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Grammy nominee flautist captivates audience at Chinmaya Mission

Published: 
Monday, August 20, 2018
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Flautist Pandit Ronu Majumdar performs classical Indian raagas during the Classical Indian Flute Concert at the Chinmaya Ashram, in McBean, Couva. Photo by:Tony Howell

Ethereal and relaxing sounds of the Indian flute and rhythmic tabla, kept an audience of devotees and classical Indian music enthusiasts, entranced during a musical feast at the Chinmaya Ashram on the last Friday evening of last month. Grammy-nominated flautist Pandit Ronu Majumdar, accompanied by tabla and ghatam maestro Pandit Gauri Shankar, soothed and filled listeners with a sense of awe and appreciation of their musical talent.

The venue, a spacious air conditioned hall on the Ashram compound, along the winding Calcutta Road #1, Couva, was a fitting venue for the fund-raising concert, held in aid of the relocation and expansion of the Chinmaya Vidyalaya School.

Majumdar, who flew into Piarco International, just a couple of days before the concert, said he had felt a connection to Trinidad since his childhood days of playing cricket and hearing stories of famous Trinidadian cricketers.

Majumdar has toured extensively in Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East.

He is known as an innovative composer and has created works that fused Hindustani classical with Western classical music.

His feat of conducting over 5,378 flautists on one stage is recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.

When asked about the similarity of the improvised Indian classical music to Jazz, Majumdar said he had played with a lot of great Western musicians such as Larry Coryell, jazz guitarist and co-founder of jazz rock band Steely Dan.

He said “genre is incidental, music is truth.”

He said playing music whether Classical, Bollywood or a “simple” song like Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles takes dedication and hard work (“sadhana”).

He explained “longer versions are a different level of virtuosity.”

Majumdar added that it is easier for Jazz musicians to improvise with Indian classical musicians than Western classical musicians. “Western Classical we can do but we need more rehearsals. Jazz music we can do right away because we both improvise. They improvise within the structure of the harmony, we improvise within the structure of the raaga (melodic framework).”

When asked about the obvious bond and ease of communication between each other, Pandit Gauri Shankar said: “We have been playing for years. He knows his job, I know my job. This is improvised music and I am accompanying him, whatever he is playing, I will follow him.”

Head of the Chinmaya Ashram Swami Prakashananda told Sunday Guardian there were requests for more places in the Chinmaya School and they would like to be able to accommodate up to 1,000 students.

The school teaches students from pre-school level up to CXC. They want to move the school across the road.

Prakashananda explained the Chinmaya school, as well as offering the regular curriculum, has “a strong element of value education.”

He added: “We consider the value element to be more important than the secular education itself, we want to concentrate on making a good person out of the individual.”

The Chinmaya Mission also offers a two-year vedanta residential course, where students are taught Sanskrit language, study the ancient scriptures of India and public speaking etc. Prakashananda said this course is a “first for Trinidad.

“We provide training here for which people used to have to travel to India. The course has attracted students from Canada, Guyana and Trinidad. They can accommodate up to 100 residential students.”

Swami Prakashananda has been developing the Chinamaya Mission in Trinidad over the past 21 years.

He said Chinmaya means “a mass of consciousness.” As a young man he spent 16 years away from Trinidad, ten in Canada and six in India. While studying in Toronto, he met Swami Chinmayananda, founder of the Chinmaya Mission,

“I was inspired by that great Guru.”

He was asked by his guru to return to Trinidad to build the Mission in 1997,” said Prakashananda.

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