhya Vaibhavam” in Bangalore, a full-week event exclusively for instrumental music, which I am not sure if we can do in Chennai. Instrumental music erases the boundaries of region and religion. That’s why even in the international platform, many Indian instrumentalists are well known.

Chennai is a great place for classical music, with a grand yearly music festival of 3500 concerts, and I certainly respect Chennai a lot. If only Chennai opens its doors and minds to instrumental music, it would be a lot better…”

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It’d be an understatement to say that your husband, Kumaresh, is a massively brilliant instrumentalist himself. His conquests are world-renowned. How exactly do you two musical geniuses get along?

“There are very few moments when our lives overlap. We practice, travel, and we perform separately most of the time. When we converse, our talks are usually about how good or bad our travels were, how our separate concerts went, memorable moments from our concerts, and so on…

We have no “routine” in our dictionaries. I see many people complaining of monotony. I wish I sometimes had some monotony and a routine in our lives. No two days in our calendars are the same. We wake up in different countries, different hotels, and different time zones…

When we do get to be at home, we create this “illusion” of a routine… We try to live normal lives for 2 days – we then pat ourselves saying “we did it”! When we get to do the most mundane things together, like say buy vegetables or groceries, I get so thrilled!

We don’t wish for exotic holidays. For us being at home, being together, brings us our most precious holiday…”

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🙂 Amusing, but surprising to see how you crave for a routine! So this is the setting on the home front. But how do you both form a rhythm when you’re performing together? How exactly does “Strings Attached” happen?

“Kumaresh has been playing the Violin for 40 years now, and he has a distinct style and identity. I have my own individual form and style as well. When we first launched our co-performing concert series, Strings Attached, we had two options – to find a new path, where we could trace out a common language that both our instruments could speak, or to have our individual styles intact, and let our instruments have a conversation in their individual languages. We chose the latter, something like the samvaada – a conversation, where I play, he plays… and the conversations result in the concert…”

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On the emotional angle, how do you think you fare? Do you let bad moments wreck you? What do you think helps you hang on in moments of adversity?

“Well I’m an artist, and artists don’t see things as they are – they either exaggerate it or they underplay it… in personalities also, we have extreme highs or lows… I’ve had ecstatic moments when I’ve forgotten everything… I’ve also had sad and painful moments. I believe as an artist, one needs to let go… when you play it safe, the flight’s nice… when u let go, the flight’s magical and beautiful.

Moments happen to us… We do not control them. For me, my Veena is my comrade. I may sound silly, but I actually converse with my Veena. I talk to my Veena about an approaching concert, about my day, everything. It’s been there for me throughout. With my Veena by my side, no crisis has been that big. I think my Veena helps me hang on.”

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What do you believe in?

“I believe in divinity – completely! i think each concert of mine, has been fully out of God’s grace… when I practice, I think a bit came out so beautifully, but there’s no assurance  that the same bit will play out exactly the same way in a concert, if not for God’s hands.

A wise old lady once told me after a concert “Goddess Saraswathi has chosen to come within you, and you have to be careful how you are, to keep her happy, and to keep her inside you, because she can choose to leave you any time”. Those words always ring in my ears, and I think that as an artist, one needs to strive hard to deserve that divinity.”

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As the conversation drew to a close ( a trifle unwillingly from my end :)),  Jayanthi ji smilingly presented me with the CDs of two of her memorable compilations – Thillana Thillana and Strings Attached. May her music only get more melodious and soul-touching!

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3 comments

  1. Very touching interview..especially the incident about Saraswathi being within Jayanthi. Really touched..it is rasikaas like these which keep the Music and Musicians going! Way to go Jayanthi and all the best for your future concerts and endevours 🙂

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