Guitar R. Prasanna - A Magical Mystery Tour


Music is certainly one of man's noblest and most powerful mediums of communication. Great music is TRUTH itself. A 'kamalamba navavarna' kriti of Dikshitar, a 'Goldberg Variations' of Bach, a 'Hammerklavier' sonata of Beethoven or a 'Love Supreme' of John Coltrane are all equally powerful musical statements, though in very varied styles.

It has been a magical mystery tour for me, exploring the oneness that characterises great musical forms like Carnatic music, Western classical music and Jazz. In this context, it pains me to see Carnatic musicians dismissing Western music under the most trivial pretext that it has only 'plain notes' and 'Western musicians' sometimes dismissing Carnatic music because it has no 'harmony' (neither of it is true incidentally).

Turning into a professional Carnatic musician after being a rock guitarist playing the likes of Santana and Deep Purple may not be very common, but for me it was a very natural process. Today, with a lot more exposure, study and performing experience in Carnatic music and multiple forms of contemporary western music including European classical music, jazz, blues, rock, funk, latin etc, I am happy to see that music has always been a unifying force and never a divisive force within me.

My studies at the Berklee College of music in the US opened me up to a whole new world. My intense passion for Jazz improvisation and Western Classical Composition and my training in Carnatic music, proved to be invaluable assets in my unraveling some of the mysteries of Western music.

When I write my Classical compositions whether it's a String Quartet or a symphonic work or Jazz compositions whether it's for a trio, quartet or a big band, Carnatic music demands itself to be there yet without forcing itself into them in a superficial way.

It may be relevant here to point out Carnatic music is virtually unknown outside of India except in very selected academic and world music circles. I have taken it up as my mission to do as much as I can, in changing this scenario. I have been trying to do this in two ways- 1) presenting carnatic music, as it should be and 2) presenting carnatic music with integrity inside a larger context of western music- both in improvisation and composition.

In this respect, I should mention that it was a rare and touching experience for me performing before a packed audience of around 1400 people in a town called Fairbanks in Alaska (the town had 20 Indian families). I not only feel honoured to have been the first ever Indian to have performed there, but also about the fact that the first strains of Indian music that ever echoed in a concert hall there, belonged to Dikshitar and Tyagaraja (for once!). It was an equally memorable experience for me to premiere Marc Rossi's specially composed 'Concerto for carnatic guitar and jazz orchestra' in Boston.

And so, the journey continues........