Friday, 28 July 2017

Trivandrum Vaidyanathan passes away

Sudden demise has been shocking

V Navaneet Krishnan

I am heart-broken to know of the untimely and sudden demise of Trivandrum R. Vaidyanathan sir. He was the staff on duty at my very first radio broadcast at AIR.  Such a gentle and genuine soul, with only good-will towards all. He was very keen to have me perform at several major venues in Kerala, and encouraged me always to carry the baton of the KVN bani. I cherish the long conversation we shared after my concert at Edapally Sangeetha Sadas this last April, where he clarified several of my doubts regarding some laya matters, including chaturashra tishram in pallavi singing. Long live his legacy through his disciples! My heartfelt condolences to his family and disciples.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Pallavi singing workshop by Alepey Venkatesan

Nadasangamam programme for August

By Samudri

Nadasangamam, the music wing of the Narada Gana Sabha Trust has been organising workshops with a  view to enriching the repertoire and knowledge of music students.

The next workshop will be held on between 10 am and 12:30 pm on Saturday  5th August 2017 at the Narada Gana Sabha Mini Hall

Alepey Venkatesan, a  renowned disciple of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, will talk about the art of pallavi singing and help students in understanding how to construct pallavis.  This interactive session will be open to students of music.

For registration please call 044-24993201

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Is violin accompaniment a nuisance?

Random Notes

By V Ramnarayan

"Give me an honest answer. Do you find the violin alapana response to the vocalist in a concert a nuisance?" a senior musician whispered into my ear during a recent concert. I could not give him a lucid answer as I was too close to the stage to carry on a conversation, something I have been criticising for years.  He was probably right when it came to indifferent or incompetent alapana essays by accompanists, but I have many times found the violin alapana an extremely fulfilling offering. Sometimes arriving just after the vocalist  has completed a raga alapana, I have been overwhelmed by the magic of the soulful, perfectly sruti-aligned music rendered by the violinist. On such occasions, I do not want the violin playing to end at all, until of course the artist moves into top speed, and the reverie ends. While in the past, such a divine atmosphere was created by such greats of the day as TN Krishnan, Lalgudi G Jayaraman, MS Gopalakrishnan and VV Subramanian, the tradition has been kept alive by the likes of S Varadarajan, RK Shriramkumar, Sriram Parasuram (he rarely 'accompanies' any more), Ranjani and Gayatri before they turned vocalists, Hemalatha and Akkarai Subhalakshmi. Most of these accomplished artists are perfectly capable of outshining the main artist, but restrain themselves following  the best practice of pakkavadya dharmam. Yes, I can say with confidence that I find raga alapana by the accompanying violin as fulfilling if not more so than that by the vocalist. That may be because I often choose the concerts I attend on the basis of the accompanists of the day as much as the main performer.

However the main thrust of the question the vidwan asked me was perhaps on the subordinate role allotted to the accompanist violin in concerts and the consequent fall in the standard of violin playing overall. One cannot argue with that viewpoint. There is much substandard violin playing, an alarming trend in the recent past.

The question also reminded me of an informal survey Sruti conducted among vocalists in the early 1980s. Many artists were then complaining of the damage violinists were doing to their manodharma by their lack of coordination and their creative excesses. We at Sruti then asked a few vocalists if they would be prepared to perform without violin accompaniment. Most of the interviewees said they were ready to do so, but refused to be quoted in print. One of them, however, agreed, and Sruti published a short interview with him, leading to widespread anger against the artist in the violin community. He apparently lost a few concert opportunities as a result of the interview.

Unfortunately I happened to be the author of the offending interview, though it could be said in my defence that I asked the musician to sleep over the matter and only then confirm to me that we could go ahead with publishing the interview. I did not know that it would appear in solitary splendour, as none of the other vidwans and vidushis, interviewed by other correspondents, gave their consent.

The vidwan confronted me at a wedding reception soon after, and gave me a dressing down in public view, accusing me of fabricating the interview. Displaying a measure of restraint I did not know I was capable of, I kept my cool and did not retaliate. Next morning, I went to the musician's home and played the recording of the interview for him and asked him if he still maintained his stand that I was a cheat.  He promptly apologised and made all the right noises. I was too young and inexperienced to insist on a public apology, but that is what he owed me, having shouted at me in the presence of many witnesses.­­­

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

When we speak Carnatic music

Random Notes

By V Ramnarayan

Some standard items occupy the bill of fare at Carnatic music-related events with depressing regularity. One of them is the strange practice of every speaker on the dais (or dias as most of the community refer to the stage) extolling the virtues of the other "dignitaries" on it. This is of course healthily supplemented by the encomiums showered on each of them by the master of ceremonies, so that by the end of the formalities, you willy nilly become an expert on the life stories of all these splendid worthies assembled to felicitate or honour an individual for his or her great contributions to the arts. This is invariably preceded, accompanied, or followed by the handing over of mementoes (pronounced momentoes) and/or the wrapping of each and every distinguished member on the dais with a shawl, each more hideous than the previous one. There is a strong rumour doing the rounds that the shawls are recycled via a thriving flea market; for all we know, the shawl that covers a lowly magazine editor may have once adorned a Natyamani or Sangita Kala Sagara.

The same is also said to be true of the speeches delivered on such occasions. Pet phrases or sentences include 'guru-sishya parampara', 'pathantara suddham', 'the divine origin of Carnatic music', 'concert paddhati', 'the blessings of my parents and my gurus,' 'the greatest, most sophisticated music system in the world,' and 'bhakti is the ultimate purpose of Carnatic music.'

Increasingly, speakers on such stages take potshots at a mysterious individual or individuals whom they charge with the blasphemous claim of atheism, when they are not targeting the same or other individuals who have the unfortunate habit of tinkering with the hoary old concert format we see on the stage today.

Another familiar refrain is one that rhapsodises the good old days, when the word of the guru was gospel, even a guru who seldom taught but sent the sishya out on tiresome errands, or made him press his legs or wash his clothes, or thrashed him when he failed to get a sangati right or worse still imitated a rival musician he must have heard surreptitiously despite the guru's blanket ban order. The only way to learn music was to sit behind the guru in concerts and pick up the gems he scattered on stage, and convert each slap or hook or square cut with the bow of the fiddle into a lesson never to be forgotten.

The crowning glory among such glittering jewels it has been my recent good fortune to experience is what one speaker followed his confession of musical ignorance with. "I know nothing about music," he said, "but its only purpose should be the attainment of jivan moksha, the kind the Trinity of Carnatic music attained through their bhakti. If we inculcate such values in our young, we can forget the Trinity, for we shall then be creating brand new trinities." Indeed "a consummation devoutly to be wished", in the sage words of PG Wodehouse. Or was it William Shakespeare?

Ravikiran selected for Sangita Kalanidhi award

By Samudri

Sruti congratulates all the artistes selected for the Music Academy's awards for the forthcoming annual conference to be held in December 2017. The jewel in the crown, the Sangita Kalanidhi title goes to the chitravina maestro N Ravikiran, a brilliant choice in our view, while a number of distinguished artists will be the worthy recipients of the other awards announced by the Academy. They are:

To be awarded on 1 January 2018

Sangita Kala Acharya

Mridanga vidwan V Kamalakar Rao, and vocalist and guru Radha Namboodiri      
TTK Awards

Ghatam vidushi Sukanya Ramgopal and Oduvar Muthu Kandasamy Desikar   

Musicologist Award

Vocalist Dr TS Sathyavathi                                                                                             

Papa Venkataramiah Award

Violinist Tiruvallur Parthasarathy                                                                          

To be awarded on 3 January 2018

Nritya Kalanidhi

Bharata natyam exponent Lakshmi Viswanathan                                                           

While we congratulate the Music Academy on replacing the title Natya Kala Acharya with the Nritya Kalanidhi award, a welcome paradigm shift towards a more comprehensive, more appropriate norm for the award, we urge the institution to find ways of recognising outstanding contributors to dance. The name of Vyjayantimala Bali comes to mind, but she is one of numerous such greats of the past. On the whole, a great job by the Music Academy. 

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Of inclusiveness and outreach in Carnatic music

‘Inclusiveness’ in Carnatic music, is a frontline topic of discussion today – and rightly so. A mridangist friend of mine recently recounted how a group of his colleagues visited the Music Academy canteen several times during the December season – but never once stepped into the auditorium, not even to sample any of the free concerts for ten minutes! Why? Because they held the perception that this was “Iyer veettu pattu” – basically, it wasn’t up their alley. And they didn’t even feel like sampling it,let alone try to cultivate an interest, or acquire a taste. 
vWhile there might be reasons social and political for the creation of such a perception – but it does seem that a reasonable population perceive Carnatic music as something outside of their “circles”. This is despite the fact that all communities have contributed tremendously, to this great heritage, and vidwans and vidushis from all communities have achieved the highest honours in Carnatic music.

Magsaysay award winner T M Krishna, has rued that he has never been approached for lessons by a Dalit student. It is indeed a matter of concern, if one of the finest Carnatic musicians of our times, does not even receive an enquiry or a request to teach, from Dalit students. 

The Magsaysay award citation for Krishna notes that he sings free concerts in the December season in order to encourage inclusiveness. However, I would be surprised if there was a statistically significant difference in community demographics, between a free concert and a ticketed concert, in the music season. Because, I don’t think the issue is affordability of the music – it is something else. As my mridangist friend said, his colleagues were not interested in sampling even ten minutes of free Carnatic music after purchasing their meals in the canteen. Why? Not affordability, but perception!

What can we do, to remove this perception, and genuinely build inclusiveness in our music? As a faculty member at the SV College of Music in Tirupati, I taught students from across communities – definitely several Muslims and Christians and I must have taught many Dalit students too. Several students were admitted through affirmative action, so I surely must have. I say “must have” because I never enquired, and neither did they tell me. But it was never even a matter of consideration in any of our discussions, and that’s how it was in our college. 

Various colleges of music such as the Swati Tirunal College of Music and the Govt College of Music in Tiruvaiyyaru (especially in the smaller towns of South India), apart from my own college, have long been catering to a very inclusive and diverse audience of students. Most of my students were from rural backgrounds, and came from agrarian families with no exposure whatsoever to Carnatic music. And like everybody else who has worked in such colleges of music, I was working at the basic level– starting with Sa-Pa-Sa on the first day of the B.Music course.

Teaching students from rural backgrounds, came with its own challenges – and its own joys. Since they had no exposure to music, I had to break down musical abstractions into something relatable. I experimented with real life imagery, to help students visualize sound. For example, I would ask them to visualize the slow blooming of a flower, while rendering a phrase in a gentle and caressing manner. My students responded well, to such attempts – and I realized that perceptions could actually be corrected by giving people something they could relate to.

The respect that a teacher receives, in rural India, is something extraordinary. My students would often hold their palms before their mouths, while speaking in front of me. Being city-bred myself, I had never seen anything like that, except when people speak to the Jagadguru Sankaracharya and others in such exalted positions. It took some getting used to!

Some students would bring me fresh produce from their fields. “Madam-gaaru, I brought you our first harvest for this season. Please accept it and bless our farm”, they would say. While I was invariably touched by their simplicity and sincere regard for the teacher, I could not possibly accept gifts from the students I was to grade and evaluate in college!

One of our students from a backward village of Kadapa district trained rigorously under an excellent faculty member of our college, and went on to join the faculty at the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society (SIFAS). When I performed in SIFAS recently, I requested that he accompany me for the concert. It was a matter of great pride to share the stage with a star of our college who rose from nothing, to an excellent position in music. I had only one challenge in performing with him: he was just too respectful to take a seat in the presence of ‘madam-gaaru’! I usually get to concerts an hour before the start, to complete the sound checks. Here, I needed half an hour just to get him to sit on stage!

A Muslim student of mine made it to the ‘big city’ – and joined a college in Hyderabad. When my own guru Sangita Kala Acharya Smt Seetha Rajan visited Hyderabad for a concert, the organizers requested him to receive her and play local host. After Seetha Mami finished her concert, he made bold to ask her, “Madam, which school and style of music are you from, your music so closely resembles my guru’s music?” Seetha Mami would often have a hearty laugh, remembering that somebody said that her style resembled mine!

My time at the music college makes me firmly believe, that these mofussil music colleges are probably the best way for us to create outreach and inclusiveness for our music. To make Carnatic music inclusive, and prevent unnecessary perceptions that Carnatic music is “not for me” or “not for my circles”, we need to go to schools. Furthermore, I would say we need our music to reach rural schools. And the best ambassadors to take our music to village children, are the alumni of mofussil music colleges. 

Several students who graduate from these colleges go on to become music teachers in rural schools. These colleges have, therefore, spawn a set of cultural ambassadors in the form of their alumni, who take our music to school children in villages. If we want to make a serious dent in achieving inclusiveness for our music, in my view, moffusil music colleges are the best starting point.

Our college in Tirupati, has had top-notch musicians such as Sangita Kalanidhis Sri Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, Sri Balamurali Krishna, and other luminaries, as visiting principals for short periods. If senior vidvans of Carnatic music would similarly mentor and participate in the dissemination of knowledge in moffusil music colleges, we would be creating a whole new generation of well-trained ambassadors for our music – ambassadors who can take our music to the ultimate in inclusiveness - village schools.

If I were to make a suggestion to Sri T M Krishna, this is what it would be – moffusil music colleges are probably the best means to achieve the impact you seek. Most of these colleges have affirmative action - and while no Dalit student approached you despite your keenness to teach, you will actually find several students from socially and economically backward communities, in these colleges. The systems and structures are already in place, the enrollments are already in place. If our top-notch Vidvans and Vidushis would get involved in mentoring these colleges in a sustained manner across a few batches, we could together achieve a lot towards inclusiveness in our wonderful heritage of Carnatic music.

Dr. Padma Sugavanam is an accomplished  Carnatic vocalist, who taught in the SV College of Music and Dance, Tirupati, for ten years, before moving back to Chennai as a full-time performer.

Birthdays & Anniversaries

“Time has been a major influence”
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

Astad Deboo is a maverick dancer. His 67th birthday falls on 13 July 2014. Over the years he has dodged neat categories and continues to explore new frontiers with his individualistic style. Minimalism, restraint and innovation have emerged as signature features of his choreography. Having worked extensively with different groups of performers, he was in Delhi recently with Rhythm Divine a performance with Thang-ta performers from Manipur. In this freewheeling conversation he reflects on his journey through the various rhythms of life and performance.

What was the inspiration for Rhythm Divine? How did the concept originate and how did you go about creating it?

I have been working with performers in Manipur for the past ten years. We started working with their living traditions and techniques and introducing layers of playfulness and interaction. I would respond to their rhythm, they would follow my movement, and so on. We keep changing the choreography, developing new works and revisiting earlier ones.

Are the volatile political conditions of Manipur expressed in the bodies and movements of the dancers? Was there any engagement with that during the creation of the piece?

Maybe not directly in terms of theme and content, but it is part of their experience. We worked a lot with rhythm – there are different levels of hostility, suspiciousness in their silences, their cries. They usually perform in a completely different context, mostly as ritual, in temple environs, but not on stage. So the work takes on a different meaning when it is taken into a new context.

To read full story, buy Sruti 359

Kesarbai Kerkar (1890 - 1977)
Empress Of The Concert Platform
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

Introduction: The selection of vocalists for coverage in this series of essays is guided by stylistic or historical significance rather than acknowledged stature or greatness as commonly understood. Selected vocalists will always represent a respectable level of musicianship, while the essays will attempt to justify their selection for the Sruti reader's attention. The order of release will be guided by the need to sustain reader interest through variety. —Deepak S. Raja.

"When we went to hear Kesarbai, we went VV to learn something". This was the sitar maestro, Ustad Vilayat Khan's observation about Kesarbai. In a male-dominated era, no female vocalist, either before her or after, has obliged her male colleagues to acknowledge her as an "Ustad". Kesarbai (1890-1977) was the only contemporary of Ustad Faiyyaz Khan (1886-1950) to command a concert fee on par with his. But, there was a difference. Kesarbai cultivated a small, but fanatical, following largely of connoisseurs. Faiyyaz Khan, on the other hand, accumulated a huge, and equally committed, following cutting across levels of aesthetic cultivation. 

The arduous journey to the top 

Kesarbai was born in Keri, a small village in Goa. She showed an aptitude for singing in early childhood. When she was eight years old, her family moved to Kolhapur, where she was placed under the tutelage of the Kirana doyen, Ustad Abdul Kareem Khan. This training ended in ten months when her family moved back to Goa. Three years went by without any training, before she started learning from Ramakrishna Vaze, the Gwalior trained maestro, who visited Goa periodically. The intermittent grooming under Vaze Buwa ended after eight or ten years, when her family moved to Bombay. 

To read full story, buy Sruti 241

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

A beautiful musical mind
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

Prof. S.R. JANAKIRAMAN turns 89 on 12 July this year. When Sruti called on the veteran musicologist (2016) to congratulate him on his being conferred the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, he spoke at length on what Carnatic music means to him. His originality of musical thought, his passion for his art and his reverence for his gurus make him an electrifying conversationalist. Some excerpts:

How important has the recognition been to you as a musician?

While there have been 86 Sangita Kalanidhis, only ten or 15 musicians and scholars from south India have received the honour of the SNA Fellowship. They include greats like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Prof. P. Sambamoorthy, Embar Vijayaraghava-chariar, M.S. Subbulakshmi, M.L. Vasanthakumari, Dr. V. Raghavan, Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, T.H. Vinayakram, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam and some others. I have now been clubbed with truly great legends – and that is the greatest honour for me.

Do you have regrets about not receiving the Sangita Kalanidhi?

Initially it didn’t bother me much, but with the passage of time, I feel that I could have been nominated for it. When I first heard from the Music Academy that I was to be the first nomination for their Sangita Kala Acharya title, I accepted happily, not giving it much thought. On a side note, M.S. Subbulakshmi recommended my name several times for the Kalanidhi. It was an honour that she had such regard for my music.

The title of Sangita Kalanidhi is not awarded to artists who have been designated Kala Acharya. Should the conferring of the latter preclude the awarding of the former?

Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer once told me, “Janakiraman, what difference does it make whether it is Kalanidhi or Kala Acharya? These distinctions are after all man-made. Ultimately, a prestigious institution wishes to recognise you for your contributions, and that is the most important thing.” Once, while introducing me to some guest at his Lloyds Road home, he said, “I am merely a ‘gayakan’, but SRJ is a vidwan!”

I would like to share another instance of Semmangudi’s generosity. At a meeting at the Academy, to felicitate A.S. Panchapakesa Iyer, Semmangudi turned towards me and said, “Janakiraman, the walking university!”

To read full story, buy Sruti 381

Friday, 7 July 2017

Kedaram turns one

By PNV Ram

S Kedarnath was a talented opening batsman who performed consistently for the State Bank of India team in the 1970s and 80s. He was regarded highly by some illustrious teammates like GR Viswanath, but could not go beyond a handful of first class appearances because the Tamil Nadu scene was dominated by some excellent openers who rarely gave even half a chance to would-be successors. After retiring from active cricket, Kedar has been constructively associated with the game as a sought-after coach, with his Kedar's Cricket Academy in T'Nagar attaining high standards and producing several promising players to the state.

Kedarnath is  a man with a nice sense of humour and an excellent mimic. His take-offs on players and umpires can be hilarious and very convincing. He is musically talented and trained as a mridanga vidwan with a top-notch guru of his day. He also has sruti suddham and a ringing voice, with which he can imitate singers as varied as MD Ramanathan, Semmangudi Srinivasier, KV Narayanaswami and DK Pattammal. He has this habit of ringing you up and launch a fair rendering of Giripai, the sahana song made famous by MDR. On many a similar occasion, I have almost died of laughter.

Kedar's mentoring inclinations have not stopped with cricket coaching. Last year, he started a sabha of the name Kedaram under whose auspices he has been conducting Carnatic music concerts of quality, insisting on traditional renderings true to their pathantara by mostly young musicians, but also the occasional veteran. He stipulates some rules of decorum including one on a 'whites only' dress code!

Today, Kedar celebrates the first anniversary of Kedaram at Raga Sudha Hall, Luz, Mylapore, in the presence of Sangita Kalanidhi Umayalpuram K Sivaraman, G Srinivasaraghavan of the TVS group, Nalli Kuppusami Chetti and R Sundar of the sabha Hamsadhwani. 

The three-day programme kicks off with a concert by  Swetha and Ramya, a young duo accompanied by VV Ravi (violin), Mannarkoil Balaji (mridangam) and H Prasanna (ghatam).

The programme will continue with vocal concerts by Karthik Narayanan (accompanied by MR Gopinath, B Ganapathyraman and Alathur Rajaganesh) on Saturday, and N Vijay Siva (accompanied by Embar Kannan, J Vaidhyanathan and S Krishna) on Sunday.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

An unforgettable musical experience

By P. Rajagopalan

The enchanting Carnatic vocal concert presented by two virtually unknown teenage girls—Archana and Samanvi (not siblings)—from Karnataka, on 9 June at the Ragha Sudha Hall, was an unforgettable musical experience. It was the third Ranjani Hebbar memorial concert, made possible by the Jayalakshmi and P.R. Srinivasan Endowment instituted by myself. Sometime during the past few weeks, Ranjani’s father, Aravinda Hebbar, had persuaded Jayalakshmi Balakrishnan, Secretary of Nada Inbam which administers the endowment, to let Archana and Samanvi present this year’s Ranjani memorial concert as their obeisance to their guru.

The programme began promptly at 6.15 pm with a brief welcome and introductory address by Jayalakshmi, following which special guest Chitravina N. Ravikiran shared his impressions on the music and legacy of the extraordinarily gifted vocalist, the late Ranjani Hebbar. Aravinda Hebbar introduced the artists of the evening and it was then that we learnt that Archana and Samanvi had their initial training under Ranjani’s mother, Vasanthalakhmi and then from Ranjani herself for a few years until her sudden and sad demise. They are under the tutelage of Ravikiran for the past three years. 

Before I proceed any further, I must confess that I am neither a musician, nor a musicologist, nor even a music critic. I write this to only introduce this extremely talented, dynamic duo to Sruti readers and, inter alia, to the Carnatic music lovers around the world. Archana and Samanvi began their concert with a brisk varnam in lilting Saranga. By the time the pallavi was over, the skeptical audience of about 80 persons sat up fascinated. When the anupallavi was rendered at a faster pace, we were stunned not only by the melodious and sonorous voices of the duo that blended as one in perfect alignment with sruti, traversing the three octaves with consummate ease, but also by the poise and confidence exuded by them. At the end of the varnam there was thunderous applause. Next was Archana’s brief but delectable delineation of the majestic Arabhi raga followed by Oothukadu Venkatasubba Iyer's captivating kriti Pranavakaram, including a few avartanas of swaras rendered by the duo which lifted the concert to a higher plane.

Not to be outdone, Samanvi took on the solo exposition of the ever popular and melodious Brindavana Saranga to portray the raga in all its glory. The beautiful Dikshtar kriti Saundararajam asraye was rendered by the duo with deep religious fervour soaked in melody. The Tamil kriti Enna punniyam in Reetigaula by Oothukadu Venatakavi followed and was presented sans raga alapana and swaraprastara but oozing with rakti and bhakti. Next came the piece de resistance of the concert, the Tyagaraja kriti Paramatmudu velige in raga Vagadeeswari. Although this is a vivadi raga, it is an enchanting and moving one which is very tricky and difficult to elaborate. Archana and Samanvi took turns to develop the raga in stages with intricate prayogas and embellishments such that, when it ended, the raga devata seemed to appear before us in all its glory. The kriti was rendered with fervour and adorned with elaborate niraval and swaraprastara. The fast-paced kriti Vinanasakoni in raga Pratapavarali by Tyagaraja, set the stage for the delineation of Todi and the immortal kriti Kaddanuvariki. Every aspect of the raga was dealt with elan and finesse and the kriti, with its many sangatis, niraval and swaras, was superb. The mridangam solo by young Sunada Krishna Amal that followed was scintillating. The kritis Varunappriyan by Ravikiran in Varunapriya, Rangayya nine by Purandaradasa in Hamsanandi, and the ragamalika comprising 16 ragas beginning with Saranga, were all infinitely pleasing. Archana and Samanvi chose the intricate thaya ragamalika tillana composed by M. Blamuralikrishna as the final item of their concert.

I came to know after the concert that this tillana comprising five ragas—beginning with Kalyani, and followed by Sankarabharanam, Mohanam, Hindolam, and Darbari Kanada each of which leads, from Kalyani, to the next in order by graha bhedam. The duo rendered this challenging tillana with gay abandon and exuberance, moving from one raga to the next seamlessly with emphasis on the intricate laya patterns. I would be remiss if I do not mention that the young violinist, M. Shrikanth was amazing and his violin support was invaluable.

From the beginning of the concert I was transported to a realm of pure, divine musical bliss the like of which I had experienced only a few times in my life. May God bless young Archana and Samanvi with continued success for them to be shining stars in the Carnatic music firmament in the very near future! 

Before I conclude, I would like to touch upon some unethical and unsavoury practices that are rampant in the highly competitive field of Carnatic music, among which are some senior musicians pushing their mediocre progeny to prominence, wealthy people making substantial ‘donations’ to some sabhas to provide a forum for their children to perform, and VIP’s and other prominent persons pressurising sabha officials with their recommendations. This travesty robs really talented youngsters as Archana and Samanvi of opportunities to get ahead without a struggle. In order to counter this, my suggestion would be for senior musicians to identify brilliant newcomers and become their mentors (not gurus), to guide them and also use their influence to find them opportunities to perform.

Birthdays & Anniversaries

A prodigy and a genius
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

Not many performing artists or composers become legends in their own lifetime. The rare distinction belongs to Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna, a leading exponent of Carnatic music for over six decades now. Balamuralikrishna hails from a family which considered music taboo. To the surprise and displeasure of his elders, Balamurali’s father Mangalampalli Pattabhiramayya took up music as his career. He was born in 1892 at Antarvedipalem, a tiny hamlet in the West Godavari district of Madras presidency, as the sixth child of a Vedic scholar, Venkataramayya. Kocharlakota Rama Raju, a composer and left-handed violinist, was his first guru. The tutelage lasted exactly six days!

Venkataramayya then became a student of one Subramania Iyer of Pakshiteertham, who lived in nearby Yelamanchili. He travelled all over Tamil Nadu with his teacher, only to find the teacher abscond one fine day. Young Pattabhiramayya had to come back home. His next stop in music learning was at Pedda Kallepalli where he became a student of Susarla Dakshinamurti Sastri, a disciple of Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbier. After the demise of Sastri, Pattabhiramayya received advanced lessons in music from Parupalli Ramakrishnayya Pantulu, the prime disciple of Susarla, settling down in Vijayawada.

To read full story, buy Sruti 325

Guru Mayadhar Raut
one of The Makers of Contemporary Odissi
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

Dame Luck has always been an unpredictable mistress, stalking and wooing some all the time, while visiting others in fits and starts or not at all. That for a prosperous career in the dance field one needs good fortune and the right breaks as much as prowess is an accepted fact. 

While discussing the restructuring of Odissi in the early fifties, through what was known as the Jayantika effort, the names of Guru-s Pankaj Charan Das, Deba Prasad Das and Kelucharan Mohapatra are frequently taken by scholars and dance practitioners. Less often mentioned is the fourth dimension to this revivalist square, Guru Mayadhar Raut who, for years, has settled down in New Delhi to which place he shifted in the year 1967, at the behest of two young guru-s both of whom had their training under him, namely Harekrushna Behera and Surendranath Jena.

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Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

Equal to male vidwans 
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

Octogenarian nagaswara artist Madurai Ponnutayi passed away on 17 January 2012 in Madurai after a brief illness.

The nagaswaram is an ancient musical instrument that has lasted through the centuries to be part of music during the daily and festive rituals in temples to this day, particularly in south India. Innumerable agaswara artists have handled and are handling this instrument traditionally. Though the nagaswaram has mostly been played exclusively by male artists, there have been some women too in this field.

Traceably, the earliest lady who became an expert in handling this instrument was Ramu Ammal (she passed away in 1980 at the age of 53). Another lady by name Sarada Ammal joined her as the second nagaswara player. Both of them were trained by Tanjavur A.K. Raju Naidu (paternal uncle of A.K.C. Natarajan). In this troupe were two lady tavil players – Pakkiri Ammal (a brilliant tavil player highly appreciated by Palghat Mani Iyer) and Kalyani. These two women were the students of Keevalur Ratnam Pillai. This troupe became very popular as the Tanjavur Women Nagaswara Set (in Tamil they were referred to as Pombalai melam). After Ramu and Sarada more ladies entered the field – Vaideeswarankoil Vadivu, Selvambal and Tanjavur Samavalli, to name a few. But the one highly talented and very eminent woman exponent of the nagaswara was Madurai Ponnutayi. All these women invariably belonged to the Isai Velalar community.

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Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Sid Sriram: Entwining realms

By Varsha Varadan

“Independent music is my way of creating a holistic experience for a world that I can invite the listener into”, shares Sid Sriram, a renowned singer/songwriter. With Carnatic music being his fountainhead, he hopes to venture more into the realm of independent music. 

As a frequent collaborator with A.R. Rahman, you would have had a lot of conversations about music with him. Can you share a few moments where you bonded more with him?

Most of our conversations have been about music. He has been my hero since I was a child and even now, when I am around him, I am awestruck. He is fully engrossed in and is always thinking about music. The most stimulating and interesting conversations have been about the universality of music. Some of them also actually have been about Carnatic music. I had initially sent him some of my original music and also let him know that I was a Carnatic musician, after which I met him. The time we met, I sang the composition that I had sent to him and he also had me sing a kriti. We talked about how the two forms are so different but there is something that brings them together, and how emotions and spirituality, in some cases, play such a vital role in music. I also always go to him for advice, whenever I have creative roadblocks. 

Do you prefer being called a playback singer, a Carnatic musician or an indie artist?

I just prefer being called a musician. I think of them as different outlets for my creativity. My fountainhead is Carnatic music. It is the one form that requires me to practise everyday and is a constant journey and exploration. There are a lot of parameters that you have to operate in, but at the same time, there is a lot of freedom and liberation within the framework. So, this form takes up most of my mental space.

In independent music, I write my own lyrics, and produce my own music which allow me to create this whole new experience. In Carnatic music, we take age-old compositions and add manodharma, whereas, in independent music, I have the absolute freedom to experiment.

In playback singing, I get to occupy someone else’s mind during the course of the recording and when the song comes out, because it is for a situation in a film that I probably would not be in otherwise. So, they are three completely different modes of creativity, but Carnatic music still provides me with an overall framework of how I approach music.

Your song Moments of Weakness was well-received. Tell us more about your individual ventures.

I have been working on an album called Insomniac Season for the last three years. It was supposed to release in April this year but we pushed it back a little. This was the first time I was working on my original music, with a team of producers and musicians in Los Angeles who have established themselves over the years. This was also my first time collaborating with a group of people for my own music. The album mainly deals with the idea of existential crisis, with one trying to figure out one’s place in the world. It also deals with a few more habitual issues like heartbreak. I would not call it a dark album though; I would say it is a fairly serious album. It really delves into my thought process and Moments of Weakness is a really good example on what I wanted to put forth, lyrically. I figured out how to take the Indian classical elements and embed them in my independent music and this is the first time I feel like everything coexists seamlessly. 

It was a lyrically-heavy song and the music was not overpowering. So, it did get that thought across.

Yes. The focal point of most of my music is the voice. In Carnatic music, that is already the case. In a concert, the voice is what is taking the most focus. I have also grown up being trained by my mother, to be a full-throated singer. So, in indie music as well, I try to make sure that the depth of voice be the principal focus. The production elements are to just facilitate the voice. 

How is the independent music scene in Chennai? Do you think it is received well enough?

Of course. The past couple of years, especially last year, was when I started to gauge the level of reception of independent music in Chennai. There definitely is a certain population that has the thirst for different forms of music and there are a lot other people who are not aware of indie music yet. Currently, I am in a very interesting position because of my experience as a playback singer, which has given me plenty of exposure and a fan base. So, I feel that independent music can be equally as impactful; or even more, in a few cases. I think there is massive potential for indie music to flourish here and there are a lot of good bands out here as well.  

Do you think there should be more indie artists?

I think there should be more outlets for artists to expose their talent. There are many independent artists who are skilful. If one or two artists break that initial barrier, the floodgates will open because the city is very musical and there are a great deal of talented people, especially the younger demographic. 

Will you collaborate with Tamil indie artists in the future?

Yes. I am definitely open to it. I am actually a fan of this band called Kurangan. They are independent artists from Chennai who, I think, do only Tamil music. I want to also collaborate with lyricists across the board. Music need not be put into specific boxes all the time. There are certain forms however, that should not lose their purity. There are Carnatic musicians who are very experimental while still keeping the core vocabulary and the music form intact. I have not thought of ways to experiment in Carnatic yet, but in independent music, for sure. 

Does being from the Western world give you an edge over the others with respect to indie music?

I don’t know if it has given me an edge, but it definitely does give me a different perspective. It gives me a different way of approaching my musical endeavours. But, that’s not to say that someone from here isn’t going to come up with something, because, in this day and age, especially with the internet, you have access to absolutely anything. You can even learn to play the guitar on Youtube. Someone who might have grown up in a village outside of Chennai,  who wants to do independent music, might have a completely different perspective as opposed to someone who grew up in the city, and that is what makes it beautiful. The fact that individuals with different outlooks towards music can come forth and make their personal statement, in any form, is incredible.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

M.L. Vasanthakumari
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

MLV was a brilliant vocalist and dedicated teacher, a pioneer who created space for woman-musicians on the concert stage, contributing significantly to the development of Carnatic music from the 1940s to the late 1980s.

She came to be widely known as MLV. Her initials can be said to depict three outstanding features of her music: Melody, Laya and Vidwat.

The combination of these in her music, in which melody enveloped the other two, won her the admiration of the cognoscenti but also appealed to the lay listener.

The child Vasanthakumari wanted to become a doctor. She was always perhaps regretful about what might have been. “Doctors save lives,” she was fond of saying wistfully, voicing her admiration for the medical profession.

Vasanthakumari’s parents—she was born as an only child on 3 July 1928 in Madras—were both musicians. Father Koothanur Ayyasami Iyer was well-versed in Carnatic music and had a keen interest in Hindustani classical music as well. Mother Lalithangi belonged to a family traditionally devoted to the fine arts. She had learnt music from Coimbatore Thayi and Flute Subba Rao, and padam-s and javali-s in particular from Veena Dhanammal. She was an active concert artist. She and her husband were both justly praised for their efforts to propagate the devarnama-s of Purandaradasa in the South (See Sruti 14). MLV grew up amidst sounds of music—listening to the songs of Purandaradasa, the kriti-s of the Tiruvarur trinity and other Carnatic music composers, and to khayals, thumri-s and dhun-s rendered by visiting Hindustani musicians.

But genes more than environment probably accounted for the ability of Vasanthakumari, even as a two-year-old toddler, to identify the swara-s embedded in the melodies she heard. She was, in other words, a child prodigy, even though she was not so proclaimed or publicised by her parents.

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