By Saurabh Mishra
MELBOURNE, 7 APRIL 2020: As the world including Australia grappled with the corona virus crisis amidst lockdowns and strict social distancing restrictions, the Melbourne Indian community beat the otherwise gloomy atmosphere with songs and music. The Music Evening called the ‘Sangeet Sandhya’ innovated and emerged in its new form laced with technology. People participated or just enjoyed from the comfort of their homes the physical event digitally for the first time with Zoom, the video conferencing software from the Zoom Video Communications, Inc., US.
Faced with the new world of social distancing, the organisers of Sangeet & Swar Sandhya – Sharda Kala Kendra, headed by Mr. Rashid Sultan, felt that rather than take the easy route of cancelling the Sandhyas for the foreseeable future, they should instead, persist, adapt and re-invent. As one of the team eloquently put it, “The patrons of Sangeet Sandhya are no doubt already worried for their health and financial future. We should not add to their woes by taking away this beloved institution too”.
And so it was, that the very first Digital Sangeet Sandhya was held on Saturday 4th April using the Zoom video conferencing facility. About 150 people joined in from their homes to hear over 40 singers perform. Some of the singers performed with musical instruments they had at home (Harmonium, Tabla, Guitar, Keyboard), and others managed to plug in Karaoke tracks. The technology held up very well all night, and the overall experience was magical.
Some highlights included Namrata Trivedi’s soulful and masterful presentation of Thhumri, Hori and Chaiti, and Saurabh Mishra’s use of the Zoom screen-share feature to have the lyrics and meaning of the Ghazal that he presented showing as sub-titles as he sang. What’s more, Radheyshyam Gupta and Ratan Mulchandani also joined from Gurgaon, India and Newcastle, NSW respectively, as did an old Sangeet Sandhya alumnus – Hema Raina from New Jersey, USA.
Sangeet Sandhya is an icon for the Melbourne Indian community. It is a beloved open-mic community music event that was started by Shri Radheyshyam Gupta OAM, Mr.Ratan Mulchandani and Mr. Niranjan Chaudhary in 1997.
For the 23 years since then, it has been held unabated on the first Saturday of every second month, and anyone that turns up and wants to sing or play an instrument is warmly invited to do so.
By popular demand, a Karaoke format called Swar Sandhya was spun off some 10 years ago. Many a talented amateur musician has been “discovered” thanks to these Sandhyas, especially amongst new arrivals into Melbourne. But more than anything else, the Sandhyas have become a bona fide hub around which a vibrant community of music-lovers has been built up.
The team of volunteer organisers, worked very hard in the build-up to the Sandhya, generously helping people figure out how to connect, and indeed how best to perform with the technology. They were also kept busy throughout the evening, troubleshooting, producing the event, and managing the very lively online chat that was also running side-by-side.