The Crimson White

Balakrishna brings veena music to Alabama

Jamie Lyons

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Vidvan Balakrishna, a musician from India, brought Carnatic music to life in Don Fader’s 8 a.m. Music in World Cultures class on Tuesday.

Carnatic music is one of two genres of Indian classical music associated with the southern part of India.

Balakrishna came to the University to give a concert Thursday at 7 p.m. in Gorgas 205 featuring the veena, a classical Indian string instrument. The veena dates back to the Vedic period, around 1500 B.C., The concert is free and open to the public.

Balakrishna conducted a lecture and demonstration of the instrument in Fader’s class.

Fader, assistant professor of musicology, said he recognizes the value of having guest artists come to supplement the lessons in his class.

“There is a lot of music in the world, and we know very little about it,” Fader said. “It is important to hear about traditions from the people who make the music.”

Fader explained that the course, MUS 250, which is offered for music majors and non-majors alike, covers many different types of world music. Typically, the lessons are from a textbook.

“The course broadens their musical horizon,” Fader added, “that is why guests are important. It is infinitely better to meet and learn from people.”

Balakrishna explained that the original purpose of South Indian music was to “please the gods and attain salvation.” Over time, a “renaissance of classical music” caused the purpose to change, and music became more of an art form. Years later, in the twentieth century, people began to pay to get into the auditoriums for concerts, which led to the commercialization of music.

Balakrishna emphasized the importance of three contemporary 18thand 19th century composers, known as “The Trinity of Carnatic music:” Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri.

Many differences exist between western music and Carnatic music.

“Our music is melodic, different than western classical music, that is harmonic,” Balakrishna said.

He said music is not composed separately for veena, flute, violin, voice, or any other instrument.

“We all play the same music, but we show possibilities of the instrument while giving a concert,” Balakrishna said.

The veena itself is a large instrument that rests on the lap of the player. Balakrishna said the shape of the veena has undergone many changes, but the current design has been in existence for two hundred years.

The instrument is made from wood from the jackwood tree, which also produces a tasty fruit, Balakrishna added. The veena has four strings, two of steel and two of brass. The name of the instrument comes from the tradition that Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge is often portrayed playing a veena, he explained.

The class participated in part of the lecture by vocally matching the pitches played on the instrument as he demonstrated a scale pattern.

In response to their singing, Balakrishna said, “That’s beautiful. Made my day.”

This pattern was one part of a raga, which defines the boundaries for a particular melody. The raga is, according to him, “a riddle you have to solve. You get a kick out of it.”

He also demonstrated rhythm, or tala, with a sequence of eight beats, some clapped and some not.

The key of Carnatic music is that the musicians can improvise within the limits of the raga. The improvisation is called tanam and expands the raga and usually features a faster melody.

“Music in general gives a sense of well being,” Balakrishna said.

Leave a Comment
Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894
Balakrishna brings veena music to Alabama