Tuesday, 31 December 2019


Happy New Year 2020! “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything,” said Plato. For the past month and more, sangeetam did just that as it pervaded the Chennai metropolis.

Rasikas and artists must have had their fill of music over the past one month and more. Every day was hectic during the ‘season’ with artistic activity all day long. Morning: Some groups came forward to conduct the Margazhi bhajanai around the Mada streets of Mylapore. Devotional music and discourses were presented inside the sabhas early morning, followed by lecture demonstration sessions on music and dance ranging from the simple to the complex. We listened to kutcheris by veterans in some venues, and by youngsters in some others. Noon: There were music and dance kutcheris at noon and after—allocated to talented juniors and sub-senior artists of any age. Evening: Star artists were reserved for the evening ticketed slots which hopefully brought in considerable revenue for the sabha. There were some sold-out concerts too. Traffic jams, parking problems, commuting and change in eating habits, predominance of old people in the audience, have all advanced the finishing time of night concerts to a little over 9 pm. Rare now are the midnight concerts by Hindustani stalwarts, though all-night variety Carnatic programmes are organised by musicians to herald the New Year.

November-December saw two eminent personalities in the arts stepping into their 80th year—the Delhi-based veteran classical dancer Yamini Krishnamurti, and the popular arts patron and industrialist Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti. Sruti salutes these two achievers through interesting articles and some outstanding photographs. Our Roving Critic Sunil Kothari and senior Bharatanatyam dancer Rama Vaidyanathan recall their association with Yamini.

The 173rd annual Tyagaraja aradhana falls on 15 January this year. Tyagaraja attained mukti on Pushya Bahula Panchami in the Prabhava year on 6 January 1847. Though he lived only about 170 years ago, we do not have a very authentic account of the full details of his life though we have anecdotes and stories aplenty. Two of Tyagaraja’s disciples—Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar and Manambuchavadi Venkatasubba Iyer—have composed mangalams which provide many details about their guru. In this issue, musician and researcher T.R. Aravind attempts to analyse what these mangalams have to unfold about the bard.

One of the great music composers who belongs to the guru-sishya lineage of Tyagaraja was Ramanathapuram “Poochi” Srinivasa Iyengar. To commemorate his death centenary, we publish articles by Sriram V and vidushi R. Vedavalli about this lakshana vidwan.

In this age when students flit from teacher to teacher and learn from YouTube and the Internet, it is heartening to find artists who have remained with their guru for several decades. Ghatam S. Karthick is one such—he has been a dedicated student of the ghatam and his guru Vikku Vinayakram for forty years. Writer Sivapriya Krishnan provides interesting insights into the life and achievements of this multifaceted artist.

We have our usual coverage of organisations and events which also includes the silver jubilee celebrations of Mudhra in Chennai. The Music Academy Dance Festival begins in January with dance programmes scheduled from morning to night. Most sabhas have a long line-up of young and senior dancers who are featured from January to almost March. All of us at Sruti are busy attending lecdems and concerts at various venues and we hope to present our season roundup in the February issue.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Natya Kala Conference 2019

By Buzybee

The 39th edition of the Natya Kala Conference (NKC) titled ‘Nirikshana’ (Bharatanatyam: Under the Magnifying Glass), presented by Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, is being convened by Delhi-based senior Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Rama Vaidyanathan. “It seeks to examine, probe and assess Bharatanatyam as it is today,” says Rama. What transitions has it gone through over the years, and what can be done  better in the process of continuity. Through dialogue the conference aims to address some pressing issues of today. Through lecdems we propose to place several creative endeavours under the magnifying glass to get a closer in-depth perspective. Through full length performances we look forward to showcasing the best in tradition and its continuation, so that the ‘nireekshana’ of Bharatanatyam comes a full circle.”

“I wish  to project a wider vision through many eyes—rasikas, critics, scholars and organizers. I want everyone to take a look at Bharatanatyam through two different lenses: one, a concave lens through which we delve into the depths of an aspect of the dance form with a microscopic vision, and second with a convex lens where we expand our minds with a macroscopic vision. An amalgamation of both sides of the spectrum, could give us a holistic understanding. And last but not the least, this conference also endeavours to celebrate the ageless tradition as well as embrace the progression of Bharatanatyam”.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Kadamba flowers again

By Buzybee

Senior Bharatanatyam dancer and teacher Priya Murle curates ‘Kadamba’ (the flowering path) for the second year as part of the Natya Darshan conference hosted by Kartik Fine Arts at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore from 20 to 22 December 2019. Priya says,  Kadamba started early this year in August with several  pre-events including a movie screening, academic and storytelling sessions, workshops and a lot more. This year the conference focuses on the physical, emotional and spiritual impact of natyam. As we explore the layers of poetry through sangeetam and natyam, the ability to comprehend the intellectual and metaphysical state of mind increases. All the sessions in Kadamba have been carefully crafted to deepen the consciousness and sensitivity towards the art form.”

The conference has some unique sessions like ‘Viewpoint’  wherein  dancers young and old will speak briefly about why each of them is pursuing dance even though other career options are available. The session ‘Interactive Adavus’ could be interesting for onlookers where specific adavus of different banis will be  demonstrated and dancers in the audience can learn and try them too! The evening performances reflect the topic of the conference presented as solos, duets and groups.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Notations in Carnatic music -- Then and Now

By S Sivaramakrishnan

Recently, I came across a few senior artists reminiscing about their student days when their gurus would chide them for noting down the notation, not to say the sahitya! This set me thinking. 

The celebrated Brinda-Mukta school considered the tendency for classroom notation a serious handicap on the part of the disciple. Many gurus were even unpredictable for their flow of sangatis because subsequent sessions would render the available notation rather 'outdated'! Thus it was actually a way of noting down the 'varnamettu' after the classes were over without the knowledge of the teacher! This could be a reason why many kritis acquired multiple sangatis (or pathantara)  as teaching sessions progressed. 

At the same time, we had gurus who insisted on notations and meticulously checked and corrected the notes of their students. They constitute the 'lenient majority' of gurus. Nowadays, notation has become supplementary to classroom recordings in state-of-the-art gadgets--to the extent that some artists today keep notations in front of them even in concerts!

Music was part of our family routine; my mother would sing along with the veena in the evenings with my sisters joining in. (For this, she had to tune the veena to a high pitch of not less than 4.5 kattai that lent an oriental charm to the recitals). My brother used to accompany them on the mridangam. No notations were available, but the lyrics were noted down in a book. 'Kelvignanam' (learning by listening) was the only asset we had.

My mother also used to give some interesting tests by asking me to sit a distance away from her and to identify the notes or kriti passages which she would play on the veena with rather 'muted pluckings'!  I had to keenly watch the placements and movement of her left-hand fingers to ascertain the swarasthanas and give the answer! It was indeed challenging yet exciting! I feel notations are a must to preserve sangatis.

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Is there a bias against Instrumental music?

A series of Interviews by V. Karpagalakshmi

Akkarai Subbulakshmi and Akkarai Sornalatha 
Popular duo (violin and vocal) Akkarai Subbulakshmi and Sornalatha agree on most of the issues raised by Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi (see blog) such as the lack of response for instrumental music in Chennai.
Do you feel there is a good response for Instrumental music?  How do you approach a concert?
Instrumental music is treated equally with vocal in other states like Karnataka and Kerala and the response is overwhelming among the Western audience. While performing abroad, we have observed that when the audience comes for a concert they stay till the end; be it vocal or instrumental. Perhaps they are more attuned to instrumental music and enjoy it better.
The Chennai audience is not able to relate to the music if they can’t hear the words. When we perform a rare kriti, one of us usually sings it while the other plays it on the violin to familiarise the audience with the piece. We have heard that in those days people listened patiently even for over three hours to concerts by Lalgudi Jayaraman or Flute Mali.
Do you think there is parity when it comes to instrumental concerts?
Though our music is based mainly on vocal style, there could be some pieces to demonstrate the virtuosity of the instruments. If the tune is catchy and interesting it would be accepted but it depends upon how the musician presents it. For instance, a varnam can be played in five speeds on instruments; the same is not possible in vocal. But if an artist needs to get a command over the instrument he or she should to able to play in five speeds, but that would demand enormous amount of practice. Artists must select a raga which would be interesting to listen to even in five speeds, and must also plan the concert in a balanced manner without compromising the greatness of our music. The entire concert need not be planned with abstract tunes; that will not work under the kutcheri formula, we need to adhere to the paddhati. In the ragam-tanam-pallavi for instance, the tanam is very suitable to show the virtuosity of the instrument and it is also quite abstract.
What do you think can be done to kindle interest in people and change this mindset towards instrumental music?
Workshops and lec-dems could be organised to make the audience understand what goes into playing instruments. But one has to make sure that people attend such programmes.  Also, during the season there are not enough opportunities for instrumentalists. Any good artist should be given a chance; rotation should not be the norm. We have discussed this issue with a number of instrumentalists and they all feel rather dejected about the poor response in Chennai. Some seniors get to perform every year while the younger talented generation misses out due to the limited opportunity and rotation system, which leads to their frustration.  There are five slots in a day during the season and young talented musicians can be accommodated. At least 25% of the total concerts need to be set aside for instruments.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Is there a bias against Instrumental music?

Interview by V. Karpagalakshmi

Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi,
daughter and disciple of Lalgudi Jayaraman
Do you feel there is a good response for Instrumental music?  How do you approach a concert?
I feel there is more appreciation for instrumental music in other states compared to our own Tamil Nadu. Audience response is as good as for vocal music in Kerala and particularly in Karnataka.  I wish the Chennai audience would learn to appreciate instrumental music better. It is also a vicious circle-- organisers arrange only a few instrumental concerts citing lack of crowd and because of less number of instrumental concerts the audience attendance is poor; even in a series, maximum concerts are vocal. 
When we (my brother GJR Krishnan and I) approach music, we are very conscious that we are expressing music through an instrument and that it should reach the audience and make them enjoy it without the lyrics. We are mindful when we select the compositions we choose to play. The nuances such as anuswaras and intonations can be heard more clearly and sharply in an instrument than in vocal music.
As far as creating pure music without lyrics, I feel it would certainly have 100% response. People do enjoy a tillana which has minimal lyrics and is mainly only a tune; there can be pure music compositions as part of a programme but the quality of music should not be diluted.
Do you think there is parity when it comes to instrumental concerts?
In vocal music even when it is an unknown song in an unfamiliar language, the audience  seems to enjoy it, but when it comes to instruments it has to be a well-known kriti. The mindset appears to be anchored on the lyrics to be able to appreciate the music!
If we play a rare kriti repeatedly whenever there is an opportunity, am sure it would become familiar to the listeners. In fact, there are compositions which are heard more often and also more suitable to instruments than vocal. The audience too should make an effort to listen to instruments more; they don’t realise that they are missing out on a lot of great music. If they listen to instrumental music, then they will understand that there are as many nuances as  in vocal music. It is enough to keep your ears and mind open and listen to realise there is more pure music beyond lyrics.
What do you think can be done to kindle interest in people and change this mindset towards instrumental music?
I think we should educate the listeners on how to enjoy instruments through workshops and lecture demonstrations which could improve attendance at concerts.
There are a lot of talented young instrumental musicians. Special festivals are being organised for instruments. That alone may not be enough to popularise instruments. During the season at least 25% of concerts should be allotted to instruments.
Violinists get opportunities as accompanists; but many of them, in spite of being good artists, do not get centrestage. For instance, in the US and particularly in Europe, they appreciate instruments much more than vocal. They enjoy the tone and timbre of the instruments be it a violin, veena or percussion instruments. That, in my opinion, is the highest form of recognition and appreciation.
What is your opinion on webcasting or live streaming of concerts?
Live streaming of music is useful for elderly people who can listen from the comfort of their homes. Otherwise an attitude of ‘we can watch any time we like’ comes in.  But some organisations webstream in such a way that only people living outside the country of the concert venue can view it.