Plymouth musician brings India’s classical sounds to the Hilde

Maithree with Nirmala Rajasekar brings ‘music of friendship’ from around the world

Nirmala Rajasekar plays the veena, an ancient instrument derived in India. Also pictured is her daughter, Shruthi. (Sun Sailor photo by Kristen Miller)

Bringing eclectic sounds from around the globe, longtime Plymouth resident Nirmala Rajasekar and her ensemble Maithree, will perform Thursday, June 22 at the Hilde Amphitheater as part of the city’s Entertainment in the Parks series.

Rajasekar, who has performed the south India classical music known as Carnatic for nearly 40 years, is excited to be bringing a diverse and unique sound to the community.

“Particularly in the world that is 2017 right now, I just feel we need to put the message out there about peace, living together, and accepting the beauty that is around us wherever it comes from,” she said. “The timing couldn’t have been better for us to bring everyone together.”

Rajasekar started studying music when she was 6 years old, and performing at age 13.

Her instrument, the veena, happens to be the national instrument of India and is a 2,000-year-old string instrument.

While she has a master’s degree in computer systems management, she never stopped playing music. Noting it was tricky juggling two careers while raising two children, Rajasekar decided to pursue her passion of music, and made it into a full-time career of teaching and performing.

Now, music has become her life, she said.
“Music to me is my religion,” she said. “You see music in God and God in music,” she said.

She has since performed around the world, in renowned venues such as Carnegie Hall. Locally, she has performed at the Walker Art Center and was also featured on Minnesota Public Television and Radio.

Rajasekar was also a 2006 Bush Fellowship recipient and has received the McKnight Foundation Fellowship, along with the India Association of Achievement Award.

Two days after her Hilde performance, she and her daughter, Shruthi, a 2014 Wayzata High School graduate and a music major at Princeton, will take off to perform in India and Australia. Rajasekar will be there performing for six weeks and will study Indian film music as part of a summer internship.
“She’s a very gifted musician and composer,” Rajasekar said of her daughter.

In addition to performing all over the world, she also has several albums, with a new one being released next year.
“There is nothing about that is certain,” she said of her musical career, despite the success she has had. “You have to keep working at it all the time.”

“It’s flight or famine, and one has to be prepared for the famine or drought as much as the flight,” she said.

Growing up and throughout the years, Rajasekar credits her musical influences.
“I had the best teachers – very renowned,” she said, noting she is also a vocalist.

Maithree band members Pat and Tim O’Kefee, Nirmala Rajasekar, Michelle Kinney, and Shrini. (Submitted photo)

Because this is an ancient form of music, it’s mainly taught by a professional and then passed down. This particular style of music is “very hard to notate,” Rajasekar said.
“So a lot of it has to do with ear training,” she said. There are too many nuances to write down, therefore, the music is highly improvisational. “All my friends are great improvisers,” she said of her band, Maithree.

Because it’s such an old tradition, she finds teaching others is a “privileged duty,” and teaches in her home studio as well as on location. For example, she recently taught the art of improvisation for a University of Minnesota graduate program.

“If I don’t continue to teach, whatever I have learned will go with me,” she said.

The art of improvisation is where her ensemble, Maithree comes into play. Maithree is Sanskrit for friendship, therefore, she and her four band mates create “the music of friendship.”

“I just love the amazing friendships music gives me,” she said.

Each one of the musicians provides their own form music, and Maithree provides a “strong balance” between them all. For example, Michelle Kinney performs the cello and brings her music from Ireland, while Tim O’Kefee provides sounds with drums from the Middle East and North Africa. Other band members include Pat O’Kefee on clarinet and saxophone, and Shrini on the mridangam, which is an ancient percussion instrument from India.

“All of this is coming together in America, in Minnesota,” Rajasekar said. “To me that is a very powerful message,” adding, “There is beauty in sound that unites us and brings us together.”

Maithree with Nirmala Rajasekar will perform 7 p.m. Thursday, June 22 at the Hilde Amphitheater, 3500 Plymouth Blvd.
A full list of events, including Entertainment in the Parks, can be found at plymouthmn.gov/departments/parks-recreation-/events.

Contact Kristen Miller at [email protected]