The mystique of Carnatic mandolin

Prakash Hariharan started playing mandolin by chance.

Published: 31st October 2018 11:09 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st November 2018 07:36 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI:Prakash Hariharan started playing mandolin by chance. In the music industry, he is fondly called ‘Mandolin’ Prakash. Growing up in a south Indian household, it was mandatory for Prakash to pursue some form of art. His guru UP Raju was his neighbour. This was a reason for his mother to enroll him in mandolin classes. “My learning process began during school days. After UP Raju, I went on to learn advanced vocal lessons from Padma Veeraraghavan and the legend KV Narayanaswamy. I’m honoured that my gurus were descendants of Tyagaraja Swamy. I’ve been teaching for ten years now. My curriculum involves what I had learned from my mentors,” says the city-based instrumentalist, who is also a voice-over artist.

Praskash’s latest venture is called Carnatic String Conservatory. It is an online on-demand classroom to learn Carnatic mandolin. As the name suggests, the programme will cater to other string instruments in future. The platform offers complete freedom to learn the way an individual wants to through two mediums — high quality recorded lessons and periodic webinars that addresses queries. The first webinar in Bengaluru was launched last week. Each course is split into several levels with different credits through video assessment or evaluation by tutors. Currently, teaching is handled by Prakash and his partner and one of his senior students, Sanjay Mithal. “Students receive feedback based on their performance. If the grades aren’t good, then we select a few students and offer them one-on-one training. The portal was launched on October 19, 2018 and the first global launch webinar was on October 21, 2018. We have 50 students from across the world. We have a 20-day trial for students to get a hang of the idea and teaching methodology. Soon my other students will join as tutors,” says Prakash, who believes in intensive and qualitative practice sessions for two to three hours a day.

Mp3 mandolin is his personal venture to create a brand for custom-made mandolin and guitar. “We had difficulty in locating quality luthiers. This instrument is niche and Carnatic music requires more customisation. For last 20 years, I have worked with a couple of luthiers and made my own instruments. In 2014, I had my first tour to USA to launch my Carnatic album. We discussed the idea of customising our instrument and I was impressed with the outcome. In 2016, we made 10-15 instruments for my students. We have already started production for 25 instruments this month,” he adds.

Mandolin shot to fame in the Carnatic music scene in the 1980s. Since the instrument is customised and modified to suit the music, they weren’t readily available in the market. When asked about the challenges in picking up the art, Prakash says, “Carnatic music in general is a challenging art form. The varieties, complexities and dynamics require devoted and rigorous practice schedules. Many of my students are working professionals and pursue it as a passion. The initial question is ‘Will I be able to get somewhere in this field?’ This instrument is more intricate and requires prolonged practice with frequent evaluation. It takes a couple of years to get a grasp of the instruments. Certain concepts are abstract, but over time it becomes easy.” Prakash ensures that the kids take up vocal lessons and also learn to play alternate instrument to ease the process.

Prakash also performs classical and contemporary gigs. He has a five-piece fusion band that tours around the world to perform. “We explore different styles and genres. I studied western classical and jazz. Each artist needs to listen to the other one. In fusion each one is trained in a different way and when it comes to performing together something might be lagging. I’m collaborating with music directors for films,” he says.

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