Monday, October 27, 2008

The Sanjay Subrahmanyan Show - Episode 8 - Happy Deepavali!

Joined by Sriram V to chat with a special guest.

Click below to listen

The Sanjay Subrahmanyan Show - Episode 8 - Happy Deepavali!

Happy Deepavali!

Wish you all a very Happy and Musical Deepavali!! For years Deepavali has been celebrated musically as Dikshitar day. After all it was this day that Dikshitar made his students sing Meenakshi me mudam and passed away. Invariably my grandmother would come up to me on the morning of every Deepavali and ask if there was any Diskhitar day concert in the city! This Deepavali is of a special kind to me because I gave a special concert at the AIR studios a couple of days back and it will be relayed on the radio this morning.

Moving away from music just a bit, the first thing noticeable this morning is the very very limited amount of crackers being burst. The noise is just picking up but it really is nothing compared to the days we were growing up. Yesterday a group of over 40s at my son's swimming pool were recalling the cracker types like the unpredictable aeroplane, the train that moved on a piece of string, the paper snake that swirled ahead on the ground, the 'vengaya vedi' that you could smash on the floor and that ugly black tablet called a snake that when lit up grew in some obscene shape with an even more obscene smell! My dad went some decades earlier to recall thing like the 'olai vedi' which I have never seen but only heard of.

Finally whenever I sang an alapana at home in clas with my grand aunt Smt Rukmini Rajagopalan, she would aske me to sing an 'out sangati' and I never understood the meaning of it. Apparently the 'out' was a type of firecracker that just lit up like a flower pot and burst suddenly. She explained that GNB always sang some sangatis like the 'out' but then can we mere mortals even dream of such 'out' sangatis! Like the 'out' vedis the sangatis have also gone out of vogue. Happy Deepavali!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Concert available for download

My recent concert at the Ayyappa Temple in Anna Nagar is now available for download at the charsur website.

Click here to download

The Sanjay Subrahmanyan Show - Episode 7 - Answering some questions

Answering some questions from listeners and blog readers.

Click below to listen

The Sanjay Subrahmanyan Show - Episode 7 - Answering some questions

Disclaimer: These answers will be deemed as inspiration for other musicians to use when answering such similar questions. Any strong resemblances will not be considered coincidental.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Podcast next episode - Send me some quesions

I have been on a hiatus from doing the next episode of the podcast. Firstly I am just recovering from the pretty hectic US tour. Secondly sometime next week I am getting another guest for the podcast and that might be a pretty long one that covers 2 or 3 parts. In the meanwhile, I thought I could record a slightly shorter episode just answering some questions. So let us say that the next episode will be a kind of "Answering some questions" episode. Please just use the comments section of this post and send in some questions. Of course you can also email me at with your questions.

Note: I have closed the comments on this post. I think I have enough questions for the moment. Thanks to everyone who posted immediately. Meanwhile you can still email me with questions and hopefully I'll take them up in future episodes. Am off to record the next episode and get it online soon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Sruti is 25 years old. My family was full of music enthusiasts and stories about musicians dominated a lot of the chatter at home. Especially in December every concert heard was analysed and talked about. I was 15 years old when Sruti was launched back then. My dad went and got the first issue and since then it was a permanent fixture in our house. Even today every single one of the old issues is a collector's item. The in depth profiles of the greats, the war of words in the Letters column, the vintage photographs, reviews etc etc. Whispering gallery was another favorite column and it was great fun to try and guess the people being mentioned. Shri Pattabhiraman ran the magazine with a missionary zeal. Later in the early nineties my Guru Shri KSK became a part of the editorial board. During this period I got to know Shri Pattabhiraman a little better. He was quite influential and played the diplomatic game very well. There was a time when he was a close confidante to Shri TT Vasu and kept recommending artistes for the Sangeetha Kalanidhi. He was also quite influential in Delhi and sat on many of the awards committees there as the Southern representative. One of my favorite columns in the early issues was the Bullseye column which ran detailed critiques of some of the top ranking musicians of that time. The articles were very incisive and pointed and highlighted both the stronger and the weaker areas of the musician.

One of the main reasons for the revival of the RTP in modern day concerts was the efforts taken by Sruti. In the eighties a series of RTP concerts were organised and it sparked off a trend with sabhas like the Academy insisting that musicians sing a pallavi in all the senior concerts. Sometime in the nineties Pattabhiraman got fascinated with the concept of 'raga' music whereby he felt that every aspect of carnatic music sought to portray the raga primarily. He wrote extensively on this and wanted to establish that even though kritis with their rich lyrical content emphasising on bhakti were performed extensively, they still used the raga as the main vehicle for exploration. The kriti was just another method for raga exploration. Unfortunately this concept did not take off in a very big way as Pattabhiraman expected.

In his last years Pattabhiraman concentrated a lot on his pet project Samudri. He had a mega vision to create a big one stop destination for all things carnatic. The plan was grandiose and Pattabhiraman with his long experience with the UN went about it in a systematic manner, planning and executing his vision. Unfortunately his death kind of put a stop to that completely and one doesn't know what happened to all that was collected including money and material like photographs, recordings, books etc.

Today, Sruti still enjoys a premier status as an English magazine dedicated to carnatic music. Its modern look and feel under the new management is definitely more impressive that its earlier avatars. Hopefully the content will also come upto scratch soon.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Singing before my Guru

I have several instances of singing concerts before my gurus. For now I will just illustrate 2 examples of concerts which Shri KSK attended. The first was a concert at the TTK library inside Shri TT Vasu's house. It must have been 1991/92 am not too sure. I remember singing an RTP in Natakurinji. I don't think I was too nervous or anything but I was definitely keen to impress him. After the concert when I met him the next day he told me "You are not old enough to sing Natakurinji, but despite that you did a good job." I never understood what he meant by that. After all should there be age criteria for singing ragams? The during one of my guru's concerts, I was singing along and I heard him sing Natakurinji and realised a few things about what he said. Finally I heard some of my students sing I knew exactly what he meant!

The second instance was a concert at the Kasturi Srinivasan Hall for the inauguration of the S Kalyanaraman Trust in memory of his 1st death anniversary. I had sung Todi as the main piece. After the concert my guru told me "The beginning stages of the alapana you did well. But later you realised that you are a performer and had to do a few things to please the audience. I don't blame you for this." Again I never got what he meant. Several years later I realised it was probably the "Gentleman" in him chiding the "Player" in me!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Presenting some students

The last four days, some of my students were presented in Ragasudha hall in a concert series. In the late eighties and early nineties younger musicians got tons of opportunities. In the current situation I did find that it is increasingly difficult for many younger musicians to get concert opportunities. I thought getting together a series of concerts with experienced accompanists would give the boys something to think about. I am happy to say that all the four did an excellent job. They hardly discussed anything with me in advance, but they definitely did think and work hard and came up with a noteworthy performance on all four days.

The first day featured Prasanna Venkatraman with RK Shriramkumar and Neyveli Venkatesh. He is a talented youngster who was trained by Smt TR Balamani in Mumbai. He moved to Chennai and has since also had training with Shri TK Govinda Rao.

The next day featured Sandeep Narayan with MA Krishnaswamy and K Arun Prakash. Sandeep was born and brought up in Los Angeles. He learnt from his mother Smt Shubha Narayan. He also took a year long break from school and spent the time in India learning from my guru Shri Calcutta Krishnamurthi. The last few years after completing his studies he has been living here in Chennai.

The third day was V Bharath Kumar with MR Gopinath and Trichy Harikumar. Bharath is the son of musician Smt Suguna Varadachary. He has also learnt from my Guru besides learning the violin from Shri M Chandrasekharan.

The fourth day featured B Swarnarethas with S Varadarajan and P Satish Kumar. Swarnarethas had early training from Smt Indira Ramanathan. He also learnt the mrudangam from Ramanathapuram MN Kandaswamy Pillai.

Overall it was a satisfactory experience for me. It has been a long time since I went out and sat through four complete concerts on consecutive days. I must specially thank each and every one of the accompanying artistes who did a wonderful job to inspire these youngsters. I spent some thought into putting together the list of accompanists for these concerts. I wanted musicians who were popular, skilled and experienced. They also had to be people who were accompanists in the true sense of the word. They would not be big names with bloated egos who wanted to constantly remind these musicians of their stature. Instead the accompanists all played with sincerity and exuded so much warmth on stage. Everyday I could see the tension in the youngsters' faces at the beginning of the concert. Everyday I could see that as the concert progressed, they loosened up to relax and give their best. This is the inspiration that youngsters seek from senior accompanists and I am so happy that they got it from them.

Special thanks to Jaya of Ragasudha hall for giving the right ambience and to all the rasikas who came in to support this venture. Thanks are also due to Suresh and Charu of Charsur. They have recorded these concerts and will be putting them up online for people to download.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The longest day of this tour

Am sitting at the Logan airport in Boston as I type this. Another tour of the US is over and it has been so power packed and hectic. Thanks to the tour sponsor Bhargavi Sundarrajan, my accompanists Nagai Muralidharan and Neyveli Venkatesh and the warmth and love of the numerous rasikas, organisers and hosts, I go back in an extremely happy and joyous frame of mind. It has been like this every single time I finished an overseas visit and this time it is no exception. The only difference to the previous occasions is that I sit down and pen my thoughts immediately in this blog. For years I wanted to write a diary and never could do it. There was this pressure to write something every day and things never got on track. Blogging is so different. I can write or not write and still not feel any pressure. At the same time I can record a few things that I go through and feel nice about it.

17 concerts in 35 days can be quite exhausting but my experience has been more on the lines of a great workout at the gym. Am feeling so refreshed and ready to get back home and start looking forward to more activity. US tours have a way of rounding off one's music. I always felt that my first tour in 1995 was the one that convinced me that I could take music as a serious full time career. After several such tours today my mind is already thinking about the things that I tried here, managed to pull off, flopped here and there. I am already excited about taking them up in India especially in the music season. For instances I sang some RTPs in ragams that I had not done in past like Desh and Dwijavanti. I was particularly happy with the latter as I had struggled with it in the past. I must say that a recording of TNS that I found and some help and encouragement from Nagai Muralidharan helped me along more than anything else.

It felt good to catch up with a few old friends from previous tours and things have hardly changed. Yes the price of gas has gone up, so has the cost of food in airports not to mention Starbucks. But I made a start by getting used to some of the black coffee served on the planes especially Southwest and this basically took care of my daily quota of caffeine. The disappointment was not being able to keep up with a thirteen year tradition of visiting Dayton, Ohio this time.

So after all that the last concert was probably the longest day of the tour. On saturday last we had just wrapped up the concert at Austin, TX and went to sleep only by about 1 am. We had a flight to catch the next morning at 7 am. So we got up on Sunday at 4 am. We reached the airport only to discover that the flight was delayed. As it is we were due to arrive only at 1.40 pm in Boston and they had already postponed the concert by an hour to 5 pm. By the time we landed in Charlotte to catch our connection it was 12 noon.We had to traverse the entire airport in Charlotte to reach our gate and the walk was a good 25 minutes even at a brisk pace and I am reasonably fit at the moment I tell you. We just had time to grab a bite before we boarded the flight especially given that it was lunch time and there were long queues at all the food joints. We landed in Boston at 3 pm and had to wait 35 minutes for our baggage to arrive. US Airways yesterday put the Indian Airlines of old to shame! We finally managed to reach the venue directly from the airport experiencing a bit of the famed 'Boston dig' and missing our way as the GPS got as confused as everyone else.

We still managed to start the concert on time after a few visits to the restroom who's location was the farthest I have seen on the tour from the performing stage. Thankfully the concert went well and the audience was in a more forgiving mood to tolerate what I managed. The saving grace was that I pulled off the Dwijavanti in the midst of all this. I think the adrenalin was pumping more because it was the end of the tour. After the concert we reached the hosts' place only to find the outside temperature at the lowest since we landed 5 weeks back! So in what was the longest day of the tour we had so many different varying experiences that more than made up for everything else to give us the usual well rounded US tour experience that we may have missed!

Things haven't stopped because I reached the airport and found an attendant telling me that my reservation has been canceled and I cannot get back home! So finally after more talk and explaining etc etc I am here at the gate waiting for the announcement to board the flight. I am probably writing more of this because things have gone like clock work and a special special thanks to Bhargavi Sundarrajan for planning and executing things to perfection.

Ps: Sitting in Brussels airport with access to the net I think I can finally post this today.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Gentlemen vs Players - A thin dividing line

Back in the early eighties I spent a considerable amount of time in the British Council Library in Chennai specifically looking for cricket books. One of my favorite authors was Neville Cardus and I always maintain that our own Sriram V is really the modern day Neville Cardus of Carnatic music. Anyway in Cardus' writing there was always this mention of the Gentlemen vs Players annual cricket match at Lords every year. Now who were these. Gentlemen were the amateurs, while the Players were the professional cricketers who were employed by the counties for a salary.

The reason I bring this up today is because such a distinction also existed some decades back in Carnatic music. My guru and grand aunt Smt Rukmini Rajagopalan, who was also an A grade artiste at the All India Radio always called herself an amateur (in a cricketng parlance that would make her a Lady!) and she identified several such people like her in the musical community. These amateurs were all either family women who sang mostly only on the radio or corporate executives who also performed regularly on the radio.

As far as performing skill goes there was not much of a dividing line between these amateurs and the successful professional concert artistes. But the main difference was that the amateurs were very very happy being just that. They never aspired to sing in all the major sabhas or music festivals. They were very happy singing their radio concert once every 2 months. Those were the days when the AIR was not yet privatised. The managed made a concerted effort to present classical music very regularly. The top artistes gave atleast 5-6 concerts a year. These amateurs also would sing probably at the odd family kalyanam maybe after the muhurtham before lunch is served or just during or after the nalangu or after the nischayathartham and leave the main reception concert to the pros.

In today's time also there are a number of such amateurs all over the world. Many of them live in places like the US for instance. They spend every minute of their spare time practicing. They teach a number of kids here and bring them upto a decent level before the more ambitious parents decide to send them to the pros in India. Some of these amateurs are involved in community activity also musically. The get a group to organise say a Tyagaraja Aradhana or a Composers day. They definitely get involved in the committee f some of the musical organisations and provide the expert angle when discussions happen regarding selection of the artistes for the next spring or fall season.

Some of them do try and compare themselves with the pros and know that they are so much better. I for instance know that there some excellent musicians who can sing an elaborate Narayanagowla or Balahamsa and put any pro including myself to shame. I have heard them and felt so depressed at my inability to sing as well. The only difference is that the pros took the plunge. They sacrificed a lot to take up music as a career. They may not be as good sometimes but they can definitely hold an audience. The challenge to a pro more than anything else is to get people to pay money to come and listen to them. So if the pros are dominating the concert scene it is because they are performers. They entertain. They keep people occupied for 2-3 hours. People are willing to spare time and money to come and listen to them. Afterall carnatic music today is competing with so many more alternate forms of entertainment including reading my blog at this moment or playing on the Nintendo Wii or watching a tear jerker on Sun TV. As I Player I take my hat of to all those Gentlemen and Ladies!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Song lists

Its been a few weeks since we landed in the US. 14 concerts have been completed. We landed in Washington and immediately sang 4 concerts on the trot. With travel, jet lag etc etc it was tough for me and my accompanists Shri Nagai Muralidharan & Shri Neyveli Venkatesh. Some of the members of the audience came up to me and asked if it was not a big strain to travel and sing like this. I just say that is my job and I jolly well accept it. After all if I had taken up the offer to join Citibank after I finished my CA I would have been slogging my butt out for 10-12 hours a day throughout the year. What we go through is typical of the lifestyle that most performers have.

One of the big pluses in a concert tour of the US is the frequency of the concerts and the work that we have to put in continuously. Also the concert time space in which we operate is much more relaxed and it gives us the freedom to experiment and play with so many different facets of the music. Secondly when I look back on the different tours that I have made my mind still goes back to the first tour in 1995. This really was a sort of coming of age tour for me. I gave close to 25+ concerts all in excess of 3 hours. For an upcoming musician who had been used 2+ hours of singing concerts in India this was a significant step up. You start setting small challenges to yourself. No repetition of songs until the RTP, no repetition of RTP ragams etc etc. This then makes you dig into your repertoire and start singing songs that you normally were not singing in concerts back home. Again when coming up with song lists back then there was the additional challenge to balance between the familiar and unfamiliar songs. Back then there was also this big discussion forum on the usenet newsgroup and posts would come up giving song lists details etc. Atleast the statistical value of song lists helped in keeping up the pressure of not repeating songs more than anything else.

The times when the bulletin boards in Sangeetham were active, there was frequent updates of song lists and multiple posts discussing the value of the concert just based on reading this. For instance the presence of Trinity compositions or Tamizh compositions brought in different reactions immediately. Back in the pre internet days, when we went around attending concerts during the music season and elsewhere a song list was never considered important. Afterall we never noted down all the songs. We only remembered what stood out in a concert. Sometimes it was the main korvai, or a simple sangati in a ragamalika viruttam, or a gap being filled up by the violinist during a neraval phase or just a smile by the main artiste at a front ranking artiste seated in the first row after singing a familiar phrase with a secret history behind it.

Sometimes when I see internet reports of concerts and reactions and people emailing me or calling me to discuss the same I just say "Are you listening to the concert or to the song list???"

More coming up