Song of Surrender

Thursday, 3 May 2012

IFAS pays homage to GNB

V Ramnarayan

“Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.” This tribute to Mahatma Gandhi by Albert Einstein could well apply equally truly to the great vocalist of Carnatic music, GN Balasubramanian, I became convinced when I co-edited a book on GNB released during his centenary celebrations with my young friend Lalitha Ram.

Having heard him a few times and been mesmerized by his personality as a boy of ten or thereabouts, I really began to appreciate his greatness as a musician and thinker on music after watching the GNB seminar conducted by the Sruti Foundation decades ago. My respect for him grew into hero worship once I started reading accounts of his life, habits and friendships by several friends, associates, students and relatives, as well as some of the superb prose he wrote during his packed life—all this during my collaboration with Lalitha Ram to produce Gandharva Ganam, the commemoration volume published by his family for the centenary.

I am no GNB expert. I like to think of myself as a listener blessed with good taste. Though I love his music, I am not particularly a fan of his music. I like listening to great music from him but also from some of his contemporaries, even his juniors and those young musicians of today on whom he has had an obvious and lasting impact.

But through the Sruti seminar and through several writings on him and by him, I have come to admire and respect not only his music but also his sterling qualities as a human being. I became his admirer in all his varied avatars, as a man of letters, an intellectual, an aesthete, a humanist, besides of course being a great musician, innovator and composer. Of GNB the complete man, I am now a total fan. He was incomparable.

I had the grand opportunity to speak on his musical career for some 45 minutes at the GNB centenary celebrations in 2010 by Indian Fine Arts Society. When IFAS asked me to speak again on GNB on 1 May 2012, I chose to speak of the genius of GNB as a thinker and writer in Tamil and English, even his prowess as a poet. I believe he towered over his contemporaries and successors in the field of music in this respect. In short he was an intellectual giant.

I was happy to be able to share some of my awe for him with a most receptive audience at the PRC Centre, T’Nagar, that evening. The young man who spoke after me, Vishnu Vijayaraghavan, who belongs to a family very close to GNB, is a complete fanatic of the GNB bani. He gave a delightful talk on GNB’s music as he knew it and practises it, though not as a concert performer. The memorial event concluded with an excellent vocal concert by Sreyas Narayanan, accompanied by MA Sundaresan (violin), KV Prasad (mridangam) and Madippakkam Murali (ghatam). Offering music of a high order in a deep, resonant voice, Narayanan sang a couple of GNB’s compositions with great reverence and admirable good taste. An altogether memorable evening.

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