What has been bringing more than 6,000 people, more 6,000 miles, for two weeks, for more than 40 years?
The Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival, an annual musical event organized by the volunteer-led Aradhana Committee. The group welcomed guests to Cleveland State University between April 11 and April 23 to celebrate Carnatic music, an ethnic-based classical/religious style of Indian music and performance.
The festival has performances by local and visiting musicians, who are students, amateurs and professionals alike. The Cleveland Thyagaraja Festival which combines religious history with music takes place every year around Easter break.
Guests can see the most renowned musicians and dancers in the art or attend a workshop. Education is one of the missions of the event.
Attendees from all over the world spend their spring breaks from school and work enjoying Carnatic music performed by the best artists in the world. Cleveland is the host to the largest festival of this kind outside of India.
Radhika Balsubramaniam of the Aradhana Committee, who has attended all 40 Thyagaraja festivals, said the expression, “If you haven’t made it to Cleveland, you haven’t made it,” describes the importance of the event to this community because it brings the most well-known performers, fans, and students together.
Nearly everyone who attends the festival helps in some way – planning, preparing, serving quests, and cleaning up, she explained.
But her father R. Balasubramaniam, known to many as Cleveland Balu, is one of the reasons the festival is held in Cleveland.
He and his friends, inspired by the Carnatic style of music created by saint and composer, Sri. Thyagaraja in southern India, began to practice this musical form by playing in church basements around Cleveland.
Professor T. Temple Tuttle of Cleveland State’s music department became acquainted with the group and collaborated with them on several projects. Their events began to attract more participants, fans, and students. Then Tuttle suggested the events be moved to Cleveland State and the music department has hosted the festival in the Waetjen Auditorium ever since.