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  India   All India  17 Nov 2019  The wind in the bellows: Harmonium takes centrestage

The wind in the bellows: Harmonium takes centrestage

Published : Nov 17, 2019, 2:31 am IST
Updated : Nov 17, 2019, 2:33 am IST

Through imagination and visualization, richness of harmonium has been touched upon through various compositions by Dr. Katoti.

Dr Ravindra G. Katoti
 Dr Ravindra G. Katoti

Born into a musically inclined family in Belagavi, Dr Ravindra G. Katoti's own love for the form was natural and deep-seated. “My father was an ardent lover of music, my mother was fond of singing. They sowed the seeds in me when I was a child.” The harmonium virtuoso describes it now as “a part of his entire being.” When he was eight years old, his father introduced him to Pandit Ramabhau Bijapure, a legendary harmonium exponent and the rest, as they say, was history.

He would watch in awe, as his Guru's fingers move deftly over the keys, watched the bellows expand and collapse, to create a magical sound. The features and characteristics of the instrument, he says, interested him deeply and the wide range of possibilities it presented would go on to enchant him for over two decades. The hand-pumped harmonium was created by Dwaraknath Ghose, to be played while the musician was sitting down on the floor. The first patent, however, belongs to Alexandre Debain, who patented his Harmonium with a Swarmandal, a small instrument that resembled a harp, in 1840 in Paris. This history drew Dr Katoti to similar instruments like the Western Accordion, flute, violin and the Hawaiian guitar. “Through my interactions with different instruments, I found that the harmonium could respond to the musical thresholds of other instruments. In the process, the hidden treasure of the harmonium is touched upon, resulting in a wide, colourful symphony.”

Through imagination and visualization, richness of harmonium has been touched upon through various compositions by Dr. Katoti. To gain this creative insight, he said, “We should be connected to the instrument with passion. To explore the possibilities of the instrument, we should go beyond the horizon of tradition and practises.”

Dr. Katoti's encounter with harmonium has blossomed to thematic representations of the symphony, such as- 'Journey in Harmony'- a concept where harmonium is the lead instrument backed or accompanied by an ensemble of 19 instruments. 'Anaahat', or 'beatless' is a concept where composition only constituted three harmoniums without any percussion. Samarasa Samvadini- is a visualisation of five acoustic keyboard instruments like harmonium, lead harmonium, accordions and a grand piano to explore different genres of world music forms like Hindustani, Carnatic, Light music, Western Classical and European Folk.

In t he Raaga Maalas, his recent composition, he gives renditions of three raga maalas, made up of a total of 60 raagas. The composition spreads across the 24-hour time cycle that ragas followed and is called the Samaya Chakra. “My response to those who consider the instrument dry is that it is very colourful, with many possibilities and the ability to create new flavours of sound and music.”

Though Harmonium originated in France, “Indian culture has become the only shelter for Harmonium,” Dr Katoti explains. It came to India during the 19th century and since then it has only received the status of an accompanying instrument. In fact, it was not recognised as a solo instrument and could not be used for solo performances in Akashavani. In ensemble concerts, the harmonium was used as accompaniment. Organisers of programmes, when questioned, would say they didn't find it worthy of being 'center-stage'. This inspired the conception of the Bijapure Harmonium Foundation in 2003, aimed at bringing this underrated instrument to the forefront. The foundation is the shared vision of Dr Katoti and his associate, Adv K.J. Kamath. Slowly, through their efforts, it is gaining its 'solo status'. The foundation is now a platform for harmonium enthusiasts, players, makers of instruments, teachers and passionate followers.

“Harmonium is a Vaishvikavaadya (global instrument) that can connect to all regions, religions, communities, socio-economic strata across the world. It is used in temples, masjids and churches for prayers, khawalis and hymns. It cuts across diverse cultures and religions. Therefore, harmony is the essence of the instrument.” Furthermore, it is the only instrument that is extensively used by all musicians. It is used in studios, music composers, teachers, students and players. “No other instrument has this large scope of being used,” he said.

Mr. Katoti admires his Guru for his relationship with Harmonium. To commemorate the centenary celebration of Guru Pt. Bijapure, Mr. Katoti initiated the World Harmonium Summit, organised by Bijapure Harmonium Foundation, in 2018 with the objective of opening up the instrument of harmonium and celebrating different genres of music across the world through harmonium.

Following this, the second summit will be held on three days from January 3-5 2020. The summit has been designed to be an interactive session with academic intent. It will bring performers from across the world to seek guidance and discuss issues that they are subjected to with respect to the value of music that they uphold through harmonium. This will also be a platform for providing voice to the manufacturers/creators of the instrument and the challenges that they face to meet up the demands of the contemporary world. He also began the Harmonium Habba, an annual event that celebrates the spirit of the instrument. It has helped identify a community in the city. “Bengaluru,”  he says, “is the only city in the world where the best artistes, across genres reside, providing an encouraging atmosphere for music as well as a devoted audience.”

Dr Katoti is an Associate Professor for Commerce and Management at the Government College of Commerce. “I was advised by my Guru and my parents about also engaging in alternative means of livelihood,” he explains. He finds great pleasure in teaching, as well, however.

The foundation has its own challenges, the obvious one being what Dr Katoti describes as a “Vitamin M Deficiency.” As a non-glamorous and non-commercial foundation, monetary challenges have become inevitable, he remarks. He firmly believes that the society of today should also actively engage in supporting and encouraging the journey of artists and performers as art has a rejuvenating role in the society's progress.

Tags: belagavi, ravindra g katoti