Ensemble shares Indian culture
Posted Oct. 13, 2006

Maria Villalpando

Geetha Ramanathan Bennett played a veena in Founders Auditorium on Friday. The veena, also known as the Saraswathi veena, is named after the goddess of learning and the arts, common in south India. Bennett has appeared in many different countries. Playing since she was a child, her veena can be heard in the IMAX film “Everest.”

The University of La Verne Department of Music hosted a concert featuring the Carnatic Music Music Ensemble, composed of artists Geetha Ramanathan Bennett, an accomplished veena and vocal artist and Mahesh Chidambara, a talented mridangam and ghatam player, on Oct. 6 in Founders Auditorium.

Geetha’s husband Frank Bennett joined her and Chidambara later on in the show to play the mridangam.

“I like the music because it’s part of my culture and heritage,” Murty Rallabhandi, an attendee and software engineer from India, said.

“The playing of a veena is a skill that is very challenging and difficult to master,” he added.

Students, faculty, children, and people from India all came last Friday to watch Bennett perform.

The veena is a string instrument and the mridangam is a hollow drum that is played with two hands.

Both instruments are made out of a jackfruit wood that is native to southwestern India.

The ghatam looks like a clay pot and is played by using the fingers and thumbs to hit the outer surface.

Sometimes the belly is used to play different sounds.

For example, hitting the top of the ghatam causes vibrations.

A tambourine also accompanied the other instruments during the show.

The stage had a simple setup composed of a red rug with white trimmings, a few microphones and three unique instruments.

Geetha Bennett and Chidambara performed their instruments while sitting down with their legs crossed.

As she played the veena she moved to the sweet tune as if the music had electrified her fingers and entered her soul.

She kept a straight face, but every so often the audience could catch a quick gleaming smile.

As she played the veena, the gold rings on her fingers and gold bracelets on her wrist shone in the audience’s eyes.

Geetha Bennett wore an Indian dress with beautiful greens, golds and reds woven throughout its design.

About 70 people crowded in the hall waiting to be seated before the show began.

The show started about 15 minutes late because Geetha Bennett and her ensemble were having problems during sound check.

“I’m surprised that so many people are here,” Nicole Pond, a sophomore music major, said. “Events like this are usually dead.”

Geetha told stories about her life experiences and talked about the veena during the show.

“In a typical Indian concert I wouldn’t say anything at all; just smile and play,” Geetha Bennett said.

In the middle of the show, Geetha sang and than imitated her voice on the veena.

Geetha wanted to show how the veena was like a voice.

As her left hand moved quickly across the strings and her mouth opened to sing a sweet tune, the combined result sounded as though she had become an integral part of the instrument.

Sarrie Fleming, a sophomore radio broadcast and music major enjoyed the Carnatic Music concert, but she said one part stood out more than the rest.

“I really liked the percussion solos,” Fleming said. “It was really interesting how they went back and forth, without missing a beat and improvised it all.”

Geetha Bennett has performed in countries such as Hong Kong and Canada.

She has also used her vocal skills to sing in the Hollywood feature films “The Guru” and “The Beeper.”

She also brought her talent to the small screen in he pilot television show “Swaroop.”

If you have seen the IMAX film “Everest” you might have remembered hearing the sound of her veena during the movie.

Telon Weathington can be reached at tweathington@ulv.edu.

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