Song of Surrender

Monday, 30 June 2014

G. Srikanth

Music for Classical Dance

By Anjana Anand

Gopalakrishnan Srikanth is a Carnatic music concert and dance musician,  one of the most sought after artistes in the dance field. Endowed with a bhava rich voice,  Srikanth has made a mark as a well rounded musician.  Srikanth shares some of his views with Sruti...

Who were your gurus in Carnatic music?

My mother Leelavathy Gopalakrishnan was my first guru. I can proudly say that I learnt almost 2000 kritis from her and my strong foundation in music was because of her wonderful training. In 1978, I came under the tutelage of Sangita Kalanidhi TM Tyagarajan, with whom I trained for seven years. After that, vidwan OS Thiagarajan trained me for many years. I have learnt compositions from many stalwarts as well. I completed a Masters degree in Indian Music from Madras University.

How did your involvement with Bharata natyam begin?


I was singing regularly and even through my engineering college years, I continued learning and performing. In 2000, I joined as the Head Master of Tamil Nadu Government Music School at Tuticorin. I started singing for the dance students programmes there. In 2005,I came back to Chennai and the first few dancers whom I sang for are Chitra Visweswaran, Vijay Mahadevan, Divyasena. Since then there was no looking back!

How do you feel about being tagged as a dance vocalist and not taken seriously as a concert musician?

I can only say that people who pass such judgements are ill informed about the system. There is no question of hierarchy as artistes because each path we choose brings out a different side of our musical abilities. For example, visualization and correct pronunciation are paramount when accompanying dance as we are supporting the visual a dancer creates. The strange thing is that I used to do this even before I entered the dance field. Even in kutcheris I visualized my music, the movement of the melody, and the lyrics. I always felt that I must be true to the composer and these ideas helped me to sing for dance. I think a strong foundation in music enables you to juggle the different requirements.

What is your opinion on the use of voice modulation in music?

Music and voice modulation go together. Sometimes certain sangatis require a certain kind of modulation and at other times the mood of the song determines the use of the voice. The latter is definitely more in a dance performance where sahityabhava takes precedence. Having said that, I do not believe that emotion should only be brought out using the voice. A judicious choice of sangatis and ragas brings musical depth to a performance.

Having been in the field for more than a decade now, do you notice any trend in musical choice for Bharatanatyam performances?

There is a trend towards using less known or ‘lighter’ ragas as main pieces. There are of course brilliant compositions like Lalgudi Sir’s Revati tillana, so I think the depth of the ragas used depends on the composers! Technicalities in rhythm patterns are more complicated. Like in music concerts, traditional items are performed less and popular songs are being sung repeatedly. One happy trend is the revival of padam and javali singing which has a niche rasika following.

Have you composed music for Bharatanatyam performances?

Yes, I set the music for Tirukkural for Sheila Unnikrishnan. It was in a margam format. I composed tunes for about 300 Devarnamas of various Haridasas and released a CD and a double album.

What are the problems you face juggling careers as a kutcheri artiste and dance vocalist?

The musical repertoire in dance is completely different.  Learning new items, notation, noting down clues to move from one line to the other are some of the challenges. A lot of time goes in that. Sometimes I learn an entire new list of compositions which I may sing only once for one performance. I have to deal with voice strain as in a kutcheri, I have to sing open throated and any strain becomes visible.

Sometimes I have to sing a composition in a different way from which I learnt so my pathantaram has to be temporarily set aside! I try to learn traditional compositions from authentic sources. Most important, in a dance performance, I am conscious of keeping the dancer’s interest in mind.

What do you do to preserve your voice?

Kashayams and warm water.

Awards and recognition...?

I am an ‘A’ grade artiste at Doordarshan and ‘B high’ grade in Devotional music/Devarnamas at All India Radio. I received the Youth Excellence Award given by The Rotary Club of Chennai West in 2004, ‘Gana Kala Bhaskara’ from Sri Kodandaramaseva Mandali, Kolar, Karnataka, in 2008, ‘Sangita Kala Saarathy’ by VVS Foundation, Chennai, in 2011 and ‘Gandharava Gana Kala Sundaram’ from Bharathanjali Trust, Chennai, in 2011.

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