S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Season of Music

by Siddhartha Jagannath

Siddhartha is a sixth grader who learns Carnatic music

From Tirukodikaval to me

My first Margazhi season in Chennai has been very exciting, to say the least. Every activity we did was music related and everywhere we went we heard great music. We stood in line for concert tickets, and spoke to friends and strangers about song lists, rasikas.org reviews, concerts and schedules. I have more old Mama/Mami friends than my grandma. I have also eaten more cookies and candy in this one month than I have my entire childhood, thanks to all my Mami/Mama friends at the sabhas. In all this music related activity I ended up with a treasure. I am now the proud owner of a violin once used by Tirukodikaval Krishna Iyer.

One lecdem I thoroughly enjoyed was T.N. Krishnan mama’s. After hearing all that Krishnan mama had to say about his childhood days and how much he practised to become the great maestro he is today, I became motivated to practise like him so one day I could play the violin like him. I came home completely inspired. I was greeted by my Tirukodikaval Krishna Iyer violin, which made things even sweeter. I could not rest or go to bed. I was so exhilarated that I played my violin till past midnight. Needless to say that was shortlived!

Songs of the season

This Margazhi season there were some compositions that were popular selections by performers. Among varnams it was the Saveri Adi tala varnam. I have heard everybody from Sandeep Narayan to S. Sowmya sing this. I enjoyed the Chaturdasa ragamalika of Muthuswami Dikshitar twice in two days. Among kritis, O Jagadamba (Anandabhairavi) and Dinamanivamsa (Harikambhoji) were chosen by many artists. Kalyani raga was definitely in vogue—in RTP form or as main pieces. Since it was Madurai Mani Iyer Mama’s centenary, everyone’s set of tukkadas included Eppo varuvaro in Jonpuri.

Lecdems and kutcheris

I especially enjoyed the morning sessions at the Academy - the heated debates and discussions, the interesting topics and the “Expert Committee Members” comments and compliments”. A lecdem I found very entertaining was Bangalore Amrit Anna’s presentation on Harishankar Mama. I was surprised at how many techniques Harishankar Mama had introduced into khanjira playing that we normally take for granted in a concert. I also was fascinated with the way Amrit Anna did those fast gumki-s with one hand! The speed at which his hand worked was marvellous.

One of the most enjoyable kutcheris for me was Malladi Brothers at Singapore Fine Arts. The pallavi they sang was Simhapuri nilaye, Murugane, Sivan magane, Guhane in Anandabhairavi and in Khanda jati Triputa tala, tisra nadai. The words were cleverly chosen to honour the presiding deity of Singapore (Simhapuri) Muruga. I also loved the Mysore Brothers on violin and flute Shashank’s concerts.

Also a unique concert was Prince Rama Varma’s kutcheri. His main piece was a composition of Dr. Balamuralikrishna (his guru) in Lavangi (this raga has just four notes S, R, M, D) called Omkara. During the kalpanaswara-s he would sing one phrase of swara-s and T.V. Gopalakrishnan (who was playing the mridanga) would play the same phrase in perfect sruti on the toppi of the mridanga! The mridangam was singing indeed.

This season T.M. Krishna Mama started a trend of singing an alapana not followed by a kriti in the same raga. He sang an elaborate, beautiful, and slow Varali alapana followed by a speedy Chinna nadena in Kalanidhi. This created a lot of discussion and provided ample fuel for the following day’s discussion on kutcheri paddhati at the Music Academy.

Upuma maker vs. upuma eater

The kutcheri paddhati panel discussion was conducted by the critics who write reviews in the popular newspapers and magazines. Some of the participants were Dr. S.A.K. Durga (moderator) Seetha Ravi (Kalki), and V. Ramnarayan (Sruti). One question brought up was whether a critic needs to know how to sing in order to be a good critic. The press folks held the view that to enjoy and critique an upuma, one need not get into the details of how the upuma is made.

This same question was brought up the next day about musicologists and performers. A senior vidwan voiced his opinion and proclaimed that the upuma eater must also be an upuma maker in order to enjoy and eat the upuma. While it left most people amused on this profound question, all I could think about was running down to the Padmanabhan canteen for some Upuma and chakkara paal (sweetened milk).

On the brink of extinction

After listening to the vidwans and vidushis I have a long “to-do” list. For instance, Vedavalli Mami gave a talk on Desadi tala and how most Tyagaraja compositions were originally composed in Desadi tala, but in course of time, have changed into Adi tala. Vedavalli Mami told her student Sumitra Vasudev to demonstrate the famous Tyagaraja composition Girirajasuta tanaya in Desadi tala (in which it was originally composed) and then in Adi tala. The audience was asked to close eyes and listen to the two versions of the song. Then Mami asked the audience to comment on the versions. Most agreed that the Desadi version sounded more natural and had a good punch to it. She said that Desadi tala had almost disappeared. Mami also demonstrated the Simhanandana tala with a tillana. This tala, having 128 aksharas, fascinated me. It contained many hand thumps, waves such as the throwing up of the hand, swinging the fist from side to side (gurus, kakapadams, plutams and laghus). In my next paattu class, I pestered my Paattu Mami to teach me this tillana in Simhanandana tala and she agreed.

I love T.N. Krishnan mama’s violin concerts. His music is so crisp and clear and he has so much fun with it. At the Music Academy, he commenced his concert with the Narayanagaula Ata tala varnam. After completing the varnam Krishnan mama picked up the microphone and started speaking. He said that this Ata tala varnam was fast disappearing and not many people even knew about it. Mama also said Narayanagaula as a raga was on its way to extinction. I ran home and called my paattu teacher. I told her about what T.N. Krishnan mama had said and asked her to teach me everything in Narayanagaula before it vanished. She laughed and said Narayanagaula wasn’t going to run anywhere!

Vedavalli Mami for meditation

The opening performer for the Music Academy’s “December Art Festival” was Vedavalli Mami. My mother, who was seeing her for the first time, was struck by Vedavalli Mami’s posture, poise, grace and the calm that Mami’s music brought to her. She resolved that every time she got frustrated or angry she would think of Vedavalli Mami singing on stage. She was certain that the very mental image of Mami would calm her down. Moreover, she told me she was going to maintain a posture like Mami and rid herself of all back pain. Mother did not have to wait long to apply these valuable lessons.

A few days later, we were rushing to the mini hall in the Music Academy premises, to reserve good seats for Bangalore Amrit’s presentation on talas. We had just reached the junction of Lloyds Road and Royapettah High Road, when my mother hit a motorbike. Fortunately, she was moving “slowly”. Or rather, as my mother would like to say, the motorbike collided into our car! That too, a COP on a motorbike! We were in a car with a Karnataka licence plate, with an American driver’s licence and we had just knocked down a Chennai traffic policeman on the road. There goes my day, I thought! My mother maintained a stern face, and said nothing while the policeman cursed her, making violent gestures with his hands. Thankfully, after a few minutes of cursing, he rode off. After a big sigh of relief, my mother started to get really angry, and annoyed at the nerve of the policeman. I immediately reminded her to invoke the mental image of Vedavalli Mami, to employ the poise, grace and meditative music to calm herself down. It was a bad idea, a very bad idea indeed! My mother got even more angry and told me to stop being an “adhika prasangi” (which she tells me whenever she thinks I talk more than I should). I was being a good son, I thought. Much later, after she had cooled down considerably, we laughed about it.

The season has given me great memories and I have learned a lot. I hope to be in Chennai every ‘season’ for this very special time of the year

1 comment:

  1. Will this column appear this year as well?We look forward to this unbelievable expert analysis by a young genius