Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Once in a century

By Bala Shankar

We cannot measure brand ‘MS’ in dollars and cents. As pace gathers with the celebration of MS’s centenary in India and many world centres, we need a moment to reflect on how truly are her music and life commemorated, befitting the ‘Ratna’ we are proud of. 

There are M S Subbulakshmi festivals, special concerts, special lec-dems, exhibitions, new audio releases and even art competition for kids. The music community has vied amongst themselves to ensure that the MS brand is prominently featured in all that is done this year. Concert ticket prices are up. Musicians sing or play her popular songs in their concerts. ‘Sankaracharyam’, ‘rama nannu brovara’, ‘sirai aarum madakkiliye’, ‘Sreeman narayana’ and ‘Sabapathikku veru deivam’ are all essential items in concert menus for this year. Even the MS blue’ (saree) is back on stage. ‘Kurai onrum illai’ has a unique distinction. It is probably being sung by the most number of artistes, in the most varied shades from a ‘near identical’ reproduction to a disheveled object. In between, a lot of manodharma ‘intrudes’ into what is essentially a heart-felt thanking message to Lord Krishna. One is not sure if so much liberty is available in Rabindra Sangeet, which is still sung with the same spirit and style, as were conceived by Nobel laureate Tagore and his group. 

Musicians have taken the imitation to a new level. You probably are listening to the long sustains in the tara stayi gandharam of Sankarabharanam or the Nishadam of Kalyani being ‘attempted’ by many artistes, to create the same effect. ‘Giridhara gopala’ finishes always with the ‘bala’ crescendo, in anticipation of the same applause that MS routinely got.  

Do we have the correct interpretation of the MS brand? Is it just some trademark songs (and sangathis) sung in a particular style? Is it merely a unique sound? Is it just posters with large photogenic MS face shots? Carnatic music has a body and a soul. The MS centenary has probably focused disproportionately on the body rather than the soul - the soul of her music and even the soul of her ‘life’. MS stood for several musical and human values. Her perfect pitch, diction across languages, mastery of the madhyama kala tempo, proportionate raga alapanas and swarams, large repertoire (which kept growing), keeping to the overall Carnatic flavour, pleasing and convincing brigas, emphasis on good kriti rendition (the mooladhara of our music), fidelity to the paddathi, absolute melody, bradmanesque average rating for each concert, excellent voice control (she felt under-appreciated for her ‘sadhakam’, as it was often passed off as god’s gift), the ability to reach the listener’s soul, minimum body or hand gestures and a good sense for balance between artiste’s talent and audience tastes are among the several musical idioms of MS. A good way to pay her tribute would be to follow these pearls of excellence. Should imitation be the route? Artistes do not seek fame by re-drawing Da vinci’s ‘Last Supper’. 

The brand MS, of course, goes beyond her music. She symbolized deep respect, devotion, humility, contentment, soft-spoken manners, brevity of utterances, endearment to kings and commoners alike, simple minimalistic lifestyle, sense of gratitude rather than sense of entitlement, piety, aptitude to learning, devotion to the spouse and family, detachment from money and sincerity of purpose. There seemed to be an arc of perfection and unison in these traits. She attained glory playing these cards everytime and reminding everyone that such virtues are possible to be practised in daily life, notwithstanding one’s colossal talents and fame. Her whole story is an open book and all these are well known. There is even a MS-katha by the versatile Revathy Sankaran. Was MS a one-of-a-kind human being among musicians? Could others emulate slices of it, if not the whole gamut? The youngsters would do well to study the ‘MS’ brand more thoroughly and to imbibe those brand qualities, not just for some time, but through their whole life. MS may have been truly a once-in-a-century phenomenon, but the next century beckons the next aspirant, for she has shown the way. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Svanubhava 2016 – Schedule

Svanubhava 2016 – Schedule
Venue: Rukmini Arangam, Kalakshetra

Monday, August 22nd
9.00am – Inauguration by Suguna Varadachari with N. Murali (President, Music Academy) & Priyadarshini Govind (Director, Kalakshetra)
9.15am – Mohiniattam by Dr. Neena Prasad
10.15am – Carnatic Vocal by Suguna Varadachari (vocal), R. Hemalatha (violin) & B. Ganapathyraman (mrdangam)
12.15pm – Performance by the students of Kalakshetra
1.30pm – Paraiattam by Friends Kalai Kuzhu

Tuesday, August 23rd
Special Guest – N. Gopalaswami (Chairman, Kalakshetra)
9.00am – Musical Play by Gowri Ramnarayan with Sujit, M. Vijay, K.H. Vineeth, V. Sai Subramanaiam
10.30am – Bharatanatyam by Meenakshi Srinivasan
12.30pm – Namasankirtanam by Udayalur Kalyanaraman
1.30pm – Nagaswaram by Mambalam M.K.S. Siva

Wednesday, August 24th
9.00am – Hindustani Vocal by Arun Kashalkar
10.30am – Tamil Play by Chennai Kalaikuzhu – Payanam, directed by Pralayan
12.30pm – A brief insight into the documentary ‘Yaadhum’ – a film about Tamil Muslim history & identity along with commentary by filmmaker Kombai S. Anwar followed by Tamil Sufi Music by 

The Nagore Sufi Trio
1.45pm – Tala Vadyam by N.C. Bharadwaj (mrdangam), S. Swaminathan (khanjira), S. Sunil Kumar (Tavil), S. Krishna (ghatam)
7.00pm – Concert by N. Ravikiran (chitraveena), Nagai R. Sriram (violin), Neyveli R. Narayanan (mrdangam), K.V. Gopalakrishnan (khanjira)

Evening Workshops (Starting at 4pm, entry by registration only)
Music Workshop by N. Vijay Siva | Dance Workshop by Bragha Bessel | ‘Does Art Unlock the doors to Learning?’ – A hands-on workshop on art and creativity in education by Ms. Prema Rangachary and faculty from VidyaVanam, Anaikatti (A school for underprivileged and tribal children)

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Monday, 22 August 2016

On Inclusive Music

By P.K. Doraiswamy

There was a panel discussion at the Chennai International Centre on "inclusive music'', the panel consisting of Gopalkrishna Gandhi and T.M. Krishna. The discussion was quite topical because it was for his efforts at making Carnatic music more inclusive that Krishna is supposed to have received the Magsaysay Award. The discussion was too wide-ranging and somewhat difficult to summarise, but I would like to examine some points which came up during the discussion.

Any talk about inclusiveness implies the presence of certain exclusiveness. If so, what does Carnatic music exclude at present? Does exclusiveness refer to the content of the music (musicological and lyrical), its genre, or the structure and policies of the music organisation

If exclusiveness is unjustly discriminatory, it, of course, needs to be straightaway condemned and, if possible, eliminated. Classicality implies adhering to certain rules and this automatically involves a certain exclusivity. If exclusiveness is based on essential quality criteria substantive to the activity in question, then it is something not to be diluted if quality and the essential nature of the activity are to be preserved. (The selection of Gandhi and Krishna as panelists automatically excludes others on merit!).

Exclusiveness essentially means restricting access. So where it is unjustified, the need is to improve the access to the activity without diluting quality-based exclusiveness. Again, access to whom or what? In music, it could be access to certain sections of society, certain genres of music or certain languages or dialects.

Whom does Carnatic music exclude at present? It is a matter of reality that the Carnatic music scene today is dominated by a certain community. The exclusion of other communities is not total but significant. Whether this is due to socio-cultural factors or a conscious, conspiratorial exclusion of certain sections of society by the dominant community is difficult to prove one way or the other. If the quality of music is the only criterion being observed fairly and impartially and this results in dominance by one community, then the phenomenon is due to socio-cultural factors and not any mala fides on the part of the dominant community.

One way to set this right is to try and attract children of other communities to Carnatic music by creating easy and widespread access to it and hoping that in due course a sufficient number of them would come to the top. The other way is to follow the reservation model as in government – a certain number of musicians from other communities are deliberately pushed up into the organising and performing slots along with musicians from the dominant community without being too squeamish about quality. Most will agree that this remedy is worse than the disease.

Are languages other than Telugu and Sanskrit, and dialects in vogue being excluded in Carnatic music? Historically, a lyrical foundation of such high musical quality has been laid in Carnatic music by the Trinity in Telugu and Sanskrit that its place would remain unshakeable whatever other languages are now brought in. Quite a few beautiful Tamil and secular compositions do exist even now, but they can only supplement and not supplant those of the Trinity. What about dialects being used to compose Carnatic music? While they can, in theory, be included to compose, most will agree that they are unlikely to enhance the beauty of the compositions. (I wonder how many will think that a composition in Madras bhashai will truly enhance the aesthetics of Carnatic music). Even in communities where folk songs are being sung in local dialects, they are enjoyed more because of the meaning of the song than the beauty of the lyric.

Is inclusiveness more important than the quality and character of music? Carnatic music, as a genre, has certain traditional, well-established distinguishing qualities. Should these be changed just to appear to be more inclusive? Should we introduce some elements of folk songs just to make Carnatic music appear more inclusive? Other genres and dialects can surely be encouraged independently without using Carnatic music as a peg or a platform. It is only when exclusion is unjust and not merit-based that we should talk of inclusiveness.

Krishna mentioned an incident in which a rasika in the audience who was smoking a beedi asked him to sing Kambhoji and said that this made his audience more inclusive. I do not know whether Krishna would have considered the audience even more inclusive if another rasika sipping whiskey had asked him to sing Kalyani!

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Thursday, 18 August 2016


Not welcome

Anonymous comments are not welcome on this blog and will not be published. W erelaxed the rule some time ago and allowed some anonymous comments if they were in praise of an artist or writer and had something worthwhile to say. We have revised this policy now and insist on a credible author name to be attached to every comment.

Sruti Editorial Team

Shreya Devnath

Young voices
(Conversations with emerging artists)

By Sushma Somasekharan

“I have always been crazy about music. I grew up listening to my mother sing and I loved what I heard, even though I had no idea what it was. I remember driving my elder sister crazy by continuously reproducing a particular whining hum that our old HP Deskjet printer made. I could not help it. Everything was musical and interesting to me.’’ 

Young violinist Shreya Devnath is determined to be the best she can be and loves to constantly pursue creative projects. 

She spoke to Sruti recently. 

Yours seems to been an extremely  happy musical upbringing.

My first exposure to Carnatic music was listening to my mother sing at home. I remember telling her I wanted to sing like her. She took me to her teacher Bombay Sri Ramachandran. I learnt vocal music from him for about three years. Unfortunately, I developed some problems with my vocal chords and was unable to sing anymore. This disappointed me greatly as I loved to sing. Though we consulted several doctors and therapists, the problem was never properly diagnosed. Upon seeing how upset I was, my mother decided to make me pick up an instrument instead. It was Smt Sulochana Pattabhiraman, with whom she shared a special relationship, who advised my mother to take me to Lalgudi Jayaraman sir. 

I started learning violin at the age of 11. Lalgudi sir initially had Smt Padma Shankar teach me some basic fingering, under his direct supervision. In fact, I was her first student. He would have regular sessions with us every couple of months when he assessed my progress, suggested to her what I should be learning next, and so on. This routine continued for about a year, before he took me in for direct lessons with him. 

What was it like learning from a genius like Lalgudi sir? 

Learning from Sir was much more than just going twice a week for music classes. He revealed a magical world of music to me. He was able to see the passion I had for music, even as an eleven year old, and built that passion up in exponential degrees. He was strict and uncompromising, expecting 120% out of me all the time, but never discouraging. 

Many a time, it seemed that when I did well, he was happier about it than even I was, and when I failed to perform, his dejection and disappointment would be so intense, it would really scare and shame me, much more than any anger he ever showed me. At the same time, he ensured that my eleven year old self never started drifting. 

He saw my affinity for mathematics and problem solving and so he and I would exchange puzzles all the time. He would give me one, and if I was able to solve it, I got to quiz him one too. As I grew up, he seamlessly shifted his approach to guide me into a more serious, intense pursuit of music. He encouraged me to think about things from various points of view and see music as a living, breathing, composite entity, where melody, rhythm, thought, word and emotion, all come together bound by aesthetics and beauty. 

What advice of your guru's would you like to share with us? 

He always insisted that everything we sang or played should be of a certain standard. There should be some reason, purpose and context, He said we could never accept mediocrity in the name of spontaneity. ''Do not play something, simply because it struck you at the moment. Think. Does it have a meaning in that place? Is it aesthetic? Does it add effectively to what you’re trying to say? You should give a lot of thought into every note you play.’’

Describe your schedule in music.

I started off by playing just solo. Gradually, I started playing accompaniment as well. Now, there is a healthy mix of both with an even balance. I also play collaborative instrumental duets, with other instrumentalists (violin-flute, violin-chitravina, etc). In addition, I had the wonderful opportunity to be part of a musical production, Born to Sing, directed by Dr Gowri Ramnarayan, which toured the US earlier this year. 

I am, slowly and cautiously, reviving my singing as well. I have started singing for dance productions, most recently with renowned dancers Smt Urmila Sathyanarayanan and Smt Srekala Bharath. I was told, on different occasions, that it was not a wise move. However, I find the creative process in trying to produce jointly a common vision through the aural and visual media, tremendously exciting. The synergy in trying to communicate a cohesive idea through my creativity and skills, while simultaneously fusing it with the visual interpretations of the dancer is fascinating to me. When I resumed singing, I wanted to try something different, gain a different perspective of the art form. I decided to try it and I have loved every moment of it so far. 

In addition to performing in different capacities, I love to teach, whether violin or vocal. I handle workshops for different institutions. I also curate different music related projects and initiatives. Basically, anything that I find intriguing and challenging, that I might learn from, I do. Music has never been just about a career with a vertical progression for me. It is a journey that I am so very happy to go along and see where it takes me. 

How has knowing vocal music helped your violin? 

In this school of music, there is no violin without vocal music. Hence, it is inconceivable for me to separate the two and distinguish how one helps the other. One is part of the other. They are different expressions of the same values and content. That is not to say, I sing exactly what I play or vice versa. Each form of expression has its own aesthetics and dynamics. When I play one of my Guru's varnams in my concert, I play it in a particular way. However, when I sing the same varnam in a dance production, everything from the approach, to the tempo, to the way it is vocalised, is different. But both influence each other in many ways. 

It is fascinating to see the similarities and the differences. In my opinion, it is absolutely essential to know vocal music before playing an instrument. Our music is not written specifically for different instruments, unlike in the Western music system. Carnatic music is essentially vocal music which is being interpreted through different instruments. Not knowing how it is sung, not looking into the vocal medium to see its melodic form, rhythmic intricacies, and sahityam before attempting to play it is probably akin to trying to translate a piece of literature before looking at it in its original form, context and language.   

While growing up, what were you most afraid of? 

My Guru always held that there is no room for fear. He would say, ‘’Welcome challenges and meet them’’. Hence, I have never particularly been afraid of anything. If something is a challenge, I do my best to step up and deliver. I strongly believe that there is no shame in falling. But what is most important is that you have to get up, every single time. Try harder and do better next time. 

As a music student, I am constantly facing new challenges, finding myself short, and trying to rectify that. Doing that without losing confidence and focus is what I’m always trying to do. Faltering in that path in any way is probably the only thing to be afraid of.

Carnatic music is a competitive field. There are so many talented musicians, vying with one another. Despite the hardship, what makes this journey worth it for you? 

I agree that it is a tough industry. And that there are definitely many tremendously capable and talented musicians. However, I am not here to compete with anyone. In art, there is space for everyone. I am here because there is nowhere else I would rather be. I am obsessed with music, my violin, my singing, my Guru and I want to be in this for as long as I can. Yes, once you start performing, commercial success and vertical progression are seen as hugely important factors, and they are to a certain extent. 

Every performer needs a stage and an audience – it is a source of encouragement and affirmation for the performer. I’m very grateful for each opportunity that comes my way. On my part, I try my best to establish a connection with my audience, as that is what I am here to do, as a performer. When that happens, the audience and I travel together and that moment makes everything worth it. 

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Melbourne Trinity Festival 2016

Group rendering of the Pancharatna kritis
The Academy of Indian Music Australia and Sruthi Laya Kendra celebrated the 30th edition of the annual Melbourne Trinity Festival – dedicated to the trinity of Carnatic music – Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastry – from 27 to 29 May, at Kel Watson Theatre, Forrest Hill College in Melbourne.

Over the years, the Melbourne Trinity Festival has evolved into a space shared in equal measure by talented young artists as well as renowned senior musicians. Much appreciated by all were the mini-kutcheris (lasting about 20 to 25 minutes) by young musicians from the Carnatic music community of Melbourne. The group rendering of Tyagaraja’s Pancharatna kritis by an ensemble of over 30 vocalists, violinists, vainikas and percussionists on the morning of Day 2 was another highlight of the three-day festival. Performances by an array of international artists, including vocalist Bhushani Kalyanaraman from India, vocalist Prof. S. Venkateswaran from Malaysia and vainika Emani Kalyani Lakshminarayan, added distinction to the festival. Yamini Ramesh and Arushi Ramesh, the mother-daughter violinist duo from New Zealand, showcased the Lalgudi bani with finesse and passion.

Melbourne is home to as many as 15 highly accomplished Carnatic musicians originally from India, Sri Lanka and the UK. This year’s edition of the Melbourne Trinity Festival was made possible by the unstinting efforts of Vasumathi Subramanian, Ravi M. Ravichandhira, Narmatha Ravichandhira, Iyer brothers (Ramnath and Gopinath), Jayshree Ramachandran, Adrian Sherriff, Balasri Rasiah, Shobha Sekhar, Murali Kumar, Ahilan Sivanadan, Uthra Vijay and Sundari Saripalle. The active involvement of youth volunteers in the administrative tasks – from stage management to managing marketing and box office – was another noteworthy feature. Narayanan Ramakrishnan, Pallavi Susarla, Athavan Wijeyamanoharan and Prashanthi Sivakumar deserve kudos for their able management of the festival.

In his speech, guest of honour Robin Scott MP, Minister for Finance and Multicultural Affairs, remarked on the great sophistication of Carnatic music and its contribution to the cultural fabric of Australia. He also gave away mementos to senior visiting artists, audio technical director Charles Walker and Jayshree Ramachandran who co-ordinated the congregational singing this year. Other prominent dignitaries present included Anna Burke MP, former Speaker of the Commonwealth Parliament and Member for Chisholm; Stefanie Perri, new Labor Candidate for Chisholm; Chidambaram Srinivasan, Commissioner, Victorian Multicultural Commission; and Abeselom Nega, Chief Executive Officer, iEmpower. Srinivasan stressed upon the importance of integration of music in all dance forms and requested dance educators of Melbourne to incorporate the mass choir/ensemble session of the festival into their teaching curriculum.

Ravi M. Ravichandhira and Narmatha Ravichandhira, Artistic Directors of the Festival, said that the Trinity Festival was recognised as an integral part of Melbourne’s cultural calendar by leaders in government, arts organisations and the wider community. “This event has grown over the last 30 years to become one of the largest festivals outside of India in celebration of the Trinity’s contribution to Carnatic music,” Ravichandhira said. “Melbournians are known for their love of all music and this event is a great opportunity to experience the richness and diversity of one of the world’s oldest classical art forms.”


Monday, 8 August 2016

Sangeetha Choodamani award

By Samudri

Umayalpuram K.Sivaraman conferring the title 'Sangeetha Choodamani'  on mridanga vidwan Thiruvaarur Bakthavathsalam during the inaugural function of the 61st Gokulashtami Sangeetha Utsavam  on 6 August at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. Venkatesh, grandson of B. Krishnamoorthi received  on behalf of B. Krishnamoorthi, the 'Aacharya Choodamani' award as R. Seshasayee, Chairman, Infosys and Indusind Bank, Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, Cleveland V.V. Sundaram, Y. Prabhu, Nandini Ramani and R. Venkateswaran look on.

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Second thoughts

By R Narasimhan

As soon as I heard the announcement of the award of Magsaysay for the young Karnatic musician I was elated and sent him a congratulatory message. On second thoughts, however, I began feeling that it was not so well deserved. He has not achieved nor contributed so much. He wrote a couple of good books and wrote in the media condemning Hindutva people while reverentially appealing to Muslim zealots. And took baby steps to make K-music inclusive by taking to the non-traditional audiences. There is resentment among these people that their settlements are not slums but fishing villages, with their own cultural traditions. It is just a recognition of an effort, rather than achievement, just like the awarding of Nobel Peace Prizes.

Listen to Krishna's voice

By Rajeshwari Ganesan

On Wednesday (July 27), I woke up to the news of 2016 Ramon Magsaysay awards being conferred on two Indians — anti-scavenging activist Bezwada Wilson and TM Krishna.

I was ecstatic like many other fans who have adored his music and his views (albeit a little critical of the latter). I mean, a Carnatic musician, for the first time since MS Subbulakshmi, is being conferred the prestigious award and it is Krishna! Who would not be ecstatic?

I was woefully wrong. Almost as soon as the news came in, the views on why he does not deserve the award started pouring.

I come from a family and have a circle of friends, mentors and well-wishers who have always resorted to jocularly chiding Krishna (for his music and his views) in my presence just to get me all riled up. My answer to them: The man has a view. He chooses to stand by it despite all the naysayers. The man has ploughed on and never chose to muffle his voice because it fell loud and harsh on the delicately sophisticated ears of the fraternity. His views appeal to the Magsaysay board of trustees. Are we going to oppose the award to him just because his views are different from many of ours? How, then, are we any different from Hitler or Mussolini or the right-winged fringes who find the most base reasons to attack those who do not conform to their views? Are we so vehemently opposing the man every time (with pointless and below-the-belt jibes starting with his ear-studs, his spectacles, his manodharma, and of late, even his voice) just because he opposes everything that we have built our secure fiefdom upon? Because he threatens to shake and question the very core on which we sit cosily, much like the ostrich that has buried its head in the sand? Because he stands to question the sampradayam and the systems that we follow like myrmidons? Or is it because the man chose to be all-inclusive in his approach of Carnatic music that we consider to be exclusive to us? I agree that Krishna is not the first musician who has taken the Carnatic notes to the slums, but he is definitely one of those who have had the strongest impact. And he deserves to be acknowledged and appreciated for that.

I recently read writer Jeyamohan’s blog in which he attacks Krishna thus: “He only yells louder than the others, so he received an award.” I am reminded of the famous dialogue from the film The King's Speech in which Geoffrey Rush playing the speech therapist Lionel Logue eggs his patient on saying, “Why should I waste my time listening to you?” and in a classic moment, Colin Firth, playing the patient, King George VI, retorts, “Because I have a right to be heard! I have a voice!”

Krishna has a voice, and a golden one at that. He chooses to assert his right to be heard. And for those of us who still are looking for reasons to oppose the award to him, I can only think of the crab-analogy elucidated beautifully by Rajinikanth in Kabali. Let us please not be crabs anymore.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

DKP's special RTP for my dance

The detailed essay by Poorna Vaidyanathan on one of the most outstanding Carnatic vidushis, D.K. Pattammmal – her rare manodharma and also how she successfully broke the barriers of the male dominated rendering  of ragam-tanam-pallavi – was indeed praiseworthy.

I had the wonderful opportunity to discuss and learn a ragam-tanam-pallavi from her, to be able to adapt the same format to my Bharatanatyam dance form for the first time. (I was an ardent devotee and a humble sishya of  D.K. Pattammal who was more than a mother to me (I used to call her Amma). She  got interested when I told her that it was a thematic concept based on Srimad Bhagavatam. I requested her to compose the music for Sri Krishna Jananam  – the title of the theme.

The raga alapana was to be sung in the pattern of a sloka with sahitya in ragamalika, explaining the advent of Krishna. Amma smiled with approval. For the tanam in which I wanted to express Vasudeva’s astonishment on seeing the Lord’s Visvaroopam, she suggested that I set it in raga Nata and also encouraged me to work on the talamalika segment. 

Only Amma could guide me in faithfully following the pallavi format with no element of ambiguity. She was patience personified; she listened to all that I said, smiled and asked me what particular raga and tala would I prefer? Promptly I replied “Kharaharapriya and Khanda Triputa tala”. She nodded approvingly and wanted the verses from Srimad Bhagavatam to set the music for the raga. Amma liked the pallavi verse “Go dhooli dhusarita komala kuntalaagram? Govardhanodharana keli krita prayaasam”, and said she would happily compose the music for my ambitious project.

Within a couple of days, she called me home to listen to what she had composed. She had set five different verses in five different ragas, I was dumbfounded. They merged so well with the sahitya and mood.  “Now do you want to hear the pallavi?” she asked. I could have shouted in joy as I was waiting for just that.

Amma began to sing the first verse “Go dhooli....” in Kharaharapriya raga, khanda Triputa tala. It was mesmerising listening to “Pallavi Pattammal”!   She sang the pallavi niraval  to accommodate my sanchari bhava  – then pallavi trikalam (in three speeds), followed by pallavi swaras (in vilamba and madhyama speeds). Amma asked me naughtily,  “Did you like it or would you like me to change anything?”  I was too awestruck for words, it was just perfect.

Amma told me that I should now set the adavu korvais – movements, wherever required. Once I was ready, she wanted to see the progress. It was an emotional moment. With tears in my eyes, I was thankful and fell at her feet. She blessed me profusely. I reached home and started working on it right away, getting my musicians prepared. My first presentation of Sri Krishna Jananam based on the ragam-tanam-pallavi had DKP Amma and Mama to applaud me. What more could I have asked for!

Dr. Vyjayantimala Bali

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Vellore Ramabhadran - Buy Now

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Chandrasekhara Sharma

Young voices
(Conversations with emerging artists)

By Sushma Somasekharan

With his illustrious lineage, it was inevitable that Chandrasekara Sharma would take to the ghatam as his calling with passion. His career choice will not surprise anyone who knows that he grew up with his uncles, the legendary ghatam maestros T.H. 'Vikku' Vinayakram and T.H. Subash Chandran.

Speaking of his earliest memories, he fondly recalls sitting on stage at the tender age of four and listening to his eldest uncle Vinayakram live. Chandru may be just 25 now, but his musical aesthetics and depth of knowledge speak of years of experience.

Excerpts from a recent conversation with him:

When did you start learning the ghatam?

I was very young. My uncle Sri T.H. Subash Chandran. has been my first and only guru, As I was always surrounded by music from the time I was born, it is hard for me to recall when my learning truly started. I do not know if there has ever been a time when the ghatam was not part of my life.

With such an early introduction to the ghatam, your first stage performance must have been when you were still a child.

My first stage performance was curated by Srimati Sulochana Pattabiraman for the Pancharatnam group. It was an unforgettable learning experience not just for me, but also for many other young musicians including vocalists Rithvik Raja and Dharini Kalyanaraman, violinist Parur M S Ananthakrishnan and many more.

What do you consider unique about the ghatam?

The uniqueness of the ghatam lies in its original and earthy sound. The value that a perfectly tuned ghatam adds to music cannot be explained in words; you have to experience that bliss. The subtle intricacies behind playing the ghatam are often not known to the audience. I believe the ghatam can enhance the quality of a concert severalfold. I hope for the audience to understand that the ghatam is not just an instrument on the side, but adds equal value to a concert just as much as the other instruments on stage do.

We hear that concerts are not always serious affairs and that there are many funny incidents.

I absolutely enjoy travelling and performing with my fellow musicians, because, like you mentioned, concerts need not always be serious affairs. We enjoy lighthearted moments during our travels, recordings and even on stage. 

The first time I played for the TV channel, Doordarshan, my friends and I were recording for Sulochana Pattabiraman’s Pinchurathnangalin Pancharatnam. The shooting went on till late at night and as we had expected the shooting to end earlier, we had not packed proper food with us. We were given biscuits to eat during the breaks. I was really hungry and started eating them without realizing that the break was over. The recording had resumed, but it was not until the telecast of the programme that I realised that it looked like I was eating the biscuits from my ghatam pot! Everyone who noticed it had a good laugh. Much to my embarrassment, there were several repeat telecasts of that programme!

How have your co-artists helped your pursuit in music?

When all of us were younger, we would often get together and practise. The practice sessions would be in one of our houses and this would strictly be followed by breakfast at Saravana Bhavan. The frequency of our practice sessions has reduced due to our busy schedules, but fret not, we still meet for breakfast! Jokes aside, many of us are now busy with various music projects, tours and concerts, all of which are a result of our long practice sessions during our younger days. We still make it a point to meet and practise whenever our schedules coincide now.

What I love the most about our sessions is that we are not vocalists, violinists, mridangam artists, ghatam artists, or khanjira artists when we meet. We are just friends who are passionate about the same pursuit and dream – music. We love sharing our views, our opinions, our music and I think this understanding continues to inspire us. We do not compete against each other; our only desire is to help each other move forward.

You grew up in a musical family – was that something that inspired you or did it scare you that you had such a huge responsibility to bear?

Growing up amongst such eminent artists was definitely inspiring and motivating. My grandfather was Sri T.R. Harihara Sharma, a renowned moharsing artist. My father is Sri T.H. Gurumurthy, a really well-accomplished violinist. My brother is Sri G Harihara Shama, a khanjira artiste. I had something to learn from every one of them and my uncles, the ghatam maestros Sri Vinayakram and Sri Subash Chandran, and I am indebted to them for all the love and knowledge they have so generously showered on me. Their faith in me instilled the confidence to shape me into the artist that I am today. I understand that I have a huge responsibility of passing this great musical legacy on to the next generation and I will definitely give it my best to achieve it.

If you could switch to playing any other instrument for a day, what would be your pick?

Well, I enjoy singing – I derive great satisfaction and happiness from it. However, I am completely enamoured by my instrument, the ghatam, and I would not want to switch that for anything. I find music, joy, solace and my identity in my instrument. It is my musical voice. 

(Sushma Somasekharan is a young Carnatic vocalist)

Birthdays & Anniversaries

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Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Krishna and the Magsaysay award

Winning awards and winning hearts could be two different things

By Bala Shankar

TM Krishna has won many new friends and lost many old ones in the past couple of years. His recent Magsaysay (Emergent) award has stirred a hornet’s nest for more than one reason. The accolade has been drowned in questions. What kind of an award is this? What is the body of work that has led to TMK getting it? What are the underlying messages one gets from this award? Does Krishna deem it a significant step in his ‘crusade’ (which is also a part of the debate)? Where does he go from here?

The wide acknowledgement and appreciation of his musical prowess is now inextricably woven with the ‘caste in Carnatic music’ drumbeat that has echoed stridently in the last few years. We owe it to him and to the award givers to judge the situation impartially.
The award says, ”for social inclusiveness in culture”.

The topic therefore is social. Krishna’s tirade is about unjust exclusion of non-Brahmin stakeholders from Carnatic music and his pungent writings are seen as a sufficient endeavour towards obtaining justice. We analyse two things: Is there injustice of any kind and have Krishna’s efforts reached any milestone?

Carnatic music has always been a ‘niche’ art. Neyveli Santhanagopalan used the term ‘cottage industry’ during a conversation. All niche sectors are the exclusive territory of a few and leave out large sections of people. Car racing, rangoli, molecular genetics and Renaissance painting are all in the same league. There are passionate insiders and completely uninterested outsiders. Even in Carnatic music, this is the case (the caste angle notwithstanding). There should however be no discrimination of any kind for or against people who want to take to it. And I think there is none. Do teachers turn away students if they are not Brahmins? Do sabhas look unkindly to a non-brahmin contender? And has anyone from the ‘aggrieved’ communities made a case, even informally in public discourses?

So, is Krishna making a mountain out of a molehill? His sponsors and sympathisers in the media and otherwise may have ignited a wrong flame. And even if empirical evidence points to the dominance of the Brahmin community, would you rather pursue grassroots initiatives of teaching and concert exposure than wield the pen to ad nauseam? It is not even a multi-billion dollar industry in the preserve of a few. There is a clear misplaced sense of what can be achieved by writing in cosmopolitan upper class media asking for social change. The irony is that the reader community is in fact, the very same accused lot!

Social movements like those of Subrahmanya Bharati and Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy had a certain compelling context, a widespread unease with the status quo and a selfless pursuit along multiple modes of attack. They succeeded because of unjust exclusion from mainstream life, not from a niche pursuit, even as we confuse lack of enablers with wilful exclusion.

Some awards are more motivated than motivating. Even the Nobel prize committee shocked the world by giving the peace prize to Barack Obama as he woke up from bed in the first weeks of his office one morning. He was stunned as was the world. Krishna’s wellwishers, sponsors and recommenders may have been overenthusiastic, as there is no palpable change in the caste dynamics of Carnatic music – never mind if it is a burning issue at all or if it is maliciously engineered.

We would normally celebrate any international recognition for a fellow Indian and a member of the Carnatic music fraternity, but something is holding us back this time. A dramatically different strategy is required to unearth talents like Naina Pillai, Malaikottai Govindasamy Pillai, Rajamanickam Pillai, Palani Subramanya Pillai, Chittoor Subramanya Pillai and TM Thiagarajan among the new generation. AR Rahman, in a parallel world, is quietly doing this through his KM Conservatory, where geniuses are groomed independent of their social and financial backgrounds. 

Birthdays & Anniversaries