Song of Surrender

Friday, 1 December 2017

Ramana Balachandhran

Young Voices

Young Voices - Ramana Balachandhran  - Veena Artiste

By Mannarkoil Balaji

Ramana Balachandhran, a young veena prodigy from Bengaluru, has performed far and wide in India. During a freewheeling conversation with Sruti, Ramana is level headed and mature in his  replies to our questions.

Tell us about your gurus.

initially learnt vocal music from my mother Smt Sharanya Balachandhran, a disciple of Mythili Jagannathan and Mythili Kannan. I also started learning mridangam at the  age of four with Sri Satyakumar. My mother used to learn the laya exercises herself to teach me since I was too young to read . My mridangam training continued for a short while under Sri Nagendra and later Sri Ranganatha Chakravarthy with whom I enjoy a wonderful relationship. He makes sure that I understand the need for a fine balance between complexity and saukhyam. 


My veena training started with vidushi B Nagalakshmi, a granddaughter of Karaikudi Subbarama Iyer (brother of Karaikudi Sambashiva Iyer) quite unexpectedly. My mother's guru she moved from Trichy to Bangalore. My mother took me to her when she thought she noticed a certain flair for the instrument in me.  The training with her exposed me to a gayaki style of playing the instrument. Sahitya was always a primary concern. She was both a guru and an affectionate senior. I learnt from her for a period of three years.

Three years ago, I started learning vocal music from Smt Neela Ramgopal. She is not only a wonderful teacher, but inspires her students with a work ethic that's unparalleled. Most of us would be proud of ourselves if we had a fraction of her energy levels, intensity and commitment.  

My father, a musician himself, stayed away from music due to his work and other pursuits. My music grew in intensity when he started to work with me seriously. He has insights into how complex manodharma aspects may be built incrementally. Once specifically called out it becomes much easier to focus on the same and contemplate extensions, which is what we do at home. He is a taskmaster and is usually dissatisfied with whatever I play or claim to have practised.  He is a very patient teacher.

Please tell us about your learning methods.

All my gurus laid emphasis on artha bhava and sahitya bhava. It took me a while to realize that it also formed a shortcut to remembering the kriti well. During the sessions with the guru, as also at home, we constantly work on the presentation aspects of compositions. At times we find that the sangatis which sound good vocally may not sound good on the veena. Hence we always try to work on bringing out the best of vocal expression to its nearest perfection in veena too. 

My practice also includes various exercises in laya like singing a varnam or chittaswaram in various speeds and gatis. My father has taught me to be open minded and pick up interesting ideas from other vidwans and attempt extensions and variations. 

A word about your technique?

The need to be close to vocal music has helped me to discover some specific fingering techniques, which I diligently practise. There is some phraesology around sahitya where instrument specific variations represent a richer picture; one has to constantly look out for such and adapt accordingly. For instance, there are subtle differences between producing the same gamaka across frets and within a fret. There are also trade-offs between split finger and fluid finger movement techniques that are specific to certain phrases. I prefer building these on fluid and gamaka-laden lines. 

Any style that makes it possible for a musician to be equally comfortable playing a gati pallavi as well as  bhava-laden sahitya, playing a ghana raga with deep visranti, an impactful tukkada, a complex kuraippu  as well as free-flowing and spontaenous swaraprasthara suits me. 

It is interesting to discover anuswaram-based phrases even in scalar ragams and I immensely enjoy manodharma that gives the raga swaroopa primacy among all aspects of creativity

Do you enjoy ragam-tanam-pallavi?

Pallavis always fascinate me. I look for interesting ideas there. Exercises around pallavis are necessary to establish your grip over laya. I always try to fit in a pallavi in any normal-length concert unless it seems out-of-place in the setting.

The role of your gurus and parents in your career?

What I am today is because of my parents’ full support and the blessings of my gurus. Their frequent monitoring and mentoring help me to stay on track. I am lucky to have my father as my guru who guides me on various aspects of my music.

Are you going to be a full time musician?

I tend to lose myself in music and would always love to be associated with it all waking hours. However, the implications of the choice are beyond me at this point as I just turned sixteen. My academic pursuits have shaped up well enough for me to be a fence-sitter, but eventually I hope music chooses me full-time! I am being homeschooled and hence I have the opportunity to consider my pursuits in unhurried fashion and immerse myself in whatever I do, be it music, academics or other interests. Incidentally, my “other interests” include science experiments, paper plane design and magic. 

Your favourite ragas and kritis?

Sahana, Rasali, Ahiri, Saurashtram, Sankarabharanam and Kanada are some of my all-time favourite ragas. The list of favorite compositions is large but still these are the few I can list now: Kamakshi swarajat's, navavaranam, the padam Alarshara paritapam, Emanadichevo (Sahana), Navasiddhi petralum (Kharaharapriya) and Aparadhamulanorva (Rasali).

How do you link practice and on-stage performance?

Though practice is very important, equally important is a musician's ability to trust his instinct on stage. I am learning that as well. My father always says that I should find some spontaneous moments of freedom in every concert. He believes “That which doesn't touch the musician’s heart doesn't touch the listener’s heart too”. I try to keep all these aspects in mind while practising and while on stage. The concert stage becomes a medium for me to express, not just the technical aspects of music, but also my freedom, explorations and instinct. Learning and assimilation are a major aspect of my practice, whereas spontaneity and fluidity forms the core of my performances. 

Awards and recognition

Recipient of CCRT national level scholarship for veena
Pratibha Puraskar, Bangalore 
Invited to perform at Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi .
Awarded “Smt Lalitha Padmanabhan Endowment” award for Veena by Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai 
Awarded “Prof G T Narayana Rao” award instituted by Bhramara Trust of Y T and Madhuri Thathachari, Mysore 
Granted age waiver by Prasar Bharati and Director General of AIR for Audition appearance in AIR.
Honoured as “Kalavanta 2016” for winning the concert competition series
Awarded “Raga Laya Prabha” by Sri Rama Lalitha Kalamandira, Bangalore
Awarded “Emani Sankara Sastri Sashtiyapthapoorthi Award” by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai Awarded “Dr. M S Subbulakshmi Fellowship grant” by Shanmukhananda Sabha, Mumbai 
Awarded “Annapurna Ravindran Endowment Award” by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai .

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