Saturday, 29 June 2013

Dhrupad in Seattle

ZM Dagar’s musical legacy

By Shuchita Rao
One of the foremost present-day practitioners of Dhrupad, Umakant Gundecha has an interesting name for Seattle, USA. He calls the city “Dhrupad Nagari” meaning “City of Dhrupad”. For, true to its reputation of providing a vibrant blend of cultural activities that draw upon its rich ethnic diversity, Seattle is home to a large number of practitioners of the Dagarvani style of Dhrupad.

It all began with the visit by an eminent rudraveena maestro from India, the late Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar (Z.M. Dagar), who came as a visiting faculty member more than three decades ago at the invitation of Robert Garfias who headed the University of Washington’s (UW) Ethnomusicology program in the mid 1970s. Over a period of four years spread over the mid-to-late-1970s, the ustad, a representative of the 18th generation of the Dagar family of musicians, trained several students in the art of dhrupad. He also taught khayal to beginner vocalists and trained instrumentalists who specialized in playing Indian stringed instruments such as the sitar, surbahar, violin and sarangi. Fred Lieberman and Daniel Neuman who succeeded Garfias at the ethnomusicology department at UW also actively supported the visiting artist program. Over the years, musicians interested in learning dhrupad moved to Seattle from states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and California.

Z.M. Dagar’s prominent disciples in Seattle

Ustad Z.M Dagar groomed two disciples of Indian origin, Shantha Benegal and the late Prabha Rustagi, both committed to learning Dhrupad. However, in addition to students of Indian origin, the ustad also succeeded in inspiring a number of students of non-Indian origin. Annie Penta, Jeff Lewis and Jody Stecher (now of California) are some prominent senior disciples who not only learned and performed dozens of dhrupads but also disseminated the knowledge by teaching them to other students in the Seattle area. The presence of a considerable number of Dhrupad practitioners in Seattle to this day is not just testimony to the ustad’s knowledge, scholarship and effective teaching style but also credible proof of the lasting impression he made on the music scene in Seattle.

Jody Stecher, a renowned singer and multi-instrumentalist, was pre-Microsoft resident of the Redmond suburb of Seattle, when he learned to play the instrument Sursringar from ZM Dagar. The sursringar, an almost extinct ancient Indian musical instrument, has a soothing sound similar to the rudraveena played by Z.M. Dagar. Stecher spent time with the ustad in Seattle and also in India. His audio recordings have been Grammy finalists and Indy award winning entries.

Senior disciple Annie Penta tells a moving story about her association with Dhrupad. “I was born in Bethlehem, PA, and after a life with a brother, four sisters, and then another brother and sister from our dad’s second marriage, many years of piano, trumpet lessons with my dad, a real wish to sing in the glee club, a BA in Chemistry and a fine introduction to the music of North India from Ali Akbar Khan and master percussionists Mahapurush Misra and Shankar Ghosh over four summers in California, I went off to study Dhrupad vocal music with Zahiruddin and Faiyazuddin Dagar (cousins of ZM Dagar) in New Delhi, capital of India. The Dagar brothers were wonderful to me. For 14 months, they sang with me every single day. It was heaven for me. They treated me like one of their family and taught me as a child. I learned alap and about two compositions during that time. I thought I would return from India singing Dhrupad like a champ but that certainly didn’t happen! When I returned to the States, rudraveena maestro ZM Dagar was touring the California coast. I went along on that tour and asked the Ustad if he would teach me and he said “YES”, so I moved to Seattle in 1975.”

Shantha Benegal, who moved from India after her marriage and who has been a Seattle resident for over four decades conducted a programme called “Music of India” on a Pacifica radio station, KRAB FM for over 13 years in the 1970s. Two listeners, Jody Stecher and Ellen Ziegler, who called her while she was on the air one day, were instrumental in introducing her to ZM Dagar.

Benegal recounts her first lesson with the ustad. “Dagarsaahib had taken note of my deep interest in music on a couple of occasions. I expressed a desire to learn Dhrupad and he asked me to show up for a lesson on a Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1975. I recall being a little scared of learning from a great ustad. Through sheer coincidence, I met Dhrupad and tabla (indian percussion instrument) enthusiast Annie Penta during my first lesson. We ended up singing and performing together for the next 30 or more years and came to be known as the “Leela Dhrupad Sisters”.

The late ZM Dagar taught Benegal and Penta compositions in several ragas. The compositions were set to a variety of rhythm cycles. He also trained them extensively in the art of singing alap. “There were no recording devices when the ustad learned music from his teachers. The Dhrupads had to be memorized and orally transmitted from generation to generation. It was therefore essential that we learned, practised, performed and taught the compositions with accuracy. Daagarsahib asked us to pay careful attention to compositions as they are in essence, roadmaps to ragas,” says Benegal who has retired from active performance but continues to coach several students in the art of singing Dhrupad and Khayal.

Among Benegal’s prominent disciples is computer engineer Arijit Mahalanabis, who learned Dhrupad from Benegal for 12 years. He now runs a music school, the Seattle Indian Music Academy (SIMA), with five other teachers. Instruction is imparted in vocal music, stringed instruments such as sitar, surbahar, rudra veena, sarod, piano, guitar and percussion instruments such as tabla to some 250 students. “Since 2008, I have been focusing on music full time, teaching, performing and arranging concerts by visiting musicians. The mission of SIMA is to provide a service where students can learn Indian classical music to their degree of comfort,” says Mahalanabis.

Jeff Lewis, an exponent and teacher of the sitar, surbahar and rudraveena is a faculty member of SIMA and also offers private lessons through Skype. He met ZM Dagar in 1977 when the ustad was teaching Dhrupad at Dominican College, under the auspices of Bob Brown and his Center for World Music. Later, during 1978-1981, Lewis assisted Dagar in teaching Dhrupad at UW. He also lived with him in Mumbai in the early 1980s as a member of the Dagar household, learning and touring with the ustad. He became a close friend of his son Bahauddin Dagar, who has gained steady recognition over the past few decades as a rudraveena player of merit. “My ustad was a great musician and visionary who had the uncanny ability to recognize the musical capability and level of interest of any student who came to him,” says Lewis.

Ramesh Gangolli, retired professor emeritus of mathematics at UW, who now teaches a course on Indian Music at UW, acknowledges the late ZM Dagar as an important musical influence that led him to explore and study Indian classical music. “While Ustad Dagar was primarily a rudraveena player, he could vocalize and explain structural concepts of raga music with great insight. He developed a loyal following of listeners and students during his annual visits to UW in the late 1970s and early 80s. A prime disciple of the Dagar brothers, Uday Bhawalkar visited UW and spent some time in 2005-2006 renewing an interest in Dhrupad among students in the Seattle area”, says Gangolli among a group of pioneers responsible for creating the non-profit organization Ragamala. The volunteer run organization strives to preserve the tradition of Indian classical music in Seattle and regularly organizes concerts by master practitioners to this day.

Dhrupad is now being played on Western instruments

Greg Powers plays Dhrupad on the trombone and has released audio compact disc (CD) recordings with Stuart Dempster who provides support on the didgeridoo. Andrew Buhr regularly performs Dhrupad on the double bass. Powers, Dempster and Buhr are students of Jeff Lewis. It is testament to the adaptability of Dhrupad.

Dhrupad festival to be held in Seattle in July 2013

The late Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar and his younger brother, the late Zia Fariduddin Dagar have certainly left behind a rich legacy of Dhrupad through their students and their students’ students.

Come summer of 2013, “Dhrupad Days” to be held in “Dhrupad Nagari”, Seattle, USA should see the spotlight on the ancient musical tradition.

Vibhavaree Gargeya, a Seattle resident of almost 20 years and member of organizing committee of the Dhrupad festival says, “ Dhrupad is a sophisticated and gentle art form that I discovered in Seattle. That I discovered it here, and not in my hometown of Bangalore, India is testament to the global nature of the music scene in Seattle. I was captured by the sophistication, introspective nature and gentleness of this art, and as I learned more about the people who practised Dhrupad, I found this nature reflected in its practitioners, and most of all in stories about their guru ZM Dagar. That one individual can leave such a strong legacy in a city half way across the world is a story that deserves telling. My hope is that the Dhrupad festival brings more people in contact with this art form, which is all about introspection, gentleness, and, ultimately love. If it brings Dhrupad to new listeners, providing them an opportunity to learn it, and induces moments of introspection and quietness, my personal goal in organizing Dhrupad Days will have been achieved.”

With workshops and performances by Ramakant Gundecha, Jeff Lewis, Arijit Mahalanabis, Jodi Stecher and their students, the Dhrupad Days festival in Seattle holds every promise of a grand celebration.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Music for music’s sake

By Priyanka C Prakash

Narayana Teertha Aaradhana, Thirupoonthurthy, Tanjavur District

As we drove past the city of Thanjavur, the bustle of the city and the sight of hoardes of tourists outside the stunning Brihadeeshwara Temple gave way to endless paddy fields, the occasional bullock cart carrying stacks of paddy, and bright young girls with plaited hair cycling happily to school.

For a city –bred girl like me, the novelty of rustic charm had a unique appeal – I was headed to the Grand Annual Narayana Teerthar Aradhana, held every year on the Shukrashtami of the Masi month at the small village of Thirupoonthurthy, near Thanjavur, where the great composer attained Samadhi.

This is the most important function that happens at this village, and the entire village participates eagerly in the celebration. The person behind the success of the Narayana Teerthar Aradhana is vidwan TV Venkatesan. This octogenarian musician has been perseveringly holding the Aradhana for almost five decades. When he speaks about the Thirupoonthurthy Aradhana, he speaks with a passion and unflinching determination for popularizing the compositions of Narayana Teerthar and the Krishna Leela Tarangini, in both cities and villages.

It is an interesting incident how Venkatesan began this long and arduous but rewarding and fulfilling journey. In the year 1964, he sang at the Madras Music Academy. After his concert, the Secretary of the Academy, Dr V Raghavan, called him and asked him about the festival which his father, was conducting at the ‘Guruswamy Madom’. He then urged Venkatesan to continue this tradition and conduct a grand festival every year to celebrate the compositions of Narayana Teerthar.

The next year, TV Venkatesan conducted his first festival, with Dr. Raghavan inaugurating it. That year, stalwarts such as Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer performed at the festival, which was a runaway success. In the years to come, several musicians performed at the festival. Venkatesan recalls fondly how musician Madurai Somasundaram (Madurai Somu as he was known) would begin singing at 7 PM, and go on until midnight – singing to a rapt audience.

Over the years, several star musicians such as MS Subbalakshmi, DK Pattamal, ML Vasanathakumari, KV Narayanaswamy performed under its auspices, to eager audiences.

1988, in TV Venkatesan’s words, was a turning point in the activities of the Trust. MS Subbalakshmi sang at Thirupoonthurthy. This was a grand concert – people poured in from villages nearby, senior advocates came in from Thanjavur, for those who were not able to make it – All India Radio broadcast the concert live, all over the country.

“There is no musician who has not sung in our Aradhana”, says TV Venkatesan. “We are truly happy to have had such unflinching support from musicians across generations.”

My Guru, Smt. Neela Ramgopal, who was the Chief Guest for the Aradhana in 2011, says – “Performing at the festival is beautiful – we can see the vigraham of Lord Krishna in front of us, and just lose ourselves in the music”.

For me, performing at the Aradhana was truly a divine experience. As we enter Thirupoonthurthy, we are welcomed by the family, who are outstanding hosts – and are taken to the Narayana Teertha Brindavanam. We pay homage to the great composer at the Mantapam and the temple. The stage setting is stunning – behind us and on either side, are rows of endless paddy fields; in front of us, we see the idol of Lord Krishna, and the Samadhi of Narayana Teerthar. I take a moment to absorb the serenity of the moment, and then begin to sing Nandagopala krishnam, nanda akhilam, and feel that Lord Krishna is looking at us, and sending us his blessing.

Nidle Shibira, Nidle, Dakshina Karnataka

‘The children practice till 2 AM in the morning, they do not sleep until they get every sangathi right - This is truly Art for Art’s sake…….’

Thirteen years ago, violinist Vittal Ramamurthy was inspired to return to his native place, and introduce a week-long music festival that would expose students of music from neighbouring towns such as Mangalore, Sringeri, Puttur and Udipi to the best music and workshops by great musicians, an interaction which would have otherwise impossible for many. Thus the Annual Shibira was born, at his hometown of Nidle in Karnataka.

The Nidle Shibira is an initiative that is truly unique. It is exemplary. Vocalist Vijay Siva, who has conducted many workshops at the Shibira avers, “what Vittal Ramamurthy does, is indeed what every musician should do. He goes back to his roots, he gives back to his native village – it is Paropakaaram (social service, helping others), in the truest sense”.

The Nidle Shibira, held every year in May – is a week-long workshop for students of music. Over the course of the week, hundreds of students gain insights into about various aspects of music – raga & laya aspects, vocal and instrumental music, compositions of various Vaggeyakaras, and so on. It does not end there – for the entire week, Vittal Ramamurthy’s family provides accommodation, food and refreshments to students and their parents, without charging any amount for the workshop, food or accommodation.

“The inspiration for the Shibira was from my mother Krishnaveni and sister Rajeshwari Bhatt. The festival has grown in size year on year, and we are grateful to all the musicians who have participated in the Shibira in each of the thirteen years. It is the commitment of the children that motivates us to do this every year”, is what Sri Vittal Ramamurthy said when asked about what motivates him to undertake this mammoth task every year.

Given such a golden opportunity, the students of music absorb every little nuance, every sentence that is uttered during the workshops. They listen, assimilate and imbibe in rapt attention. Vocalist G Ravikiran, who conducted a workshop on the compositions of Muthusvamy Dikshithar at this year’s Shibira, says – “On the second day of the Shibira, I stayed with the children – it was truly incredible to see them practicing until 2 AM in the morning… they would not rest until they got every single sangathi correct. They were practicing not because they had a concert or a competition to prepare for – they were practicing because they loved it – this is the purest example of Art for Art’s sake.”

Vijay Siva adds, “The ambience is truly incredible – the workshop is held in Vittal Ramamurthy’s ancestral house – you are surrounded by nature, you eat organic food, it is quiet and peaceful – it takes you back and gives you a glimpse of how life must have been 150 years ago. I went to the Shibira a few years back, but the memory still remains fresh, it is one of my most cherished experiences.”

Over the past thirteen years, musicians such as Vijay Siva, TM Krishna, Bombay Jayashri, Neyveli Santhanagopalan, S Sowmya, G Ravikiran, S Saketharaman, among others, have conducted workshops at the Shibira. This year, Mridangam Legend Vidwan Umayalapuram K Sivaraman inaugurated the festival, and conduced exhaustive sessions.

A typical day at the Shibira would be – waking up in the morning, eating a wholesome natural meal, practicing until the first workshop begins, then spending the entire day in the company of great musicians learning until dinner, after which practice late into the night… Vittal Ramamurthy says, “It takes us a month to prepare for the week-long Shibira. At the end of it, we feel so refreshed and re-energized. We have a wonderful community of our family, friends and musicians. We look forward to May every year.”

The Shibira is an experience that is pure and truly amazing. Vittal Ramamurthy and his family, year after year, provide hundreds of children an opportunity to immerse in music, this is an experience that is truly, beautiful, pure and humbling.

(The author is a young vocalist from Bangalore and disciple of vidushi Neela Ramgopal)

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

SNA Award for K.V. Prasad

Mridanga vidwan K.V. Prasad received the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Carnatic Music Instrumental (Mridangam) on 28 May from the President of India Pranab Mukherjee, at a function held in the Durbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan. On 31st May he rendered mridangam accompaniment for O.S. Thyagarajan (recipient of the SNA award for Carnatic vocal music) in a programme organised by the Sangeet Natak Akademi featuring this year's SNA awardees.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Dance India a successful event

By Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan

Day 4

Beautiful masterpieces have taken shape in each of the core classes – a Bharatiyar song with intricate jatis and ample scope for abhinaya was getting its finishing touches in the advanced Bharatanatyam core class, with Priyadarsini Govind stressing on clean finishes and neatness along with the usage of eyes to determine space and capture the audience. The Kalinga Nartanam piece the intermediate Bharatanatyam class was working on was aesthetically interspersed with firm footed nritta and serpentine movements to depict the snake.
The afternoon session started with a workshop by Mythili Prakash on Group Choreography She explored various aspects of group compositions like using a group to depict a theatrical idea, using people as props and patterns formed out of one another.

The sessions in Goodman Arts concluded with the second day of the Natya Sastra workshop where Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao covered an overview of the 36 chapters and started with the most enrapturing topic of the Rasa Theory in the Natya Sastra. The evening’s showcase programme by Leela Samson and Madhavi Mudgal, both past masters in their dance forms led the delegates and audience into a world of excellence and ecstasy.

Day 5
There was really no rigorous dancing to be done. The intermediate Bharatanatyam participants had a session by Leela Samson on Applying Mind and Body to Dance, which gave the dancers an insight into how one should prepare herself/ himself before a dance programme andthe advanced Bharatanatyam group had a session by Priyadarsini Govind on Abhinaya.
The delegates walked in for the intense afternoon sessions looking quite relaxed and refreshed, not having sweated it out in core classes, but having imbibed a lot in the morning sessions. The first of the afternoon session was one by Venugopala Rao on Nayika Classification in Padams and Javalis. It was interesting to learn that by classification and sub-classification, there were nearly 384 Nayikas, but the total number of Nayakas classified were only four! Pappuji jokingly mentioned that this was so because all the books and treatises were written by men.

After a brief tea break, Pappuji took on the next session as a continuation of the Natya Sastra sessions from the previous days. Having further delved into the topic of Rasa and Bhava, he moved on to another vast topic, that of Abhinaya in the Natya Sastra. Here he stressed a bit more on Angika Abhinaya, which deals with bodily movements, with the Nritta Hastas demonstrated by Vaishnavi Anand, a disciple of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam.
The last of the afternoon sessions for the day was by Priyadarsini Govind on Abhinaya for Padams. Priyadarsini, who specialised in Abhinaya under Kalanidhi Narayanan, has been highly acclaimed for her enrapturing and spontaneous abhinaya. She gave not only some valuable pointers on how to open the mind to abhinaya and cover space with one’s gaze, but also some immensely enjoyable and inspiring demonstrations. The showcase programmes in Esplanade were the next on everybody’s agenda as all the participants spruced themselves up and made a beeline to Esplanade-Theatres by the Bay. A splendid Kathak performance by Prashant Shah and an impressive high energy Bharatanatyam performance by Mythili Prakash gave a perfect culmination to the major sessions of Dance India 2013, and setting the stage for the valedictory and closing ceremonies on the following day.
Day 6 – Closing

Dance India Asia Pacific 2013 had brought to Singapore five days of wholesome pure dance and as it finally drew to a close, there was renewed enthusiasm in all the participants to take forth all their learning. Today the morning sessions were - Applying Mind and Body to Dance for advanced Bharatanatyam students, Abhinaya for intermediate Bharatanatyam students and the winding up of the core class for intermediate Odissi. The participants went back to their core classes after a breakfast break to finetune and polish what they had learnt. The teacher’s training class by Leela Samson witnessed how a class should be taken for young kids as the little ones from the Balabharatam class of Apsaras Arts came in for the session. The experience was a fulfilling one for the participants as well as the children. By noon, all the members of Dance India Asia Pacific 2013 moved to the Black Box at Goodman Arts for the closing ceremony. Each group presented what they had learnt in the 4 days for core classes and it was impressive to see how the teachers and students had managed to put up such a magnificent presentation in such a short while. Prashant Shah and Priyadarsini Govind spoke on behalf of the faculty and expressed how happy they were to see the commitment in this part of the World. Then came the handing out of certificates, a word by Premela on behalf of the students, and a heartfelt speech by Neila Sathyalingam, Founder and Artistic Director, Apsaras Arts, Singapore.
The delegates, faculty, organisers, press and volunteers mingled for a delectable lunch and photo sessions, thus bringing Dance India Asia Pacific to a very satisfying and fulfilling close.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Irretrievable loss

The enchanting voice of Carnatic vocalist Ranjani Hebbar has been silenced forever. She succumbed to cancer at barely 30 years of age.
Like her many admirers, I had been puzzled by Ranjani’s slow ascent in the music world even though she possessed every asset her art demands. What gave hope still was the thought that her best was yet to come. That hope has now been so brutally dashed.

The last time I heard Ranjani live was at a thematic chamber concert in October last year. She was eminently qualified to do justice to the title of the concert Mysore Durbar, hailing as she did from Udupi—home of the famous Krishna temple—with its proximity to the royal palace of Mysore, a major centre of music. It was hardly surprising given her background that her performance that evening of the varied compositions of the likes of Purandaradasa, Yoganarasimham, Vasudevachar, Sadasiva Rao, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar and Basavanna was both authentic and intensely emotive.
Kedaragowla is a raga that is as Carnatic as they come, and Ranjani extracted its essence in her piercingly pure voice miraculously filled with the weight of tradition, but what took first time listeners by surprise was her brilliant handling of Hindustani ragas like Marubihag and Jhinjhoti.  Not so her regular fans familiar with her mastery of ragas of northern origin.
For Ranjani, like other musicians of her generation in that part of Karnataka known as South Kanara, grew up listening as much to Hindustani as Carnatic music, thanks to the powerful impact of the greats of the Dharwar region, from Bhimsen Joshi down to Jayateerth Mevundi.
One of the ragasRanjani purveyed in the Mysore concert, a very traditional south Indian one, was her namesake, an asymmetric, pentatonic arrangement with very beautiful turns of phrase. To my ears at least, the raga Ranjani had rarely before sounded so poignant. I meant to ask the singer if it was her favourite raga, but forgot in the euphoria she induced with the magnificent conclusion of the concert in a garland of ragas she wove together. My young musician friend Swaroop, mesmerized by Ranjani’s voice, waxed lyrical about the way “she cajoled a spectacular variety of sangatis, using jumps, drifts and curves.” He also said “she was unafraid to tread new waters… within the broad boundaries of the raga.”

Some friends and admirers have described Ranjani as unlucky in her career, someone who did not receive the right breaks at the right time, despite all-round excellence rarely seen in a young musician. I tend to agree; I am also convinced she was unfairly treated by those who make and mould careers. I remember asking vidwan TM Krishna a couple of years ago why he chose to feature Ranjani Hebbar in a concert series he organized to promote young talent, when she was already in a higher league. His reply both depressed me and gave me a warm feeling. “For such a good young talent, I find that she has very few concert opportunities,” he said, “I thought I would cheer her up.” I began to follow Ranjani’s career with greater interest.
Disappointed to learn that she was still placed in the 12 noon slot—the lowest in the hierarchy of daily concerts during the December season at the Music Academy—and convinced she belonged in the senior category, I made my way to the hall on the appointed hour. I could not believe my eyes when I entered the auditorium and found a young man singing in her place. I had missed the newspaper announcement about the change in programme. Little did any of us know that we would never hear her again in a concert.

Growing up in Udupi, Ranjani benefited from the nurturing home environment created by her parents Vasantalakshmi and Aravinda Hebbar who ran Ragadhana, a sabha that hosted every prominent Carnatic musician over the last two decades. Showing a precocious ability to identify ragas even as a child, she soon started winning every prize possible in inter-school music competitions, with lessons from her parents and her first guru Madhoor Balasubramaniam. Her ringing voice easily traversed two and a half octaves in perfect sruti, and with her facile grasp, she built up an excellent repertoire. She impressed visiting musicians with her poise and control, and it was only a matter of time before she came under the kindly gaze of one of them. That leading vocalist S Sowmya took her under her wing and after her move to Chennai, also enrolled her with the late Chingleput Ranganathan for specialised training is now part of history. When her Mysore flair met their Madras orthodoxy, the result was an original blend all her own, a new sound unheard in the circuit.
Ranjani Hebbar had a considerable following in Chennai. A small group of her devoted fans—Narasimhan, Abhinay, Venkateswaran, Kannan and Vijay— who rarely miss her concerts, believe she is the equal of any of the reigning stalwarts of today. They blame a bias in favour of local talent for her relative lack of opportunity. Promising vocalist Vasudha Ravi found inspiration in Ranjani’s music, “complete in all aspects”, and her incredible equanimity. “Always mature and calm, she never tried to push herself forward.” 
Her lovely voice, her nuanced rendering of a complex art through uncluttered expression, her firm views on tradition and creativity which she found no need to publicly articulate—all these qualities made Ranjani Hebbar a very special musician, a very special person. Rarely has Carnatic music lost such a brilliant talent so young.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

SNA Award for Nandini Ramani

Nandini Ramani, Bharatanatyam exponent, teacher, art commentator, managing Trustee of Dr. V. Raghavan Centre for Performing Arts, and Senior Associate, Sruti magazine, received the central Sangeet Natak Akademi award for Over-all Contribution to the Performing Arts, on 28 May at New Delhi. The award comprises a shawl, citation and a purse. The Akademi fellowships and awards were presented to the awardees by Pranab Mukherji, President of India, at a ceremony held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

At the arts festival organised by the Akademi in which awardees participate, Nandini presented a solo Bharatanatyam performance and excerpts from four different Sanskrit plays directed by her which were enacted by her team from Samskrita Ranga, Chennai. The plays were Anarkali, Ascharya Choodamani, Vikramorvasiyam, and Mattavilasa Prahasana. The programme was well-attended and appreciated by eminent artists and art lovers of Delhi.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Rajeev Mukundan

Young voices
(Conversations with emerging artists)

By Sushma Somasekharan

Rajeev Mukundan, violinist A Kanyakumari’s student, is a web application developer by day who takes the Carnatic music world by storm in the evening. At 22, he is a highly sought-after accompanist who has performed with many leading artists. His talent, sense of humour and easy-going personality make him one of the Carnatic music fraternity’s favourite artists.  He recently spoke to Sushma Somasekharan. Excerpts:

First December concert experience in Chennai

My first December concert was with singer Hari Charan at Vani Mahal. We were all part of Ramhji’s Isai Mazhalai group and we had the opportunity to perform in the junior slot at the Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha. I performed very badly. Charan sang Varali and at that time, gurus tended not to teach their students Varali. My knowledge of Varali was whatever I had picked up from listening to recordings. I remember playing so many ‘apaswarams’. It was a total disaster! I lost confidence after that concert. My second concert that same season was with Vidya Kalyanaraman. I performed well and that restored my faith as a performer again.
First big concert
During my second year of college, I went to Hyderabad to perform with Kanya Mami in a double violin concert. I also performed with the Malladi Brothers in the same series. I was so nervous before both concerts. Malladi Brothers concerts are like dynamite: full of energy and excitement. Playing for them was completely different from what I had experienced until then. It was also a pleasant surprise when they called me back to play in a few more concerts for them.
The next day, I performed with my guru. This was a bigger disaster than my first concert experience in Chennai! My guru played at great speed and I was just unable to keep up. But Kanya Mami was so encouraging and would smile at me every time I made a mistake. It eased the atmosphere on stage and only motivated me to work harder for the next concert.  I am truly fortunate to have the support of my guru and to explore such performing opportunities at an early stage in my career.

Kanyakumari’s teaching style
Kanya Mami gives her students a lot of freedom. She sings the song to be taught and we play based on the swarams she has sung. She does not play the song for us and make us follow it as she has always emphasized on honing our swara gyanam. Following her singing forces the students to pay keen attention to the swarams sung and for us to replicate it with the exact gamakams on the violin. Kanya Mami only teaches students seeking advanced training. As such, all of us may have slightly different fingering or bowing techniques imbibed during the initial years of learning, but the way she teaches us brings us all together as her students. More often than not, when you hear Kanya Mami’s students on stage, it is easy to distinguish and identify them.
Being a professional violinist and pursuing another profession as well
I am a professional violinist. I do not think someone is a professional artist only if he dedicates all his time to pursuing that art. I believe I do full justice to my talent. I am constantly improving my skills through vigorous practice and am getting opportunities to perform with artists of high calibre. This stands testament to my standing as a professional violinist. I am still pursuing my corporate job, as I want to explore my different facets outside being a musician. I personally think the different dimension to my life is important to enable me to understand the importance of music.
Favourite concert recording
It would have to be a live recording by Sri Palghat KV Narayanaswamy with Sri TN Krishnan on the violin and Sri Palghat Raghu on the mridangam. If I recall correctly, it is a recording from 1974. Just thinking about the song Hecharika in the ragam Yadukulakambhoji from that recording gives me goosebumps now. They performed swarams in three speeds for that song. Just that rendition alone was enough to make me go back to listen to that recording repeatedly.
Most memorable concert

Undoubtedly my first concert at the Music Academy in 2011. Needless to say I was nervous. I accompanied Ramakrishnan Murthy who sang one of the best Kambhojis I have heard till date. That concert is so fresh in my memory that I can hear Kambhoji still ringing in my ears. I went on to receive the Best Violinist award for the junior time slot that year.
Early memories of Carnatic music and musical inspiration

Until I joined Kanya Mami, I was not serious about playing the violin at all as I did not understand Carnatic music. I had not understood the nuances of this genre of music and just learnt it as a hobby. I used to attend concerts with my parents who were fascinated by Kanya Mami’s music. And as a young child, I was fascinated by her concerts not because of her music (I was unable to understand her brilliant music at that young age) but because she owned a white violin!
And after that, I discovered my biggest violin inspiration, Sri T.N Krishnan Sir. His playing is so precise I aspire to emulate that as a violinist.

(Sushma Somasekharan is a young Carnatic vocalist)

Monday, 10 June 2013

Dance India: Day 3

By Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan

As the gruelling practice intensifies in the core classes of intermediate and advanced Bharatanatyam on day 3 of Dance India Asia Pacific 2013, the Odissi students internalise the techniques of abhinaya through each of the senses.

Participants of the Teacher’s Training session by Leela Samson, apart from their practical sessions, brainstorm on various questions they had to work on based on teaching methods and practices.

Elation and satisfaction overcame the exhaustion of the participants, and although many had sore limbs, their faces glowed with life! The afternoon started off with a workshop by Prashant Shah on Rhythms in Kathak. All the dancers were on their, feet trying out tatkar to various combinations of rhythm.

The concluding session for the day was the first of a series of workshops spread over the next few days on ‘Introduction to Natya Sastra’ by scholar Dr. Pappu Venugopala Rao. His encyclopaedic knowledge and the vast ocean that Natya Sastra is, had each and every member of the audience spellbound, humbled and thirsty for more.

Dance India: Day 2

By Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan

With high energy in the air, passion for dance coursing through the participants’ veins, each looking forward to five days of intensive dance, day two of Dance India started with a session of yoga wellness by renowned Hatha Yoga instructor Arti Daryanani. Participants were asked to first connect to their bodies and find their energy centres. Warming up with yoga and after a sumptuous breakfast, the delegates branched off into the four core classes – Intermediate Bharatanatyam taken by Mythili Prakash, Advanced Bharatanatyam by Priyadarsini Govind, Bharatanatyam Teacher’s Training by Leela Samson and Intermediate Odissi by Madhavi Mudgal.

After four hours of rigorous training, with a lunch break in the middle, the participants settled in for an enriching session on Lighting Design with particular focus on Indian classical dance by K. Kalaiarasan – Technical Director at Apsaras Arts Ltd., Singapore. The session was a great eye opener, giving artistes a clearer perspective of what happens in lighting and stage management.

Followed a session on Ashtapadis in Odissi by Madhavi Mudgal. Ashtapadis – the eight-line verses penned by Jayadeva and his wife Padmavathy in the work called ‘Gita Govinda’—are said to bring out the divine leela of love between Radha and Krishna. Madhavi beautifully explained the ashtapadi Yahi Madhava and Radha’s reactions as a khandita nayika to Krishna who has been with another woman. She stressed the need to portray Radha as an uttama nayika with finesse and subtlety.

The next exciting session was just an hour away. Connecting through Dance by Leela Samson, Madhavi Mudgal, Priyadarsini Govind, Mythili Prakash and Prashant Shah was an interesting exchange of thoughts within the panel as well as with the audience in topics ranging from music for dance to solo versus group choreography and several other aspects of dance. Day 2 of DANCE INDIA 2013 came to an immensely satisfying close.

Dance India off to a bright start

By Vaishnavi Ananthanarayanan

DANCE INDIA Asia Pacific 2013, jointly organised by Apsaras Arts Ltd and MilapFest, UK, in collaboration with Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay and supported by Singapore’s National Arts council was inaugurated on 4 June 2013 at Goodman Arts Centre. After a briefing session for the delegates, the inauguration function, which had an audience ranging from diplomats to artistes and art lovers, kicked off with a Shanmuga Kavuthuvam presented by students of Dance India 2012. After a welcome address by K. Kesavapani, Singapore’s Ambassador to Jordan, Prashant Nayak, Founder and Director, MilapFest, UK, took us through the journey of MilapFest from its inception to where it stands today. After the traditional lighting of the lamp by dignitaries, the guest of honour for the evening Dr. Ma Swan Hoo, spoke of the beauty and grace associated with Indian dance. ‘Lifetime Achievement awards’ and the title of ‘Natya Acharya Mani’ were then conferred upon two distinguished members of the dance fraternity—Vasantha Kasinath and Usharani Maniam—for their contribution to dance in Singapore. The evening’s function included an introduction of the faculty and a performance titled Nataraja Dhyanam by Mohanapriyan Thavarajah. The gathering dispersed for a reception of sumptuous food and networking.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bhava sangeetam

By V.P. Dhananjayan

“Bhava sangeetam” or expressive music is synonymous with M.D. Ramanathan. In this century, I have not heard such bhava-laden Carnatic music as that sung by MDR. Two years ago, when I performed the dance-drama Tyagaraja Vaibhavam in Hyderabad, a learned, elderly person walked up to the stage at the conclusion of the performance. He asked me a simple question, “Have you heard MDR singing Nannu vidachi (Reetigaula)? You brought back to me memories of his music and now I fully realise the meaning of the song; you made me visualise MDR’s rendering of it.” I bowed humbly before him and said that whenever I performed a Tyagaraja kriti I tried to express the spirit of MDR’s singing.

If I am able to evoke in an audience the memory of a person, composer or a particular rendition by a singer, it is proof of the indelible mark that person has left in the memories of connoisseurs. At that moment in Hyderabad, I was so proud to have been closely associated with MDR and pleased that all the time I had spent with him had not been in vain.

I remember my first meeting with MDR in 1953. I was a young lad from a remote village who did not know anything about music or dance. I had no experience of attending a Carnatic music concert. When MDR sang Vatapi ganapatim in Hamsadhwani, I burst out laughing. Someone behind me caught me by my shirt collar and dragged me out of the Kalakshetra Panchami hall. Later on, as a student in Kalakshetra, I had the good fortune of playing the tambura for hours together at MDR’s concerts. All that listening to his wonderful bhava sangeetam has been absorbed into my veins, giving me a way of understanding the true spirit of Tyagaraja and other composers.

MDR was a musician’s musician. His scholarship in literature (Samskritam – I prefer this to Sanskrit, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu) made him great and placed him above other successful musicians. He delved deep into the sahitya of each song and explained them to his students as well as to listeners like me. My wife Shanta had the good fortune of attending his master classes, and she was a pet student of his.

All his mannerisms faded away from the attention of a connoisseur the moment his music flowed into the ear. His sruti alignment, pronunciation and the way he split words according to their correct meaning made his music more enjoyable, though to some people his rendering of the words may have sounded just musical, not verbal.

Every passage he sang was an essay in itself. I have not admired a musician as much as I have MDR, not just for his music, but also for his qualities as a human being. He was very charitable, humorous, approachable, caring and generous. He was a true “sthitapragna”, not perturbed by criticism or praise. Singing, to him, was an upasana; sangeetam that was totally involved in the bhava of the lyrics and spirit of the composer.

His own compositions are not yet popular. Worthy disciples like P.P. Ramakrishnan should be encouraged by connoisseurs to bring out MDR’s unique compositions – kriti-s, keertana-s and tillana-s. Once that is done, in course of time MDR will join the galaxy of the 20th century vaggeyakara-s.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Ramanathan’s analysis

By T.M. Krishna

The following response is with regard to some points made by Dr. N. Ramanathan in his article Vaggeyakara and tunesmith. While the greatness and brilliance of Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna cannot be questioned, there are a few points with regard to the article that I would like to raise.

(1) The comment on the Hamsadhwani of Vatapi Ganapatim bhajeham is unfortunate. I am actually surprised. A deeper look at the notation of this very composition as in the Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini reveals quite a marvellous structure, which we have eschewed. In both the anupallavi and the charana, there are beautiful patterns which we have changed in our renditions. Therefore I am not sure how it can only sound like the sarali and tara sthayi varisai. If this is the reference to the pallavi sangati-s, then we are told that Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer is to blame! Therefore, I do not agree with his perception about Vatapi Ganapatim bhajeham.

(2) Regarding the tuning of Annamacharya’s compostions, if we consider Annamacharya a vaggeyakara, then some amount of respect needs to be given to the raga names given in the copper plates. If not, are we ready to call him only a poet? With regard to Tyagaraja compositions where raga-s have changed, of course this is erroneous (like Abheri, Chittaranjani) but one wrong cannot justify another. Tyagaraja keertana-s that are sung in the same designated raga over the years have also changed in form and feel. This does not make the vaggeyakara irrelevant. Many musicians in the sishya parampara have embellished the compositions themselves. Does this make the original vaggeyakara irrelevant? I don’t think so. I feel the understanding of the role of the vaggeyakara and the renditions through time is more nuanced than just asking the question does it sound exactly as composed by Tyagaraja? Almost all raga-s have also changed form, therefore in no way will any rendition of today completely connect to something of even 200 years ago. What exists are threads of history within the form of many of these raga-s which gives a link to its long past. Similarly these raga-s given to the compositions are small threads connecting us to the past that we should respect.

Since we are to choose the melodic form for the compositions of Annamacharya why not try to do the same in the raga-s mentioned? To the question does the mere retaining of the raga as per the name add any value? In my opinion this is very essential if we want to consider Annamacharya a vageyyakara. The melodic form to the composition is by a modern composer but at least we should show some respect to the original composer.

Regarding the raga-s that may have lost their identity today, is it not a better endeavour to try and give a lost raga a form though it may be a modern interpretation? Who better that Dr. Balamuralikrishna to try and do this?

(3) In the paragraph about his renditions, while three compositions namely Nannu ganna talli, Sree Neelotpalanayike and Akhilandeswari have been mentioned only two have been elaborated about. We do know that Dr. Balamuralikrishna’s renditions have shown very close resemblance to the Sangeeta Sampradaya Pradarsini and other texts. Unfortunately, the fact that Sree Neelotapala nayike has not been rendered by him in Reetigaula (as per the Dikshitar sampradaya with Suddha dhaivata) has not been pointed out. This is definitely a case of a wrong interpretation of the raga with regard to the Dikshitar sampradaya. There is no sampradaya of this Reetigaula in the Dikshitar tradition.

(4) While any amount of appreciation of the brilliance of Dr. Balamuralikrishna will not suffice, I feel Dr. Ramanathan’s article could have carried more analysis about the non-Carnatic aspects of his compositions which have been mentioned a couple of times by him in a mildly negative vein (or is that something only I sensed?).

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Nataraj Ramakrishna

By B.M. Sundaram

Dr. Nataraj Ramakrishna was an outstanding Bharatanatyam exponent. Born in another country, he took interest in the art of dancing from his early years and became a talented dancer before his 17th year. At the age of 18, he was awarded the title, ‘Nataraj’ by the Gadhval Samsthanam.

He came to Tanjavur and stayed there for a little over a year to learn Bharatanatyam from Pandanainallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai. Tara Chaudhury was his co-student at the time. Pillai introduced me to Ramakrishna, who gave a memorable Bharatanatyam recital at the Kali Amman temple on South Main Street, close to the house of the Tanjavur Quartet. On that day the programme was conducted by Muthayya Pillai and Subbaraya Pillai with the mridanga accompaniment of Bhairavan Pillai. Later Ramakrishna moved to Kalahasti and then to Hyderabad, which was his home till the end.

He has written many books on the art and also on the Andhra devadasi-s, whom he respected. It was his conviction that the art of Bharatanatyam would not have survived but for the services of the devadasi-s. He travelled to many a village to locate devadasi-s and learnt many parijatam-s from them. The dance-dramas were performed in the temples, either on a single night or over consecutive nights. He traced the palace and the portrait of the renowned dancer, Taramati. He was a bachelor. He was deeply moved by the plight and uncared-for conditions of the devadasi-s of Andhra Pradesh and patronised some of them by providing them board and lodging at his own expense. Saride Manikyamma was one such beneficiary.

After a deep study in the Warangal temple, Ramakrishnagaru revived Perini Siva Tandavam and taught this art to a number of students, the famous one being his pet-student, Kala Krishna. It was Kala Krishna who took care of his guru for many years till his death. Ramakrishnagaru used to write letters to me and sometimes sent me photos of dancers and their biographies. When I wrote two books – one on the traditional Bharatacharya-s of Tamil Nadu and another on the eminent devadasi dancers, he expressed his happiness and thanked me for documenting such wonderful material.

Some months before his demise, he wrote that he wanted to meet me, “his long time Kala Sahodara”, so I went to his house in Hyderabad. As soon as he saw me, his eyes filled with tears and I was also moved that such a great artist wanted to take a photograph with me. Again, I went to meet him with my guruji vidwan Balamuralikrishna. His happiness knew no bounds.

When there arose a movement to rename the dance of the devadasi-s of Andhra Pradesh, as ‘Vilasini Natyam’, he, to the best of his ability, opposed it and continued to call it only as ‘Andhra Natyam’. He was a sincere and devout student of Bharatanatyam and an outstanding researcher endowed with the great quality of humility – he was unassuming. Such a noble soul has passed into eternity, creating a void in the art field.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Mali and Ramani

By V Ramnarayan

(Text of speech at Mali Day event organised by N Ramani on 3 June 2013)


Thirtyfive years ago, when I started writing for magazines as a cricketer, people thought my wife, a college lecturer, did the writing for me. Later, when I contributed to Sruti magazine, my friends attributed my articles to my uncle and Sruti founder Pattabhi Raman. When I took over as editor of Sruti in 2006-07, my predecessor said I was the right choice for the post. After all, I was Pattabhi’s nephew. I’m sure I have been invited here today as I am Swaroop’s friend, thanks to the warmth and affection Sri N Ramani has for him, his other disciples and for me. Today, I am proud to call myself Swaroop's friend, after his wonderful flute recital. I congratulate him and his excellent accompanists Vijay and Arjun Ganesh on the violin and mridangam.

Carnatic music has had no shortage of mahavidwans. It has known child prodigies galore. Why, according to Chitravina veteran Narasimhan, every child is potentially a musical prodigy. We often ascribe such precocity to vasana, the memory of an earlier birth, reincarnation even, as when we describe a brilliant young musician as an avatar of a past great. Some of these extraordinary individuals make their musical debut at absurdly young ages, at a time when we ordinary mortals are barely able to lisp or take a few faltering steps around the house.

Sangita Kalanidhi N Ramani was one such child prodigy, making his debut at the age of eight. He has gone on to achieve greatness in his mature years, completing more than 70 years as a concert flautist, guru, and even grand-guru, to coin a word. He has achieved every distinction there is to achieve in Carnatic music. He has been accompanied by all the stalwarts of well nigh three generations of musicians—Lalgudi, MSG, TN Krishnan, M Chandrasekharan, Palghat Mani Iyer, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Trichy Sankaran, TK Murthy, Vellore Ramabhadran, Karaikudi Mani… the list is long and distinguished.

During the 1950s, he was a part of a team that composed and played music under Mysore Vasudevachar for the Kalakshetra dance-dramas. He has composed music for operas for such institutions as the Kanchi math, and taken part in several lecture demonstrations over the decades. Along with Lalgudi Jayaraman and R Venkataraman, he pioneered the violin-venu-veena concerts that took the music world by storm in the 1960s.

Travelling to the USA for the first time in 1962 on a concert tour with Veenai S Balachander, he is now a veteran globetrotter, a regular fixture at such festivals as the Cleveland Tyagaraja Aradhana.

In the seventies, he accompanied his guru TR Mahalingam in a series of concerts. He performed jugalbandi concerts with Hariprasad Chaurasia, in which he passed up countless opportunities to upstage his collaborator, thanks to his intrinsic humility and large-heartedness. His other jugalbandis featured artists of the calibre of Ram Narayan, VG Jog, Vijayaraghava Rao, Sultan Khan and N Rajam.

Ramani Sir is arguably the most popular and successful living guru in his field, with his sishyas numbering several hundreds and spread far and wide. His RAF is now a true force, 30 years old and fighting fit, piloted lovingly by him. In addition to his musically accomplished siblings, he leads a proud trio of flautists, with his son and grandson.

For all his wonderful attributes and accomplishments, Ramani will be the first person to admit that he is not a genius like his guru, though a child prodigy he certainly was. The label of genius fits but a handful of musicians like TR Mahalingam and Rajaratnam Pillai. For true genius can be flawed—in more ways than one—and for all his reverence and total guru bhakti, Ramani will admit that his own guru was a flawed genius.

In fact, many thought so, but as Sruti magazine said 30 years ago, the number of Mali fanatics far outnumbered the number of Mali detractors, despite his tantrums and shenanigans. That the world of Carnatic music has put Mali’s art right at the top of the many manifestations of its genius is proof that true greatness can make people forgive the worst of follies!

Mali’s life and career were also probably proof that the gene that makes a person a genius is perhaps the same gene that makes him an eccentric, fragmented, conflict ridden individual.

Among other things, that Sruti special issue said about Mali, “He moved his audiences, he did not just satisfy them. His music was like magic. It brought inspiration, almost a revelation to most people.” Sruti also called him the greatest flautist of India, and perhaps a mystic, too, as he himself suggested.

Mali’s art could move critics to write poetry. The brilliant writer SV Seshadri—who used the nom de plume Aeolus—did sometimes resort to verse to describe it. He said in an article in Shankar’s Weekly: Mali was the only artist who looked upon music as more than a vocation, as a mode of coming to terms with the dilemma of existence. He then went on to quote the poet TS Eliot to support his claim. According to Seshadri, Mali’s art sought to capture the human situation with all its choices and compulsions as obtaining in a single moment and thus proclaimed the uniqueness of the artist’s spiritual experience…

The greatness of such music as Mali’s lay in the irony that it could move listeners to tears, even though the musician himself was perhaps not trying to do anything of the sort. Whether he meant it or not, Mali often said that he performed only for money, and that left to himself, he would rather not go on stage. To him, music was not about cutcheris, which explained his many professional transgressions. Yet when he did come to terms with his obligations as a performer, he recreated the mystery of birth and growth and identity of swaras, to paraphrase Aeolus again. And blessed are the rasikas gifted with the faculty of listening, internalizing, drowning in the bliss of oneness with such music for even one moment, even if they can never reproduce a single note of it in their lifetime.

And in the evening of my life, I pray that the ability to listen to such sublime music survive even if night befalls my eyes.

Sruti editorial, June 2013


In Tamil Nadu, and other southern centres, sabhas are still the main organisers of classical music concerts, and quite often, serious promoters of new talent.

We all know what a great role sabhas have played in the growth and development of music and musicians through the decades. We also constantly hear murmurs about the misdeeds of some not-so-good sabhas.

Trying to understand the economics of a career in Carnatic music, we spoke to a few musicians and people connected with music, and the data is not altogether cheering, even though a talented musician stands a better chance of making a living today than some ten years ago. The bad news – and we suspected this – is that there is not much money to be had in the concert circuit in Chennai. A number of sabha secretaries continue to slip a few hundreds of rupees into the envelope at the end of a concert. It is also not uncommon for a smaller amount than the promised fee to be paid. Even worse are the unscrupulous ways of some sabhas that make the artist pay for the concert. Though more prevalent in dance, the practice has infiltrated music as well.

Yes, a career in music is still a lottery. Few aspirants plunge into it full time, and most hold on to a day job while pursuing music on the side. Of course, there is a parallel reality show economy of babes in the wood growing up overnight into canny professionals, managed or mismanaged by their parents, television channels and so-called mentors. In this unreal world, the accent is on how to become a bhagavatar in 30 days, with a hectic round of concerts and overseas opportunities sweeping the winners off their feet, until one fine morning they realise that they have been replaced by the next round of winners.

Is it all bad, then? Can a Carnatic musician really make a viable career of his music? Here we are not speaking of the leading artists of the day, but the reasonably talented, hard working musician who has been around for say, ten years. And the answer is yes, maybe, if you are lucky, smart and talented, not necessarily in that order. (Accompanists getting the rough end of the stick from the main artists who corner the lion’s share of the remuneration is another story altogether). For, it is only Chennai sabhas that can get away with paying you a few hundred rupees, with or without some nice tamboolam attached. And we don’t mean the Music Academy, Narada Gana Sabha or other established sabhas with a reputation for integrity – and even these used to pay peanuts a little over a decade ago, offering their stamp of approval instead, as a passport to success. Once you have been recognised outside the state, you can hope to earn something better than pocket money. Kerala, Karnataka, and other states not only welcome young talent, they are often transparent about the fee on offer, maybe because they see themselves as buyers in a sellers’ market. And of course, the real money-spinners are wedding concerts. Without those, recording contracts and dollar earnings abroad, where would the Carnatic musician be?

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Developing sruti sense

By K.N. Viswanathan

In Child MS meets a teacher in the Sruti blog, Gowri Ramnarayan describes how young MS played with the tambura and how she was hypnotised by the sound of the tambura strings. A sruti soaked voice is a pure delight to the ears. It helps the singer to establish instant rapport with the listener. “Sruti mata laya pita” is an often quoted saying, but I wonder how much attention is paid to develop sruti sense in a beginner in Carnatic music?

The first music lesson for a child must focus on developing sruti sense. She must be taught to play the tambura first for half an hour a day, encouraged to keep her ears on the tambura stem and listen to sa pa sa. Then she should be taught to tune the tambura.

The sruti box is not a substitute for the tambura. The beginner must listen only to sruti-aligned music. Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, M.S. Subbulakshmi, T. Brinda and K.V. Narayanaswamy are some of the names that come to mind as sruti-perfect voices.

These artists had flawless vocal techniques, with no false voice singing, no nasal sound, no straining of the voice, no affected singing, no excesses of any kind. There is nothing unique about them except that they had an efficient vocal technique, sang open mouthed without restraint, and had excellent breath control.

Madurai Mani Iyer and M.D. Ramanathan sang in perfect alignment with sruti, but the child may imbibe their unique vocal technique and try to imitate them. It takes time to appreciate the right things in music of say Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar or Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. They had problems of voice but compensated with superlative gnanam and other aspects of Carnatic music. The child can be taught to appreciate sruti perfection even by listening to old film songs of P. Suseela, Lata Mangeshkar, or Kishore Kumar, emphasising their sruti perfection and flawless singing styles. Kelvi gnanam is as important as learning from a teacher. Sabha-s can encourage youngsters to play the tambura for established artists. The outcome of this could be improved sruti sense among the future generation of Carnatic musicians.