Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Kutcheri Kaleidoscope

By PP Kanthan

Having had the good fortune to savour for many years the sublime (and occasionally not so sublime) Carnatic music that is heard in Chennai and elsewhere, I have been struck by the bewildering variety of audience types and audience behaviour observed at concerts. The following observations on the audience types and their reaction may interest the general body of concertgoers. No offence is meant towards anyone and the sole aim of this article is to help enhance the musical joy of concert-listeners.

The most passive type of audience member can be called the ‘reading type’, who keeps reading a book or a magazine quietly, although sometimes whispering the words or turning the pages audibly. Then there is the ‘encroaching’ type, who would like to rest both hands on his chair handles, allowing no elbow space for neighbours; the ‘finicky’ type, such as the lady who is reported to have insisted on being flanked only by ladies on both sides; the ‘annoying’ type, who claims another’s seat on the ground that his own defective vision requires his sitting close to the artistes, or his weak hearing demands sitting straight in front of the loudspeakers; the ‘garrulous’ type, who keeps chatting away somewhat loudly on all and sundry matters; the ‘singing along’ type, who hums the ongoing raga or the kriti, often at a tangential sruti; the ‘guessing’ type, whose audible guess of the raga has a broad spectrum; the ‘inquisitive’ type, who keeps asking for the names of the ragas or other information; the ‘critical’ type, who openly criticizes the performers; the ‘nostalgic’ type, who bemoans the disappearance of the artistes of a former era; the ‘tala enthusiast’, who cannot help keeping an aggressive tala count that perilously extends to the neighbour’s lap; the ‘tit-bit munching’ type who acts as a catalyst in switching the thoughts of those nearby from the  music to the canteen; the ‘bad odour radiator’, who unwittingly sends out bad odour, forcing you to take evasive action and turn your face towards the other side; the ‘showy’ type, who, if a woman, wears the latest fashion attire, a dazzling sari or a sparkling ornament and hair over-decked with flowers, and if a man, prominently browses the latest model of mobile phone, occasionally showing off his gold chain or wrist watch, sometimes with an unsolicited chat about when and where the item was bought; the ‘seat reserving’ type, who keeps a handkerchief or other personal item on a seat and turns up at his or her own sweet time to claim the seat; the ‘VIP’ type, who invariably walks in after the performance starts and makes sure he is escorted to a front row seat; the ‘walk out’ type who walks out at will, as when the tani avartanam starts and comes back either when it is over or whenever he chooses.

Fortunately for Carnatic music, there are many genuine rasikas forming the majority of the audience, who are well conversant with the nuances of the melody and the intricacies of the rhythm, who gently sway their heads in unison with the music and break into an occasional, muffled ‘aha’ or ‘sabash’, deriving supreme bliss in the process.

A tall ladder

A key to the ATTIC

By Swarnamalya Ganesh

I vividly remember a rehearsal day just a month before my arangetram more than fifteen years ago. Sarasama—my guru KJ Sarasa—was sitting in front of me at our Rani Annadurai Street dance class, supervising me rehearsing the varnam that I was to present for my arangetram.

She whispered into the ears of our musician, Gowri Akka, “Look at her lovely araimandi, she is almost in a perfect half sit. She is really out there to impress Padma Amma.” I, the 12 year old who knew that a compliment from Sarasama was as rare as a perfect araimandi in rehearsal, was surely peeking my ears to listen in even as I was dancing, and needless to say was ecstatic at my guru’s observation.

Of course, I was working hard to impress Dr.Padma Subrahmanyam, Paddu Akka, who was to be the chief guest at my arangetram. I don’t know if I managed to impress her with my arangetram but I was yet again so inspired by her. Her dazzling big jhumkas were also a great attraction. I pestered my parents soon after my arangetram to buy me similar jhumkas. They did and the first day I wore those jhumkas, I felt truly like her fan! One that wanted to follow her and her path.

Incidentally it was this araimandi pushed me in the direction of a thought process that was to shape me into a researcher too. One day I was sitting with TSP Mama (Sri TS Parthasarathy, the musicologist) in his home during my classes with him. He spoke of the basic stance and suddenly asked to demonstrate it. I stood up and proudly showed off my half sit.

He smiled and said, “Do you know what the texts describe the araimandi to be? It is the halving of the lower body starting from the torso in equal proportion to one’s own upper body. Therefore, it is the subjective calculation of each person’s height and torso length and it is the careful halving of that”. I was stumped. He further added with a chuckle, “Anything more than this proportion would look like you are sitting on a potty!” Mortified, I sat through the next few hours with Mama only half listening to him speak on concepts of aucityam (propriety), soundaryam (beauty) and much more. 

I came home that day and suddenly felt a rush of inadequacy in my understanding of a form, I until then believed I was introduced to in its entirety, at least as far as performance was concerned. I realized the need to look back at the grammar-s written down to codify what the mind, body and psyche produce. This intellectualization of dance beckoned me.

I had to work at this process of understanding my Bharatanatyam, a deeply personal journey through its historic course when much of its theorization was penned. As a student of history and archaeology, I was and am even now, fascinated by the Cholas of the Tamil country (like many others). Rajaraja and his magnificent contribution that is the Rajarajeswaram is truly the holy grail. “What did the Cholas dance? What repertoire? What compositions? How did they stitch the karanas into their choreography?” were some of the impetus questions.

So, I headed for ground zero. When I looked up and saw the board “Thanjavur Saraswati Mahal Library” I felt fresh blood was being pumped into me. My first visit there as a serious researcher was in May 2006.

Armed with pen and paper, I walked in and got introduced to the Administrative Officer. After a very warm welcome he gently asked me if I would like a tour around the library. I said, “Yes, that would be great, but I wish to speak to the Sanskrit and Telugu Pundits regarding a few manuscripts”. He looked completely taken aback. He quickly re-checked if I was in fact the “actor/dancer” Swarnamalya. When I smiled and replied in the affirmative he asked me what I wanted to do in a library!

This is the general perception that people have. When doctors, lawyers and other professionals engage in research, people take them seriously, but when people in the entertainment world talk of research (especially younger women) it is eyebrow-raising! Quite used to it, I explained patiently to him that Dance was my passion and that I was a Masters Degree holder in Bharatanatyam. If he was surprised, he didn’t show it and quietly guided me to the Telugu Mss section.

Thrilled, I subjected the Telugu scholar to a long monologue of how I needed to understand the connection between the dances of the Chola period and that of the Tanjore Quartette (what we essentially practise and perform). He looked at me blankly, and told me that I could go through the catalogue of the Mss and see what I wanted to investigate.

I sat there at his spartan desk, under the tall tombed, lime-washed pillars, on a wooden chair and grabbed the first catalogue for Mss. That day passed. A tap on my shoulder from my driver/guardian/confidant Kumar reminded me that it was 5 pm and time for the library to close.

All day, everyday for the next four days and similar four/five days for the next three months, all I did was pore over the catalogues religiously. I made detailed notes of every Mss I wanted to see, check, read. I went to the Sanskrit, Tamil, and Marathi sections and did the same.

After a few months, I recognized my first understanding of dance history. Much of contemporary dance history of the South is steered towards seeing its hoary past and links to Vedic and early historic extant texts like the Natya Sastra. While this link is undeniable, it is from the immediate cultural memory that the performing traditions of today have been culled out. Its copula to “Sadir-attam”, “dasi-attam” and also its close link to geographical and political structures are its rich traditions. It is from these numerous corpuses of dance repertoire that the Tanjore Quartette and others excogitated the margam. Therefore, to comprehend the Chola dances I must find a tall ladder that will take me from the known (Bharatanatyam) to the unknown through its various immediate past memories. The association between art and political power shift is an important paradigm too. The study of dance in the context of a political, racial shift is the key to unlock this attic.

From the attic is a journey through the immediate past centuries when the memories of modern Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music were created. My seven years of research have helped me identify the context of the art forms we practise and thereby find a personal identity. From the attic is a process of reverse engineering, I could say. It will reflect the various processes, lives of people, stories and anecdotes from these eras. I hope to write about some of these in the issues to come.

Still in possession of my jhumkas, I endeavour to continue in this path, which makes me a performer and a researcher turning the torch on to the corners hidden in the attic!

FROM THE ATTIC: a performance, lecture, exhibition series of the past performing practices by Dr Swarnamalya Ganesh, with a key to unlock the attic

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A grand old master

By Aishwarya Srinivas

(Excerpts from an interview with the late R.K. Srikantan in January 2014. The unabridged version will appear in the March 2014 issue of Sruti)

Vidwan R.K. Srikantan was one of the oldest masters of classical music.  He continued to perform like no other at a ripe age. He was a predominantly self-made artist in an art that requires training from a guru for a long period, and he has passed on the art to numerous disciples who have made a name for themselves.

Just before his concert at the Music Academy, this nonagenarian was playing an imaginary tic-tac-toe on the ground with his walking stick, as he waited for his retinue to arrive. It was indeed very inspiring to meet Sangita Kalanidhi Dr. R.K. Srikantan, a Padma Bhushan awardee, and to learn about his long career as a musician, a few days before his 94th  birthday on 14 January.

Please tell us about your initial days as a performing musician.

I attended numerous concerts of the great masters of those days like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar, Palghat Rama Bhagavatar, Venuswami Pillai, Tavil Meenakshisundaram Pillai in Bangalore and also in Chennai where my brother lived. That gave me the inspiration to take up music as a career and earn the vidwat and gauravam that these musicians made for themselves. I sat through these concerts with eyes closed and tried to reproduce all the nuances that I heard. I was eager to imbibe the good in all the styles and also weed out anything that was not required. I was also keen to take criticism in the right spirit.

You were well educated. Why did you choose to take up music as your career?

After my Bachelors, I enrolled for a Masters in history. But I could not  continue as my musical leaning got stronger. My brother R.K. Venkatrama Sastry, was very keen on making me a good vidwan. My father, who was a scholar and a Harikatha exponent, was also adept in music. There was enough music around to ensure I was inspired and engaged by music all the time.

To achieve this kind of mastery of the ragas and laya aspects of music, you must have had a rigorous sadhakam schedule?

Yes. It is only by hard work that you can achieve great heights. I did severe sadhakam those days, singing varnams in four kalams, and specific sadhakam for sustaining the sruti. I would take up one raga and improvise, work on my manodharma for one whole month and practise all the compositions in that raga. A good artist is made of 25% marga darsanam of the gurus and 75% sadhakam.

How do you maintain your voice the way it is. It is remarkable that even now it is steady and reverberating, with no trace of ageing.

Although a voice is God-given, you have to make special effort to maintain it. You must eat satvika food; say no to spicy food. Also it is important to talk less, specially when you have concerts. I have always ensured a gap of at least one week between two concerts. This is required to rest the voice and to avoid repetitions in kalpana sangeetam.

Do you think the current generation can relate to tradition and bhakti in music?

Yes of course. Teachers should inculcate these along with the music, just as parents teach devotion to their children. This is as important as providing them with food and other necessities.

What do you feel about introducing complexities in concerts, like singing vivadi scales and complex laya exercises in pallavis?

I believe you should be aware of all the theoretical nuances and laya intricacies so that you can prove yourself if challenged. But otherwise, it is not necessary to indulge in these things, as too much of these complexities will rob the concert of its ranjakatvam, the rakti gunam will be gone. Even Venkatamakhi has acknowledged this. Bliss or ananda can never be achieved if we indulge in such practices. It is, however, good to be able to perform these for the sake of knowledge.

What do you have to say about the December season and its growing  popularity?

It is definitely good for music. More people attend concerts, more students learn – from India and abroad. More and more music festivals are hosted; the Cleveland festival has gained so much in its popularity.

Your tryst with Haridasa compositions?

My employment with AIR gave me the opportunity to come across a lot of these beautiful compositions. I was in service for 32 years. I was inspired to tune them and make them concert items and popularise them.. Their devotional and philosophical content is very deep.

But you seldom sing Tamil compositions even during concerts in Chennai.

“Naanum Tamizh daan ma”. My ancestors were originally from Senkottai in Tanjavur, and they migrated to Karnataka about a thousand years ago. My bani is also predominantly based on the Tanjavur gamaka oriented style. I used to sing a lot of Tamil songs as main items and as tukkadas during my earlier days, but later, people requested for these songs after the main song. I sing a lot of these Devarnamas. I do like a lot of Tamil compositions. Eppo varuvaro is one of my favourites. I have even set a Devarnama to a similar tune in Jonpuri inspired by this song.

What is your advice to young musicians on planning concerts?

It is important to be disciplined. Freedom with restraint is what is required. The concert list has to be prepared at least one week in advance, with variety in composers, ragas, talas and tempo. Also, it is important to have a pleasant rapport with the accompanists and encourage them.  Musicians must maintain a positive outlook even while dealing with some organisers who act petty or do not extend reasonable hospitality. I maintain a gauravam and, without one bit of ego, try to let them know. It is important to maintain a nice attitude. I believe the personality of a musician is reflected in his or her music.

You have won many prestigious awards and titles including the Padma Bhushan for your contribution to music. You are largely responsible for creating a special place for Karnataka in Carnatic music.

I consider the appreciation of vidwans to be the greatest of all awards.  Many great vidwans have appreciated my music; all senior violin and mridanga vidwans have accompanied me in concerts. Once at Bharat Kalachar, after my concert, Umayalpuram Sivaraman spoke about the concert when he said it was his great fortune (bhagyam) to have accompanied me in the concert. I consider it very special and will cherish it forever. I am very fortunate to have such a family. My wife and children have been very cooperative and extended full support to me. I only pray that I keep singing as long as I live.

(Aishwarya Srinivas, a Carnatic vocalist, was RK Srikantan's disciple)

Srikantan is no more

A great voice has been stilled

17 February 2014 

Sangita Kalanidhi RK Srikantan, veteran Carnatic vocalist known for his magnificent voice in a career that spanned over seven decades, passed away at a private hospital in Bangalore today. 

He was 94, and had been performing almost till the very end of his life. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

K. Sai Sankar

Music for Bharatanatyam

By Anjana Anand

If you have visited Kalakshetra to watch any of Rukmini Devi Arundale’s famed dance dramas, you would have heard the melodious and pitch perfect voice of Palghat K. Sai Sankar – a musician who has been teaching music at Kalakshetra for the past 28 years. An uncompromising musician and teacher, Professor Sai Sankar represents a generation of musicians who have remained low profile but dedicated to the musical heritage they have inherited.

Who were your teachers and mentors?

I started my training under S. Krishna Iyer from Palghat. In 1978, after my tenth standard, I joined Kalakshetra and was under vidwans Puducode K. Krishnamurthy, M.D. Ramanathan and Vairamangalam S. Lakshminarayanan.

Please tell us about your training in Kalakshetra.

I was lucky to study in Kalakshetra at a time when the learning was systematic and structured but had the freedom of a gurukulam. We followed the sampradaya very closely. I did my 5-year diploma training followed by two years of post-graduate studies and graduated with a first class.

When did you first sing for Bharatanatyam and who trained you?

In 1979, I sang for my first dance drama in Kalakshetra – Buddha Avataram. I was trained by Kamala Rani teacher. I also sang for Krishnaveni Lakshmanan’s solo programsme for many years. I have sung for Prof. Ambika Buch, Prof. Janardhanan and Prof. Balagopalan over the last two decades.

You have sung in almost all of Rukmini Devi’s dance dramas. Which ones are your favourite?

Without a doubt, the Ramayana series. The opening song Vageesa is my favourite. I like many compositions. An example from Sita Swayamvara is Ravana’s song  in Gambheera Nattai. In Vanagamana, Dasaratha’s song in the raga Chittabramari is beautiful. In Paduka Pattabhisekham, there is a rare raga Gangalahari sung when Guha takes Rama, Sita and Lakshmana across the Ganga.

Was it a conscious decision to sing only for artistes in Kalakshetra?

Not at all.  It just happened that I got involved with work in Kalakshetra and our artistes were performing widely so I got busy. I never had any career plan for myself!

Do you feel it is easy to be both a vocalist for Bharatanatyam and a solo kutcheri performer?

It requires a different mindset. To sing in a kutcheri, you need to spend the time to plan the concert and be in constant practice, as manodharma plays a large role. It is important to be in touch with kalpanaswara singing and niraval so that it flows on stage. As a musician for natya, I need to keep the dancer’s needs in mind and feel comfortable with the dance vocabulary.

What do you feel about the overuse of light ragas in today’s dance repertoire and productions?

That is a trend that must be checked. If it continues, what will happen to the traditional ragas and our music sampradaya? After all, Bharatanatyam grew along with classical music. It is part of the classical natya tradition. It adds depth to a dancer’s performance. What a Sankarabharanam, Kambhoji or Sriranjani can do for the depth of a Bharatanatyam recital cannot be underestimated.

How important is it to plan the sequence of ragas in a Bharatanatyam margam performance?

It is as important as planning the theme or emotion of each piece. Ideally you should have a  repertoire where similar ragas don’t follow each other. For example, plan one raga with a prati-madhyam following a raga with suddha madhamam, as in Sankarabharanam or a raga scale with audava- shadava. This will be pleasing to the ear. The same should be attempted with choice of talas. Having a variety of talas in a programme will add flavour. This planning is of course the same for a kutcheri. In a natya programme, other factors like the emotion of the piece and the situation the dancer is portraying play a part in the choice.

Personally I feel that the main item in a Bharatanatyam repertoire should be in a heavy raga. A raga like Hameerkalyani, for example, as a main piece would not be so effective.

Have you received any awards or prizes for your singing?

I received an award from Krishna Gana Sabha and Natyarangam (Narada Gana Sabha) for best vocalist a few years ago.

Any advice for aspiring vocalists for Bharatanatyam?

My advice is to have sound training in Carnatic music and learn the songs with care. Sometimes learning only from cassettes and bad recordings results in mistakes which get reinforced. Whatever item it is, a padavarnam or javali or padam, musicians should learn it with proper notation first. We can include sangatis after that, but the original composition should be preserved.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Riyaz and Ragas

By V Ramnarayan

The three-day annual ITC-SRA seminar at the Experimental Theatre at the National Centre for Performing Arts at Nariman Point, Mumbai, has become a pilgrimage destination over the last few years.

It presents an opportunity to listen to the accumulated wisdom of many a senior ustad, vidwan and musicologist of varying description, while offering refuge from the daily grind.

If it is a busman’s holiday, I am not complaining, for under the expert stewardship of Arvind Parikh, musician and chairman of ITC-SRA's western India chapter, the seminar manages year after year to throw up topics of considerable discussion and demonstration of musical nuances in painless, often rewarding doses.

This year, the topic was Riyaz in the practice of Hindustani music. On the opening day, Ustad Zakir Hussain, spoke of being woken up as a little boy at 3 in the morning by his father, the great tabla wizard, Allah Rakha, and not understanding the meaning of it all, until years later.

He confessed he was not the most disciplined person when it came to riyaz, but also that he was practising in his mind and in his fingers all his waking hours. Like others that spoke after him, he said imitation, even of your guru, while the best form of flattery, did not make you a musician.

Lifetime achievement awardee Sangita Kalanidhi Umayalpuram Sivaraman endorsed his views on riyaz, stressing the contribution of sadhaka to sadhana.

Vocal maestro Ajoy Chakrabarty recalled with gratitude the contribution of a ‘tyrannical’ father who often threatened to kill him if he did not practise or get it right in practice.

He also gave the audience glimpses of his methods with children at his Shrutinandan, where in addition to his role at ITC-SRA, he designs interesting exercises for his wards to master the fundamentals; his demonstration of his innovative paltas aimed at developing absolute control over swara and swarasthanas took your breath away. He proudly displayed the prowess of two of his disciples who accompanied him on stage all through.

Fellow Bengali and ITC-SRA colleague Buddhadev Dasgupta, the eminent sarodist, did the same with a star pupil, whom he surprised with new swara combinations he composed on the spot for him to replicate on the sarod. 

Both these champion musician-teachers applauded the systematic training methodology of Carnatic music while ruing the lack of it in Hindustani music, but overwhelmed the audience all the same with the brilliance of their own methods of riyaz.

The dhrupad duo of Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha and their gurubhai Uday Bhawalkar came together to take us on a journey of discovery in the rigours of dhrupad training. 

Devotion to the guru was evident in everything each of the ustads said of their own teachers, their deep respect shining through the many recollections of the love (if often tough) and care with which they were taught. 

Invariably, it seemed, the guru was happiest when his shagird excelled him rather than grow up into a carbon copy.

In a session entitled ‘Reviewing the Fundamentals of Hindustani Music’, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, Uday Bhawalkar and the Gundecha Brothers all but agreed that in the midst of our hectic schedules, traffic snarls and the inevitability of concerts being held ‘between 6 and 10 pm,’ it was time to do away with the time-honoured time theory, but who was to bell the cat? 

‘Come to Chennai,’ I tried to tell them. ‘We are not fussy about what raga you sing when. When Hindustani music concerts are rare enough here, how can we otherwise listen to morning and afternoon ragas?’ 

Ananya Ashok

Young voices
(Conversations with emerging artists)

By Sushma Somasekharan

Carnatic vocalist Ananya Ashok is a student of renowned violinist Anuradha Sridhar, who resides in California, U.S.A. Hailing from a musical family, Ananya is also trained in Hindustani music besides being an accomplished vainika. An undergraduate from the University of California, Los Angeles, Ananya has now moved to Chennai to hone her musical skills. She recently spoke to Sruti.

How did you get initiated into Carnatic music? Do you belong to a musical family?

I began learning the veena from LalithaVenkataraman, a former Professor of Veena of Mysore University when I was about ten years old, and continued with Srikanth Chary, who has nurtured me to become the vainika I am today. Seeing my aptitude for vocal music, my parents put me under the tutelage of P.V. Natarajan, father of musician Raji Gopalakrishnan. I was 18 when started learning vocal music from Anuradha Sridhar, who has been my inspiration and guru since then.

Music runs in the family. On my father’s side, both of my grand-uncles K.R. Kumaraswamy and K.R. Kedaranathan were respected music gurus. My father and grandmother are gifted musicians. On my mother’s side, my great grandmother was a direct disciple of Ramalinga Bhagavatar. My life was filled with Carnatic music from childhood — at home, in the car, during trips.
What is the state of your learning now?

My gurus Anuradha Sridhar and Srikanth Chary continue to guide me in vocal and veena respectively. It has been an enriching and rewarding experience. After I finished college, I literally stayed with Anu Aunty for a few years; that she insists on dedication and demands perfection has helped me to shape my musical performance and skills.

What difference do you find between the music scenes in the USA and India?

Whether it is the US or India, it is musically inclined families and parents that try to instil the love for Indian classical music in their children. I find however, that, in the US the number of youngsters attending concerts is larger. Unlike Chennai, where a concert or cultural event is happening somewhere all the time, the opportunities to listen to classical music are far fewer in the US, though in recent years, a growing number of organisations host concerts. As for the level of appreciation, I think people enjoy good soulful music wherever they may be.

Do you think Chennai is the place to be, to be able to pursue music professionally and to become an established name in this industry?

Though it should not be so, Chennai has been accepted as the Kasi of Carnatic music, a place for aspiring Carnatic musicians just like New York is the place for aspiring theatre actors. The opportunities here are boundless as sabhas across Chennai and India hold concerts throughout the year. You can learn so much about Carnatic music by being in Chennai and in the company of the musically enlightened.

However, I think making a name is something very different. Contributing to the field, as I like to say is something that comes from years of searching within. This searching can be done from anywhere. As long as you pursue your art with intelligence and integrity, your work will not go in vain and you will most certainly make a mark, regardless of where you are.

How is your listening experience different between yesteryear and current artists?

We’ve all grown up listening to musicians of the past and present. At some level, we have our preferences and sometimes even get influenced by certain musicians we listen to. Past masters inspire me the most. I believe that their music was at a different level. Most of them never had access to recordings or other tools as we do today. Sheer practice and devotion for music allowed the maestros of that generation to create their own unique styles of singing or playing.

Do you think the focus in our music has shifted over the years?

Many are focused on preserving the Carnatic music tradition. Musicians learning under specific banis are a good example. The accessibility rate of Carnatic music is tremendous in my generation. Musicians are reviving previously presented memorable compositions by presenting them in their concerts and bringing new compositions to light. All of this work is available on the Internet, and there is a never-ending database for music students to work with. I don’t know what the future holds but I see this as an opportunity for people to delve deeper into this art form.

Which is the most memorable recording you’ve heard?

Definitely Lalgudi sir and Srimathi Brahmanandam mami’s Naa jeevadhara. It is a constant reminder about my goal - perfection in the very first shot.

What does Carnatic music mean to you? What about it moves you?

Carnatic music is my jeeva and I cannot choose between the melody and the words. Melody brings tears and lyrics uplift. They are so inseparably intertwined.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Unforgettable laya vinyasam (part I)

By B.S. Purushotham

I believe that dedicated percussion programmes featuring high calibre vidwans are very much needed in the current concert scenario. We have among us many extraordinary percussionists, well equipped to present such ‘special laya vinyasam’ programmes, which can enable them to demonstrate their art to its fullest potential for a duration of 45 minutes or so, something a regular kutcheri cannot offer them.

With this in view, I arranged a programme of two successive expositions of 40 minutes each at Raga Sudha Hall, Mylapore, in memory of my father and guru B. Seetharam and mridanga vidwan Bangalore M.L. Veerabhadraiyya on the afternoon of 25 December, 2013. The first of these featured Anantha R. Krishnan (mridangam) and B. Shreesundarkumar (khanjira), with Abhishek Raghuram providing talam support, and the next one was a rare konnakkol duet by B.R. Somasekhar Jois and R. Karthik, both from Bengaluru.

Many vidwans and rasikas packed the hall that afternoon, despite the hectic schedule of programmes on that prime date of the Chennai music season.

Anantha and Sundarkumar made it an extraordinary laya vinyasam offering with their exceptional percussion performance. Star vocalist Abhishek Raghuram keeping talam on stage for the two percussionists was a pleasant sight. The tala chosen was Adi.

A child prodigy who has gone on to become a world class percussioninst, Anantha started the laya vinyasam with chaturasram and ended the first round with a combination of chaturasram-tisram patterns. The clarity of strokes at every speed, and the nadam, especially of the gumkis he played on the left side of the mridangam, were quite special.

Both of them played short, crisp rounds of superior quality, leading to high listening pleasure, for lay listeners, knowledgeable rasikas and musicians, including laya vidwans. All through the concert, spontaneous ‘baley’ and ‘sabhash’ filled the near-full auditorium whenever they played an excellent sollu or korvai or any interesting patterns.

Introducing the artists, I had said that Shreesundarkumar was one of the best khanjira vidwans in the music field today. He can replicate with one hand anything that two-handed percussionist plays, at any speed, with amazing clarity.

Anantha’s sankeernam (9 beats) in the second round was stunning and Sundarkumar’s vinyasam of sankeernam took the playing to great heights. Both played many tavil patterns, which made their tani even more interesting.

The most captivating portion was the ‘kuraippu’. At the very start Anantha had stated that the duo would focus specially on kuraippu. Their brilliant playing in tisra nadai featured a classic exchange of volleys as the laya vinyasam reached a crescendo of ideas. It was a joy to listen to them play, with each at his creative best.

The energy of their playing was transmitted so totally to the listeners that by the time they played the final mohra and korvai, the whole audience seemed convinced that they were listening to one of the best displays of laya vinyasam. The applause went on for several minutes after the conclusion of the duo’s spectacular demonstration of percussive excellence. It had been a breathtaking performance.

I shall share with readers the experience of the konnakol duet that followed in the next issue of Sruti.

(The author is a well known khanjira artist)

Sapna Krishnakumar's arangetram

By a reporter

Young schoolgirl Sapna Krishnakumar, a disciple of Revathi Ramachandran, gave a delightful performance on her bharat natya arangetram on 9 November 2013.

To watch the arangetram, go to

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Karnatic Music Forum-Sruti Lec-Dem Mela – Part II

By VV Chellappa

In my last blog entry, I referred to the earlier work done by Karnatic Music Forum in archiving the traditions of Karnatic Music for use by future generations. Before I launch into the various lec-dems, I want to touch briefly upon the contributions of Sruti magazine also.

Sruti was founded some 35 years ago as a magazine for the classical arts of India. In these years, Sruti has captured not just the art scene of India contemporaneously as it happens but has taken upon itself the ambitious task of documenting the life history of India’s greatest artists; it has succeeded admirably in its efforts and the special numbers it has produced on various artists are collector’s items now.  

It is then no surprise that Sruti’s collaboration with Karnatic Music Forum has resulted in a very special series of lec-dems that illuminate for the current generation the nuances of the topics discussed while serving as a rich source of research material for future art historians and students.

The first lec-dem was called A Samarpanam to Lalgudi Sri Jayaraman. The panel was composed of two persons who had very close association with Lalgudi: SP Ramh, a long-time student, and the aesthete Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, a close collaborator.

Ramh recalled that he joined as a student under Lalgudi at the age of 17 and the association lasted 25 years  and more. He described how from the very first lesson, Lalgudi was trying to impart to him the qualities needed to become a successful public performer. He taught him how to sing swaras—sarvalaghu swaras, swaras with poruttam, kanakku swaras, and in doing all that, removed Ramh’s fear of manodharma music.  This was a conscious effort to mould Ramh into a stage-worthy concert musician. Lalgudi did all this without accepting any fee whatsoever. He was available at all times of the day, even when it might have been his resting time. Ramh had no doubt that this was an attempt to pass on the knowledge Lalgudi had without holding anything back.

In addition to music, Ramh said he learnt very valuable life lessons from his guru: how to deal with people, with praise or criticism, moulding him not just into a musician but a person who is comfortable within his own space in the highly-charged art scene.

Lalgudi had Ramh by his side while composing new varnams, tillanas and kritis, while creating varnamettu for kritis which existed only as lyrics on manuscript, and while composing the opera Jaya Jaya Devi. All of this reinforced the music lessons he had already had and opened new vistas for him.

Lalgudi taught him how to alternately sing in a deep-throated voice and a nasal voice so that the music was not stale.  Ramh demonstrated this by singing a few lines.

Lalgudi also taught him how to bring out the bhava of a song. Taking the line Thayirangavidil seyuyirvazhumo from the kriti Nee Irangayenil pugal edu, Ramh demonstrated how different inflections can be used to make that a question, a plea, and so on.

Prodded by Sujatha Vijayaraghavan he sang the word Vanduruvagi (this is the scene where Bhringi Maharishi says he would take the form of an insect and circumambulate just Siva but not Parvati – from the opera Jaya Jaya Devi) with a dozen different sangatis which brought before our eyes the flight of an insect.

Sujatha Vijayaraghavan then recalled an incident when Lalgudi sensed her discomfort and changed his music. Parvati chooses a path of severe penance to attain Siva as her husband; this song starts off as Tavam seigiral and Lalgudi had composed music for the line. Sujatha had the feeling that it wasn’t quite right but couldn’t immediately put her finger on it. As she went back home, she remembered that the lyric should have been Tavam seigirale. That would indicate the apprehension, the fear, the pride and other emotions felt by Parvati’s parents. When she asked Ramh to check the original composition, she was indeed correct in how the line had been written. When she met Lalgudi the next day, a surprise awaited her. The new sangatis employed for the line brought out all these emotions and provided ample opportunity for the dancers to exhibit their craft.

Sujatha Vijayaraghavan then related an incident that followed a dance performance by her daughter which Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer attended. dance to Lalgudi’s tillana in the raga Mand. When Sujatha visited Semmangudi some time later along with her daughters at his residence, he asked for the Mand tillana to be sung. He said he could listen to it all day long.  

Astounded that a musician whose life had centered around major ragas like Todi and Kalyani found the raga Mand to be so engaging she realised the impact of the creative genius of Lalgudi. With Semmangudi’s permission, she conveyed his message of appreciation to Lalgudi.

Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi spoke briefly at the end of the lec-dem. She said that she learnt quite a few new things about her father from the lec-dem and would be happy to listen to an all-day lecture!

Those interested may go to www.parivadini.in to listen to the complete 90-minute lec-dem.