S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Easwar Ramakrishnan

Musicians in Classical Dance

By Anjana Anand

Easwar Ramakrishnan, a disciple of his father Prof. P.P. Ramakrishnan, and Sangita Kalanidhi T.N. Krishnan has been playing the violin for Bharatanatyam for more than a decade. Awarded the best outgoing student in Carnatic vocal from Kalakshetra in 2007, Easwar is a graded artist in both vocal and violin at All India Radio, Chennai. He has received the junior and senior government scholarships to pursue music. He is a musician who prefers his music to speak for itself, and
 Sruti had to cajole him to speak about himself for this interview!

Did you start your musical training in vocal music or violin?

I started my early training just listening to my father, P.P. Ramakrishnan teach Carnatic music. I must have been around four years old. My father retired as the Principal of Trivandrum Music College and he used to teach many students in his free time. When I grew older, I learnt music from him.

You started your career in Bharata Kalanjali with the Dhananjayans. How did that happen?

I was actively taking part in Kerala Youth festivals and won the first place for both violin and vocal. My father decided to send me to Chennai to work with the Dhananjayans and train under them to become a musician for Bharatanatyam. I joined Bharata Kalanjali and started singing for their productions. At that time, no one knew I was a violinist! One day, while I was talking to Sir, he found out that I could play the violin. I had not brought my violin to Chennai, so on my next trip, I brought the violin and played for their production at short notice. That was how the violin came back into my life!

How did you start playing for Bharatanatyam?

When I was in Kerala studying music with my father, I had no exposure to Bharatanatyam and did not even know that there was an option of being a dance musician. After my stint at Bharata Kalanjali, I decided to get a formal diploma and completed the Diploma in vocal music from Kalakshetra. I had decided by then that I wanted to be a musician for Bharatanatyam. From my first year onwards, I started playing for performances outside after getting permission from the Director.

Would you have preferred to be a kutcheri artist?

I do not think it is a compromise to be a Bharatanatyam musician, because finally the standard of music has to be high. If you decide to be a Carnatic musician, there can be no compromise on quality regardless of the field you choose. For that, a strong foundation is necessary.

You started out as a vocalist but decided to play the violin instead. How did this happen?

When I was studying in Kalakshetra, I was singing as well as playing the violin for performances. Once I left Kalakshetra, the number of my performances increased and I felt that playing the violin was easier! As a vocalist, the work is much more in terms of rehearsals and learning new songs. I moved to distant Padur and it was difficult to commute for rehearsals. I realised that I would not be able to keep the rehearsal schedule needed for a vocalist. Gradually, I stopped singing for dance. Now I am a full time violinist.

What are the challenges you face as a violinist?

The challenge is  having to adapt to so many different pathantarams and musical styles. Also, some dancers insist on a fixed way of playing. When it comes to sancharis, I prefer to watch and go with the mood. This is where my creativity and musical sense would make a difference to the performance. If I am restricted in what I play, then my creativity is hampered. Copying and repeating what another musician has played is not exciting for me.

Any memorable performances outside the Bharatanatyam field?

In 2009, I was fortunate to work with the legendary sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar for his musical ensemble 'India Calling' in Hollywood Bowl, LA, USA. I also played for a recording for Ajoy Chakrabarty.

Have you composed music for Bharatanatyam?

I have composed some items for the margam like tillanas and pushpanjalis. I also composed music for two productions. Recently, I worked on a small piece called Shringara which has been uploaded on YouTube. I am planning to do a few more along that line. I have also played for two films.

What are some of the changes you have seen in the dance field in the past 15 years?

Earlier, there was a clear distinction between concert musicians and Bharatanatyam musicians. I remember when I started, there were some who looked down on musicians opting to play for dance. Today, many concert musicians have started composing for dance or collaborating in some form or the other. That is a healthy change in the Carnatic music field. Today, we are respected as musicians and not compartmentalised.

(The author is a Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher)

[Note: Easwar Ramakrishnan referred to his gurus and peers respectfully with the usual salutations. We have edited these out]

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