Song of Surrender

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Generation Next

By KS Kalidas

Ramakrishnan Murthy

The Music Bug bites many an unsuspecting victim and persons living abroad are not immune; in fact, the farther away they are from their motherland, the more deadly is the bite. A symptom is that the person so bitten forgets his or her environment – that he or she is in an alien country with the main aim of earning oodles of money; gets romantic ideas of going professional in music whatever the academic training; and imagines that the whole world is waiting for the arrival of the genius on the performing stage! Have we not heard it all before, the innumerable hopefuls dreaming of making it big in moviedom? And how many actually make it?

Where does nineteen year-old vocalist Ramakrishnan Murthy of Irvine, California, U.S.A., fit into this scheme of things? He does not have much of a musical family background to boast of except that his mother and her sister were seriously interested in Carnatic music. His father acquired a taste for it only after marriage. Yet this ‘music-struck’ youngster has been making waves for about four years in Chennai and elsewhere in India too. He spends roughly four months in Chennai learning, attending concerts, and performing. He is a second year student of engineering in the University of California at Irvine, and in order to compensate for lost time in his school, he takes on additional credits each year.

Listeners who have heard him once have been so bowled over that they keep searching the concert column in newspapers for his next performance, and then for yet another. The youth brigade of violin and mridanga artists is keen to accompany him in as many concerts as possible. His guru Delhi Sundararajan dotes on him. At this point of time, he has over five hundred compositions under his belt of which varnam-s alone are fifty plus. His diet includes one kriti a day and on rare occasions, even two! He takes the liberty of recording his ‘classes’ so that he can ruminate over them later, if necessary. He never repeats the same compositions in closely spaced concerts. And he has in store compositions of most of the composers – old and modern – and the list is expanding.

Ramakrishnan started learning music at the age of four (they all seem to do that – don’t they!) when his family was in Detroit, U.S.A., but evinced little interest in music. It was only when they shifted to Irvine and he started learning from Padma Kutty, a very competent vocalist and teacher there, that he took to music with interest and involvement. He was around six when he started attending her classes and over the next ten years, Padma laid a firm foundation for him. Her pathantara was authentic and he learnt many kriti-s from her. For raga delineation and kalpana swara-s, it was she who referred him to Delhi Sundararajan who, in 2001, was staying in Los Angeles for a few months and coaching a few students in violin and vocal music. He found Sundararajan’s singing awesome (“I was floored”, he says!) and decided then and there to become his regular student. As Sundararajan went to the U.S.A. every year for concerts and on teaching assignments, Ram’s musical skill flowered. He continues to learn from Sundararajan during his visits to India too.

In order to expand his repertoire, he also learns from C.R. Vaidyanathan, a senior student of vidwan P.S. Narayanaswamy. He had the good fortune of learning from the late Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan for two years. He has a fair number of recordings of old masters and his favourite musicians are the Alathur Brothers, Ramnad Krishnan, Semmangudi, T.M. Thiagarajan and sisters Brinda and Muktha. For him, the music of the last two is awe inspiring, especially the padam-s. His latest teacher for padam-s is Savita Narasimhan. As far as possible, Ram tries to learn directly from guru-s but once in a while, he has to dig into his collections, especially when he has to present a thematic concert and he does not have the required number of compositions to present in the allotted time.

Ramakrishnan and his younger sister learnt to play the violin initially from Sundararajan, but Ram decide to concentrate on vocal music while his sister continues to learn both.

Apart from his concerts in the U.S.A., he has performed in almost all major sabha-s in Chennai and won many prizes and awards, the most recent being the ‘Sangeeta Sri’ award from Rasika Ranjana Sabha, Tiruchi, in a competition in which no fewer than twenty five young musicians participated. Other first prizes and awards include the Musiri Subramania Iyer Endowment Award (2005), Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer Endowment Award (2006), a set of five prizes in various categories in the Music Academy (2007), the AIR competition (2007), and the best vocalist award in the Music Academy’s ‘Spirit of Youth’ festival (2008). He earned a full concert at the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana festival in 2005, after winning the first prize in its vocal competition in 2003.

As music absorbs all the spare time available to him, he does not have other interests and hobbies. He does however like the khanjira and tries his hand occasionally on it.

The future of this gifted young vocalist certainly appears very bright.

(Reproduced from Sruti 299, August 2009)

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