Published: April 18, 2014

“The main point of this festival is to promote the art of Indian music to youth. It is a youth-to-youth outreach effort. As we have moved into the 21st century, one problem this ancient art form faces is that the usual audience for this music is the older generation. We are hoping to change this. The goals of the Avartan Fetival are to present the music and promote the culture to youth, from our peers to the youngest children growing up today. It is such a rich a vibrant tradition and it is important for us to keep it alive.”

--Gaayatri Kaundinya, Avartan Music Festival Director and Founder

What:  Avartan Music Festival
When:  May 10, 2014
Where: Schoenberg Hall
Morning show: 11am - 2pm
Dinner: 5pm
Evening show: 6pm - 10pm
Admission: FREE
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Interview with Gaayatri Kaundinya

Interviewed by Donna Armstrong on Friday, April 11, 2014.

D.A.: I am speaking with Gaayatri Kaundinya, the organizer, or one of the organizers, of the Avartan Festival coming up on May 10. Gaayatri, I know that you have organized other festivals. Could you tell me about this one? Are you the only organizer?

G.K.: We have a board consisting of students, SPICMACAY club members, faculty mentors, and student volunteers that organize the whole festival, but I am the festival director and the founder. I do a lot of the organizational work for it myself.

D.A.: How did you come up with this idea?

G.K.: This is a funny story: I was incidentally making Alfredo sauce at 2am, and was waiting for it to cook, not realizing the flame on the stove was off. I started talking to one of my friends who goes to Stanford, while killing time. He’s a classical tabla player who has been studying his whole life. Somehow we got to talking about how a lot of people all over the country and all over our state pursue Indian music, and though we’re all in different places, we all still share this passion, and we want to make music together. So I suggested to him, "Why not have a festival together where we can do that: meet each other and be able to play and explore what everyone has in terms of their talent?" And he said, “Yeah, but that would take a lot of work, wouldn’t it?” When he said this, I thought, “No, this is going to happen; I’m going to make sure that it happens.” That was the birth of Avartan.

D.A.: Is this the second year that you have had the festival?

G.K.: This is the third year.

D.A.: The third year! Could you tell us about some of the artists, or the range of genres?

"We have lots of North Indian classical musicians as well as South Indian classical musicians...Everyone has different styles and they are trained by different teachers so, even if they do a similar thing, they still end up sounding different."

G.K.: We have lots of North Indian classical musicians as well as South Indian classical musicians, and it ranges…lots of instruments, including tabla, mridangam, vocal, violin, harmonium, veena, etc. We have people who play all sorts of things who come. It is really interesting because everyone has different styles and they are trained by different teachers so, even if they do a similar thing, they still end up sounding different because they have a different training.

D.A.: Are these professionals and students?

G.K.: They are student-professionals. Some of them have recently graduated, even from UCLA. One of the graduates from the Ethno Department, Aditya Prakash, is going to be in it. He is touring and being a professional musician now. Same with some of the artists like Vani Ramamurthi. She spent the last two years after college in India as a musical performer. She just got a huge award from All-India Radio as an “A” grade artist. So these are people who aren’t just doing this for fun, even if they are students, and even if they just graduated; all of us are doing this full time.

D.A.: I see. Do you have a program or do the performers explain from the stage: their life and their reasons for playing?

G.K.: We put that on the program. It’s a big showcase so most of that comes through the program.

D.A.: So, the audience would come away understanding why it is important to have the showcase?

G.K.: Definitely. It is really unique that we are putting something on like this because nothing else that has been done across the country is anywhere close to this. Among the music community, every year we are getting more support in terms of donations as well as audience support.  I think people really appreciate what we are doing.

D.A.: Do the performers come from far away?

G.K.: Yes, they come from all around the state. Actually this year, we have people coming from around the country. We are flying people in from as far away as New York and Tennessee.

D.A.: Who are the team – the organizers?

G.K.: I am the director, and then we have Kush Bhatt who is our producer, two directors of events (Anu Murthy, and Ananya Ashok), two directors of publicity (Riju Dasgupta, and Ram Kaundinya), social chair Sushma Murthy, volunteer coordinator Nilesh Murali, and our faculty mentor Professor Dan Neuman. The board was put together based on who volunteers, and what is wonderful is that the performers themselves volunteer to be on the board and put on the show making it a full youth-to-youth outreach.

D.A.: Did you have a lot of organizing experience before you came to school here? Or are you gaining it from doing this?

G.K.: Just gaining it. I’ve also helped organize pieces for the San Francisco World Music Festival’s Youth Music Showcases from which I’ve drawn much of my inspiration in the way I run things.

D.A.: One more question: Are a certain percentage of the performers born in India? Or are they Indian American? To what extent did you learn about your culture in India, or learn about it as Indian Americans?

"This year none of us were born in India. That’s one of the big distinguishing facts about this festival."

G.K.: All of the performers are Indian American. In fact, this year none of us were born in India. That’s one of the big distinguishing facts about this festival. It is a generation of kids who were born and brought up in America, who are still pursuing traditional Indian music at the highest level, often significantly raising the bar for the standard of music. We are very connected to our roots and our culture and this is our way of paying respect to it, as well as learning more about it. Many of the performers have spent lots of time in India. I myself have gone and studied there for six months at a time, and the other performers routinely go every year for concert season. We are very connected to our roots. A lot of us are first generation Indian Americans. We are the first in our family, born in America.

D.A.: Thank you for the interview, Gaayatri. Best wishes for a great concert.