Thursday, 29 November 2012

At 71, Rhadha the dancer wins hearts in the Bay Area

By Prema Sriram

Guru Rhadha danced right into our hearts in August this year at the Mission City Center for Performing Arts, Santa Clara, California.

It was with great excitement and eagerness that I went with my parents to Rhadha’s first solo recital, under the auspices of Sankritilaya, in the San Francisco Bay Area. We had heard a lot about this living legend being a great choreographer, excellent dancer, and above all a good friend and confidante to her students.

True to her reputation, Rhadha performed a complete Vazhuvoor style margam, without cutting corners or compromising on fundamentals. Her performance at the age of 71 totally blew us away.

The highlight of the programme was her effortless string of muzhu mandi adavu-s, sprinkled generously throughout the nritta items. The quick transitions from standing to half sitting, to getting down on to the floor, then all the way up, without flinching, combined with her impeccable and powerful footwork (many a time improvised when you were least expecting it), felt surreal.

Rhadha began her programme with a traditional pushpanjali, followed by a beautiful Hanuman stuti, Anjile onru petran, from the Kamba Ramayanam. The song describes the five facets of Lord Hanuman in relation to the five elements. Born of the wind god, Hanuman crossed the mighty body of water, by leaping across (the sky) space to find Seeta, the daughter of mother Earth, and in a rage, he burned down Ravana’s Lanka with fire. From the first item itself, we came under the spell of Rhadha’s mesmerising dance.

The next item was a brisk Chokkeswara kavuthuvam in praise of Chokkanathar or Siva of Madurai. Rhadha delighted us in the Mandooka Sabdam by describing the scenic pond full of leaping and croaking frogs, where the story of Gajendra moksha takes place. The onomatopoaeic syllables in the lyrics were beautifully sung by Sindhu Natarajan.

The beautiful varnam, Karunai seididal aagatha in praise of Lord Kapaleeswara of Mylapore told the story of how goddess Karpagambal came into being. The five jati-s, including a mridanga jati—nicely articulated by Vidya Balan and Sangita Vasudevan, two senior disciples of Rhadha—were powerfully executed with unflagging stamina and perfection by Rhadha.

During the intermission, the whole place was abuzz, with everyone talking about Rhadha’s incredible jaw-dropping performance.

Rhadha opened the second half of the programme with Yarukagilum bhayama? in which she convincingly depicted a self-assured abhisarika nayika standing her ground.

In the piece de resistance, Krishna nee begane, Rhadha awakened the vatsalya bhava in each one of us, by bringing to life baby Krishna delighting his mother Yasoda. The story of the Vamana avatara was seamlessly woven into the piece and delineated at the line, Jagadoddharaka namma.

The javali Yera, rara brought out yet another facet of Rhadha’s uncanny ability to depict sambhoga sringara, with subtle and nuanced suggestions of romantic and intimate moments between the nayaka and the naive and boisterous nayika, who is tormented by Cupid’s arrows.

The playful Mand tillana – a composition of Lalgudi G. Jayaraman – was the perfect finale for Rhadha’s energetic and effervescent presentation, beautifully choreographed to sync with the lilting movements of the musical notes. The intricate, rhythmic and dynamic movements, interspersed with sculpturesque poses, were handled with ease and finesse, till the very end.

Sindhu Natarajan, a budding singer, provided melodious and confident vocal accompaniment, ably supported by her parents N. Narayan (mridanga), and Shanti Narayan (violin). Nattuvangam support by Rhadha’s disciples Sangita Vasudevan and Vidya Balan was truly remarkable. Samyuktha Narayan, also a disciple of Rhadha, was an outstanding emcee for the programme. It was a pleasure to see all three disciples beaming with pride and joy, on seeing their teacher’s ecstatic dancing.

Sankritilaya deserves all the credit for sponsoring Rhadha’s first Bay Area appearance. We hope to see Rhadha again and again.

Lasya Kavya in Washington DC on US Election Eve!

By Kamakshi Mallikarjun

Google directions in hand, I was making my way carefully through the pedestrian crossing lanes in Dupont Circle in Washington DC. The fact that the roundabout had inner and outer lanes of cars, multiple stop lights in the quadrants, and impatient city drivers added a level of unexpected complexity to the short walk from my hotel.

My goal was to find the Women’s National Democratic Club (WNDC), situated on New Hampshire Avenue, the venue for the screening of Alarmel Valli’s Lasya Kavya the next day. Google did not let me down and I found myself shortly in front of an ornate red brick mansion on a tree-lined road with the embassies of the Republic of Botswana and Mozambique on the opposite side.

“The Women’s National Democratic club was founded in 1922, two years after the Nineteenth amendment granted voting rights to women” in the US. And the event was scheduled for Nov 5th, the day before the US Election.

It was a cool venue indeed, chosen by Dakshina, Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company (, which was welcoming Valli back to DC with a performance and this screening of Lasya Kavya. Dakshina will be celebrating its tenth anniversary next year and has a wonderful mission of making ‘dance universally accessible’ and ‘engaging in dance not only as a means for aesthetic and artistic growth, but also as a vehicle for social change and community development’.

Before the screening, there was a small reception to meet Valli and members of the WNDC and Dakshina.

The diverse audience ranged from folks who were knowledgeable about Bharatanatyam and fans of Valli for a long time to those who were watching Bharatanatyam for the first time.

Lasya Kavya is indeed that rare documentary about an artist that aligns impeccably with the artist’s core values and emphasis on excellence. As Bombay Jayashri described most aptly, Valli’s signature of ‘seeing the music and hearing the dance’ comes together so perfectly – the abhyasa, drive for creativity, the dance, the music, the intricate rhythms …

I am happy to share some of the Q & A that occurred after the screening - very interesting questions and articulate, expressive, and thought provoking answers by Valli. At the end of the Q & A, Valli said it was particularly meaningful for her to have been able to share her thoughts at the WNDC.

It began as purely an archival project and grew to “an in-depth film on my dance which would also explore the ideas that shape my creative work”.

She was fortunate working with a perceptive director like Sankalp Meshram who “sensitively and intuitively decided on techniques to using abstraction to highlight the dance and add depth. Magnificent temple architecture, or lush nature settings, he felt would be counterproductive, for which decision, I am very grateful”.

Valli regaled us with a story about a prior documentary, many years ago, by a famous director, far more interested in the dramatic location, who wanted her to dance on a scorching day on top of a large boulder! And as the sequence was about to be filmed, a large billygoat intruded on the scene and had to be chased away!

Excerpts from the Q&A session (with the names or description of those asking the questions and their questions below them)

Daniel Phoenix Singh

The difference between choreography for solo vs. group dance

While Valli enjoys choreographing group compositions for her students and “sculpting space differently”, she is primarily a solo performer; it offers her far more freedom. When performing with others, you have to have to “be constantly aware of the group dynamics”, which can sometimes curb your spontaneity.

A WNDC member new to the world of Indian classical dance

The formal process to learn Indian classical dance

Valli explained that there indeed is and that her mother who loved South Indian classical music and dance was the catalyst who made her start dance lessons when she was very young; she was very fortunate to learn from Chockalingam Pillai and Subbaraya Pillai who were such extraordinary gurus and teachers. They were instrumental in developing her into the artist that she is today; that they not only “gave her a strong foundation in technique and grammar and a rich dance vocabulary”, of Bharatanatyam in the Pandanallur style, but Subbaraya Pillai also gave her the freedom to greatly broaden her horizons, choreograph on her own and to evolve creatively.

She added that her gurus were also innovators and they were keen “to evolve the Pandanallur style, to combine power, clarity and purity of line with grace and fluidity. They wanted to give the dance a seamless quality, without leaning either towards brittleness and rigidity, or cloying grace.”

Valli demonstrated what she meant with a few examples – perfectly defined natyarambha position, the piquant grace of the tattumettu adavus.

A young student of Modern Dance

How to better understand Valli’s dance

Emphasizing “her ideal and perception of dance as visual poetry and visual melody”, Valli said that just like starting with alphabets, words, and then phrases when learning to read, dance also has its classical ‘alphabet’, words and phrases. As she continued to develop and grow as a performer, she started innovating within this elastic framework where she stays true to the principles of the idiom but at the same time explores new dimensions.

Valli gave an example of how her guru taught her to show beauty; and then the additional embellishments in the way she shows it now, depending on how the music flows.

Another key point was that as the dance unfolds, the singer is improvising the lines of the song, the violinist is also adding his or her own touches, so is the percussionist. The pivotal need when dancing is to internalize and respond to the music so that each seamlessly flows from one to the other.

A dance scholar and dance critic

Has the much-travelled Valli ever felt the need to incorporate any extraneous paradigms/techniques into her work?

Valli gave a succinct and eloquent response to this question. She appreciates great art of all genres and she has interacted closely with great dancers like Pina Bausch, and a number of other artists. But she feels “experiments in fusion merely for novelty's sake, usually fail”. She feels Bharatanatyam has its own rich and flexible structural form and foundation, and is replete with its own textures and colors. She finds “the greatest fulfillment in its undiluted, rich idiom”.

Valli added that she had learnt Odissi from the great Kelucharan Mohapatra but gave it up because she felt that it was important to focus on one dance form and give it her full attention, that just one lifetime is not enough for that.

However, her art and creativity do indeed draw from her life experiences and from that perspective, she indeed has been deeply touched by Western Art, Dance, Music, and Architecture. These experiences “are reflected in her dance - though not as literal statements”.

For instance, Valli said that she recently chose to choreograph an English poem by Arundhathi Subramaniam, but again worked on seamlessly integrating it into the idiom of Bharatanatyam.

A student of Bharatanatyam

The influence of teaching others

Valli’s response contrasted how she learnt from her gurus with the teaching of dance today.
Her guru “did not favour the analytical approach to teaching. He could suggest a world of meaning with just a simple hand movement.” She says she often learnt almost by osmosis. Since “he never actually stood up to demonstrate the dance, and there were no means of visually recording his lessons, she had to focus, reflect, and internalize his lessons”. It enabled her to develop her own individual style. Her guru also gave her the freedom to explore and evolve.

In contrast, today’s dance students including her own, learn from someone who is also performing and so they tend to imitate more, sometimes even individual mannerisms. And though technology is good, sometimes it prevents her students from internalizing what they are leaning and tends to become an easy crutch.

She greatly enjoys discussions with her students but sometimes does wonder if “she is spoon feeding them” too much when explaining and analyzing Abhinaya and movement.

A young student

Does Valli believe that government has a role to play in fostering the arts?

Valli’s passionate and emphatic reply was “Absolutely, yes! Government has a critical responsibility to and must robustly foster the arts. Even as “Economy, Ecology and Social Development are pillars on which society rests today, arts and culture must be made a foundational pillar as well. Otherwise, youth become impoverished. Kitsch will always be there and its attraction is often potent”. But it is very important for children to learn and appreciate the fine arts, so that “they also imbibe the values inherent in these forms”.

And to resounding applause, Valli added that given that the US election was going to be held the next day, she hoped that that the winner would be the person who promotes the arts.

The author is a classical music and dance enthusiast who owes her appreciation of dance to her late aunt Anandhi Ramachandran, a member of the faculty of Kalakshetra.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Global echoes : Ravikiran and the BBC Philharmonic

By S Sriharan

Kala Sangam, an arts organisation based in Bradford, UK, presented on 17th November a special concert in which Chitravina Ravikiran performed with a group of musicians from the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.

The concert started with Ravikiran playing his own composition in the raga Nattai raga in Adi tala, with Balu Raguraman on the violin and RN Prakash on the mridangam.

A string quartet of two violins Julian Gregory and Matthew Watson, viola Ruth Ferreira and cello Rebecca Aldersea played a movement from a composition by Frederick Delius. Born in Bradford, Delius (1862-1934), based many of his compositions on English folk music, though he was of German origin.

The next item Brigg Fair, also by Delius, was arranged by Julian Gregory, leader of the string quartet, for Ravikiran and Prakash to participate in. Ravikiran played some melodic passages and Prakash joined in places, tapping the khanjira with his right forefinger while varying the pitch with his left hand. It was effective and unobtrusive.

The quartet became a quintet when the bassoon player Simon Durnford joined to play with Ravikiran the Tyagaraja kriti Niravadi sukhada in Ravichandrika raga. The quintet had the full notation for the song and other passages arranged by Ravikiran and followed the notation precisely. The quintet appeared to have practised well with Ravikiran’s guidance. They played with much enthusiasm and the bassoonist in particular played the chittaswaram with great gusto. Ravichandrika was a good choice because the raga depends as much on the dynamics as on gamaka, which was amply supplied by Ravikran.

Ravikiran and Prakash, on the ghatam, took a more active part in performing with the quartet an arrangement of a piece by Faure (1845-1924). Ravikiran played melodic passages and long notes with some vibrato. Prakash could be said to have provided sarva laghu in places.

After an interval the second half, devoted to Carnatic music, started with a kirtana in the raga Gaula raga and Adi tala by Oothukkadu Venkatasubba Iyer with short alapana and kalpanaswara. Ravikiran then offered a comprehensive alapana of Kalyani followed by Subbaraya Sastri’s Ninnuvina gati gana in Adi tala. Raguraman on the violin matched Ravikiran’s kalpanaswara well. The tani avartanam by Prakash was short but crisp.

Ravikiran then offered to answer questions from the mixed audience, which consisted mostly of Europeans and North and South Indians. There was a short session with questions mainly on the Chitravina. The longest exchange was about the Chitravina being used like an electronic instrument. Ravikiran responded by saying that the nuances of the music would be inaudible without the electronics and illustrated it by turning off the amplifier. However, the explanation for a pickup built into the instrument, rather than a stereo microphone external to the instrument, simulating human hearing, was neither sought nor proffered.

The programme concluded with a Khamas javali in Rupaka tala followed by a tillana in Behag, with some lines in tisra nadai.

The concert on the whole was enjoyable. The collaboration between the two systems of music was interesting and Ravikiran maintained his usual high standard, his musicality evident throughout.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

K Arun Prakash: Purveyor of nadamrta

One of the most popular mridanga vidwans in the Carnatic music circuit is left-handed K Arun Prakash, whose smiling demeanour and exemplary pakkavadya dharmam have won him many friends and admirers. A disciple of the late Ramanathapuram MN Kandaswami Pillai, Arun Prakash is a respected representative of the Palani Subramaniam school of percussion.

Born on 3 May 1968, Arun Prakash is a son of the late music composer L Krishnan. Starting lessons with his guru at the age of nine, Arun Prakash first ascended the concert stage two years later. His early debut meant that he got to accpmpany several stalwart musicians of an earlier generation, counting among them such giants as DK Pattammal, KV Narayanaswamy, TN Krishnan and Lalgudi G Jayaraman.

Arun Prakash can be unobtrusive or noticeably brilliant depending on the situation of the concert, the lyric or the performing style of the main artiste concerned. He is fond of stating that the duty of the percussionist is to enhance the listening experience in concerts. He is scrupulous in staying within the boundaries of accompaniment and following the appropriate style in the different parts of a concert—during kriti rendering, niraval and swaraprastara, according to the mood and stylistics of a song, during ragam-tanam-pallavi, and during tani avartanam. Musicality is the one constant factor of his mridangam playing at all times, and his sheer enjoyment of his art his hallmark.

Best Young Mridangist (Sri Krishna Gana Sabha), Best Mridangist (The Music Academy), Yuva Kala Bharathi (Bharat Kalachar) and the Kalki Krishnamurthy award are some of his many distinctions.

Arun Prakash is also a composer of merit who shows his reverence for traditional music through a special series of concerts he conducts under the banner of Nadamrta and programmes in memory of his father and his guru. His lecture-demonstrations are excellent guides to listeners as well as young musicians.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Generation Next

By Nandini Ramani

Sangeeta Isvaran

A glance at her resume shows the extensive research and dance-oriented projects in traditional and contemporary areas. Sangeeta Isvaran has undertaken many of them which focus on social issues. This exuberant dancer has taken up all this in a period of about fifteen to twenty years; and she is just past 35. Her energy, enthusiasm and keen eye for scholarship are quite amazing. I am happy to recall the words of the renowned Natya Sastra scholar Prof. K.D. Tripathi who, while going through Sangeeta’s profile and work, exclaimed, “This young woman, I think, has been working 72 hours a day!” No wonder she was unanimously chosen to receive the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar for ‘Overall scholarship in dance’ in the first year it was instituted in 2006. Sangeeta is an accomplished Bharatanatyam artist and a hardcore research scholar who believes in using dance in education and social activism.

She started learning Bharatanatyam from Uma Sundaram at Kalanidhi Narayanan’s Abhinaya Sudha dance school in Chennai. Thereafter she continued classes with Bharatanatyam teacher Savithri Jagannatha Rao, and honed her abhinaya skills under guru Kalanidhi. She won a gold medal on completion of her Masters in Performing Arts from the Central University, Hyderabad. She has learnt Carnatic music, Kuchipudi and Kalaripayattu, and has trained in nattuvangam under the well-known teacher Kamalarani. She has a diploma in Cambodian classical dance under her belt. She developed interest in doing research in comparative trends in the South East Asian Ramayana, juxtaposing them with the concepts of Natya Sastra. With this began her long journey into the realms of academic work which she combined with first hand practical inputs by visiting remote areas in countries like Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, France and Africa. This gave her insights into different performing art traditions and inspired her to adopt art as an important tool of communication in social issues pertaining to women and children. She continues to use art-education for improving the lot of the underprivileged in India and abroad.

In spite of her varied pursuits, Sangeeta is a serious practitioner of Bharatanatyam. She makes it a point to perform Bharatanatyam wherever she is invited to work, or conduct seminars. In addition to Bharatanatyam performances at several venues in India and abroad, she has been participating in and presenting papers at numerous conferences. She was commissioned by UNESCO and the Asia Pacific Performing Arts Network [APPAN] to carry out a project on ‘Art and Healing’ for post-earthquake victims in Nias, Indonesia. Recently she was invited to make a presentation on ‘Peace-building through Arts’ at the South Asia-China Cultural Forum.

Sangeeta attempts to strike a balance between the traditional and the contemporary in her artistic pursuits. On the one hand, she presents papers and lecdems on rasa, abhinaya and the guru-sishya tradition, while on the other, she conducts art-workshops for rehabilitation of refugees, disaster victims, AIDS patients, sex workers, street children, destitute women, and transvestites. She has conducted ‘movement’ workshops on a regular basis for the children at the Kattaikuthu Centre in Kanchipuram. As creative director for V.R. Devika’s recent initiative called “Youth for Peace”, she directed about 200 youngsters including special children.

Sangeeta is a recipient of many fellowships which enable her to work with renowned masters of different dance forms. The Ramayana theme is very close to Sangeeta’s heart, as is evident from her choreographic works and lecdems. Her talks on ‘Ramayana in the Performing Arts of Southeast Asia’ at the Music Academy and Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai were well appreciated, winning her the best lecture award.

Sangeeta is among the few young artists in the south who have successfully managed to blend dance research and practice and are received well in scholarly circles. “I am the happiest dancer, as the goals of my artistic life are aimed towards the joy of a larger world,” says Sangeeta. She believes the aim of art is to communicate, to heal, and to make better persons.

(Reproduced from Sruti 320, May 2011)

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Seasoned artiste

Prema Rangarajan

Among a small but growing band of cerebral musicians in Carnatic music, with a scholarly bent of mind and a proclivity for expanding their repertoire in meaningful directions not explored by the majority, is Prema Rangarajan, who has a PhD from Madras University for her work on the Sanskrit compositions of 25 vaggeyakaras from Annamacharya to MD Ramanathan. This A grade artist of AIR and Doordarshan has been a regular performer in the concert circuit for several years now.

Prema has had the benefit of tutelage under some stalwarts of Carnatic music including S Rajam, Sulochana Pattabhiraman, VV Srivatsa and Chengalpattu Ranganathan. She trained with Kadayam Krishnamurthy (and TS Raghavan at Delhi University before she moved to Chennai) and Lakshmi Natarajan. The wide variety in the mentorship she has received has helped her to enhance her skills in a whole range of aspects of Carnatic music—such as rare ragas and compositions, ragam-tanam-pallavi, traditional pathantara and aesthetic nuances.

Prema’s contributions in AIR’s efforts to archive different compositional forms like varnam, tillana, javali and paripadal as well as rare kritis by many vaggeyakaras (along with her guru Sulochana Pattabhiraman), not to mention Tyagaraja’s utsava sampradaya kritis (guided by Dr M Balamuralikrishna and TS Parthsarathi) have been noteworthy.

Her scholarly output also includes lecture demonstrations on manodharma in raga, kriti and swara singing, pallavi rendering, Dikshitar kritis and Tamil compositions for Pondicherry University and Annamalai University on different occasions under the UGC umbrella. She has also presented lec-dems at the Music Academy and Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai.

The winner of numerous awards, Prema Rangarajan has released a few devotional music CDs. She has been a quiet, unfussy practitioner of solid music for decades.

Generation Next

By KS Kalidas

Anirudh Athreya

Few in the music field can claim the pedigree that twenty two-year old khanjira artist Anirudh Athreya has. His greatgrandfathers Sangita Kalanidhi-s ‘Papa’ K.S. Venkatramaiah and Alathur Sivasubramania Iyer were icons in the twentieth century. His maternal grandfather, V. Thyagarajan was a reputed violinist, and grand-uncle V. Nagarajan was a veteran khanjira vidwan (see Sruti 204). Nagarajan initiated Anirudh into the khanjira when he was but nine years old and was his guru for five years. Anirudh’s mother Lakshmi is well trained in music although she never performed on the stage. In fact, Anirudh learnt vocal music, first from his mother and then from Nanganallur Ramanathan and Neyveli Santhanagopalan, but gave it up soon, fascinated by the khanjira right from childhood.

Khanjira was introduced into classical music by the legendary Manpoondia Pillai and his disciples, Pudukkottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai and Palani Muthaiah Pillai were great masters in the art. Palani Subramania Pillai, the son and disciple of the latter also brought great glory to the art although he was essentially a mridanga vidwan. V. Nagarajan was, early in his career, a mridanga vidwan who switched over to the khanjira and became a preferred accompanist to many leading musicians of the day, including M.S. Subbulakshmi. However the rejuvenation of the khanjira as a major percussion instrument happened after the advent of that genius, G. Harishankar, and today it holds its own in Carnatic music with excellent players like B.S. Purushothaman, Bangalore, Amrit and Srisunderkumar. Anirudh, although much younger than these artists, has now come of age musically.

After Nagarajan passed away in February 2002, Anirudh came under the guidance of Sangita Kalanidhi T.K. Murthy. This was Nagarajan’s wish before his unexpected demise. Since becoming Murthy’s disciple, Anirudh has not looked back. Within a year he was playing alongside the veteran who went to great lengths to encourage him. He is now a regular accompanist to accomplished artists like Bombay Jayashri, T.M. Krishna and Vijay Siva, among others. He considers it a privilege to have also participated in the concerts of the likes of R.K. Srikantan, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan, P.S. Narayanaswami, O.S. Thyagarajan, and N. Ravikiran. The senior mridanga artists he has teamed up with are his guru T.K. Murthy, Trichy Sankaran, Guruvayur Dorai, Srimushnam Raja Rao, Tiruvarur Bhakthavatsalam and Mannargudi Easwaran. He has toured many cities in India, and played abroad in the Netherlands, Spain, Austria, Singapore, the U.S.A. and Canada.

Anirudh has won prizes and awards from Valayapatti Nadhalaya Trust, All India Radio (first prize in competitions in 2005), Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (2004) and Music Academy (2007). Bharat Kalachar bestowed the title Yuva Kala Bharati on him in 2007. A fast rising star with excellent tonal reproduction on the khanjira, Anirudh is graded ‘B-High’ by All India Radio.

(Reproduced from Sruti 319, April 2011)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Generation Next

By KS Kalidas

Brindha Manickavasakan

If you are not a disciple of P.S. Narayanaswamy, you should be a disciple of Suguna Varadachari – so goes the saying in the Chennai music circle of talented youngsters. Brindha Manickavasakan is a disciple of the latter.

Although born in Chennai, this daughter of a technocrat specialised in extraction of oil and gas based in Dubai, had her schooling there. After she passed the tenth standard, while father Manickavasakan remained in Dubai, the rest of the family shifted to Chennai to further Brindha’s training in music. Her parents were both passionately interested in the fine arts, in addition to being deeply involved in matters spiritual. They played gracious hosts to almost all visitors in these disciplines to Dubai.

Young Brindha, who received regular musical training from expatriates such as Jayasri Rao, D.J. Balakrishna and Kanakadurga Venkatesh, was also taught by many visiting musicians. Such diverse training increased her stock of not only standard classical fare but also many novel tukkada-s not heard from other musicians. Tiruppugazh songs learned from Vilasaini Karthik – a member of the ‘Tiruppugazh Anbargal’ group, also extended her repertoire.

After shifting to Chennai in 2006, Brindha started to learn from Dr. Manjula Sriram, an accomplished teacher who also taught the versatile Vasudha Ravi. This lasted for two years and on Manjula’s shifting base to Bengaluru, she came under the tutelege of Suguna Varadachari and, under her guidance, she has now turned into a fine young vocalist. Trained in the veena and Bharatanatyam too, she has, however, not found time to practise these regularly although she plays the veena occasionally at home.

December 2010 was an exceptionally busy month for her, with around fifteen concerts, a sort of record for a 21-year-old. Reviews of her concerts have been very positive, one of them even predicting that she would join the list of front-line singers in the space of three years.

She has released three music albums so far. She has been directly graded as ‘B-High’ by AIR, quite meritorious by itself. In last year’s contest for ‘The Carnatic Idol’, an event conducted by Jaya TV, she advanced till the ‘Super Six’ in the face of stiff competition. Besides Chennai, she has sung in a few other cities in India and, of course, Dubai. She has won awards and prizes from organisations as diverse as the Music Academy, Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha, Papanasam Sivan Academy and Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar Trust besides various organisations in Dubai. The Parupalli Ramakrishnaiah Pantulu Award she recieved from vidwan M. Balamuralikrishna in 2009 is something very special to her.

Four years in Ramjhi’s Issai Mazhalai (that is how he spells the name of his organisation!) and frequent concert opportunities as a result, are also responsible for her success. Her younger sister Arulpriya is also a member of the Issai Mazhalai troupe.

A final year student in engineering, Brindha plans to get more involved in music after graduation.

(Reproduced from Sruti 318, March 2011)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Young talent

Bhavana Iyer

If the Semmangudi bani is vibrantly alive in the music of the talented vocalist-disciples of PS Narayanaswamy, the wards of fellow Sangita Kala Acharya and fellow Srinivasa Iyer disciple V Subrahmaniam are not far behind.

Among the young singers owing allegiance to this admirable pathantara is Bengaluru-based Bhavana Iyer.

Bhavana, who had early music lessons from some outstanding teachers like Kallidaikurichi Mahadeva Bhagavatar, Bombay S Ramachandran and
S Rajam, came to V Subrahmaniam as a disciple for the long haul in 2001.  Showing rare grasping power and dedication besides a ringing voice, she has progressed by leaps and bounds since then.

Now a consummate young concert musician, she acknowledges the immense benefits of her guru’s “great emphasis on open-throated singing, clarity in pathantara and the sarvalaghu suddham characteristic of Sri Semmangudi.”

Over the years, Bhavana has grown to be his senior disciple and an able performer some of whose concerts have received very favourable reviews, with The Hindu and The Indian Express in particular giving her their stamp of approval as a worthy representative of the Semmangudi school. Her rakti raga explorations have come in for special praise for the nostalgia they evoke in the experienced listener.

Bhavana, who has a masters degree in horticulture from Texas A&M University, USA, was actively involved in SPICMACAY’s programmes in the USA, while a student there.

Generation Next

By KS Kalidas

Shanthala Subramanyam

She is her own person. Her famous brother, flautist Shashank is looked upto with awe and admiration, but when 28-year old Shanthala performs, it is a different kind of music she presents. Yes, she has absorbed much of the blowing technique of Shashank, but there the similarity ends.

Shashank is an exceptional prodigy who performed in a prime-time slot in the Music Academy, Chennai, exactly twenty years ago when he was just twelve-something. This was unknown in Academy history. He is given to flights of fancy that often defy traditional idioms and anyone who tries to imitate him will often end up parodying him. Aware of this pitfall, Shanthala wants to project music that is her own. It is subtle, smooth, unhurried, and traditional but suffused with manodharma or imagination. Without this last attribute, conventional and traditional music can become dull and unedifying. She is strong in laya – she is capable of building into the swara or sahitya part of a varnam two speeds each of chatusra and tisra nadai-s and end her swaraprastara in kriti-s with well constructed korvai-s. Such laya excercises do not damage the main body of her music but meld seamlessly into it. Her music is not flamboyant or exotic but it holds the listeners’ attention without flagging for a moment.

Her musical career has had a very late and sedate start. Her father Subramanyam took it on himself to promote son Shashank’s career wholetime, leaving Shanthala in the background, but she was absorbing the intricacies of music in her own way and at her own pace. This talented musician had her first public performance only in April 2008. Since then, she has presented about twenty to thirty concerts a year in various parts of India. There are still many who ask, “Shanthala who?”

Although her solo concerts are limited, she has ‘accompanied’ Shashank – playing the second flute. This way, she has travelled all over the world several times. She no longer dons this role.

Like her brother (whose main guru was vidwan K.V. Narayanaswamy), Shanthala has mainly learnt from vocalists – first from the late Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan and later from O.S. Thyagarajan. Whenever multi-dimensional Sriram Parasuram can spare the time, Shanthala also learns from him. Of course, she has learnt fingering and blowing techniques from her father and brother. Although capable of giving full-fledged vocal concerts, she has chosen not to do so. With intensive coaching in aspects of laya from mridanga vidwans Trissoor Narendran, Patri Satish Kumar and Parupalli Phalgun, she can recite sollukattu-s effortlessly and has taught them to several students – many of them foreigners. She has also held a two-week workshop in Sweden and Denmark in teaching sollukattu-s.

Although Shanthala hails from Bengaluru, she is determined to make Chennai – the thriving centre of Carnatic music – her home.

(Reproduced from Sruti 318, March 2011)

Monday, 19 November 2012

Musicians to watch

Trichur Brothers

Srikrishna Mohan and Ramkumar Mohan have been prominent in the Carnatic music circuit in the past few years as a pair of vocalists with strong, expressive voices and a pleasing delivery style. The sons of senior mridanga vidwan Trichur Mohan, the young siblings have impressed one and all with their extrovert presentation juxtaposed by its emotive content and sensitivity to raga music.

Belonging to a traditional business family from Thrissur, Kerala, the duo had their early lessons in Carnatic music from their father, a fact that should explain their noticeable strength in the rhythmic aspect of music. Now a fixture in the Chennai music season, the brothers have exerted a charismatric appeal over audiences, with their clean good looks, dignified stage presence and their maintenance of  the integrity of their pathantara.

Srikrishna and Ramkumar have trained under Srimati Balamani Eswar, Prof. Neyyattinkara Mohanachandran  for over a decade, and now PS Narayanaswami, the renowned Sangita Kala Acharya from the Semmangudi school. The late TM Thyagarajan and Govindan Namboothiri have been their other mentors.

Popular performers in India and abroad, both on stage and radio and television, the young vocalists have already won many an award. A four-and-a-half hour concert at Toronto at the tail-end of a tour of North America has been one of the highlights of their travels abroad.

The Trichur Brothers practise a special brand of raga alapana with both partners exchanging phrases long and short, in an equally distributed exploration of the ragas they take up.

Along with Trichur R Mohan (mridangam), Vedanth Bharadwaj (acoustic guitar) and other talented musicians, the brothers have recently been performing in fusion concerts.

The Trichur Brothers are among the bright prospects in the Carnatic music scene, provided they continue to adhere to sound traditional values, even as they pursue innovative goals.

Generation Next

By Nandini Ramani

Gayatri Balagurunathan
Gayatri Balagurunathan, recipient of the Yuva Puraskar of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, in 2008, has made a noteworthy impact on the Bharatanatyam scene with her refined solo and group presentations. Following in the footsteps of her mother, the late Krishnaveni Lakshmanan of Kalakshetra, this vibrant and dedicated dancer has worked over the years to refine her skills to evolve into a fine artist today.

Gayatri’s art is based on the well-cut grammatical structure as taught to her by her mother and teacher, Krishnaveni, Sarada Hoffman and N.S. Jayalakshmi at Kalakshetra. Her exposure to a variety of artforms at the Kalakshetra campus and later on at the Darpana Academy in Ahmedabad, has given her strength in the intricacies of solo and group concepts in the Bharatanatyam format, apart from folk dances, Kalari and Mohini Attam. However, as her major focus is on Bharatanatyam, Gayatri has equipped herself in the theory and practice of the art. She completed the five-year part-time diploma course at Kalakshetra, with Bharatanatyam and veena as the main subjects, passing out with distinction.

Interacting with this bright-eyed, expressive, warm-hearted dancer, we can feel her artistic pulse throbbing with all these inputs. A well researched approach to the themes she handles in her choreography, be it solo or group, can be seen in her works. They bear a striking note of visual quality and clarity of thought. Quick on the uptake, she has the ability to rise to any occasion with her presence of mind.

Gayatri has exhibited firm adherence over the years to the essential details of perfection in the aspects of nritta and worked on adding a subtle and glowing touch to her abhinaya. Her enthusiasm for work on traditional compositions as well as new concepts, her painstaking efforts to seek guidance, and courtesy are some of her endearing qualities. Though young, she has a mature approach to Bharatanatyam and the dance scene.

On stage, Gayatri is a picture of grace and confidence. In her solo recitals, she has faithfully maintained the discipline and decorum of her alma mater and has not compromised on the values of the traditional format. Gayatri’s thematic productions have been equally successful, bringing to the fore her strength and exposure in this area of dance which she imbibed as she grew up. She boldly takes up artistic challenges and strives to achieve success in them. Her impressive work in Natyarangam’s Kshetra Bharatam festival of Narada Gana Sabha focusing on the city of Chennai involved a great amount of research and committed work. Her sincere, hard work received wide acclaim.

She lost her mother and mentor when she was a budding dancer, but with grit and conviction she has reached her goals and grown into what she is today, relying on her own hard work and determination.

‘Yuva Kala Bharati’ Gayatri is a recipient of several other awards and recognition from many cultural organisations in India and abroad. She is married to Balagurunathan, a graduate of Kalakshetra, a talented artist and teacher who worked at Darpana Academy in Ahmedabad for three years. Together they have taught and presented thematic productions and solos in many cities of India and countries across the globe. Balgurunathan, too was a disciple of Krishnaveni, and was part of the staff of the Singapore Fine Arts Society for several years. He has now settled in Chennai with his dancer-wife. At Krishnanjali, the institution founded in memory of her mother Krishnaveni in Chennai, Gayatri and Bala train a number of students.

(The author, a senior disciple of T. Balasaraswati, dance teacher, writer and critic, is a keen follower of classical dancers young and old)

(Reproduced from Sruti 315, December 2010)

Friday, 16 November 2012

Generation Next

By KS Kalidas

Akkarai Sornalatha

Being a ward or sibling of a celebrity is unenviable as you will always be subject to comparison – sometimes unfair, with the famous one. Twenty three-year old violinist Akkarai Sornalatha did face the problem of comparison with her famous sister Subhalakshmi, but in the last two years she has largely emerged from her sister’s shadow. Of course she still worships her sister who is also her role model but her prolific concert opportunities and rigorous practice have given her sufficient confidence to create a niche of her own in the music field. Her cherubic doll-like presence on stage does not take away from the solid accompaniment she provides to the main artists, some of whom are quite senior to her in age and experience. She has already accompanied, among others, such accomplished artists like Chitravina Ravikiran, Hyderabad Sisters and Gayathri Venkataraghavan. In a span of about seven years, she has played in more than a thousand concerts including quite a few recordings.

Hers is a musical family in the truest sense. Grandfather S.P. Siva Subramaniam was a versatile musician, adept at singing and playing the harmonium and mridanga. He was no mean composer either and his compositions are well structured, many with ornamentations like swara-akshara.

Grandmother Sornambal was a musician, music teacher and Harikatha exponent. Swamynathan is a violinist and a hard taskmaster while teaching music. He was primarily responsible for shaping his daughters although they learnt from other excellent gurus like O.V. Subramaniam and his daughter Padma Natesan in Delhi, and P.S. Narayanaswamy and Ravikiran after the family moved to Chennai in 1999.

Apart from individual concerts, the sisters have also given a fair number of violin duets. They combine effectively, with Sorna adopting the supporting role Subhalakshmi and Sornalatha have also presented a few vocal duets and here too, they score impressively. Of course, their individual commitments restrict their dual concert opportunities, although rasika-s and sabha-s have given thumbs-up for these.

In the space of the last five years, Sorna has won many prizes and awards such as the first prize in the ragam-tanampallavi competition conducted by SAFE in 2008, the Inter University “National First” award in 2006, Best Violinist award from Indian Fine Arts Society (2007), Lalgudi Gopala Iyer Award from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha (2008) and Vipanchi award of excellence from vidwan M. Balamuralikrishna in 2009. The titles of Kala Shree and Sangeeta Bhaskara have been conferred on her. Sri Shanmukhananda Sangeetha Sabha, Mumbai bestowed the title “Shanmukha Sangeetha Siromani” on both the sisters as well as a cash award of Rs. 25,000 in the year 2009.

Sorna has already travelled to many destinations in India and abroad, including the U.S.A., Australia and Sri Lanka.

A hard working girl with considerable talent, Sorna is also a much loved teacher to the many children who learn from her.

(Reproduced from Sruti 315, December 2010)

Thursday, 15 November 2012

A master speaker

By V Ramnarayan

Gopalkrishna Gandhi must be one of the finest public speakers today. If his prepared speeches are carefully crafted and brilliantly executed, his impromptu lectures are spontaneously witty and thought-provoking. An excellent example was his keynote address at the silver jubilee event of Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI) on Wednesday at Narada Gana Sabha, which he seemed to deliver without the aid of a scrap of paper.

For starters, Gandhi was in excellent voice that evening, a key requisite for a successful speech. He also seemed to enjoy a certain early bird advantage in his experience in childhood as a watcher of dance drama productions at Rukmini Devi’s Kalakshetra. While recalling the uplifting performances of A Janardhanan as Rama in the Ramayana series, he marvelled at the moral-spiritual power of art, describing how the ethical dilemma of Vali vadham could be aesthetically rather than rationally resolved.

The masterstroke of the lecture was the metaphoric device Gandhi employed to bolster his argument that observation was a vital aspect of the transmission of knowledge, with particular reference to art education.

Taking the audience on a trip to the past, to the making of Mrigaya, an award winning film by Mrinal Sen, whose greatness had to contend with living in the shadow of fellow Bengali Satyajit Ray. While recalling that a tribal chief was invited to observe and critique the archery technique of the young protagonist (Mithun Chakraborty), the speaker told us how the director’s initiative enhanced the authenticity of the scene, thanks to the visitor’s acute observation.

When Gandhi stressed the importance of documenting the teaching and shared learning of the many members of ABHAI, it occurred to me that his own speeches on a variety of topics are equally worthy of preservation.

“Emperor of instruments”

By Shuchita Rao

Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi gave seven solo violin concerts, eight jugalbandi concerts with Hindustani violinist Kala Ramnath and a vocal concert in a tour that spanned across several cities in the US. She spoke about her ideas on Carnatic and Hindustani music and her career as a Carnatic violinist.

The Lalgudi bani

It is basically a vocal bani demonstrated on the violin. We take extra care to follow the lyrics when we approach a composition. The glides and intonations typical of vocal music are closely simulated on the violin. It is very heartening when rasikas tell us that they can actually hear the lyrics when we play the violin. Not only the fingering but also the bowing has been developed by my guru and father Lalgudi Jayaraman to bring out the nuances and continuity typical of vocal music. The Lalgudi bani pays attention to emotions and aesthetics.

The influence of her late grandmother

Savitri Ammal, my father’s mother who passed away recently, was an iron-willed lady, hard working, emotionally very strong—which is why she could be a silent spectator when Grandfather put Appa and my aunts through a rigorous upbringing. She could sing from memory all the folk songs composed by her mother-in-law. She was quite a cerebral person who enthusiastically solved puzzles and riddles. It was quite a sight to watch her play board games with my father when she was over eighty. She was a repository of proverbs and interesting folklore.

The different challenges of violin solo, duets with brother Krishnan, as accompanist to vocal artists and in jugalbandi

As a soloist I am at liberty to draw the outline of the concert and the flow of my expression and imagination. In duets with my brother, it is he who leads and I thoroughly enjoy the challenges posed by him, to go with the flow of his imagination and to sync with him. As an accompanist I strive to give my best and support the main artiste and embellish the concert. It is also important to make an indelible mark in an understated way. When it is a jugalbandi concert, it is important to respect the other artist's creativity and to give her space to express herself. Kalaji and I have perfect understanding and respect for each other’s music.

Her take on the Carnatic system as different from Hindustani

In the Carnatic system, we have very intricate, quick moving gamakas as opposed to the straight notes and long glides of Hindustani music. (She demonstrates by singing a melodic phrase in the Carnatic Dwijawanti and contrasts it with the Hindustani Jaijaiwanti) On the violin particularly as opposed to instruments with frets, you have to be very precise in the manner of creating the gamaka.

Comparison with taans in the Hindustani system

Imagine a graph showing the melodic movement. In the Hindustani style you would see straight lines going up and down, connecting dots (pitches). In Carnatic music, you would see twirls, rounded lines connecting many more dots (pitches). We use overtones extensively. (She demonstrates by singing gamakas in the Carnatic raga Todi touching varied semi-tones and comments that in the corresponding Hindustani raga Bhairavi the notes are handled very differently). When our gamakas travel, we deceptively make the musical note sound as if it is within the raga. More semi-tonal variations are used to infuse the Carnatic flavour.

The Lalgudi bani vis-a-vis the straight note approach of Hindustani music

My father does feel that using straight notes can add great beauty to the Carnatic system. (She demonstrates a melodic movement in Kharaharapriya first in the chaste Carnatic format, then using straight notes and meends in the Hindustani style). Many of my father’s compositions use the feature and it is a unique aspect of his bani.

Preferred ragas do in jugalbandi with Hindustani musicians

For my USA tour this time, Kala and I chose to play Charukesi, Kiravani and also Dharmavati (with Kala playing Madhuvanti). These are not really hard-core Carnatic ragas but they hold an important place in the Carnatic system. (She demonstrates the ascent and descent in Dharmavati as well as Madhuvanti). The Hindustani Madhuvanti skips “ri” and “dha” in the ascent as opposed to Dharmavati and that adds a unique flavour.

On-stage communication between main artist and percussionist

In the Hindustani system, the tabla player is maintaining the taal cycle and keeping track of beats and movements while in the Carnatic system, the accompanist improvises, maintaining the tempo. When I play a composition, I keep track of the tala in my mind rather than take a cue from the mridangist. Hindustani artists have to keep track of tabla “bols” – and therefore the rapport between the artistes is much closer than in the Carnatic system. The body language changes as the main artist plays along with the percussionist and Hindustani musicians communicate differently with their accompanists.

Playing the electric violin

I have played it once or twice. When it comes to sound, I am quite conservative in my taste and choice. I love the natural timbre and tone of the violin. I even hesitate to use the contact mike to amplify the sound of my violin. My brother and I travel together and play duets. Two years ago, when we were playing in Amsterdam for a music festival, we were asked to go to the concert hall at 3 pm for a sound check for a 6 pm performance. The hall looked like an opera house and could seat 300 people. When we went on stage and started to play the violin, we found that the smallest sound was so amplified because of the acoustics of the hall – we decided perform without microphones. The concert was sold out and listeners sat in complete silence while we played. It was a wonderful experience.

The future of the violin

The violin is and will continue to be emperor of instruments. Whether it is classical, film or semi-classical ghazals, you will always find the violin as an accompanying instrument and of course, it has a unique place as a solo instrument. We've come a long way. Carnatic music needs more attention on a global level. It is my dream and desire to contribute in a significant way to the celebration of our music globally.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A vocalist remembers her dance guru

By Veejay Sai

Carnatic vocalist Radha Viswanathan effortlessly recollects each and every detail about her guru Natyacharya Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai as if it happened last week, even though she stopped dancing more than half a century ago.
It may be fair to say that Ramiah Pillai found fertile ground in his first students Radha and Anandhi to finetune his teaching methods and technique. The guru wouldn’t have been a guru if he didn’t get a first student to teach. With Radha and Anandhi, he was able to prove his prowess as a guru. By the time Baby Kamala and others followed, Ramiah Pillai had his technique strongly established, thanks to the many untiring hours he spent grooming his first students.
During the last December season, the Natya Kala Conference held at Krishna Gana Sabha celebrated the bicentenary of Tanjavur Vadivelu without displaying his portrait on the stage. Musicologist B.M. Sundaram pointed that out at the opening of his speech. The other event the conference celebrated was the centenary of natyacharya Vazhuvoor Ramiah Pillai. A whole host of Vazhuvoor school alumni gathered for the event. But once again the Natyacharya’s first and foremost students, Radha Viswanathan and Anandhi’s names were left unmentioned and almost overlooked in the proceedings.
Radha lives a peaceful retired life with her younger son Shrinivasan at Bangalore. For her, the memory of her guru lives on. Her right hand that kept the talam in countless MS concerts is now struck by paralysis, but a couple of years ago, she did abhinaya for Kalki’s ‘Malai pozhudhinile’ sitting in a wheelchair, at the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana. Tears are unavoidable as you watch her performance on a Youtube video posted by her son. Every time she hears an old tune, her face glows with a smile.

In an interview with Veejay Sai, Radha Viswanathan fondly remembers her guru during his centenary.
The first contact with the guru

I was six years old when Appa (T Sadasivam) came to me and said I must learn dance. He said I must start learning from guru Ramiah Pillai of Mayavaram. My guru came home and fixed a date and time from when he would come and teach me bharatanatyam.

Early lessons

First he started with footwork. This went on for many days, almost a month. He insisted on perfect footwork and we came to hand gesturing much later. After three to four years, my cousin Anandhi joined as his second student and our classes became more regular. After almost six months of basic footwork he began working with us on an alarippu, just as in music, the first six to eight months we learnt was the sarali and janta varisais. The next lessons in dance were sabdams. It wasn’t before a whole year that we reached the stage of a varnam.
We had classes on alternate days and this went on for many years. Amma (MS) came and observed. She never taught dance but asked us to follow whatever Vazhuvooraar taught us in our lessons. After he left I would continue my practice for a long time. If you don’t practise music for a day or two you can manage, but with dance, you have to practise everyday. That is what we did.
Our arangetram was organized by Appa at Mylapore on 13 April, the Tamil new year’s day.
I was 13. Anandhi and I alternated in the evening. One of us opened with alarippu and the other did jatiswaram. We performed sabdam and varnam the same way. For abhinaya, I did a line and she did another and in the tillana we did that once again. Together we performed ‘Natanam aadinar’, ‘Aduvome pallu paduvome’, ‘Malaipozhudinile’ and other pieces. For ‘Taye Yasoda’ we received two rounds of applause.

The Vazhuvoor teaching bani

Basically he was a very nice person. He wasn’t one of those gurus who would scold or beat. He was always very encouraging. Also he didn’t dance himself so he was a real guru in the original sense. The student didn’t have to compete with him, unlike these days!


At the age of twenty two, I decided to give up dance. From the time I was four, I had been singing with my mother. I was singing, dancing, acting in films and attending school as well. This got very hectic and I took a strong decision to stick to my singing. I told Vazhuvooraar and he gracefully accepted my decision. By then he also became busy as a teacher of several other students.
Balasaraswati was staying four houses away from ours. She was great friends with my mother and others in the family. Once I requested her to teach me and she took time out from her already busy schedule and taught me a Surdas bhajan ‘Poochat Shyam kaun tum gori’, which I danced later in Calcutta. It was a new experience for me to do bharatanatyam to a Surdas bhajan. Bala was a tough taskmaster and her style was not just different but also very difficult for me. But in the end she was very happy with the outcome.
MS and her role

Amma used to dance for ‘Taye Yasoda’. Those photos of her dancing appeared in Kalki magazine’s Deepavali issue. I think she learnt it from my guru. She also learnt songs from him which she popularized. For all abhinaya pieces Amma sang.
Moral support from the guru

We made arrangements for him and he came to Delhi when I danced before Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Later he also attended when I performed at the Bangalore town hall, Bombay and several other places. We performed in places in Tamil Nadu like Mayavaram and Coimbatore and at some weddings. Even when we were shooting in films, he made sure he was present in the shooting. He personally corrected hand positions and gestures and sometimes even walked into the set.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Abhishek Raghuram: a refreshing breeze

By Manna Srinivasan
This piece—now presented in edited form—was written a couple of years ago by the late Manna Srinivasan, but not published so far.

In each generation, there are some young artists who are apparently off-beat but compel attention and create a deep impression. They suggest sparks of genius and potential that merit serious analysis with reference to the grasp of the idiom, creative impulses and distinctness of style.
The prolific activitytaking place in the Music Season makes it difficult to keep track of the entire scene. While many may belong to the ‘flash in the pan’ category, we must look for the promising with inspired involvement and commitment.
Abhishek Raghuram fits the bill in many ways. His family lineage credentials are themselves very impressive. With the Lalgudi violin family on the maternal side and the Palghat Raghu mridangam family on the paternal side, his proclivity for melody and rhythm would have been natural. Starting his musical journey with the mridangam, and learning the khanjira from Harishankar, Abhishek shifted to vocal music at the prodding of Raghu himself.

PS Narayanaswamy (PSN) of the Semmangudi school was the preferred choice for solid learning in ‘sampradayam’ that began at the age of 12, enabling the young aspirant to expand his repertoire considerably. With single minded dedication, Abhishek has made rapid progress to become a front ranker in the sub-senior category, while still in his early twenties.
His confidence also reached the necessary level for him to make the crucial decision in 1997 to pursue a full time career in music.

A felicitous voice capable of range, modulation skills, flair for ‘vallinam’ and ‘mellinam’, easy flow and imaginative rendition are among his advantages. His ‘manodharma’ is equally striking in alapana, niraval and kalpana swara. A restless spirit seems to facilitate explorative forays, sometimes ustad-like, dreamy at times, even nonchalant to an extent, adding to the aura.
The fare offered may not always be tightly structured, orderly, step by step and capable of anticipation. Sudden flights, strings of oscillation, even some jerkiness at places, are all part of his ware.
Refreshing in many ways, Abhishek has the capacity to present elaborate ‘alapana’ in ragas like Nasikabhushani, Gamanasramam or Natakapriya for ragam-tanam-pallavi, revealing his calibre.
Clear in his ‘lakshyam’ regarding ‘sruti suddham’, perfection of notes and effective delivery, Abhishek is poised to carve out a niche for himself in the highly competitive field.
His guru’s impressions:

PSN recalls that when Abhishek came to him about 12 years back, he was already accomplished to an extent, equipped with a 5-kattai sruti and 7 or 8 ‘varnam-s’.
He wanted to learn the ‘ata tala’ varnam in Kalyani, which he did in just one sitting and was able to present the very next day, in two speeds also negotiating in ‘tisram’, something rare for a lad so young.
The guru noticed his capacity to absorb knowledge very quickly; he would never forget something that he only heard once. His enthusiasm is irrepressible, facilitating steady progress. Abhishek listens to a great variety of music, without any prejudice regarding any school; at the same time, he he tries not to imitate.
PSN also refers to the commendable personal qualities and temperament of his ward: a positive approach; intense and involved effort; yearning for ‘gnanam’; absence of lack of jealousy or rancour.

PSN is very confident that Abhishek will go far, earning a place of distinction in the music world.