(Conversations with emerging artists)
By P.N. Ramani
Carnatic vocalist Akshay Padmanabhan is a student of renowned musician P.S. Narayanaswamy, who resides in Chennai. Hailing from a musical family, he started learning music at the age of five. An AIR (A grade) artist, he completed his graduation in M.Com.
Are you a full time musician? If so, when did you take the plunge, and how difficult was the decision?
At present I am a professional musician. Besides performing at Chennai and elsewhere in India, I travel abroad every year to give concerts.
I believe I took the decision to be a full time musician around two years ago. It was quite difficult initially, but as my guru used to say, patience is a virtue and I convert any free time into practice. That keeps me going and also I attend many concerts regularly and many musicians and sabhas know me quite well.
Who was your inspiration? Any musicians in the family?
As an evolving musician, I was always going to find new inspirations. I am primarily inspired by my guru P.S. Narayanaswamy and his guru Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. In my family, my grandmother can sing and play the veena, and my father was a mridangam player during his youth and also later learnt vocal music from Neyveli Santhanagopalan. My mother is a walking encyclopaedia of music; she was everything for me initially.
What appeals most to you in Carnatic music?
To me Carnatic music is akin to the innovations we create in our lives. What makes it so is the judicious usage of the limitless creativity and imagination it offers while satisfying the most basic expectation of a listener listening at that time; to redesign the music to our personality. The feeling of connecting and communicating with a rasika sitting and listening to my performance – this aspect appealed to me first and grows on me everyday.
Have you taken any voice training? Are seniors critical of such attempts to improve your voice?
In addition to my fixed morning routine, I also practise during most parts of the day and in between my mundane physical activities. Through the day, I keep singing and working on problems.
Voice training is as important as practising and learning music. I personally never took training from professionals, but my gurus and colleagues give me advice and tips to work on. They critique me as much as they appreciate me when I perform well.
A word about your gurus. Their teaching methods?
My current guru and all the gurus I learned from helped shape the various facets of my music. They were responsible for my innovations in music at various stages of my evolving career. Sri PSN is very simple and easily approachable to learn from, and this makes learning a very relaxed activity. My guru has definitely taught differently at different times and I am at awe whenever I leave class and go home and assimilate whatever I learnt. I am really fortunate to be his sishya.
Do you feel confident about your future in music?
All the music organisations in Chennai, and important institutions in India and abroad know me well and are kind enough to provide me opportunities during the season and off-season. In fact during the last music season a couple of important sabhas promoted me to senior slots and also awarded me. Also the AIR has awarded me the A grade last year. I do feel confident with regard to my music as I am working on it every day. I believe problems exist for any full time musician but how he recovers from it and learns and uses it as a stepping stone is the right way of going about it.
Do you listen to other genres of music? Any other talents?
I listen to any genre of music that appeals to me and I take as much from it and apply it to my performance as well. I play the guitar, keyboard and flute. I am now learning the mridangam from vidwan Sree Sundar Kumar. Working on several things is quite difficult, but it sometimes helps in giving a full picture in terms of thinking about music.