I believe fusion music is an opportunity for Carnatic music to expand and meld with other cultures. My teacher, Dr. Rohan Krishnamurthy, has taught me the extremely complex intricacies of both Carnatic and fusion music, in which I have further developed one of my passions. I am 16 years old and a sophomore at Wellesley High School. I began Mridangam at the age of 6 with Sri Mali Santhanakrishnan. For the last 5 years, I have been attending advanced training with Dr. Rohan Krishnamurthy. Aside from Mridangam, I also enjoy Western music. I'm currently learning to compose at Rivers School Conservatory. My other interests are crew and the drum set.
About three years ago, I wanted to play at a competitive level in Mridangam. I decided to enter solo competitions, beginning with the 2015 CMANA competition, which was a great learning experience. In 2016, I enrolled in the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana, the largest arena for carnatic music competition outside of India, and I placed second in the intermediate category. I went back to CMANA in 2016, and placed first in the intermediate section. In 2018, I placed second in the senior category at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana. Competitions have taught me the discipline necessary to achieve high goals, and that successful progress is the product of hard work.
The true test and the beauty of this art form is when you are able to accompany live performers and improvise on the spot. My first encounter was accompanying my sister, who is a trained Classical Bharatanatyam dancer. It was a delight playing for her at the Sri Kalikambal Shiva Temple. For the past two years, I have performed in the dance production of Sruthilayalu's Utsavams. Working with Prafulla Velury during those times has been an astounding learning experience of the Kuchipudi dance style. I love working with all styles of singers and dancers. I look forward to new opportunities to perform, collaborating with other artists, and opening people's eyes and ears to this art form.
Acclaimed an “international mridangam performer” by USA Today and “pride of India” by India's leading newspaper, The Times of India, Rohan Krishnamurthy is considered a musical ambassador. Having received advanced mridangam training from maestro, Sri. Guruvayur Dorai, in India, Rohan’s cross-genre artistry draws from his formal study of Indian classical music, at once propagating the ancient tradition and expanding it in new artistic directions.
Rohan has shared the stage with the leading artists of Indian classical music including M. Balamuralikrishna, T.N. Krishnan, Chitravina N. Ravikiran, T. M. Krishna, and Ranjani and Gayatri. He has spearheaded collaborations with orchestras, jazz ensembles, and musicians including Grammy Award-winners Glen Velez and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Anoushka Shankar, and Ayano Ninomiya. He premiered “Rohan,” a concerto for south Indian percussion and Western percussion ensemble by composer Payton Macdonald. The concerto was premiered on both coasts at The Juilliard School in New York City and San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Rohan's artistry also explores the intersections of Indian percussion and contemporary jazz and funk drum set. He studied drums with Mark Guthrie at Kalamazoo College and Alan Hall at the California Jazz Conservatory, and received advanced mentoring from pioneering Tower of Power drummer, David Garibaldi.
His new hybrid kit bridges drum set and Carnatic percussion, and stick and hand drumming more broadly. Rohan recently received a scholarship from the Ali Akbar College of Music to undertake a cross-genre endeavor with legendary tabla maestro Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri to study extended techniques on tabla, and adapt Carnatic and Hindustani rhythmic repertoire across mridangam and tabla.
An acclaimed educator, Rohan earned a Ph.D. in musicology/ethnomusicology from the Eastman School of Music in New York. He has presented and taught at renowned institutions, including the Eastman School of Music, Harvard, Munich Conservatory, Kyoto University, and A.R. Rehman’s K.M. Conservatory of Music in Chennai. He teaches in the Music Department at Ohlone College in San Francisco and directs the award-winning RohanRhythm Percussion Studio, which has attracted dozens of students from around the globe.
An innovator, Rohan patented a new drumhead tuning system. His work resulted in a publication in the premier music journal, Percussive Notes, and was supported by the Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership. His design is now available worldwide.
The classical music of India is one of the oldest, most intricate, and versatile forms of music in the world. Boasting a history of over 2,000 years, Indian classical music is categorized into two styles: Hindustani, which is associated with Northern India, and Carnatic, the older of the two styles, with Southern India. These time-honored traditions have been meticulously transmitted from generation to generation in a system called guru-shishya parampara. In this oral tradition, the guru, or teacher, and shishya, or student, form a lifelong bond of continuous musical and spiritual improvement..
India lays claim to a huge variety of drums and percussion instruments. These instruments are used in myriad social and cultural contexts, including sacred rituals and processions, weddings, and theater, dance, and music performances. Among these instruments, the mridangam is one of the most hallowed and popular in all of India. The mridangam, now associated with Carnatic music, is a double-sided hand drum that is played with the fingers and palms of both hands.
Considered the drum of the Gods, it is unique in the world of percussion as a pitched drum. Owing to an ingenious construction of 30-40 layers of an iron oxide and starch mixture, the mridangam is capable of producing an array of pitched, semi- pitched, and unpitched tones. The resonant tonality of the mridangam endows it with a singing, melodic quality, as well as a driving, rhythmic quality.
The wide spectrum of sounds of the mridangam is produced using a complex hand drumming technique called split finger. The split finger technique allows the artist to divide his/her fingers into specific formations to create precise tones on the pitched and bass heads of the mridangam. In essence, every finger is treated as an independent drumstick, giving the artist ten drumsticks to create swift and intricate rhythmic patterns.
Indian classical music has been a source of inspiration for generations of performers and composers around the world. Today, it is a global art form that draws from and contributes to diverse musical and cultural streams. The mridangam has become especially popular as a powerful way to expand and enrich the repertoire of countless instruments and genres, and to discover one of the world’s greatest artistic traditions.
by Rohan Krishnamurthy