Magic of music

    S. Sowmya has chosen to use the power of the World Wide Web to reach the basics of music to earnest learners

    She is a double post graduate and a double gold medallist. If the science of chemistry is a subject that stimulated her for a study, music was a gene that saw a steady bloom. Renowned Carnatic vocalist S. Sowmya chose to tread the musical path for a career, rather than see herself immersed in labs.

    “Even as I was torn between chemistry and music, it wasn’t difficult to lean towards music as I had it in my blood,” says the masters in chemistry from IIT and the masters in Indian music. “My father was a chemical engineer and a musician. Don’t you think I have done justice to his affiliations?” quips the vocalist, who has pioneered several musical CD-ROM, VCDs and interactive music-friendly websites.

    She is the producer and co-author of the world’s first interactive, encyclopaedic CD-ROM on Carnatic music, “Nadanubhava – The Horizons of Carnatic Music.” Sowmya is also the co-creator of the world’s first tutoring VCD, “Nadopasana – My Own Carnatic Tutor,” a self-help guru with karaoke features.

    Brought up in a traditional south Indian family with initial tutelage from her father M. Srinivasan, the playful six-year-old got her lessons from S. Ramanathan and was further honed by T. Muktha, of the legendary Brinda-Muktha duo.

    The desire to propagate the traditions of south Indian music worldwide led her to associate with her friend and vocalist Shashikiran, to establish Carnatica, an institution dedicated to music and dance instruction, talent search and archiving. Carnatica’s web portal ( > is now a popular online destination for music-related information, products, courses and discussions.

    Sowmya was known to recognise ragas even as a toddler. “I was born in New Delhi. With my father’s help, I’m told I could identify ragas at the age of two. In fact, there exists a recording in AIR Calicut, of me at that age, identifying ragas.”

    At 39, Sowmya has now lost count of her concerts. “Probably, around 6,000. That’s a very rough estimate, as my first public performance was at 11.”

    Her successful portal

    Her portal Carnatica has definitely grown beyond belief. What used to be a website and a small gurukula is now a large organisation involved in teaching, publishing (albums, books) event management and internet-based music education with a full-fledged digital recording studio. “Our gurukula caters to several hundred students, not just from India, but overseas too.”

    The flagship event from the portal ‘Bharat Sangeet Utsav’, started three years back in Chennai, has an overwhelming response and Bangalore and New Delhi too had their turn. Says Sowmya: “It is a unique event that tries to bring together the best of Indian classical talent on a single platform, with equal weightage given to performers from the north and south.”

    The robust online portal > serves not only as a reference point on classical arts, but also promotes e-learning (Cyber Vidyalaya) and has an online shopping arcade for music albums and digital downloads.

    As a contemporary musician, Sowmya feels: “The best thing about Carnatic music is the room and scope it provides for individual creativity (manodharma) even as it requires performers to stick to certain strict norms and traditions. The scope for innovation and exploration is boundless. Another priceless aspect of the genre is the wealth of compositions, not only by the Trinity, but also other great composers that are benchmarks for raga structure.”

    “The beginner’s lessons and the small compositions that everyone learns in the initial stages help the student understand the concepts in a practical way rather than as abstract, theoretical entities. Little kids enjoy it more when they are able to sing geethe, swarajithe, varna and namavalis rather than abstract swara sequences, which mean very little at their age. Some of the namavalis and nottu-swaras also have rhythm variations which kids readily grasp. Once these basic ideas are in place, it is much easier for a student to move on to bigger concepts like raga structure, compositions, gamakas and the like.”

    Carnatica was started with the intent of using the latest technological innovations to promote and popularise India’s divine art and rekindle public interest in classical music.

    “We wanted to pass on to youngsters the best values that our gurus had groomed in us. We want youngsters and the public to understand and appreciate the nuances of the art, without compromising on the core traditions that differentiate classical music from other music and arts forms,” says a contented Sowmya.

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