CULTIVATING ALTERNATIVE MUSICALITY
Music has the delightful faculty to heighten our senses. It can impact our emotions, stimulate thoughts and strengthen our state of mind. As waves of sound go through our ear, it resonates with the whole of our body, rejuvenating our presence. In celebration of local music & musicians, ARTRA launched Sonic Sitdowns on the 20th of September on ARTRA’s Digital Platforms, which is a series of documentaries of performance artists, together with Yamaha Music Centre, of which our first episode featured Musicmatters, Co-Founded by Sumudi Suraweera, Sri Lanka’s revered music school that introduced alternative study courses for Western music education of which the program has earned a reputation for its practical approach to music, in contrast with the traditional exam-oriented instruction methods. In conversation with Sumudi, who is also the Director of Musicmatters, revered artist and esteemed academic, we explore his extensive knowledge and ingenious approach through his prodigious principles of teaching.
Sumudi Suraweera obtained his PhD in ethnomusicology in 2010 from the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. His research focused on Sri Lankan Low-Country Traditional Drumming. Prior to this, he completed a Bachelor of Music in Jazz, majoring in Drums. The artist started off his career as a musician in New Zealand where he performed regularly for nearly ten years in the local jazz scene. He has been actively involved in organizing festivals and concerts with the Musicmatters Collective, whose primary objective is to build an experimental and improvised music scene in Colombo. Through his projects Baliphonics and Serendib Sorcerers, Sumudi draws upon Sri Lankan traditional music while placing it in a contemporary setting. Baliphonics in particular, has gained international exposure with performances in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Earlier this year, Sumudi released his debut solo EP “Low Country Drum Set Solos” as a result of several years of performance practice research into adapting Sri Lankan drumming onto the drum set. Sumudi was featured in ARTRA Magazine Edition 25, Aug/Sep 2016 in comprehending his musicality and performance festivals. In conversation with Sumudi Suraweera, we look into his journey, how his passion for music came to be and his notion to implement and impart his extensive knowledge to nurture and foster the next generation of musicians.
Q | Can you tell us about your childhood and how those experiences have fostered your love for music?
A | I grew up in Colombo until age 13. I went to a state school. The most significant musical milestone I remember as a child was the harmonium my parents gifted me when I was six. My brother and I would cycle to a voice teacher in the neighbourhood who taught us Indian classical music during weekend classes. I do have vivid memories of the odd concert and theatre we went to see, but apart from this, I can’t really say that music was a huge part of my life early on.
However, around the age of 13, my family migrated to New Zealand. We were based in Wellington for the first couple of years and a community of Sri Lankans had migrated there around the same time. All of a sudden, I found myself playing harmonium at all sorts of cultural celebrations and dinner parties. The move to New Zealand was a culture shock in many ways – but I distinctly recall a drastic reduction in the daily hustle as a child. I took up music as a subject in school and recall having to choose an instrument. Even though I played the harmonium, I had no formal training on a keyboard instrument and the standard for keyboard/piano was quite high. So I started learning the drums for no particular reason but on the direction of the class music teacher. Thereafter, I noticed myself gravitating towards musical activities – from the school orchestra to concerts to forming my own Sri Lankan band.
Q | As a music instructor, what performance praxis do you impart from a young age to your students?
A | If I was to pick one aspect of music-making that we impart to younger students (most often this is implicitly imparted) – is the aspect of listening. Kids who take part in our ensembles become very sensitive to instruments, dynamics and sounds. They find out through experience that listening is key to a healthy co-existence of different people.
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