Now for a user-friendly mridangam
THE MRIDANGAM is an instrument that has undergone precious little change over the years. With Carnatic music becoming ever more global, might it be useful or even essential to take a second look at the traditional design? "Yes," says young mridangist Rohan Krishnamurthy who is in Chennai to participate in the music festival. "Chitravina Ravikiran is a good example," adds Rohan, "who has made the ancient chitravina more user-friendly without compromising on quality." Highly artisan dependent, traditional mridangams are difficult to maintain even in Chennai, let alone Chicago or Toronto.
"Pitch maintenance and head replacement are the two biggest problems for mridangam practitioners," says Rohan. Add to that the need to change the heads often and own a large number of instruments to cover the broad pitch range of vocalists and instrumentalists. The solution to this daunting dilemma may be in an innovative design recently carried out by Rohan. "I was inspired by the so-called `mridangam with hooks,' a design that was adapted from the Dolak and western drums," he said. The hooks however are prone to hurt the fingers. Rohan's design, which has been accepted for publication as a research article in the music journal Percussive Notes, a publication of the Percussive Arts Society, is an ideal blend of tradition and technology. The basic design consists of a nut and bolt fastening mechanism combined with the traditional woven rope. "To the audience, it would appear as any normal mridangam," Rohan says. Changing the heads is no problem.
What are the other plus points of this design? According to Rohan, "an instrument employing this new design can, in theory, cover the entire pitch range of C4 to A4 (1 to 6)." Rohan has already used his new mridangam in many performances, including a recent series of performances and lectures in the Midwestern United States with the Chitravina Ravikiran.
Rohan is keen to apply for a U.S. patent and explore the possibilities of using Acoustic Spectroscopic Analysis to fine-tune, if necessary, the new mridangam and compare tonal qualities. Teenager Rohan from Michigan began learning the mridangam at a very young age from Dhamodharan Srinivasan and continued training with the mridangam maestro Guruvayur Dorai. Rohan has been performing on stage since the age of nine with leading artists and has won several awards, here and back in the U.S. He maintains his own website, www.rohanrhythm.com.
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