By Aadya Arora
People have been spending all their savings on Taylor Swift and Beyoncé concert tickets these days, making performances a celebration of showmanship and theatricality—even if it comes at the cost of celebrating the music itself. But at Trichy Sankaran’s show, instruments take the centre stage.
Vidwan (a honourary title of scholarship) Trichy Sankaran has been playing mrdangam, a South Indian drum, for Canadian audiences for about five decades now. He was the founding director of Indian music studies at York University and also taught at Simon Fraser University. Suffice to say, he knows how to entertain those who know little about the instrument (or Indian classical music in general).
Accompanied by other maestros (Raman Kalyan on flute, VVS Murari on violin, Curtis Andrews on percussion, and Jared Burrows on guitar) at The Cultch, in a show aptly titled Transcendent Talas, Sankaran creates 90 minutes of pure musical magic on stage.
The roots of Carnatic music are embedded in Hindu deity worship, so the music is composed in admiration of the gods. Like most Hindu ceremonies, the show starts with a piece to seek blessings from Lord Ganesha: the remover of obstacles. That first soulful note on the flute sets the tone for a majestic night, which is presented by Time Will Tell Arts and Caravan World Rhythms.
The performance consists of original compositions by different maestros on stage and turns into one long, meditative session. Curtis Andrews presents his piece in raga Amritvarshini, which is believed to be able to cause rain. Another devotional piece to Lord Shiva has breathtaking vocals from flautist Raman Kalyan.
The years of practice that have gone into making and mastering the music is visible throughout. At one point, Sankaran attempts to explain the basics—ragas and talas—to the audience. Then, letting the crowd understand the music their own way, he jokes, “I won’t give a lecture. But I used to.”
Even at the age of 81, his enthusiasm towards the craft fills the room with calm and wonder.