S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Monday, 14 January 2019

Ulhas Kashalkar

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Sankara Iyer

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R K Srikantan

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Sunday, 13 January 2019

Shiv Kumar Sharma

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Shyamanand Jalan

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13.1.1934 - 24.5.2010

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Priyamvada Sankar

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Birthdays & Anniversaries

The Bharata–Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture (BIFAC), Chennai, organized a lecture by B. Herambanathan, from Tanjavur on ‘The contribution of Devadasi-s to Bharatanatyam’. Herambanathan is the son of Bavu Pillai and Jeeva Amma – a dancer – and the son-in-law of devadasi Doraikannu. The Managing Trustee of BIFAC, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam introduced the subject and the speaker. She pointed out that the devadasi tradition had for long been misunderstood and misinterpreted. A devadasi was properly initiated into the divine order through ‘mantropadesa’, and they contributed to the moral, ethical, technical and artistic value of Bharatanatyam. 

Herambanathan said he was proud of his lineage of devadasi-s belonging to the Tanjavur region. A few excerpts from his lecture: 

According to oral tradition the devadasi-s of Tanjavur came from Andhra Pradesh and were known as ‘taiyyalkara kudumbam’ (family of tailors). Education for them meant completing Standard V, enough to maintain a ‘dhobi account’. They were initiated into dance at the age of seven, and some seven years after they learnt a margam, they had their arangetram. They were well versed in languages like Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit and Marathi. Some devadasi-s have written kavya-s in these languages. Attaining puberty was an occasion for celebration that went on for ten days when renowned musicians performed. A sadir kutcheri was specially organized for the occasion. When the devadasi-s danced, the accompanists stood behind them and often wore a uniform. The nattuvanar was not only adept in the art of dance but also in playing the mridanga. A famous devadasi, Kamukannu Amma (mother of the well known mridanga vidwan T. Upendran), who was known for her beauty, was the first lady to do nattuvangam. The devadasi-s were known for their abhinaya as they were good singers and knew the language well. They were adept in kummi, kolattam and pinnal kolattam. 

Many devadasi-s had knowledge of the “64 arts”, were respected by kings and scholars, were spiritually oriented and venerated in society. It is mentioned in the work called Rudraganika Kavuthuvam that the devadasi-s were also known as Saani, Matangi, Basavi and Mahani. Tirugnanasambandar has described them as ‘sirridai kannimaar’. According to the Agni purana, Linga purana and Bhavishya purana the appearance of a dasi was a good omen. She had the right to coronate the king in the absence of the rajaguru, and was given the authority to choose the successor to the throne. 

Many devadasi-s were known for their charity and their affinity to temples.. Rajali Amma donated her necklace and melted the zari from her sarees to make a golden pot for the Mariamman temple. Ponnammal, a devadasi attached to the Tribhuvanam temple, donated money to carve a golden utsavamoorti of the Lord. 

Some devadasi-s swept and cleaned the temple premises, washed the vastra (cloth) of the deities, and cleaned the vessels and jewels. They always wore their characteristic nose ornaments – ‘natthu’ and ‘bullakku’. During worship, the devadasi danced to the accompaniment of the nattuvanar, mridangist and the flautist. She also performed when the Odhuvar sang the Tevaram during pooja. Following this she performed the ‘kudavilakku’ (kumbhaharati) for the Lord before handing it over to the priest. Such was the honour given to a devadasi. 

After Herambanathan’s talk, Padma Subrahmanyam recalled how she learnt some nuances of neck movements from Andal Amma and Viralimalai Annammal. She shared her experience of learning padam-s from Mylapore Gowri Amma, the last devadasi of the Kapaleeswara temple. Padma also narrated the touching story of the devadasi of Srirangam who helped put an end to the sultan’s rule in south India in the 13th century. The devadasi, when asked what she wanted in return, replied she would die happily if she were to receive the temple honours on her death – raw rice from the temple kitchen and the saree from the Goddess to cover her body. 

Herambanathan’s emotion-packed lecture had many poignant moments. It offered many new insights into the lives of the devadasi-s which need to be understood in the proper perspective.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Leela Venkataraman

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Shanta Serbjeet Singh

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11.1.1936 - 2.8.2017

Thursday, 10 January 2019

K. J. Yesudas

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Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Palghat Raghu

Birthdays & Anniversaries
9.1.1928 - 2.6.2009

Raghu always knew he wanted to be a mridanga vidwan. His life story has a slightly different beginning from those of most other musicians. He was born in Burma on January 9th 1928. His father Ramaswamy was a government employee. Raghu inherited much of his music from his mother Ananthalakshmi and his aunt, both very good singers. His mother was his initial source of inspiration. His grandfather Radhakrishna Iyer, a highly respected figure in Burma, was an authority of sorts on Carnatic music. Raghu began his early training under one Swamy at Rangoon. However, it was the visit of Thinniam Venkatarama Iyer to Burma that brought a sharp focus to the boy’s talents. At the end of a ‘crash course’ under Venkatarama Iyer for about twentyone days, the teacher was impressed with his pupil. He offered to teach him during his visits to Madras. With war impending, the family had to relocate to Madras and soon Raghu came under his tutelage. The lessons were about a year old when fate intervened again. The family moved to Palghat in 1940 — as part of the war time evacuation of Madras — so that Raghu could undergo training with the stalwart, Palghat Mani Iyer. It is interesting to note that Raghu had no other connection to Palghat.

The initial lessons with Mani Iyer saw the maestro focusing on Raghu’s fingering techniques and making changes to suit his style of play. Thus began a long association that went on to make Raghu his foremost disciple. To quote Raghu, “I had heard the mahavidwan play and was dumbstruck at his abilities. His playing was so fascinating, I used to wonder if he was really human or divine? Was it possible for a human being to play the way this vidwan did? It was, for me, a dream come true. Being Mani Iyer’s disciple was like being a member of his family. He went for a walk every morning and I accompanied him, walking just a bit behind him. He discussed various aspects of laya and also quizzed me on what I had been doing. I then told him about the ‘korvai’ or ‘kanakku’ that I was working on and he listened very intently. He was always encouraging and wanted me to learn more by listening than from actual one to one teaching. Mani Iyer was of the opinion that a mridanga vidwan must know vocal music and a vocalist mridanga. Palghat K.V. Narayanaswamy came for practice around this time and I used to accompany him often.

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Darshana Jhaveri

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Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Visakha Music Academy honoured senior violinist Dwaram Durga Prasada Rao

Visakha Music Academy honoured senior violinist Dwaram Durga Prasada Rao with the Sangeeta Kala Saagara title, which was presented by mridanga vidwan V. Kamalakara Rao during the 49th annual festival of music on 30 November 2018 at Visakhapatnam.

Kelucharan Mohapatra

Birthdays & Anniversaries
8.1.1926 - 7.4.2004

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra to think of Odissi without the one who has been its guiding light for the last half a century and more, is like thinking of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. The life of the boy from Raghurajpur village in Puri v district, born to a humble Patachitra painter Chintamani Mohapatra and his wife Siri Nani, growing up to straddle the world of Odissi like a colossus, reads like a fairy story. Not born to any traditional dance family, Kelucharan did not aspire to gurudom. The mantle fell on him as an earned right with his immeasurable contribution to Odissi.

The turning point in Odissi history came in 1945 when Pankaj Charan Das engaged as the dance teacher by Annapurna B Theatre Group, came into contact with the young Kelucharan Mohapatra, hired as a percussionist by the same theatre group on a monthly salary of fifteen rupees. In an attempt to lure larger audiences, a dance sequence, Mohini Bhasmasura, was choreographed by Guru Pankaj Charan for the play Benami, with the guru himself in the role of the demon, young Laxmipriya the actress who was later on to become the wife of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra as Mohini and Kelucharan as Siva. This landmark event was to burgeon into an entire movement ushering in a whole new superstructure of Odissi erected on the very scanty remains of what had survived history, involving all the main players in the field like Pankaj Charan Das, Debaprasad Das, Raghunath Dutta, Mayadhar Raut, Kelucharan Mohapatra and Dhiren Patnaik.

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Monday, 7 January 2019


Young Voices         Conversations with emerging artists
Keerthana Sankar grew up in a musical environment, learning from her father from the age of two and able to identify ragas by the time she was  four. She has been learning vocal music from Madurai R. Sundar (senior disciple of T.N. Seshagopalan) for the past 13 years. Keerthana also started learning the violin at the age of five from Jay Shankar Balan, and has been undergoing advanced training from Delhi P. Sunder Rajan in vocal and violin since 2009.
Keerthana performed her vocal arangetram at the age of 15 and has since been regularly performing in the US, Canada and India. She has won numerous awards at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana Festival, and was also a winner of the Pallavi Darbar competition held in Chennai in 2017.
Keerthana is an accomplished violinist and has played for several senior vidwans. She bagged the “Best Violinist Award” in the sub-senior slot at Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha during the December music season and has also had the privilege of performing with violin maestro V.V. Subramanyam and mridangam maestro Guruvayur Dorai.
Keerthana has a degree in neuroscience from the University of Michigan and is currently a third year medical student.
I had first encountered Keerthana at the Cleveland Aradhana in 2003 where she and her sister were participating in the music competition. Later, in 2008, she played the violin for a vocal chamber concert I had arranged for Vikram and Vidya Raghavan. This was before her official arangetram and I remember being impressed by her firm hand and vigorous bowing.  In subsequent years I have heard her accompany several senior musicians and her violin never disappoints.  Like many young violinists, she has been making inroads as a vocalist as well, with performances in Chennai and at several locations in the US.
Keerthana Sankar spoke to Shankar Ramachandran
Tell us about your music teachers.
I had classes once a week with both teachers, Madurai Sunder (uncle) and with Jaishankar Balan (uncle). Madurai Sunder has a totally different approach. He seldom says much in class.. He is very observant, but there is this silent expectation that is so hard to live up to. Slowly, over the years, you kind of gauge what he is singing and internalise it. That is how I grew from his classes. It totally shapes you—what to sing and what not to sing.
On the other hand, Jai Sankar would sometimes be so upset that I had not practised that he would say “Just go home and come back later”.  That would never happen with Sunder.  The summer before my sister Kamya and I had our vocal arangetram in 2009,  we spent nearly every day at guru Sunder ‘s house—that was a huge summer of growth for us.
It was around that time that I started learning violin and vocal from Sunder Rajan (uncle); from the age of 14-15.  I learn on Skype and during the season and summer I travel to Chennai to learn from him. Those classes are amazing. He has so many new ideas all the time.  He is so good at exploring different schools of kanakku. You always leave his classes thinking about music in ways you never have thought before. 

Every class is like a test.  He encourages you to sing what he demonstrates, but when you try to repeat it you realise it is not as easy as it seems. You try to grasp as much knowledge as you can from him. That is how his classes work.
It is because of him that I was exposed to so many rare ragas like Balahamsa.  It is so helpful for me as a violinist because you never know what is going to be thrown at you on stage.  He teaches me a lot of rare songs too. 
Do you remember some of your early concerts that stood out for you?
Yes, there was this time I sang with Kamya in either Toronto or Montreal when I was 15.   I go back and listen to it often. We sang Sri Satyanarayanam.  I sang the raga,  it was heavily influenced by vidwan T.N. Seshagopalan as I was passing through the “ TNS phase”.  I just got lucky my voice could move fast through some of those phrases.
I sang in New Jersey earlier this year,  and  I think as I kind of grew up a little over the last few years I have calmed down a little and my music reflects that.  There is more thought to putting the concert list together. It felt like it was a better balance overall.
What are your other interests?
You mean besides music and medicine? I played tennis in high school. I was not very good but I really enjoyed playing. I learned French in high school and my first two years of college. I can probably speak the language well enough to get around in  Paris.  My mother only speaks to me in Tamil so I can also speak a little bit of  it.
What do you think you have achieved  so far?
Before I started medical school I was really worried that I would not have time for music. But now I am happy that I have really improved even after starting in medical school. This is something I can never let go. I can’t live without it. So, to be able to still learn and improve has been the greatest accomplishment.
Why medicine?  You could have chosen a less demanding subject and had more time for music?
I was always interested in biology throughout school and fascinated by how the human body works. I have never found that kind of interest in any other subject.  It is just another passion like music is—I just have to pursue it no matter how hard it is. I think I can really make an impact in this field. I can connect well with people and I like what I am studying and get to be practical and to help others with it.
What are your favourite ragas? 
Todi, Dhanyasi, Reetigaula. I gravitate towards sadder ragas. I also love Dikshitar kritis and  songs with interesting tala structure, words and phrases. I like singing Sanskrit compositions.
Do you have more violin concerts during the music season than vocal?
Yes. There are a lot more opportunities to play the violin because during the season so many artists are looking for a violinist to accompany them. 
Did you face any obstacles because of your gender?
I can’t think of any.  Actually, the main obstacle in Chennai is not being from Chennai.
But you are not from the US. Weren’t you born in the heart of  Tamil Nadu?
Yes. I was born in Tirunelveli, but that is not the perception.  And I did grow up in the US.  We have more to prove as NRIs. People have lower expectations, but I think that is changing a lot.  As you keep coming and they hear you play, that bias melts away. People are starting to see what kind of talent there is in the US now.      

Ajoy Chakrabarty

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Vijay Tendulkar

                                                         Birthdays & Anniversaries
7.1.1928 - 19.5.2008

Sunday, 6 January 2019

G. N. Balasubramaniam

Birthdays & Anniversaries

He was among the most imitated vocalists in Carnatic music. Not only did some of his students start out, understandably, as carbon copies, many young musicians to this day try to mimic his inimitable style. India’s midnight’s children and younger citizens are unfortunately too young to have heard him live extensively, but some retain a few vivid images from childhood, and remember being exhilarated by his wonderful voice. Much of what we present here of Gudalur Narayanaswami Balasubramaniam, we owe Sruti’s articles and the GNB  workshop, a brilliantly original effort in late 1992. Lalitha Ram, a die-hard fan and biographer of GNB, and a commemorative volume being brought out by the GNB family (with important contributions from several musicians, critics and rasika-s) have been other valuable sources.

Born to G.V. Narayanaswami Iyer and Visalakshi on 6 January 1910, Balasubramaniam, called Mani at home, studied at the Hindu High School, Triplicane, Madras, Madras Christian College (where he completed his B.A. Honours in English), and briefly at Annamalai University. (A detailed biography is being serialised in Sruti, this issue carrying the fourth instalment of the story). GNB was eager to pursue a career in music, while his schoolmaster and music enthusiast father wanted him to take up a proper job. Mani had a natural flair for music and did not undergo rigorous gurukulavasam, though he did have lessons from Madurai Subramania Iyer and Karur Chinnaswami Iyer. Both his parents were musically talented and had many opportunities of listening to giants like Fiddle Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer, Flute Sarabha Sastri, Nagaswaram Tirumarugal Natesa Pillai and Harikatha expert Tiruppayanam Panchapakesa Sastrigal. When GVN, as Narayanaswami Iyer was often called, became a maths teacher at the Hindu High School, and became involved in the Sri Parthasarathi Swami Sabha, he came into close contact with great musicians. GNB recalled in a 1967 article, “Violinist Karur Chinnaswami Iyer lived next door to us in Triplicane. I lived in an atmosphere drenched in music and this helped me to nurture, develop and sustain my ardour for music.” His kelvi gnanam was sharp and inspired, enabling him to learn the more advanced aspects of music without the help of a guru. In his own words, “Without so much as any basic training, I acquired swara gnana which I humbly feel was due to the benediction of elders and savants. Whenever I listened to good music, I had an inner feeling that I could visualise it in the imagery of swara-s. What my ears would be hearing would be picturised in my mind’s eye in swara forms.”

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Saturday, 5 January 2019

Aiyyalu honours legends

Veterans Chitra Visweswaran, Padma Subrahmanyam, Sudharani Raghupathy and C.V. Chandrasekhar  were honoured with the title of Aiyyelu Natya Sreshta on the occasion of  dance costume designer D.S. Aiyyelu’s 90th birth anniversary on 30 September 2018 at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai. Revathi Ramachandran and K.N. Ramaswamy were the guests of honour.  The programme was organised by Aiyyelu’s son  Sivakumar.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Sankeerthana Choodamani Awards

The Sankeerthana Kalanidhi and Sankeerthana Choodamani awards were conferred on N. Mahadeva Bhagavatar and Erode Rajamani Bhagavatar respectively by Justice G.R. Swaminathan, Judge, Madras High Court on the valedictory day of the 18th Namasankeerthana Vizha celebrated in association with Integrated Academy for Performing Arts and Bhagavatha Seva Trust on 9 December 2018. Also in the picture is  Y. Prabhu, Secretary General, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha.

Tanjavur S Kalyanaraman

Who’s Who in Classical Music

Born in a musically inclined family at Thiruvengadu near Mayavaram to N. Srinivasa Iyer and wife, S. Kalyanaraman had his initial music training under his father.  Kalyanaraman, a GNB fan from an early age, tried to sing in the GNB bani before eventually becoming GNB’s disciple, after a music teacher, Kittamani Iyer, recognising the lad’s unusual talent, introduced him to GNB. GNB taught him for 15 years.
An outstanding talent honed by GNB, Kalyanaraman, died in his prime, just like his guru and some of his fellow disciples. Musician S Rajam rated him as the most intelligent of GNB’s sishyas, known for his discussions with his guru even as a student. He was a particularly creative musician, with a penchant for Hindustani ragas among other things.
Following his guru’s advice not to try to be his carbon copy, Kalyanaraman came to be known for his original manodharma, evolving his own style even as a keen follower of the GNB bani, repeatedly drawing his guru’s praise in the process. Even before his concert debut in 1949, he impressed audiences with his excellent pinpattu for GNB, who encouraged him by giving him many openings to showcase his creativity. From then on, S. Kalyanaraman's rise in Carnatic music was phenomenal.
Kalyanaraman ventured freely into vivadi ragas and was a composer of merit, his unique songs including creations in panchama varja dv—madhyama ragas.
Noted among his disciples were his wife Bhushany Kalyanaraman, Prof. Gowri Kuppuswamy, Brinda Venkataramanan and Anuradha Sriram.
The SKR Trust, established by Bhushani Kalyanaraman promotes his music and his legacy. A documentary of his life and work "The Sunaadha Vinodhan" was released as a DVD in the Kalakendra Sanskriti series.

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Balakrushna Dash

                                                             Birthdays & Anniversaries
2.1.1928 - 12.11.1993

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

S.N. Ratanjankar

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T Chowdiah

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Only a few Carnatic musicians have managed to have a long, consistent and glamorous record of stardom. Mysore T. Chowdiah (1894- 1967) was one of them. A violinist of top rank, he had a glowing career spanning five decades and he commanded the respect of the lay public, the connoisseurs and his peers in the performing arts. It was a ride on a rainbow.

A contemporary of such other violin greats as Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu and Kumbakonam  Rajamanickam Pillai, Chowdiah assumed many roles in the music world. Besides being a concert artist, he was an innovator, a teacher, an organiser, a composer and a thespian—he donned grease paint and acted in a movie titled VanL But his role par excellence rested squarely on his incomparable skills in providing violin accompaniment. He not only embellished the music of his principal, but himself played delightful music when his turn came, according to Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. With him as sideman, there was never a dull moment. He induced and stimulated the main artist's creativity and played a significant part in the overall success of the concert. To every concert he took part in, he brought his vast experience and always served a sumptuous fare. He zealously guarded him as accompanist could not fail.

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