Another String To Her Bow: Freshman Abirami “Abi” Meyyappan plays the carnatic violin
Q&A with freshman Abirami “Abi” Meyyappan who plays the carnatic violin, a classical Indian instrument
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Talk a little bit about the instrument you play.
I play the Indian carnatic violin. In Indian carnatic music there’s a set of notes, and there are a lot of different sets of the same notes, just in different pitches… It often accompanies a singer. For people who sing carnatic music, a lot of violinists play for them, and you follow along with a plan and add more things. There are a lot of different parts to it.
How long have you been playing?
I started September of last year, so I’ve been playing for about a year.
I’ve been playing Western violin since I was five years old, and recently my sister – she’s a carnatic singer, and she gave her vocal concert over last summer, and so there was a professional accompanying her, and just for one song I played with her, and I used my western violin, but matched it to those notes, and a lot of people told me that I should try carnatic violin… My mom contacted some of her friends; then I started learning carnatic violin over Skype with an Indian teacher.
How do lessons over Skype work?
It’s kind of hard because I have to coordinate it with the time in India, so I have my lessons 9:30 to 10:30 at night, twice a week, and just over Skype, and sometimes it’s hard because of internet problems, but usually it’s pretty smooth.
How serious are you about pursuing the carnatic violin?
I want to accompany singers when I get older, like, accompany their concerts.
What opportunities do carnatic violinists have to perform?
For programs, there are soloist violinists that… would play various songs like a varnam or a krithi – those are types of longer pieces. There are solo competitions that you could do; usually there’s someone on a mridangam, which is like an Indian kind of drum, who accompanies that, or you play for people which would be like a kind of concert, so there’s one person singing and one person on the Indian violin and one person on the mridangam.
Other than accompanying your sister, have you performed?
Over this summer, one of my friends Priya sang… she asked if I would accompany her… I also did a solo performance at the temple.
What are some differences between the carnatic and Western violins?
The main difference is probably the position, because (in) Western you stand and then carnatic is when you’re sitting down…almost crisscross, but then you have the scroll of the violin on the palm of your foot… you bow kind of like if you were to bow a cello. Other differences are… the notes… In western violin it’s written with the five bars and all that, but in carnatic violin, the notation is with letters. The carnatic violin has a lot of sliding. In western violin when you’re shifting, they’re straight shifts, but in carnatic violin there’s a lot of slides.