The Chembur Fine Arts Society, one of the foremost cultural organisations in Mumbai, is going places with its innovative and pioneering efforts in promoting and propagating Indian music and dance. The recent thematic annual conferences on Carnatic music have certainly caught the imagination of the music-loving public. The last three years have witnessed detailed discussions and demonstrations on the Musical instruments of Carnatic music. The first conference, on String instruments, was held in February 1999. Spread over two days, it highlighted in detail the various stringed instruments used in Carnatic music. Whereas the first day was dedicated to string instruments of Indian origin, like the Vina, Chitravina etc, the second day covered instruments of western origin that have been successfully adopted in Carnatic music (Violin, Guitar, Mandolin etc). The participants included top-notch instrumentalists. Wherever possible, different schools and styles were also featured. The conferences in 2000 and 2001 covered Wind instruments and Percussion instruments respectively.

In the coming weeks, Carnatica will bring you the papers presented by the participants at these Conferences.





By V L Kumar

The Viola is a stringed instrument which originated in Portugal. It made its entry into India during the British rule, approximately two hundred years ago. Double bass, Cello, Viola and Violin belong to the same family but, with variation in size. All the above mentioned instruments were frequently used by the British in symphony music and in the Governer's band. Since then, we have adopted their instruments and style in Indian classical music.

Several instruments like Harmonium, Vina, Flute and Viola had been tried as accompaniment to Carnatic vocal concerts. For various reasons they did not seem to achieve success. It was found that only Violin reigned supreme and satisfied all the demands of this system of music, and the rest gained place as solo instruments. The Violin also eventually gained stature as a solo instrument.

The Viola is approximately an inch or slightly more in length than the Violin. The pitch or sruti of Viola is generally C or C sharp (1 - 1 1/2 kattai), or sometimes even less, which shows that the quality of tone is rather base. It does not have a shrill tone like the Violin. The bow used for the Viola is thicker and smaller than the bow used for Violin. After the instrument has been adapted for Carnatic music, its tuning has also undergone a change. Compared to the Violin, since the size of Viola is bigger, the placement of fingers also differs.

Any experienced violinist with a little practice can perform on the Viola since there is not much of a difference in the playing technique. Despite its similarity to the Violin, the Viola has not gained popularity even as a solo instrument compared to Vina and Flute.

So far, there have been very few performers like Dr. Balamuralikrishna, Chittor Kumaresan (AIR staff, Chennai), R Hemamalini (Chennai), V L Sudarshan, son of late V L Vedagiri (Chennai) and me.
Related links: Other articles from the Chembur Conference
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