‘The Singing Violin’ returns to Kaua‘i

When picturing a world-class violinist, most don’t imagine a woman conducting her concerts cross-legged on the floor. Even fewer would imagine her holding the violin cradled against her chest, rather than positioning it against her clavicle.

But this is the only way Kala Ramnath knows how to make her violin “sing” for audiences. The stunning virtuoso joins percussionist Ty Burhoe in concert for “An Evening of the Classical Music of India” Nov. 4 at the Church of the Pacific in Princeville. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

Ramnath, who has been described as a “musician of giant-like qualities,” has successfully taken North Indian classical music and brought it to the masses. She uses the violin — the same violin used for Western classical music — and postures the instrument differently to create a sound suited to Indian music. She has earned the nickname “The Singing Violin” for her ability to mimic the sound of a human singing voice by adjusting the way she bows and fingers her instrument.  

She brings vocal emotion to her music, which has moved audience members to tears.

“I’m dumfounded,” she said about the emotion she sees from audiences members. “I don’t know what to say. That’s the truth. People experience a lot of different emotions. I thank God that he has given me this music that has the power to shake people up.”

While her travels have taken her all over the world — she’s graced stages throughout North America, Europe, Australia and Asia — Ramnath is genuine when she says her favorite place to perform is “anywhere my concert is good.”

“I really do not plan out anything for my concerts until I go on stage,” she continues. “My mind is so empty. Even after I go on stage, I wonder what I’m doing. There’s so many times I ask my accompanist, ‘Hey, what do I do?’”

It’s the journey that Ramnath relishes, and she finds inspiration in other artists and the people she is performing with.

“I listen to a lot of music,” she said. “It’s not like I just listen to Indian or classical music. I listen to every kind of music. When you are listening to all things, something that might interest you in someone’s singing and splaying might get embedded in your mind, and later on it will come our in your music.”

Lately, Ramnath said she has been listening to several genres of music, which crossover into her concerts. Her recent foray into world and fusion music have been a success, collaborating with African musicians, Spanish flamenco guitarists and jazz saxophonists. 

She lists Indian singer Kishori Amonkar and Indian tabla player and composer Zakir Hussain among her influences.

“These are two people I really admire,” she said. “They inspire me. They make me feel I should do things differently and stand out as a musician.”

Despite her modesty, Ramnath stands out as one of the forerunners of Mewati Gharana. She was born into a prestigious musical family and started playing the violin when she was two-and-a-half years old. The seventh generation musician started composing original music when she was 13.

Her grandfather, Vidwan Narayan Iyer, started her on her path as a musician — teaching Ramnath the fundamentals — but she credits the 15 years she spent studying under Mewati vocal maestro Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj for her musical growth.

“Music is very abstract,” she said. “You can’t say that this note goes here, and that note goes there. It has to be in your mind. You must be able to see the notes, and that I gained from him.”

After her performances on the islands, Ramnath along with Burhoe will travel to New Zealand and Australia for a string of performances. For her concert in Kaua‘i, Ramnath said she wants to share her music with a new audience.

“I encourage everybody to come to the concert and listen to it without any pre-conceived notions about this music.”

What: “An Evening of the Classical Music of India” with KalaRamnath and Ty Burhoe

When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4

Where: Church of the Pacific in Princeville

Cost: $15 at www.tyburhoe.com or $20 at the door

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