S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Friday, 15 December 2017

Sakthivel Muruganantham

Musicians for Classical Dance
By Anjana Anand
Sakthivel Muruganantham is a well-known mridangist who has accompanied leading Bharatanatyam artistes over the past two decades. An artiste who believes that every performer, senior or junior, deserves the full commitment of the accompanying musicians,. Sakthivel has travelled across the globe performing for diverse audiences including the King and Queen of Norway and Prince Charles of England.
He was over the years conferred the titles Laya Sudaroli and Laya Vidhyadhara  by Alarmel Valli, Laya Kala Ratna by Trinity Arts Academy and Natya Sangeetha Kala Bharathi by Bharat Kalachar.

What influenced you to become a full time mridangist?
I grew up in Papanasam and was surrounded by music. My father was a musician but did not take up music as a profession. He was very keen that I become a musician. My brother, Papanasam Sethuraman learnt the khanjira. My father decided to arrange mridangam lessons for me with mridanga vidwan Rajagopalan. Once, my brother and I performed in front of the Tiruvaduturai Aadhinam who suggested I go to Chennai to further my training.  I finished my studies at Papanasam and came to Chennai in 1985. The first musician I met was vidwan Madurai  Somasundaram.  I then started my tutelage under khanjira artist Mayavaram G. Somasundaram. I lived with him and learnt mridangam in the traditional gurukulam style. After some time, Sir sent me to Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam to continue my training. I was with him for three years.  My decision to become a mridangist happened quite naturally once I moved to Chennai. I then joined the Music College and completed a diploma in music.
How did you start playing for dance?
When I first came to Chennai in in 1985, I remember watching a dance festival arranged at R.R Sabha by Vazhuvur Samraj, which kindled in me an interest in playing for dance. Mridanga vidwan M. Balachander was responsible for my entry into the dance field.
I started playing for Bharatanatyam in 1987. The first dancer I played for was Jayalakshmi Arunachalam, wife of Tanjai Arunachalam Pillai. I was introduced to the Vazhvur style of dance through Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam .
How did you adapt to play for Bharatanatyam?
 I learnt the technique from Balachander Sir and I am grateful to him for his mentorship. I learnt many things from the senior dancers that I played for. With Alarmel Valli, each performance was a learning experience, as I had to be attentive to a variety of footwork. When I played for Chitra Visweswaran, I understood the nuances of playing for abhinaya. Each artiste contributed to my learning curve over the years.
Who were some of the early stalwarts you accompanied?
I started with Alarmel Valli. In fact, almost twenty years later, I still perform with her.  Others include and Udupi Lakshminarayanan,  Chitra Visweswaran, Sudharani Raghupathy, the Narasimhacharis and Krishnakmari  Narendran.
You play for dancers from many different banis. What are some of the differences in style from a mridangist’s point of view?
After performing with so many dancers, I have come to appreciate the finer points of each style. For example, I enjoy the fluidity of the Vazhuvur style. At the same time I admire the more structured lines of the Kalakshetra style. Over the years, I have found that each bani has something unique to offer.
It is interesting to see the way jatis are composed in each school. Earlier, it was easy to identify which school the dancer belonged to by just listening to the jatis! A mridangist has only one job and that is to support the dancer. To this day, I follow the advice
M. Balachander gave me regarding playing for dance: The mridangist has to follow the adavus and footwork of the dancer. The first instinct of a trained mridangist is to follow the composition and embellish it with intricate kanakku. When playing for dance, we have to remember that the dancer’s footwork has to lead us. Once we remember this simple principle, the performance becomes a combined effort.
When was your first tour abroad?
In 1990, I travelled with Pithukuli Murugadas to the US. My first dance tour was with Alarmel Valli to Europe in 1993. Since then I have travelled extensively mainly in Europe and the US. Now, I regularly travel to the US for three to four months for performances and arangetrams.
Is playing for dance a fulfilling experience?
Most definitely. I would not choose any other profession. I believe that we must give our full effort regardless of the level of the performer. I give my best whether I play for a senior artiste or for a student. The Bharatanatyam field is constantly changing and I have seen the margam evolve in different ways over the last three decades. There is always something new happening.
Bharatanatyam accompanists are much in demand for recordings. Is it stressful?
It requires a lot of focus and presence of mind to do a recording as most of the work happens in the studio .We have to understand the dancer’s requirements and choreographic vision in those few hours. I miss the earlier style of recording where all the artistes performed together. Although with click tracks and separate channels, recordings are faster and more precise, I still feel the music has a different feel when the artistes are recording together. It also gave us time to meet and interact with each other. That ambience is missing nowadays.

(Mridanga vidwan Sakthivel Muruganantham has referred  to his gurus, mentors and other vidwans and vidushis respectfully with such honorifics and titles as Vidwan, Vidushi, Sri, Smt and so on. These do not appear in published text in line with Sruti's editorial policy. No disrespect is intended towards any person, and Sruti has the utmost respect for the artists it features).

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