Shankar Mahadevan Meets Berklee

It all started five years ago when Annette Philip, a 2009 graduate of Berklee College of Music who went on to join the faculty as a member of the Voice and Ensemble Departments, decided to develop an ensemble group to expand on, explore and experiment with their knowledge of the music of India. That first semester, 18 students took part in the launching of the Berklee Indian Ensemble; the following term, enrollment more than doubled. The group now features over 40 musicians for each concert. They have also accumulated over 23 million views on YouTube with their viral music videos.  The Ensemble has been featured throughout the United States at various festivals and music venues, and traveled to Bengaluru, India, to perform at one of India’s most prestigious music festivals, Bengaluru Ganesh Utsava, this September.

“Obviously there was a need for the ensemble,” Philip said in an interview with Color magazine. “It’s become a great musical outlet for students because it allows them to bring elements of their culture and use them as a way to compose and create music in the Indian medium. Some students use the traditional instruments of their culture, for example, and use them to play a traditional Indian piece of music. Others try to blend their primary musical style more directly with the Indian music; for the concert this we have some students who have found a way to combine metal/grunge rock with Indian music. It goes to show how limitless the choices can be even when you are working within a specific musical tradition.”

The ‘show’ Philip is referring to takes place Dec. 13 and will feature performances by members of the Berklee Indian Ensemble, along with a performance by Indian master vocalist and composer Shankar Mahadevan, who is an artist in residence at the school this month.

“He is an absolute monster in Indian music, and I mean that in the nicest possible way,” Philip said. “When word got out that Shankar would be playing, the ensemble show suddenly became the hottest ticket in town. The show sold out almost immediately, back in October, but people are still calling the office asking if we will be adding a second show. Unfortunately, there’s not time to schedule a second show, but at least people have a chance to stream it on their computers.

“It’s not the same as being there, but it’s still gives fans a chance to be part of the event, if remotely, and learn more about the ensemble and Indian music,” Philip said. “It’s also the perfect way for people who don’t know a lot about Indian music to listen and watch to see if it’s something they want to explore in more detail.”