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Kalaa Utsavam has brought vibrancy of Indian performing arts to Singapore audiences: SIOC founder Lalitha Vaidyanathan

As one of the oldest Indian ensembles in Singapore, the Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir (SIOC) has been a regular performer at Kalaa Utsavam.

Under the baton of founder Lalitha Vaidyanathan, PBM, SIOC has collaborated with leading local and international composers over the past three decades, enthralling audiences in Singapore and beyond.
Under the baton of founder Lalitha Vaidyanathan (centre), PBM, SIOC has collaborated with leading local and international composers over the past three decades, enthralling audiences in Singapore and beyond. Photo courtesy: Facebook/Lalitha Vaidyanathan

The 36-year-old performing arts group showcases the richness of Indian music with its wide range of traditional and contemporary repertoire. It is the perfect match with the oldest Indian festival of arts in Singapore as they both redefined the boundaries of Indian music and highlighted the multiracial cultural vibrancy of Singapore.

The diverse showcase of musical pieces form a special repertoire rendered through a myriad of rhythm, melodies and harmonies.
Their diverse showcase of musical pieces form a special repertoire rendered through a myriad of rhythm, melodies and harmonies. Photo courtesy: Facebook/SIOC

Under the baton of founder Lalitha Vaidyanathan, PBM, SIOC has collaborated with leading local and international composers over the past three decades, enthralling audiences in Singapore and beyond.

Their notable shows include performing at the Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, Cervantino International Festival at Mexico, The International Choral Festival at Portugal as well as other performances in India, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Sweden, Macau, Hong Kong, Australia, Thailand and Japan. 

This year, to mark Kalaa Utsavam’s 20th anniversary, SIOC brings 'Athma Ghanam – Music for the Soul' to the stage on November 28. The diverse showcase of musical pieces form a special repertoire rendered through a myriad of rhythm, melodies and harmonies, with an ensemble of 32 musicians performing 10 soul stirring compositions in two shows at the Esplanade Concert Hall. 

Tickets to the show are available here.

"Athma Ghanam is a contribution from the SIOC to connect, move and inspire everyone during these challenging times," Lalitha said. Here are excerpts from Connected to India’s interview with her.

Connected to India (C to I): Tell us about SIOC and how Athma Ghanam came about. Please describe the theme and characteristics of the show.

Lalitha Vaidyanathan: Music can awaken the soul. It is one of the oldest forms of spiritual medicine known to humanity and touches our very core, regardless of culture or creed. SIOC’s latest production – Athma Ghanam – Music for the soul is an evening of music in all its forms rendere through a myriad of rhythm, melodies and harmonies. SIOC marks its 36th year with this diverse showcase of musical pieces to form a special repertoire that aims to rejuvenate with the healing energy of music. Compositions from all over the world, ranging from Indian classical ragas to contemporary world music, are presented alongside a melodious choir as well as captivating visual elements. This amalgamation of creative mediums creates expressions that can enhance healing and empowerment. Athma Ghanam is a contribution from the SIOC to connect, move and inspire everyone during these challenging times.

Our heartbeat is the rhythm, our voice is the melody that resonates as we speak, our health is the harmony of the body and mind, our breath is the silence between the notes. In the words of George Leonard, “We do not make music. Music makes us.”

Under the baton of founder Lalitha Vaidyanathan, PBM, SIOC has collaborated with leading local and international composers over the past three decades
Under the baton of founder Lalitha Vaidyanathan, PBM, SIOC has collaborated with leading local and international composers over the past three decades. Photo courtesy: Facebook/SIOC

C to I: Walk us through your process of matching compositions from all over the world.

Lalitha Vaidyanathan: SIOC takes pride in curating each of its performances to cater to the wide range of audience likes and interests. So we amalgamate musical pieces that are pure classical, to semi classical to folk to even those that we jointly perform with other non-Indian musicians. Ultimately no matter what form of music we present, it all falls back to the seven basic notes that intertwine to touch the soul in unique ways. For this performance, some of the compositions you can look forward to include an exchange between Indian composer Thyagaraja and Western Composer Vivaldi & Mozart. To commemorate SIOC’s 36th year Anniversary, we are presenting a traditional Raagam Taanam Pallavi in the 36 Melakarta Raga Chalanata. What makes this unique is that we have used the rare and very challenging 15 beat Chalanata Tala in this RTP, probably the first to be explored. For Hindustani music lovers we have a Vadhya Vrinda in Teen and Jhap Taal. These and other music compositions alongside dancers and multi-ethnic musicians will definitely move your soul in ecstacy.  

C to I: What were some of the challenges you faced in putting together such a complex performance amid lockdown restrictions?

Lalitha Vaidyanathan: It was no doubt quite a challenge pulling together a programme of this magnitude amidst the times that we are in today. SIOC had to re-discover itself in ways of working and bringing together our large team of musicians to prepare for this program. We had to engage our composers virtually to conceive and ideate our new compositions specially curated for this show. Practice sessions had to be done virtually through Zoom at the peak of the lock down and team members who were more familiar with meeting in person and collaborating had to get used to this new digital collaboration including use of digital scores. Despite the challenges, the team came together strong and has truly shown that music has no boundaries and can surpass any challenges that come along. 

C to I: What do you feel about Kalaa Utsavam turning 20?

Lalitha Vaidyanathan: Kalaa Utsavam is a festival that has truly brought the vibrancy of the Indian performing arts scene to the Singapore audiences over the past two decades. Each year, the festival has been curated with both local and international artists through very unique concepts and presentations that have delighted our audiences. We feel very proud to have been part of this festival and performed in the past as well to packed audiences and congratulate Esplanade for successfully running this festival over the past two decades.

C to I: Tell us how the festival has changed in your eyes over the years.

Lalitha Vaidyanathan: At the core, Kalaa Utsavam has consistently retained its purpose of bringing the best of Indian performing arts to the Singapore audiences and only set the bar higher each year. However, what has also been evident is the way in which the festival has evolved continually to bring content not only on stage but also digitally to its audiences. In 2020, despite the peak of the lockdown, Kalaa Utsavam was able to bring all of its content digitally through its online platforms keeping the spirit of the festival alive. In recent times, Kalaa Utsavam is also becoming a platform to encourage younger artists to be mentored and have an outstanding platform to perform on stage which also shows the genuine efforts of the team to show support and encouragement to the next generation of performers. We wish the festival the very best as it continually evolves and stays relevant for new audiences.

As one of the oldest Indian ensembles in Singapore, the Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir (SIOC) has been a regular performer at Kalaa Utsavam.
As one of the oldest Indian ensembles in Singapore, the Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir (SIOC) has been a regular performer at Kalaa Utsavam. Photo courtesy: Facebook/SIOC

C to I: Anything else you’d like to add.

Lalitha Vaidyanathan: SIOC would like to thank all our regular patrons for your support through the past three decades and being with us in our journey. This year we truly hope we will be able to rejuvenate you with the healing energy of music and our specially curated compositions. This year is also special because SIOC sets foot in a new journey of being an independent performing arts company and this also means we will need the support of our patrons like you to sustain our future and continue to deliver high quality performances. We will be launching our Patrons Programme in January 2022 and we look forward to your support in standing by us in this new phase of our journey. You may reach out to us here should you wish to be part of our Patrons Programme when we launch it or to invite SIOC for any performances.

Catch SIOC live at the Esplanade Concert Hall on November 28. Tickets for the show are available on the Esplanade website.

Author
Tushaar Kuthiala
Tushaar Kuthiala – Associate Editor

Tushaar has extensive experience as a journalist and in founding two start-up newspapers. He has developed editorial models for both copy and content, and has written several articles, news reports on a wide range of topics. He is a graduate of St. Stephen’s College and earned a post-graduate diploma in TV Journalism from the Asian College of Journalism (ACJ), Chennai. He has worked as a special correspondent based in New Delhi with Daily World, an international media organisation. 

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