Nancy Lesh Kulkarni plays the cello at Chinmaya Vidyalaya in Jamshedpur on Wednesday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
Sorry, Mr Kipling, the east and west do meet and make music.
Nancy Lesh Kulkarni, born in the US and settled in Pune, plays the Dhrupad on the cello and even teaches students all over the world how to do so on Skype, a perfect example of east-west fusion if there ever was one.
A trained cellist in western classical music, Nancy came to India in 1982 as a tourist. “The three-month summer holidays changed my life. I fell in love with Indian classical music. I came with my cello and I never went back,” said the graceful artiste currently on a visit to Jamshedpur under the banner of Spic Macay and staying in XLRI.
On Wednesday, she performed at Hill Top School, Telco, and Chinmaya Vidyalaya in Bistupur South Park. On Thursday, she will perform at Kerala Samajam Model School in the morning.
Dhrupad, the most ancient style of Hindustani classical music, derives its name from Dhruva, the fixed star, and pada or poetry, and traces its origin to Sam Veda. With some evolutions, by 11th Century AD, Dhrupad music became what we recognise it as, and has retained its structure and purity of all the ragas and the swaras.
Dhrupad is played on traditional Indian stringed instruments violin, sitar and veena. Nancy, who had learnt the cello in Chicago and played in the Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence, Italy, decided to try playing this Hindustani classical form on the cello.
She assumed that strings have no east-west divide. She was right.
The four strings of her cello that played the symphonies of Bach could play Bhimpalasi — “that’s my favourite raga, by the way” — with equal ease.
“I use the same cello that was gifted to me by my parents. And for the past 30 years in India I am learning classical music and performing Dhrupad on the cello,” she said.
A keen teacher, she has six students in Pune and some more in Venezuela and Boston through Skype. And she is a dedicated learner too. She has learnt from Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, a maestro of Dhrupad on the veena, as well as vocalist Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar.
Chinmaya Vidyalaya students, who got a chance to interact with Nancy after her performance, were curious to know what brought her close to Indian music and whether she changed anything.
“Yes, I have tweaked the cello a bit to suit the requirements of Dhrupad. And yes, unlike western cellists, I have stopped sitting on a chair. I sitting on ground while playing,” she laughed.