Tuesday, December 10

Benefit hopes to be music to the ears of children in India

Friday, April 5, 1996

By Cheryl Klein

Daily Bruin Contributor

Dr. L. Subramaniam knows that not all childhoods are as happy as
his was.

"My parents were so loving and caring," he says, speaking fondly
of his youth in India.

But he is acutely aware of the problems that persist in India
today. Many of the nation’s children live in poverty ­
mistreated or uneducated.

The result is that these children abandon unsatisfactory home
lives while still unable to support themselves. "Many times people
run away because they’re scared of something," he says. "They have
reason to run away."

On Saturday, at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater, Subramaniam will
make what he modestly calls a "negligible amount of contribution"
by playing South Indian classical violin music at a concert
benefiting underprivileged children in India. The UCLA Center for
the Performing Arts teamed up with Asha-LA, a student group
dedicated to this cause, to produce the performance.

Subramaniam recognizes how crucial early environments are in
shaping young people’s futures. As a child, he was afflicted with a
disease that threatened to deprive him of the ability to speak. He
looked to his parents for support.

"My father was a musician. He played violin and he was singing,"
Subramaniam says. "(My parents) thought I might lose my voice, so
my father wanted me to be introduced to an instrument. I was
fascinated by the violin."

The joy he found in drawing bow across strings led to a career
in which he has composed, performed, and written the music of his
native region.

South Indian music is very systematic, with a distinct raga, or
melodic concept, and tala, or rhythmic concept. Yet this does not
diminish the emotional impact the compositions have on both the
performers and audiences.

Subramaniam describes the historical context out of which this
tradition grew. "The saintly composers did compositions in praise
of different forms of gods, so it was much more of a spiritual
base…like Baroque music. What Bach wrote had a spiritual base in
it because he wrote most of the compositions for the church."

He feels that the music of ancient times can convey emotions
even to modern audiences. "We have a technique which creates the
mood and emotions which pass from one heart to another heart."

Performing everywhere from Africa to Iceland has allowed
Subramaniam to be a part of this process. It has also given him
perspective on cultural differences and similarities.

"Two of my compositions were performed a Tchaikovsky Hall (in
Moscow). I had to explain them and of course I didn’t speak the
language, but music is a language in itself," he points out. "The
emotions are the same, the feelings are the same all over the
world. We look different, we dress differently because of our
cultures and backgrounds. It’s the same thing with music. The notes
are the same, but because of the culture, the ornamentation, the
arrangement of the music, it sounds different. But basically it is
the same."

Subramaniam should know. Besides his native music, he is also
experienced in the Western classical and jazz genres.

"I have collaborated with … Stephane Grapelli (a renowned Jazz
musician) so we provided direction to each other. And Indian
audiences who might have come to listen to me gain exposure to
jazz. And people who might have come to listen to him gain exposure
to Indian classical."

Subramniam not only relies on live performances as a means of
popularizing Indian music, but he has also contributed to the
soundtracks of several movies, including "Little Buddha,"
"Mississippi Masala" and "Salaam Bombay."

Mentioning the latter, he describes how music can aid in
conveying the themes of a film.

"It was about an innocent simple little guy who gets trapped in
the system and finally kills somebody," Subramaniam says. "The
music shows the sadness and loneliness and strength of a single
character. People who saw the movie were moved by the music and
bought the CD because they wanted to hear the music."

Just as something as subtle as background music can dictate the
mood of a film, Subramaniam feels that small scale but direct
efforts of Asha-LA will bring necessary change to India, a country
he clearly cares deeply about.

"India is almost like an extended family," he says. "The culture
… has a lot of positive things." Thus, while problems exist,
aspects such as respect between generations ­ and a strong
musical tradition ­ suggest a successful future.

MUSIC: South Indian classical music concert featuring Dr. L.
Subramaniam April 6 at the Veterans Wadsworth Theater. TIX: $15 and
$25. For more info, call 825-2101.

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