Song of Surrender

Sunday, 15 July 2012

GNB’s disciples

 By V Ramnarayan
 
(Edited excerpts from Sruti 303)

Sangita Kalanidhi designate Trichur V Ramachandran was perhaps the one sishya whose singing most reminded rasika-s of GNB’s vocalisation. This was acknowledged by no less a musician than violin maestro T.N. Krishnan. Ramachandran had the privilege of being with the guru until the very end. He is today regarded as an authority on GNB’s music and conducted many workshops on the bani during the centenary celebrations.

M.L. Vasanthakumari

Who among us hasn’t heard or been transported by the exuberant vocalism of M.L. Vasanthakumari? She electrified rasika-s with the exciting trills and briga-s of her voice, and her daring adventures in the upper reaches, more than anything else in her early concerts. The story of how GNB took her under his wing when MLV’s parents were still hesitant about the way forward for their talented daughter has been recorded in Sruti as elsewhere. According to GNB himself as quoted in Sruti, “Vasanthi typifies real discipleship. She applies her mind to all she absorbs and presents a glorious edifice of her own creation.” MLV once told Sruti that GNB said to her: “Take only the good aspects of my music. Don’t copy me in every respect, because that would amount to mimicry. Cultivate your manodharma, your own sense of imagination.” He exhorted her to listen to the concerts of musicians like Ariyakudi, Semmangudi, Madurai Mani, D.K. Pattammal and M.S. Subbulakshmi.

To describe MLV’s music, we can do no better than quote Aeolus (S.V. Seshadri) whose 1963 article in Shankar’s Weekly was reproduced in Sruti 75-76. “Her knowledge of the intricacies of raga, swara and tala”, he said, “is unassailably sound, but she wears her learning with an easy grace.” Later in the same article, Aeolus said, “Vasanthakumari’s voice is remarkable for its briga-s or those figures in which the notes are organized into roulades or turns or mordents. She exploits this quality to its utmost, but rarely, one should say, at the expense of the mood of a raga.”

“If the raga-singing of Vasanthakumari is characterized by the exuberance of briga-s, her swaraprastara reveals an enviable command of both raga and tala. Swaraprastara, one might say, is MLV’s forte. Listening to her elaborating a pallavi in four-beat tempo, one cannot but marvel at the incredible mastery she displays in all aspects of pallavi singing.”

“Vasanthakumari’s public concerts have a uniform standard of success. She has learnt from GNB, whose disciple she was for some time, the art of varying the tempo of the musical pieces without allowing the listener’s interest to flag. From him, too, she has learnt the salutary principle of avoiding pedantry and egoistic preciosity.”

A 1984 Sruti critique noted another important similarity in her music to GNB’s: “Again, as in raga alapana, so in swaraprastara too Vasanthakumari shows a penchant for sruti bhedam, or graha bhedam…. Here she adds a twist, by revealing the outline of a different raga while executing the graha bhedam in one.”

Other GNB disciples

T.R. Balasubramaniam was the one GNB sishya who could have reached a position of eminence in Carnatic music such as attained by MLV, had he not died prematurely young. He was a rising star in the 1950s, with his strong voice and pleasing style, reminiscent of his guru’s. He was one of the last of the old guard of disciples to experience gurukulavasa. He very efficiently managed GNB’s affairs including his family budget. Largely responsible for the publication of GNB’s Gana Bhaskara Manimalai, T.R. Balu died on the concert stage. He made a lasting contribution to Carnatic music in the form of his disciples Radha-Jayalakshmi. He was the first of a number of GNB sishya-s who bore his name — S. Balasubramaniam and T.S. Balasubramaniam (who has contributed to this commemorative volume) were among them. It was even jokingly rumoured that you had to be a Balasubramaniam to be accepted as GNB’s pupil!

An outstanding talent honed by GNB was Tanjavur S. Kalyanaraman, yet another sishya who died while in the prime of his career. Sruti’s pitamaha S. Rajam has rated him as the most intelligent of GNB’s students. He was known to enter into musical discourse with GNB even as a disciple. He once recalled this piece of advice from his guru: “In my career, I have sung many raga-s — small, large and rare. Still, no raga gives you fulfillment as do tried and tested raga-s like Todi, Kalyani, Kambhoji, Bhairavi or Sankarabharanam. Rare raga-s are like badam halva, good only when rarely sung.”

L. Krishnan, Someswara Babu, Madurai Ganesan, Rangadurai, P.S. Tyagarajan and T.V. Viswanathan, and Ragini were among the lucky direct disciples, while some of his sishya-s’ sishya-s have gone on to achieve eminence, with perhaps Sudha Ragunathan the most famous of them, while Charumathi Ramachandran is another senior MLV disciple. Raji Gopalakrishnan’s music is known for its MLV touches, and  Bhushani Kalyanaraman is another belonging to the GNB lineage through her late husband’s tutelage.

The likes of Ramnad Krishnan and S. Rajam were influenced heavily by GNB’s music. After attending a GNB concert, Rajam often went home and practised all night, trying to emulate the maestro.

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