Wednesday, 5 May 2021

CENTENARY TRIBUTE

 Lingering memories of our Guru Pichumani Iyer

Ramnath Iyer and Gopinath Iyer



For eight years, the routine was the same. We would traipse through the noisy streets of Mylapore to our guru Pichumani Iyer’s house, veena picks and oil box gripped in one hand and meticulously copied notation notebook in the other. 

And even now, thirty-six years later, the memories of each class linger in our minds—our guru’s kind yet firm words, his watchful eyes following the fingers dancing on the strings, the echoes of the veena pulsing through the room. 

Born in Nagapattinam on 18 May 1920, Pichumani Iyer hailed from a family of musicians. As a boy he learnt vocal music from “Jalar” Gopala Iyer of Tiruchi. He later took to the veena and learnt from Tiruchi Kupanna.  He was fifteen by this time and had already established his talents by winning the prestigious award of the National College, Tiruchi in a Carnatic vocal music contest. He studied up to S.S.L.C. in the National College School before joining the Annamalai University. At the University he received the Sangeeta Bhooshanam for veena in 1942 after completing the four-year course under the tutelage of Tiger Varadachariar, K.S.  Narayanaswamy and Gomathi Sankara Iyer.

Soon after graduation, he relocated to Madras to join AVM Studios in their music troupe. He was a key veena player in the orchestra for over 16 years and his veena music in many film songs was highly acclaimed during that time when classical music ruled the roost in cinema. His veena playing for the films Penn, Sampoorna Ramayanam, and the hit songs Maalai pozhuthin mayakkathile, Veenai kodiyudaya vendaney and Indru poi naalai va, speak volumes of his talent. In 1959 he quit his job at the AVM Studios and started his career as a full-time vainika, teaching and performing concerts.

He was conferred several titles and awards by organisations and institutions—including the TTK award from the Music Academy, Madras, the Kalaimamani award from the State Government of Tamil Nadu and the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi award. He performed all over India and undertook his maiden trip overseas to Australia in 1999 at our invitation. He published a number of audio recordings;  some of  his early gramophone records brought out between the 1950s  and the 1970s were popular and regularly broadcast by All India Radio. He was a top-grade artist of All India Radio and Doordarshan. Pichumani Iyer was a composer of merit too, with a few swarajatis, varnam and tillanas to his credit. One of his tillanas is in the raga of his own creation called Vasanta Kaisiki.

Pichumani Iyer trained a number of students, many of whom are notable veena players in their own right. To name a few performing disciples: Vasantha Krishnamurthy, P. Vasanthkumar, R.S. Jayalakshmi, B. Kannan, Revathi Krishna, R. Raman,  Thayapari Niranjan (Singapore), Sastry Vedham, Shriram (U.S.A.) and the two of us called Iyer Brothers (Australia).

It is always difficult to capture the power of music in words. This reflection, however, from a press review by the highly respected music critic the late N.M.  Narayanan (The Hindu, Friday, 14 June 1991), encapsulates Pichumani Iyer’s impact. “It is a problem of discovering a point where the practical and the idealistic meet. It is a point from which the classical music that flows is practical without being over-practical and profane, and idealistic without being lost in useless and unproductive idealism. The modern kutcheri pioneers showed the way of sustaining classical music with dignity on this middle path… R. Pichumani has fashioned a method for himself. It is a method by which veena music retains character and is made entertaining at the same time.”

Any rasika who has attended his kutcheris can attest to the high calibre of performance. His supple fingering, unique attention to detail, and rich rendering of traditional compositions made each concert moving in its own way. 

Tracing the career of Pichumani Iyer demands reflection not only on his success as a professional veena vidwan but also celebration of the personal impact he had on the lives of his many students as a guru. Even when our IT jobs eventually took us out of Chennai, our lessons with him were a highlight of our annual trips to India. “Vadhyar”, as we fondly referred to him, gave us so much. Each class would go on for at least two hours, three times a week. It was like a gurukulam! Beyond the classroom, Vadhyar and Mami (his wife) treated us like their own sons; bequeathing us with the duty of getting ‘Kumbakonam vettalai’ and ‘vaasanai seeval’ from their favourite shop in Mylapore’s East Mada street before each class.

Every class was more than just a lesson on the veena. Without a tape recorder in the early learning years, Vadhyar would make us repeat the sangatis incessantly to ensure the music was etched in our memory. He also inculcated in us the discipline of notating songs promptly at the conclusion of each class. In this way, we absorbed a sense of discipline, responsibility and attention to detail that we try to apply in our lives.

Iyer Brothers with their guru at a practice session

We remember Vadhyar for his gentility and soft-spoken nature. Many of his musical peers were his close friends. The noted composer Tanjavur Sankara Iyer and veteran vocalist Calcutta K.S. Krishnamurthy were his classmates from Annamalai University. Tanjavur Sankara Iyer would visit him often and engage in musical discussions. We have watched and eagerly enjoyed some of these interactions during our class, relishing the lively back and forth between vidwans. Veena
S. Balachander and Chitti Babu were also close friends of our guru.

Vadhyar used to remark about the conversations with Veena Balachander, who would occasionally visit his house late in the night and take him to the Marina beach where they would relentlessly chat for hours! Balachander was very keen to understand how Vadhyar had such a fine “meetu” (plucking) technique without the plucking noise. Other musicians such as Seergazhi Govindarajan, Vellore Ramabhadran, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Lalgudi Jayaraman, N. Ramani were also his good friends. Vadhyar teamed up with Seergazhi Govindarajan to conduct the Tyagaraja Aradhana at Tiruvaiyaru for a few years.

On the completion of the centenary of his birth, we celebrate our guru, Pichumani Iyer for his multitudinous achievements in Carnatic music. We can still recall his vibrant, gamaka-oriented playing and respectful adherence to the vocal style. Melodious rich tone, soft plucking and sensitive playing were the unique hallmarks of Pichumani Iyer’s style. Beyond this, we also remember his generous spirit, his humility despite countless accolades, and his genuine passion as a teacher.

We are blessed to have been his sishyas, and will be forever grateful for the lessons he taught us not only in music, but in life.


(The authors are well known vainikas and music teachers based in Melbourne, Australia)

http://iyerbrothersveena.com/

 

Friday, 30 April 2021

FROM THE EDITOR

Everything seems to have come full circle once again.  This time, last year so many of us were confused, cautiously trying to cope with the situation of lockdown, retrenchment, work-from-home,  living in  fear of the deadly virus, and rarely venturing out from home. Live cultural programmes, teaching-learning classes, had grinded to a halt throwing things out of gear for members of the arts fraternity; there was so much uncertainty all around. It was a totally new experience for all.

Things eased a bit and since the summer of 2020, the digital space started buzzing with online cultural activity as artists and social media commentators explored every avenue to give vent to their creativity.  The online music and dance season was a success and a morale booster for  many.  The scenario improved further in the new year 2021, and in January-February it was heartening to see sabhas opening their halls to live performances with Covid protocols in place.  The launch of the Covid vaccination drive ushered in hope that things would look up in the coming months. But the euphoria was shortlived.

Since March-April the second Corona wave has been more virulent.  The situation everywhere has turned grim with vaccines, life-saving  medicines and oxygen in short supply and Covid positive cases and deaths shooting up. As a consequence, curfew, lockdown and restrictions on gatherings and cultural activities have been clamped down once again. No respite, we are back to square one! Often we get news of deaths and bereavement in the artistic fraternity. Sruti extends it’s heartfelt condolences to the affected families.

It has become a time for introspection,   to draw on our inner reserves for strength  and sustenance.  A time to contemplate on a Higher Being for Hope; and what better subject than to dwell on Siva-Nataraja whose eternal, cosmic Dance is the embodiment of the activities of srishti, sthiti, samhara, tirodhana and anugraha. It is probably time for Siva-Neelakantha to once again come to the rescue of humanity and cleanse the poison pervading the environment. The cover story in the May issue of Sruti is devoted to Siva-Nataraja. We are indeed privileged to bring to our readers very insightful articles written by eminent personalities Padma Subrahmanyam and Sudha Seshayyan. And we hope to offer our readers some more in the coming issues.

In the News & Notes section too, we have reports on the natyanjalis held during  Sivaratri. We also have write-ups about Tyagaraja aradhana –  our way of  paying homage to the vaggeyakara whose jayanti is usually celebrated in May. The Iyer Brothers, renowned vainikas, have penned a sincere and moving tribute to their guru the late Pichumani Iyer whose centenary celebrations conclude in May. The birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore – famous for his Gitanjali, Rabindra Sangeet and Rabindra Nritya – is also celebrated in May. We bring to you a report on an interesting seminar (held in 2020) on Rabindra Nritya  which is now about 100 years old.

Our correspondent K.K. Gopalakrishnan has penned an obituary tribute to the veteran Kathakali doyen Chemmencherry Kunhiraman Nair who passed away recently at the ripe old age of 104. I got an opportunity to watch the centenarian— with an endearing smile and twinkling eyes—perform the navarasa at a felicitation function organised at BIFAC in Chennai a few years ago. He was amazing even at that age.

Even as we go to print we are shocked to hear about the sad demise of the famous Hindustani vocalist Rajan Mishra who succumbed to Covid. In this grim situation, we can do our bit by wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, sanitising and remaining safe at home as much as possible. Let’s listen to music, watch dance – online of course! And read a lot too!

S. JANAKI

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

J. VAIDHYANATHAN

Immersed in his rhythm                                                                                   Lakshmi Anand

Senior mridangist J. Vaidhyanathan believes his commitment to accompaniment begins right from arriving well on time for the concert. “A concert is like a yagna, a lot of effort—we should not cause any consternation to either the organiser or the artists—rather, we should ensure that we do whatever we can to keep them calm, thus ensuring the best output from the artists. Also, regardless of who the artist is or his/her seniority levels, everyone should be treated on an equal footing on stage,” says Vaidhyanathan.

The youngest of three children, Vaidhyanathan was born to Sangita Kalanidhi D.K. Jayaraman and his wife J. Jayalakshmi on 22 April 1965 in Damal, near Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. The family moved to Chennai a few years after his birth. His aunt Sangita Kalanidhi D.K. Pattammal, a colossus in Carnatic music, was already in Chennai. Music, thus, was the most  natural foray for Vaidhyanathan.

His elder brother Srivatsan did not pursue music but is a knowledgeable rasika. Sister C. Sukanya is a vocalist who accompanied her father regularly and performs and continues to teach. Wife Poorna, who has a doctorate in Music, is working as a violin lecturer since 2005 at S.V. College of Music and Dance run by TTD in Tirupati. Like Vaidhyanathan’s mother, Poorna too has been a quiet pillar of support in his musical career. “She is very meticulous, especially in organising my things when I have to travel. I do not have to worry about anything and can concentrate on my mridangam playing. We also discuss a lot about music. She is an excellent teacher who has trained beginners in music to rise to the level of gold medallists,” says JV as he is popularly known.

Vaidhi, Vijay Siva, Akhila Siva and Priya in concert

As Jayaraman taught his students, he noticed the toddler Vaidhi constantly tapping to perfect tala with his fingers. Noticing the child’s affinity for rhythm, Jayaraman decided to start him on mridangam. Little Vaidhi was initiated into ‘ta dhi tom nam’ by the stalwart Sangita Kalanidhi Palghat Mani Iyer. Given his prolific travel schedules, Mani Iyer suggested to Jayaraman that the child continue to learn from his senior disciple Palghat Kunjumani. Vaidhi also learned from Srinivasan (another disciple of Palghat Mani Iyer), Dindigul Ramamurthy and Tanjavur Ramadas. While learning from Ramamurthy and Ramadas, Vaidhyanathan won the junior scholarship from the Government of India. In 1985, when it was time to apply for the senior scholarship, he enrolled with mridangam stalwart Sangita Kalanidhi T.K. Murthy, who was an A-Top grade artist.

To read full story

https://www.sruti.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=6&product_id=607

Saturday, 3 April 2021

ABHAI honours eminent artists

By Samudri


The 32nd annual day of the Association of Bhartanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI), conducted on 20 March this year, was a well-attended, grand event, organised live at the Sathguru Gnanananda Hall in Chennai.

The event began on an auspicious note with a prayer by ABHAI member Ananthashree which was followed by the lighting of the kuthuvilakku by the chief guests V.P. Dhananjayan and Lakshmi Viswanathan, along with the awardees and the president of ABHAI, Roja Kannan who then delivered the welcome address. The  activities undertaken during 2019-2020 were elaborated upon in the annual report presented by the secretary Binesh Mahadevan. In keeping with one of its objectives to recognize excellence in the field, the ABHAI awards were conferred by the chief guests of the evening -- natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan, and veteran  Bharatanatyam exponent and writer Lakshmi Viswanathan, both founding members and former office bearers of ABHAI.

The prestigious  Natya Kalanidhi award was conferred on veteran Bharatanatyam and Kathakali exponent, guru, arts administrator and Kalakshetra alumnus Prof. A.  Janardhanan. Senior violinist M.S. Kannan received the Gandharva Nipuna title. Well known Bharatanatyam dancer, teacher, organiser and founder of Kala Pradarshini -- Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala was honoured with the Nritya Perunjothi title and senior male dancer, choreographer and teacher G. Narendra with the Narthaka Nipuna title. The citations were read out by ABHAI vice-presidents Janaki Srinivasan, and Priya Murle, with committee member Nithyakalyani Vaidyanathan playing the role of an efficient emcee.


V.P. Dhananjayan delivered the presidential address which was very motivating for young and aspiring dancers and encouraging to the ABHAI team. Lakshmi Viswanathan's felicitation speech, peppered with interesting anecdotes and her personal interaction with each awardee was enjoyable. It was indeed a pleasure to listen to a great yet humble artist like Prof. A. Janardhanan as he shared his thoughts and experiences in his acceptance speech presented on behalf of all the awardees. Proposing the vote of thanks, Priya Murle expressed ABHAI’s gratitude to all  who had made the event possible, and a special thanks to the donors of the ABHAI welfare fund, which had paved the way for ABHAI to support more than 560 artists during the initial Covid-19 pandemic period when the scenario was bleak.

The second part of the evening’s presentation comprised group presentations by ABHAI members of some items learnt during the Abhivridhishalas (workshops) organised by ABHAI. It was heartening that one troupe, led by guru  Jayashree Narayanan, had come all the way from Puducherry to participate.  All the dancers won the appreciation of the audience for their well coordinated effort. The announcements were ably handled by ABHAI committee members Shanmugha Sundaram, Mahalakshmi Ashwin and Nidheesh.

Overall, a satisfying event, well organised with strict adherence to Covid protocols.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

FROM THE EDITOR


The month of Chaitra or Chittirai is a joyous one as it ushers in the new year in different parts of India – based on their regional calendars. The beginning of Chaitra is a time to celebrate Ugadi, Gudi Padwa, Cheti Chand and Navreh. Mid- April rings in the new with Baisakhi, Tamil Putthaandu, Bohag Bihu, Pohela Baisakh and Vishu. In the cultural calendar too there is cause to celebrate as sabhas have opened their small halls and big auditoria to host live programmes. After several months of trepidation and hibernation, rasikas are making bold to venture out to attend cultural programmes. There is now a new addition to their aharya – colourful, matching masks of course. Nobody shakes hands now, no bear hugs; the elegant, traditional Namaste is in vogue!

A major live programme was ABHAI’s Annual Day, organised successfully at the Sathguru Gnanananda Hall in Chennai, while strictly following the Covid protocol  Veteran dance exponent, guru and arts administrator Prof. A. Janardhanan, was conferred the Natya Kalanidhi on the occasion. Senior violin accompanist for dance M.S. Kannan, as well as Bharatanatyam exponents and teachers Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala and G. Narendra were also honoured with titles by the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India. The award ceremony was followed by presentation of several items of the Bharatanatyam repertoire by ABHAI members. Prof. Janardhanan is April-born – take a look at the Sruti birthday calendar!

The Kalaimamani awards announced by the Tamil Nadu government were also presented at a well conducted event. Bharatanatyam artists Ambika Kameshwar and Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala received the Puratchi Thalaivi Dr. J. Jayalalithaa Special Kalaimamani Awards for 2019 and 2020. Veteran vocalists Vani Jayaram and S. Rajeswari are the recipients of the all-India award – the M.S. Subbulakshmi Award (Music) for 2019 and 2020 respectively. Senior Bharatanatyam exponents Alarmel Valli and Chandra Dhandayudhapani were conferred the all-India Balasaraswathi Award (Dance) for 2019.

A total of 59 personalities have received the Kalaimamani Award for 2019 and another 65 for 2020 this year, but the number of classical performing artists thus honoured is very less compared to those in the cine field. Hope this ratio will change for the better in the coming years. Sruti congratulates all the awardees.

The cover story in the April issue is a centenary tribute to the tavil maestro Valangaiman Shanmugasundaram Pillai – whose birth and death anniversaries both fall in April. We also have a dynamic younger percussionist – mridanga vidwan J. Vaidhyanathan sharing the space with the centenarian. Music runs in his blood – his famous aunt D.K. Pattammal, equally famous father D.K. Jayaraman and Vaidhyanathan are all recipients of the prestigious Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.

We are privileged to publish a centenary tribute to the Bhavani duo of B.V. Raman and B.V. Lakshmanan penned by eminent dancer-scholar Padma Subrahmanyam – she pays tribute to her music guru. There is an interesting analysis of nritya karanas by eminent natyacharya V.P. Dhananjayan. These should also kindle the interest of students of music and dance.

We are happy to include the Sruti Box section in this issue. The letter writing habit seems to be on the wane as youngsters are busy with Likes, emoticons and short comments on social media. The reading and writing habit has, however, improved during the lockdown period, and we hope it will take a turn for the better in future. So, Happy reading – get a copy of Sruti, either digital or in print! And don’t forget to send us your feedback letter for the Sruti Box!

S. JANAKI