BENGALURU: The man behind the seven-stringed violins’ is a title that is still used to describe legendary violinist T Chowdiah. Though a prominent name in music, his compositions stand the risk of being lost in the annals of history. But now the Indian Music Experience Museum (IME) aims to give people access to an online digital archive of the compositions of the violinist and music guru on chowdiah.com. This project has been launched in association with Shankar Mahadevan Academy, which runs a digital initiative called Archive to Alive project, that keeps a record of rare compositions of Indian classical legends.
The project is the brain child of IME director Manasi Prasad, who was struck with the idea by her own curiosity about the violinist’s work. “In February 2019, when I was invited to perform some compositions by Chowdiah, I was surprised that there were very few compositions available online. It then became my goal to archive as much of his work as possible,” says Prasad. But there’s more to why the project is close to her heart: Her mother was a disciple of one of Chowdiah’s students.
The website has 17 compositions by Chowdiah, which have been recreated by Prasad, Bangalore Brothers (Ashok-Hariharan) and Ranjani Nagaraj. It also features rare photographs and information about him. Prasad, a Carnatic vocalist herself, says, “In today’s age, if something is not digital, it does not exist.
And musicians today can learn so many things from his work. People had a lot of respect for him in the classical music scene, especially in Madras, which is considered the land of classical legends. Maybe he didn’t get his due fame since he was a violinist and not a vocalist.” Sridhar Ranganathan, founder trustee of Shankar Mahadevan Academy Trust, adds, “The process of keeping this archives alive is challenging and fun at the same time.”
Though a great musician, Chowdiah was known for his simplicity. His granddaughter Sheela Boriah Chowdiah vouches for that. “My taatha was a simple, lovable and impartial person. He never used to distinguish between the poor and rich. In one of the stories I heard from my grandmother, he was supposed to head out somewhere and it was lunch time.
The driver was suppose to join my taatha for lunch but was late. So my grandmother asked him to have lunch and the driver can join in later but my taatha insisted that he waits for the driver,” says Sheela, who lost her grandfather in 1967 when she was 13 years old. Talking about the archive, she says, “Earlier it was difficult to record people’s work, but with the archive, his music is going to reach music lovers right at their homes.”
There’s more in store for music lovers. IME is also coming up with a contest from Oct. 25 onwards. “Musicians will get enough time to practise Chowdiah’s compositions, which they can record and submit on the site,” says Prasad. The competition will be judged by industry stalwarts. While people can access the songs free of cost for listening and self-study, they also can take help from digital classes from artistes directly involved in the project, which comes with a fee.