The South Asian Symphony Foundation
The Covid-19 pandemic has presented musicians with an opportunity to experiment with and break the frontiers for a new kind of music making – one in which we don’t physically rehearse and perform with each other. Though this is rather difficult, and certainly not very efficient with the current level of technology, this situation highlights the immense value of music and the arts in our lives. It is precisely at times like these that we crave the warmth and connection of our loved ones, and the arts help us grapple with these complex emotions. The South Asian Symphony Foundation (SASF), too, has picked up on the online format of creating music and keeping the conversation around the arts alive.
In collaboration with the Bangalore International Centre (BIC), Ambassador Nirupama Menon Rao joined the celebrated Pakistani singer and novelist, Ali Sethi, in a discussion on music in South Asia, and its role in uniting people by cutting across barriers. Entitled Talking South Asia, the conversation highlighted the uniqueness of the South Asian identity – one steeped in enormous diversity, and yet with a shared history and heritage that inexorably bonds us together. You can find a video of the talk here on YouTube, as well as the complete transcript on The Wire.
In another collaboration with the BIC, acclaimed violinist and pre-concert lecturer at the San Diego Symphony, Navroj “Nuvi” Mehta, elucidated the Power of Music in Difficult Times.
Music has the unique ability to bypass conscious thought and reach into the subconscious recesses of the human mind. Plato, Lao Tzu and Khalil Gibran all proclaimed in their writings the seed of truth that is contained in art, and especially in music. Plato declared music a moral law – “It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything”. In an age where we are at risk of being overwhelmed by our never-ceasing social media and news streams, music provides a space of relief and human connection. Mehta explores the truth and history of communities that are embedded into their music. “A made-up melody says more about your community and your history than paragraphs of words could tell a listener. It says more about life, where you are and when you are than words.”, he says. Shostakovich’s symphonies capture the zeitgeist of Stalin’s fearsome rule and the Nazi threat to the Soviet Union. The grief, pain, anger, suffering and tragedy come through, but Shostakovich’s sarcasm and wit find place in the music too. Mehta also discusses music by Jerry Back (Fiddler on the Roof), Dvořák and Mahler, driving home the power of music to bring together people in times of distress.
A must-watch for any music lover – you can find the full talk here on YouTube: The Power of Music.
The SASF has also begun to publish a newsletter called Accord, in which it publishes news about past and upcoming events, as well as interviews with inspiring South Asian musicians offering nuggets of insight into their work and lives. The first two issues introduce us to horn player Nivanthi Karunaratne and double bassist Saadi Zain. The newsletter also includes articles on particular pieces of music, as well as information about folk music and instruments from different parts of South Asia. You can read the newsletters here:
Issue #1: https://mailchi.mp/0a2373aee6ea/newsletter-july-2020-in-lockdown
Issue #2: https://us10.campaign-archive.com/?u=e352f9b6f99ba82118f0b7216&id=da01245f64
The SASF’s most recent collaboration was with Brookings India (now the Centre for Social and Economic Progress) in New Delhi – an independent think-tank for public policy. Sambandh is their Regional Connectivity Initiative, to conduct data-driven study and analysis in order to understand India’s links with her neighbours in the region. Constantino Xavier and his young team of researchers sat down for a virtual, informal discussion with Ambassador Rao, tracing the origins of the SASF and its close links with Ambassador Rao’s own professional and personal journey. Having served as a diplomat in Vienna, Colombo, Washington, Moscow, and Lima and from her work in the Ministry of External Affairs on India’s relations with her neighbours, Amb. Rao’s experiences showed her time and again, the core of our shared humanity. Culture, and music, in particular, could play a powerful role in bringing people together and developing a sense of empathy and capacity to truly listen to one another. She recalled a statement that the late Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Lakshman Kadirgamar, would often make and left a lasting impression and impact on her mind – “South Asia is an Integer”. From these ideas of promoting empathy and human connectivity, SASF was born and recently celebrated its second birthday in July. SASF hopes to continue its conversation with Brookings India to enhance regional connectivities.
Finally, the SASF is working on its very own virtual orchestra project. Making music together is, after all, what keeps musicians going, be it together or virtually apart. Do keep an eye out for the music and video, which will be released in the upcoming weeks!
SASF Website: https://symphonyofsouthasia.org/