Great lakes Aradhana Committee (GLAC) celebrates its Silver Jubilee of promoting Indian classical music and dance with a month long festival, Sarovar-2012 in May. The celebration includes a grand inaugural concert by Dr. Nithyasree Mahadevan on May 4th, Saint Thyagaraja Day celebration at Paschima Kasi temple in Flint, Michigan and several other exciting programs featuring youth talent in North America and very renowned visiting artists from India such as Sangeetha Kalanidhi Madurai Shri. T N Seshagopalan and Ranjani-Gayatri.
Following is an excerpt from the interview with Mr. Sankar Krishnan, President of GLAC and a connoisseur of music.
Can you tell us the origin of GLAC?
GLAC was the result of a dream of a few music enthusiasts who felt the need to promote Indian culture through spreading of music to the local community. A beginning was made with celebration of saint Thyagaraja, one of the greatest composers of carnatic music from 17th century. We have not changed the format of this event even now. The day starts with group singing of 5 gems of the great composer followed by individual singing by local children. After a free lunch prepared and lovingly served by the local community, a grand concert follows which is usually by a visiting artist from India. The entire event is free and I must acknowledge the two factors that enable us to organize this- the willingness of the Paschima Kasi temple to provide auditorium free of cost and the amazing generosity of the classical music concert lovers in Flint in underwriting the expenses of the program, which lasts the whole day.
Please tell us more about the formative years.
Sure! Encouraged by the large attendance at the Flint festival, we began organizing carnatic music concert by touring artists from India and other highly gifted artists from North America. We featured almost all top artists such as K V Narayanaswamy, Flute N Ramani, T N Seshagopalan, Bombay Jayasree, Sudha Raghunathan, Sanjay Subramaniam, T M Krishna and many others. During the initial years, GLAC operated as a sister organization of Michigan Tamil Sangam (MTS). With boom in auto and IT industry, the demographics of MTS changed considerably and had to cater to a bigger diversified population; while it gave an opportunity for GLAC to come out of the cocoon and spread its wings and become an independent entity, thus making it able to concentrate on it’s mission.
What are some of the challenges the organization faced in the initial years?
Carnatic music has always had a niche audience and has struggled to draw the big crowds drawn by the ‘popular culture’ and this issue has not changed much even today. The large exodus of people after individual singing and lunch during the festivals, rapidly rising fees for concerts demanded by national sponsors of artists, reluctance of local community to pay and listen to a music concert, increasing unwillingness of artists to permit recording of the concert which used to defray some of the cost by sale of CDs, rising cost of auditorium rentals, inconsistent support by local music teachers in the community and from the parents of their students… the list goes on!!! From a parents perspective, it very important to expose the kids (and themselves) to live concerts – not just attend the festivals which offer stage time. The kids and parents should be able to sit through and enjoy concerts and I think without this commitment, there is no point in learning music without being able to appreciate it. Eventually there will drop outs due to lack of interest and also not being a part of the musical ecosystem. Joining our organization will be mutually beneficial for all musically inclined families. Regardless of these pet peeves, I’m happy to say that the organization is only becoming stronger in every year of its existence.
When did your personal involvement start in the organization?
I used to attend almost all GLAC events and concerts since I moved to Detroit in 1998. I was very fortunate that my wife and two daughters also loved this form of music and we used to enjoy going to the concerts together just as we used to do while in India. I remember a concert in 2005 by a very well-known artist and there were about 25 people in the audience! At the end of the concert, one of the organizers approached me and asked if I would be interested in being part of it. The burn factor had caught on many of the die-hard enthusiastic organizers and a completely new team was being formed and I readily accepted the role of Secretary. I would consider 2006 as the beginning of GLAC- Version 2.0 - an upgrade from the previous years. To start with, we registered the organization as a non-profit one. In order to bring predictability in our cash flow, we started a subscription- based model encouraging people to become members for a guaranteed set of 4 concerts in a year. We established a web site and started mass communication gradually moving away from word-of-mouth marketing of concerts. We gave visibility of future programs so that people could plan in advance. We created an organization structure with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Our new model was a great success and in five years we had reached a fairly healthy state in terms of membership base and capital.
How did the idea of Sarovar festival come about?
Towards the end of 2010, I was attending an Arangetram by the student of Vidwan Sashi Kiran. During dinner, Shri Sashi Kiran introduced me to Prof. Mark Stone, Department of Music, Theatre and dance at Oakland University and mooted the idea of a music festival in Detroit by collaboration of OU and GLAC. So, the seeds of this festival were sown by Shri Sashi Kiran and we sincerely acknowledge this. Fortunately, when we followed up with Prof Mark Stone a few days later his enthusiasm had not diminished and he locked-in University facility for three days in May, 2011 for us to conduct the festival. We had 8 months to plan the event and with our new capital base and a high-energy new committee member, Sriram Ganapathy brought in his deep marketing expertise and an MBA degree we had a head-start and as they say the rest is history!
Can you tell us more about the name ‘Sarovar’?
After the seeds of the festival were sown, the need for branding this unique festival was felt within the organization. After many rounds of discussions and names proposed, we couldn’t come up with a more pertinent name than ‘Sarovar’ – a Sanskrit term signifying the Great lakes and the key identifier in the community in which we live in. Like I said, our marketing expert, Sriram Ganapathy took up the reins on the concept of branding and marketing that within a short time, the name Sarovar had a déjà vu feeling of being synonymous with music.
Please tell us about Sarovar 2012?
Taking all the feedback from the people from our last year's festival, we have put together a variety of programs. First of all, we decided to spread the festival over weekends over a month-long period in 6 different venues spread across SE Michigan from Ann Arbor, Canton, Farmington Hills, Rochester Hills, Troy and Flint. Besides concerts of stalwarts such as T N Seshagopalan, Nithyasree, Ranjani- Gayatri we are also promoting youth talent from across North America. We also have a dance program featuring dance styles of Odissi, Kuchupudi, Kathak and Bharatanatyam. We make sure our membership will get their ROI and a bang for the buck -- something they always expect from us.
What is your vision for the future of GLAC?
Fortunately, I took the leadership role after GLAC reached dizzying heights from the success of Sarovar 2011 and first of all I want to thank my colleagues in the committee for their faith in electing me for this privilege of leading the organization. We have a very strong team who bring a diverse set of talent and above all a passion for music. We have embarked on GLAC- Version 3.0 and building a musical ecosystem by building partnership with institutions, like minded organizations, partners, sponsors etc and the goal is to create one-stop resource for Classical music and dance in South East Michigan. For example, we have partnered with icarnatic.org and regularly feature select concerts as webcasts. Our partnership with Oakland U continues to grow and we are proud to announce Washtenaw Community college as a new partner this year. We still have a long way to go to bring all the other music related organizations to our fold and believe that our new white labeling concept launched this year will go a long way in bridging the gap.
What is your personal motivation?
I am glad you asked this! I want to tell a small personal story. About 23 years ago, I was going on a downward spiral in my personal life with a highly depressive mood. Fortunately, a good friend introduced me to carnatic music and I took it whole heartedly and became a completely new person! With constant music atmosphere at home, my children took up music seriously and I have seen them listening to a particular song before some very stressful exam or activity. So, I know what our rich music can do to one's personal life and career. About 1 in 10 in the USA suffers from major depression symptoms. I hope that with my association with music, I can make a difference for at least one person in my life that I can convert to a rasika, a music enthusiast and change his or her life just as someone changed my life!
Special thanks to Sriram Ganapathy, Great Lakes Aradhana Committee (GLAC)