(Conversations with emerging artists)
By Sushma Somasekharan
With his illustrious lineage, it was inevitable that Chandrasekara Sharma would take to the ghatam as his calling with passion. His career choice will not surprise anyone who knows that he grew up with his uncles, the legendary ghatam maestros T.H. 'Vikku' Vinayakram and T.H. Subash Chandran.
Speaking of his earliest memories, he fondly recalls sitting on stage at the tender age of four and listening to his eldest uncle Vinayakram live. Chandru may be just 25 now, but his musical aesthetics and depth of knowledge speak of years of experience.
Excerpts from a recent conversation with him:
When did you start learning the ghatam?
I was very young. My uncle Sri T.H. Subash Chandran. has been my first and only guru, As I was always surrounded by music from the time I was born, it is hard for me to recall when my learning truly started. I do not know if there has ever been a time when the ghatam was not part of my life.
With such an early introduction to the ghatam, your first stage performance must have been when you were still a child.
My first stage performance was curated by Srimati Sulochana Pattabiraman for the Pancharatnam group. It was an unforgettable learning experience not just for me, but also for many other young musicians including vocalists Rithvik Raja and Dharini Kalyanaraman, violinist Parur M S Ananthakrishnan and many more.
What do you consider unique about the ghatam?
The uniqueness of the ghatam lies in its original and earthy sound. The value that a perfectly tuned ghatam adds to music cannot be explained in words; you have to experience that bliss. The subtle intricacies behind playing the ghatam are often not known to the audience. I believe the ghatam can enhance the quality of a concert severalfold. I hope for the audience to understand that the ghatam is not just an instrument on the side, but adds equal value to a concert just as much as the other instruments on stage do.
We hear that concerts are not always serious affairs and that there are many funny incidents.
I absolutely enjoy travelling and performing with my fellow musicians, because, like you mentioned, concerts need not always be serious affairs. We enjoy lighthearted moments during our travels, recordings and even on stage.
The first time I played for the TV channel, Doordarshan, my friends and I were recording for Sulochana Pattabiraman’s Pinchurathnangalin Pancharatnam. The shooting went on till late at night and as we had expected the shooting to end earlier, we had not packed proper food with us. We were given biscuits to eat during the breaks. I was really hungry and started eating them without realizing that the break was over. The recording had resumed, but it was not until the telecast of the programme that I realised that it looked like I was eating the biscuits from my ghatam pot! Everyone who noticed it had a good laugh. Much to my embarrassment, there were several repeat telecasts of that programme!
How have your co-artists helped your pursuit in music?
When all of us were younger, we would often get together and practise. The practice sessions would be in one of our houses and this would strictly be followed by breakfast at Saravana Bhavan. The frequency of our practice sessions has reduced due to our busy schedules, but fret not, we still meet for breakfast! Jokes aside, many of us are now busy with various music projects, tours and concerts, all of which are a result of our long practice sessions during our younger days. We still make it a point to meet and practise whenever our schedules coincide now.
What I love the most about our sessions is that we are not vocalists, violinists, mridangam artists, ghatam artists, or khanjira artists when we meet. We are just friends who are passionate about the same pursuit and dream – music. We love sharing our views, our opinions, our music and I think this understanding continues to inspire us. We do not compete against each other; our only desire is to help each other move forward.
You grew up in a musical family – was that something that inspired you or did it scare you that you had such a huge responsibility to bear?
Growing up amongst such eminent artists was definitely inspiring and motivating. My grandfather was Sri T.R. Harihara Sharma, a renowned moharsing artist. My father is Sri T.H. Gurumurthy, a really well-accomplished violinist. My brother is Sri G Harihara Shama, a khanjira artiste. I had something to learn from every one of them and my uncles, the ghatam maestros Sri Vinayakram and Sri Subash Chandran, and I am indebted to them for all the love and knowledge they have so generously showered on me. Their faith in me instilled the confidence to shape me into the artist that I am today. I understand that I have a huge responsibility of passing this great musical legacy on to the next generation and I will definitely give it my best to achieve it.
If you could switch to playing any other instrument for a day, what would be your pick?
Well, I enjoy singing – I derive great satisfaction and happiness from it. However, I am completely enamoured by my instrument, the ghatam, and I would not want to switch that for anything. I find music, joy, solace and my identity in my instrument. It is my musical voice.
(Sushma Somasekharan is a young Carnatic vocalist)