Jun 282020
 
The first Online Sahityasabha

Yesterday, I was helping Kaberi and friends stage their first Online Sahithyasabha . We postponed the start by half an hour (compared to what I had announced in my blog post last weekend) as it would otherwise have been very early for Debangana, Irabati and Suparno to perform from Texas. The other performers were in London, Kolkata and Santiniketan.

The performers were, in order of appearance:
Saranya Sen Gupta, Irabati Banerjee, Manini Mukhopadhyay, Kaberi Chatterjee, Tirthankar Roy, Debangana Banerjee, Pritha & Soumitra Bandhopadhyay, Sangita Tripathi Mitra, Sayan Bandhopadhyay, Nilanjana Sen Majumder & Debanshu Majumder, Sudakhsina Roy & Nibedita Sen Gupta.

Guest of honour: Professor Somendranath Bandhopadhyay

Oddly enough, the live nature of the performance meant that the back stage emotions were very similar to those back stage at a stage performance. Everyone had to finish their costume and make-up by the time the performance was due to start. We also had separate ‘entrances’ for artists and audience: the artists had a Zoom connection while the audience had the link to the live YouTube event (which I had posted in my post last week).

During the performance, all the performers were supporting each other. The tradition of those listening saying ‘Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu’ after each performance also provided an immediate feedback to the performers.

Afterwards, most of the performers were able to catch up about the experience before the US friends had to leave for breakfast, we went for lunch and the friends in India went for dinner.

We had just over 60 concurrent viewers following the live stream on YouTube and several were commenting in the live chat – including posting ‘Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu’ in Bengali after each performance. The feedback both during and since the performance was very positive. So maybe there will be an Online Sahityasabha 2 in a month or so … .

Some lessons learned:

  • have a clear running order which the performers and technical support can follow
  • have a backup plan in case there is a problem with the internet connection of a performer just before or during their performance
  • make sure that all the performers are aware that, since Zoom no longer allows Zoom hosts to unmute people for privacy reasons, the performers each need to make sure they know how to unmute themselves before they start their performance
  • test the internet speed of the performers’ connections in advance
  • record the performance in Zoom as well to allow more options for a post-performance edit
  • the YouTube live chat disappears after the live event and can only be replayed if the original video remains public or unlisted and untrimmed
  • it is possible to trim the video after the live event using YouTube Studio, as well as skipping any long pauses. However, this is saved as a new video which is published separately.
InvitationSaranya Sen Gupta
ResponseIrabati Banerjee
Tagore songManini Mukhopadhyayকত অজানারে জানাইলে তুমি (First part missing due to technical problem)
About Sahityasabha*Kaberi Chatterjeeসাহিত্যসভার মুখবন্ধ
Tagore song (esraj)Tirthankar Royশ্রাবণের ধারার মত পড়ুক ঝরে
Short storyDebangana Banerjeeস্বরচিত রচনা পাঠ
Tagore songPritha & Soumitra Bandhopadhyayকোন পুরাতন প্রানের টানে
Tagore danceDancer: Kaberi Chatterjee
Recitation: Nilanjana Sen Majumder
Esraj: Animesh Chandra
নববর্ষা (হৃদয় আমার নাচেরে আজিকে)
Tagore recitationSangita Tripathi Mitraরথযাত্রা (লিপিকা)
Tagore songIrabati Banerjeeপ্রাণ ভরিয়ে তৃষা হরিয়ে
Tagore songSayan Bandhopadhyayনিবিড় মেঘের ছায়ায় মন দিয়েছি মেলে
Tagore recitationNilanjana Sen Majumder & Debanshu Majumderপাঠ: বর্ষামঙ্গল
Tagore songSinger: Sudakhsina Roy, Esraj: Tirthankar Royএস্রাজ সহযোগে গহন রাতে শ্রাবণধারা পড়িছে ঝরে
Tagore songSuparno Banerjeeহৃদয়ে মন্দ্রিল ডমরু গুরু গুরু
Tagore danceDancer: Nibedita Sen Gupta
Singer: Saranya Sen Gupta
মোর ভাবনারে কী হাওয়ায় মাতালো
Tagore songManini Mukhopadhyayগানের ভিতর দিয়ে যখন
AppreciationProfessor Somendranath Bandhopadhyay
Programme of yesterday’s Online Sahityasabha

* based on শেষ পারানির কড়ি by Hirendranath Dutta and কবির পাঠশালা by Swati Ghosh and Ashok Sarkar

The dark side of copyright

I also realised that copyright collection bodies like IPRS have convinced YouTube to flag any Tagore songs for automated copyright claims. The live broadcast received no less than 5 copyright claims:

Copyright claims against yesterday’s Online Sahityasabha

Now, this means that, even if Kaberi’s channel cannot generate revenue from this video, YouTube could add advertisments and these copyright bodies would receive a share of the advertising revenue. One could imagine that YouTube does this systematically from the tens of thousands of Bengalis around the world (including professional singers) who upload videos of themselves singing Tagore songs. It could be quite lucrative for these copyright collection bodies.

Tagore’s works have been in the public domain since 1 January 2002 (over 18 years ago!). YouTube requires anyone disputing copyright claims to accept that their channel may be closed down if they dispute copyright claims repeatedly. Needless to say, I have advised Kaberi to dispute these spurious copyright claims but others may be intimidated by the declarations YouTube requires them to make before doing so.

Both claiming unlicensed revenue for other people’s work and discouraging these people from disputing spurious copyright claims by threatening them with closing down their YouTube channels would seem to be anti-competitive practices.

Anyhow, here is a list of the bodies/companies behind the copyright claims listed above, according to the details provided by YouTube:

SongCopyright claim by
Kato Ajanale JanaileSaregama Publishing, The Royalty Network (Publishing)
Gahana Raate Shravana DharaIPRS_CS
Ganer Bhetor DeyeG Series Publishing
Shaboner Dharar MotoIPRS_CS
Gahan Rater ShrabandharaIPRS_CS
Copyright collection bodies claiming rights on Tagore songs (Source: YouTube)
Jun 212020
 
Watch the first Online Sahityasabha on YouTube here [Link updated after the live event]

Every Tuesday evening in Santiniketan, the home town of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, he established the tradition known as Sahityasabha (“literary gathering”) for children studying at Patha Bhavan. It is a performance at which schoolchildren are invited to perform their own creations, including works by Tagore, based on recommendations from their teachers. This is how they learn to become stage-free.

Kaberi and I are preparing an hour-long, live programme next Saturday (27 June). It will bring together mainly former Patha Bhavan students, including Kaberi, who will be performing from their homes in different countries. For those in India, it will start at 18:30 while, for those in the UK, it will start at 14:00 – see the image for the start time in different time zones.

You should be able to watch the performance live from anywhere in the world via YouTube Live, which is embedded at the top of this post. You should also be able to catch up with the recording later here. Note that the performances will be in Bengali, with some explanations being provided in English.

May 172020
 
Virtual celebration of Tagore’s birth anniversary for Shakespeare’s Birthplace

Together with Kaberi and the friends from Prantik with whom we have been celebrating Tagore’s birth anniversary at Shakespeare’s Birthplace each year, we were due to be there again last Sunday (10 May). Unfortunately, like many other things, the lockdown since mid-March to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic obliged the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to close the Birthplace until the end of May.

However, all of us in the team were very disappointed not to be able to get together as in previous years, both for rehearsals in the preceding weeks and for our annual excursion to Stratford for the birth anniversary. So, exchanging with them the previous weekend, and also having just organised a virtual birthday party in which relatives in India had performed dances and songs from their homes, I realised we could prepare a virtual celebration of Tagore’s birth anniversary. Given the context, the theme of Tagore’s concern for Man’s impact on Nature and the environment seemed to us to be the most appropriate.

I checked with the Birthplace if they could coordinate with us on this and Paul Taylor, their Acting Director of Cultural Engagement, kindly recorded and sent me a video of his introduction. We decided to dedicate the performance to the key workers and healthcare workers keeping us safe and well, and to those who have lost their lives during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, most of the team had the bank holiday on 8 May to record videos of themselves singing or reciting solo. Paul Taylor provided some images of Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Supratik Basu filmed some video of the flowers in the garden of their home nearby. We also had photos from our previous anniversary celebrations.

The traditional birthday chorus “He nuthon”, which we usually sing by the bust of Tagore in the Birthplace garden was going to be more complicated, though. With any online video conferencing tool like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, etc, there is always a slight time lag (latency) between one person saying something and the others on the call hearing it. This is barely noticeable if you are having a conversation but, as we had already experienced from trying to rehearse remotely in the past, it is not possible to synchronise with each other like this.

So Kaberi and I recorded a base, audio track of the song with a tanpura. We used a metronome to ensure that there were no speed variations during the song. We then sent it to the rest of the team, asking them to listen to it through earphones on one device and film themselves with their phones vertically.

With all the recordings, I assembled the videos in the final video you see above and added English subtitles. I also wrote and recorded the narration, explaining how the performances illustrated Tagore’s concern for Man’s impact on Nature and the Environment.

I used Final Cut Pro X for the main edit but for He nuthon, I experimented with Da Vinci Resolve, which includes more sophisticated audio mixing possibilities, including spatial stereo. Fortunately, I had just invested in a Blackmagic Design eGPU Pro to speed up the processing time needed for my video editing!

Performers from Prantik: Anindita Sengupta Saha, Anupam Ganguli, Chhaya Biswas, Farzeen Huq, Kaberi Chatterjee (dance), Mousumi Basu (recitation), Nikhilesh Das Gupta, Obhi Chatterjee, Sudakshina Roy, Supratik Basu and Tirthankar Roy (esraj).

Morubijoyer ketona (danced by Kaberi Chatterjee) was sung by Manini Mukhopadhyay and Ritwik Bagchi, accompanied by Alok Banerjee (esraj), Asit Ghosh (tabla) and Dipak Das (sitar).

English subtitles translated from the original Bengali by Obhi Chatterjee, Kaberi Chatterjee & Prasenjit Saha.

More about virtual performances

I devised the technique to record He Nuthon after seeing other virtual performances during the lockdown around the world. Of course, the virtual choir videos composed by Eric Whitacre since 2010 were the pioneers in this field. Here was the third in his series: Water Night.

One of the first lockdown virtual performances I saw was this version of the song All I ask of you from The Phantom of the Opera. Andrew Lloyd Webber had originally tweeted a recording of him playing the song on the piano. Members of the Phantom of the Opera orchestra had then recorded their tracks.

Another was the virtual performance of Ravi Shankar’s ‘Sandhya Raga’ by Anoushka Shankar and other Indian musicians who were originally due to perform at concerts around the world to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of Ravi Shankar.

From among the lockdown virtual performances, a colleague drew my attention to those from the Orchestre national de France. Here is their performance of Ravel’s Boléro.

Perhaps the most visually complex virtual performance of this lockdown period has been La valse n°2 de Chostakovitch, again performed by l’Orchestre National de France:

Apr 092020
 
Shyama and her companions

Our film versions of Rabindranath Tagore’s three dance-dramas (Chitrangada, Chandalika, & Shyama) are now available to rent or buy ‘on demand’ through Vimeo. The films are in the original Bengali with English subtitles – we hope to make the other language versions available soon.

Many of us around the world are in ‘lockdown’ at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic. So Kaberi and I thought we should share some of Tagore’s humanity and help people celebrate the Bengali New Year (on April 14) at home by making these films available for free this weekend.

Click on the following links (or use the promotional code ‘BNY20’) before midnight on Tuesday, April 14, to watch each film for free:

  • Chitrangada (89 minutes) – Princess Chitrangada, who has been brought up as a man to inherit the throne of Manipur, falls in love with Arjun, the warrior prince. Tagore create this dance-drama in 1936 as part of his campaign for women’s emancipation.
  • Chandalika (73 minutes) – Prokrithi, an untouchable girl who is shunned by other villagers because of her caste, discovers a new life when Anondo, a Buddhist monk, asks her for water and tells her that she is no less a human than he is. Originally written in 1933 as a play, Tagore developed Chandalika into a dance-drama in 1938 as part of his campaign to raise awareness of the plight of the ‘untouchables’ and the unfairness of the caste system.
  • Shyama (90 minutes) – A court dancer, Shyama, falls in love with Bojroshen, a foreign merchant, who is falsely imprisoned and faces execution … unless Shyama accepts the offer of an admirer, Uttiyo, to take Bojroshen’s place. Tagore created this dance-drama in 1939 as an artistic critique of repressive regimes, in reaction to the growing tensions of pre-Independence India and the rise of nationalism in Europe.

After you click on the link, you will have 48 hours to watch the film.

We hope you enjoy the films. Please feel free to spread the word.

May 112019
 

As in previous years, Kaberi and I celebrated the birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore with Prantik at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK. Our theme this year was Tagore and the seasons: Spring.

We began our performance by recreating the dance procession each year at the Spring Festival (Basanta Utsav) in Santiniketan to the song Orai grihobashi. Our procession started from the steps of the Shakespeare Centre and wound its way around the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace until we reached the performance area by the house in which Shakespeare was born.

After an introduction by Emily Ireson from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, we performed various songs for Tagore’s seasonal collection (Riturongo). Kaberi also danced to the poem Shesh Modhu (Spring Finale), which Prasenjit Saha had kindly translated into rhyming English for us.

The English translations of the songs and poems were recited by Shakespeare Aloud! actor James Anderson. The singers and musicians from Prantik, apart from me, were:

  • Anindita Sengupta Saha (also on tanpura)
  • Chhaya Biswas
  • Farzeen Huq
  • Kaberi Chatterjee (who also danced)
  • Mousumi Basu (who also recited the poem Shesh Modhu)
  • Nikhilesh Das Gupta
  • Sudakshina Roy
  • Supratik Basu (also on mandira)
  • Tirthankar Roy (also on esraj)

We were honoured that Krishnendu Banerjee from the Indian High Commission and Brij Kumar Guhare, Deputy Director of The Nehru Centre in London, came to Stratford-upon-Avon to attend our performance. Both expressed their appreciation of our performance and the uniquely appropriate setting of the garden of Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

Liisa Miil kindly filmed the performance for us. You can watch the video above. My script for our performance is available as a free download but please note its Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Sharealike licence. If you wish to use the script for commercial purposes or plan to remix or reuse it, please contact me.

Earlier in the day, we had visited Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon, to see how the tree we had helped to plant in 2011 for the 150th birth anniversary. That time, Kaberi had shown students from a local drama school how to dance in the traditional tree-planting (brikkhoropon) procession established by Rabindranath Tagore.

Especially as I was going to refer to it later in my narration, I was relieved to see that the tree is doing well. You can see it in the foreground of the photo below, with Anne Hathaway’s Cottage in the background.

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