S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Thursday, 1 March 2018


Sruti, March 2018

Why do young musicians and dancers often seek to dazzle audiences with speed, arithmetic precision and dramatic moments rather than move them with deeply felt, sruti-aligned, bhava-rich raga music? In the first place, is such a blanket dismissal of a whole generation of artists true or fair?

This was the topic of discussion at a musician-friend’s residence recently. The consensus, was unfortunately that while there’s a vast treasure of talent all around, backed by an intelligence nourished by formal university education, superior technology and communication skills, the average musician or dancer sooner or later spurns the grand highway of deep exploration in favour of short term gains via fireworks on stage. Also the frequency of performance opportunities in India and abroad leaves the artist little time for reflection and reinvigoration. One speaker came up with the theory that many young vocalists choose to sing in srutis that prevent reaching down below the mandra sthayi shadja (for example in Syama Sastry’s swarajatis) and produce more air than sound. I don’t know if this is a valid criticism, but it is certainly an interesting perspective. Another friend suggested that young artists do not have good role models to emulate.

A couple of events of the recent past however struck a more hopeful note. One was the Tyagaraja akhandam at Tiruvaiyaru on 15 February. The devotion and selflessness with which young and old musicians participated was a real eye opener. Was it the invisible but powerful impact of Tyagaraja on the assembled musicians and listeners that led to nearly 300 of his compositions being sung individually, in pairs and in groups, in beautiful spirit and voice, not to mention the relatively gentle violin and percussion accompaniment? A small group of devout Tyagaraja worshippers organise this annual event without any major sponsorship. The much loved Ramanathan (the affection most of those present have for him was palpably demonstrated), Viswanathan, Gopal and their friends, and the vocal duo of C.R. Vaidyanathan and A.S. Murali, both sishyas of P.S. Narayanaswamy (a rare absentee this time due to illness), inspired younger musicians to sing their hearts out all through the night and into the morning after. It was great to hear Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna in a strong voice after his reported recovery from vocal problems, and other youngsters like Sunil Gargyan equally impressive, suggesting that some of them have decided to return to the grand traditional path leaving some tempting bylanes in terms of showmanship.

Another recent function again gave hope that guru bhakti is alive in Bharatanatyam. At Remembering Seetarama Sarma, we realised how much he was adored by his disciples and their disciples as well. I remembered the 1970s and 1980s when the Kalakshetra orchestra helmed by the likes of Sarma and Pasupati, and joined by younger talent in the form of Balasaraswathi and Sai Shankar often forced the audience to turn its attention to the musicians, forgetting to watch the superb dance on offer.


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