Song of Surrender

Friday, 7 April 2017

Indian Fine Arts Academy of San Diego Festival 2017

By Sukanya Sankar

Day 3 : 4 April 2017

Although it was a typical working day, the buzz started as early as 4.30 pm on Day 3 of the IFSAAD festival, with Shekar Viswanathan and his team of volunteers launching the preparations for the evening. A session by Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao with Chitravina N. Ravikiran was scheduled at 6 pm and the topic was "Life and music of Veena Dhanammal, Bidaram Krishnappa and Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna". Who else could do justice to all that under 60 minutes, but Venugopala Rao!

Ravikiran joined him for the first 20 minutes, where he spoke about the Veena Dhanam bani and also highlighted an interesting and subtle differentiation while referring to school, style and bani. Style is something that an artist evolves based on his personality or his method of singing; and when this artist has numerous  disciples, it becomes a school. When artists from other schools also imbibe the facets of  his style, it then graduates and becomes a bani, said Ravikiran.  Dhanammal's bani inspired artists to seek and learn its special features, said Ravikiran. He also played some interesting audio clips highlighting her subtlety in handling certain sangatis. He said the authenticity of rendering a Syama Sastry kriti or a Kshetrayya padam could only be found in this bani, as Dhanammal and her family members, after learning these kritis, did not alter anything to suit their style of singing. They made sure that they retained the full essence of the kriti, while passing on their repertoire. The session concluded with a short documentary on Dhanammal produced by Podhigai. 

In the next part of the session, Venugopala Rao spoke about the music and compositions of  Bidaram Krishnappa who hailed from Nandalike village in southern Karnataka. Krishnappa sang Devarnamas for a living and was also part of the local Yakshagana troupe, where he portrayed the role of Seeta.  Maharaja Krishnarajendra Wodeyar III (1862-1894) happened to witness a performance of Krishnappa and the troupe, and invited them to perform at Mysore. They were housed in a tent called ‘Bidaram’, and hence the prefix to his name. From the tent, the troupe moved to the palace. Krishnappa was trained in Carnatic music by palace artists Veena Seshanna and Karigiri Rao. His patronage continued under the succeeding ruler Krishnarajendra Wodeyar IV (1884-1940) and he was conferred the title ‘Gana Visharada’ in 1903. 

Venugopala Rao said that Krishnappa would not have become famous had it not been for his disciple Bangalore Nagaratnamma, who brought him to Chennai. He was bestowed with titles like ‘Suddha Swaracharya’ and 'Pallavi' Krishnnappa. He also served as an active member of the experts’ committee of the Music Academy  in 1928. He was a great Rama bhakta and built a Seetarama Mandiram in Mysore. Krishnappa's disciples were Bangalore Nagaratnamma, Mysore T. Chowdiah, and Rallapalli Anantha Krishna Sharma, to name a few. Venugopala Rao also listed the compositions of Krishnappa. Revathi Subramanian, music teacher and IFSAAD Board member, sang Dasarathi ninnu—a beautiful Rishabhapriya composition of Krishnappa and Parvateesa mam (Gamanasrama). 

The lecdem concluded with Venugopala Rao recounting the life and music of his guru, the late Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna. Tracing his lineage as a fifth-generation descendant in the guru-sishya parampara of  Tyagaraja, he said that Balamurali was a multifaceted personality—an accomplished vocalist, he could play the veena, mridangam, khanjira, the violin and the viola. Recalling a favourite quote of the maestro: “Tradition is not a stagnant pool of water. What I do today becomes tradition tomorrow”, Venugopala Rao also shared some of his personal interactions with his guru. He related several anecdotes and also played short snippets from many of his compositions, which transported the happy listeners to the days of Dr. BMK. 

A choir by students of C.M. Venkatachalam

A choir with 56 musicians, ranging from six to forty plus, representing four schools, was conducted by one of San Diego’s leading music teachers, C.M. Venkatachalam. The group started with the nottuswarams in Sankarabharanam— Sakti sahita Ganapatim, Sanatanam Govindarajam and rendered a few other notable ones. An interesting presentation of Muthiah Bhagavatar’s English Note followed; it was presented for the first time with sahitya written by mridangam artist Erode Nagaraj. The seniors then took over, and delivered a beautiful Maye tvam yahi (Tarangini) and rendered Tyagaraja’s Dorakuna (Bilahari) as per Dr. S. Ramanathan’s bani, with some of the senior disciples rendering niravals and kalpanaswarams. The choir was accompanied by local artists, Ramkumar Balamurti (mridangam), Cleveland/San Diego Balu (khanjira), young Tejas on the violin, Amshu Murthy (flute) and little Agastya also on the flute. 

The stage was rearranged for the last programme of the day featuring Bharatanatyam performances by local artists and their students. Dancers Aler Krishnan, Suman Nayak, Rohini Herur and Divya Devaguptapu presented short attractive pieces on Tyagaraja and Dasavataram, along with their students.

An enjoyable evening and a fitting tribute to the gurus by their sishyas.

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