Tuesday, July 29, 2008

AKC Natarajan to get Sangita Kalanidhi this year

The Music Academy has announced that Shri AKC Natarajan, Clarinet artiste, has been selected to receive the Sangita Kalanidhi award this year. The SK is a very prestigious award and there is always a lot of excitement surrounding the choice and announcement every year. Online bulletin boards usually start speculating well in advance and I'm not sure if AKC was even in the reckoning. Personally I think this is an excellent choice. Firstly the artiste is one of the senior most vidwans, who broke into the strong domain of the nadaswaram maestroes with a different instrument. He has performed with exceptional skill and success for more than 50 years and is a worthy choice. The Academy has definitely done itself proud by selecting AKC.

A few years back I had the good fortune of spending about 10 days with AKC in Cleveland and it was most memorable in more ways than one. This was my first encounter with him and he came across as a very warm individual who hardly had any traces of arrogance or seniority. This is very rare as I have come across several senior musicians who were so full of themselves and more than eager to stamp their personality on you rather than their music! Nadaswara vidwan Seshampatti Sivalingam, had also come with us in that trip. I still remember at Chicago airport as we were waiting to clear our baggage, he came up to AKC and said "How is that when we hear you play, there is no difference in the sound between the clarinet and the nadaswaram?" He said that he had pulled out a few of the keys in the instruemnt and modified it so that he ppaid it mroe like a nadaswaram than as a conventional clarinet. Which is why he was able to reproduce most of the nadaswara gamakas and phrases.

During the entire week in Cleveland I was the honorary coffee maker at the Comfort Inn lobby at Cleveland for several musicians like AKC, Vina Venkatraman and Vellore Ramabhadran. In the afternoons I would just walk into AKC's room and have a chat with him about various things.After a couple of days he told me "Please come to room tomorrow and sing for some time. I want to warm my fingers and get ready for the concert!" So I went and he took his instrument and started playing along as I sang. After a while he got so enthused and put down his instrument and started singing himself. And how well he sang! I still remember a Karaharapriya alapana that he sang. Vellore Ramabhadran was also there and he joined in and there was a terrific imromptu jam session!

AKC also had an impish sense of humour. Once he said, "I'll teach you a song. Once you start singing it in your concerts, young girls will just be queueing up soon!" And guess what he sang for me "Oho kaalame" in Sahana. I asked him for the notation and he promised to give it to me. Later I found a recording of Dandapani Desigar singing that and song and learnt it immediately. AKC also gave me pointers to a lot of compositions that he ahd learnt and hoefully I will be able to get it all in soon. He told me that when he started out there was a lot of oppositeion among nadaswara vidwans. Whenever he came to temple festivals, the nadaswara vidwans would ask him to stay back as his instrument was only a "band vadyam" or an instrument from the European band and not a traditional temple instrument. But his hard work, dedication and efforts finally paid off and today he stands apart as an oustanding exponent of carnatic music who has proved himself to be bracketed with the best among the best in modern nadaswara music.

The Academy has also not been too kind to ndaswara vidwans. In fact in its 80 year existence only 3 nadaswara vidwans have been given the SK. It is also most fitting that this is given in the year of the centenary of SSI, because Semmangudi himself was one of the great fans of Nadaswaram and he would have been most happy withthis choice.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Concert at Bangalore yesterday

Just got back from a concert at Bangalore yesterday. The venue was the Bangalore Gayana Samaja - Shouldn't it be Bengaluru Gayana Samaja :) Anyway, The occasion this time was a series to celebrate the birth centenary of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. After the blasts etc, Bangalore appeared calm and the Sunday traffic was decent I should say.

As I was going to the concert, I generally was thinking about what to sing etc. There was this pressure to sing a 'Semmangudi' list. Ideally I would have dug into my repertoire and come up with say

Entho prema - Surati varnam
Suryamurthe - Saurashtram
Gnanamosaga rada - Poorvikalyani
Appan avadaritta - Karaharapriya / Marubalka - Sriranjani
Chetashri - Dwijavanti / Shri ramam - Narayanagowla
Gajavadana - Todi / Amba Kamakshi - Bhairavi
Nee bhajan gana - Nayaki
RTP - Sankarabharanam / Kambhoji
Palayamamayibho - Khamas
aravinda padamalar - Kapi
Slokam - Ragamalika
Sapasya - Jonpuri
Mangalam

But then except for the Jonpuri piece I did not sing the above list. The reason I just came up with the above list is that concerts dedicated to muscians are generally song lists of the said musicians! This is just a more modern trend from the last 20 odd years. Now let us say for instance there was a Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer centenary concert about 30/40 years ago. Would musicians of that generation have thought about these things? For instance if Semmangudi had sung that concert he would have probably just sung the above 'Semmangudi' list rather than a 'Maha' list. Some years back I had gone to sing a Tyagaraja aradhana concert in Trichy. The organiser was Shri Alathur Tyagarajan who also happened to be the son of the late Alathur Subbayyar. So in tune with the trend I sang a typical Alathur list - Nenendu - Karnataka Behag, Rama nee vadu - Kalyani, etc etc with Evarimata in Kambhoji. I still remember violinist RK Shriramkumar remarking after the concert, "It is better to label this a Subbayyar aradhana than a Tyagaraja aradhana!"

The main reason for such lists appearing in such memorial concerts is the unbelievable influence that musicians like Semmangudi had on musicians and listeners. Also the availability of tape recordings in plenty keeps the rasikas minds fresh with the memory of their heroes. For instance yesterday I sang Parvati nayaka in Bhouli as the main piece. I got an email today from a friend/musician who heard a few old timers remarking in the auditorium "He is singing all this Hyder kaalatthu paattu!" The music of people like Semmangudi will linger for a long long time and was most evidenced yesterday, when Shri Kamalnath, the President of the Gayana Samaja, said "Sanjay sang Saravanabhava in Sanmukhapriya as a tribute to Semmangudi!" The power of Semmangudi and his music is so great that even after three hours of my singing, (Which also I personally consider as my own tribute to the great man!) the three and a half minute piece was the first to be recalled! This was only because Semmangudi's Saravanabhava was a huge hit in Bangalore. As an aside, Ramnad Krishnan was singing a concert at Bangalore the same day as Semmangudi also. A rasika in Ramnad Krishnan's concert got up and shouted "Saravanabhava please!" Ramnad Krishnan replied with a wry smile, "It is not too late. You can take a bus and reach the 'other' venue and hear 'him' sing it!!!"

Finally it was an amazing audience yesterday. I really felt one among everyone. Thanks so much and it was a pleasure to be there!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Happy birthday Semmangudi mama!


Today is the birth centenary of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, in my opinion, one of the most influential of all carnatic musicians in the 20th century. I use the term influential mainly because that is what I can remember. His influence through his singing, his teaching, his professional life, his wit, his stage presence, his wisdom etc etc etc. A complete and thorough run through of his life would give innumerable pointers to musicians like me to follow and emulate. After all what more can be more influential than making people of his ilk follow him!

His music has been analysed threadbare and so has his life and career by many many people. This will continue for a long time to come and so I am not going to add anything of great value except my own personal views. In the early eighties I was such a rabid GNB fan that Semmangudi was enemy no 1 in my list! My grandfather Tyagu was a huge Semmangudi fan and periodically admonished me for holding such a view. But then that view was partly mine becaue of some of the stories that Tyagu himself had narrated! Which is of course another issue. It all started changing in the late eighties and musical company friends widened out of my immediate family. One main guy to make change my opinion was KR Subramaniam, flautist, disciple of N Ramani and a very close friend of mine. He was a huge Semmangudi buff and had a great collection of tapes. His access to GNB tapes was much less and so began a process of exchanges that made the way for both of us to enrich ourselves.

The first tape that he gave me was a concert with TNK and Pazhani, an old Academy concert with Kalyani RTP, and a slick Narayangowla ragamalika swaram. The alapana and tanam was an eye opener to me about this great musician. We came to the conclusion that Semmangudi's music should not be judged with the recording of concerts after the mid seventies. Afterall the man was already 65+ by then! Sometime in 1988 I had gone to sing in the Sridhara Ayyaval Utsavam in Tiruvisainallur. This was a very very important festival and many great musicians had made their mark there. It also happened to be the native place of my great grandmother and I continue to go there as often as I can. I did get a chance to sing there first only because of my lineage than my musical abilites :) Anyway what I was coming to was that, after I finished singing a seventy year old man came up to me and asked me if I was Tyagu's grandson. He then said that he and Tyagu were childhood buddies and the streets of Tiruvisainallur withessed heated arguments between the Maharajapuram and Semmangudi bands of rasikas, the former led by him and the latter by Tyagu! Many years later SSI himself once asked me if I had any roots with Tiruvisainallur and said that the Ayyaval utsavam was quite prestigious in his times and he particularly enjoyed the audience there.

I had the opportunity to meet up with the great man on many occasions but there are just two stories that I want to say today. My guru Shri KSK had told me that narayanagowla was a dying ragam and the only person who could still do justice was Semmangudi. He recalled an elaborate Shri Ramam that he had heard in a concert in Bangalore. Once when I was at SSI's residence I casually remarked that I wanted to learn Shri ramam from him. He said no problems any time and we left it at that. It was January 1st 2000 and I ran into him at the Academy in the morning. He asked me if I was just threatening to learn that song from him or if I was serious at all! I immediately asked him if I could come then and followed him to his house. He taught me the whole song in about 45 minutes and it was most enlightening and inspiring. The man was already 92 but the energy, enthusiasm, power in his voice and the quickness to make any corrections of the silly mess ups that I was continuously making was remarkable! He even asked me why I did not bring a notebook with me to write down the lyrics not the notation mind you!! I went back home and came again a few days later to sing and show him if it was ok. He just smiled and went on talk about other issues.

The other longer story is the entire day I spent with him in December 2002, when I accompanied him to Mumbai. He was to receive the National Eminence award from the Shanmukhananda Award. It was the first time they had introduced this and it carried a one lakh cash award. I was also chosen to receive the Shanmukha Sangeetha Shiromani on that same day. A few months back, when I knew about this I asked SSI if he was going to Mumbai. He asked me what was the matter. I told him that he has going to get a lakh of rupees. He gave a mischievous smile and said that if that were so he has to go! I told him that I was also selected to go and he he was immediately thrilled and told me that I had to escort him. That plane journey and the day I spent there with him was most memorable and some of the stories are better narrated in a podcast that I'll probably do soon. But there were two things that were significant in that trip. One was his power of observation, the moment we left the Mumbai airport and entered Dharavi, he recognised the place and asked me if it was the same. Secondly after the function, he called me and asked me if what they had given was a cheque or a draft. He said "If it is a cheque we have to lose bank charges!"

Happy birthday Semmangudi mama!!!!

Monday, July 21, 2008

A little more on Abheri

I was just going through some old journals of the Music academy and came upon the article on Abheri by Amy Catlin, the American musicologist. I do remember having read this article some years ago and a reference to this by my good friend Srini Pichumani on Sangeetham. Fortunately I chanced upon this yesterday and thought I could share some of the important points not discussed earlier.

1. Govinda's Sangraha Chudamani gives the dhaivata of Abheri as a Trishruti which is higher than the suddha dhaivata and lower than the chatussruti dhaivata.

2. Coming to nagumomu Amy Catlin quotes two sources - The Walajapet manuscripts and Vina Kuppayyar's notebooks where the raga name is not mentioned at all. Sambamoorthy has identified a total of 83 such ragas where the names were not mentioned and Abheri is one of those.

3. The first known publication of nagumomu with swara notation was the Sangita sarvartha sara sangrahamu the raga for nagumomu is mentioned as Nagavarali a janya of mela 8. This is an 1885 publication. Tachur Singaracharlu in their 1877 publication also mention nagumomu as Abheri but without any swara notation. Chinnaswami Mudaliar's Oriental Music in Staff notation (1892) was to have had nagumomu as per a list of songs circulated in advance soliciting money, but was never printed.

4. The first known performer of nagumomu was Sarabha Sastri on the flute who was a disciple of Manambuchavadi Venkatasubbayyar.

5. The reference to Madurai Pushpavanam having sung Abheri is referred from an eyewitness account narrated in Rangaramnuja Iyengar's book. (This is probably the reference Ram was thinking about when he made the comment in the earlier post) Rangaramanuja Iyengar has also said that Pushpavanam sang the trissruti dhaivatam. (My personal view and more or less what Ram had echoed earlier is that this trissruti dhaivatam could have easily morphed into the chatussruti dhaivatam when Musiri sang it. But more practically a trissruti dhaivatam would have sounded more like an off sruti chatussruti dhaivatam to a modern ear!)

6. Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer was the next to sing nagumomu. He was inspired by Pushpavanam. He also borrowed from Hindustani music and consistently mixed Bimpalas in his renditions. This could be another direct result of nagumomu acquring its modern form.

7. By 1930 the modern nagumomu had become very popular. The raga lakshana discussions in the Academy were more conservative and ruled that Abheri was a janya of the 20th mela. But musicians like Tiger and Muthiah Bhagavatar commented that that d2 should be allowed in tune with times.

8. Among other things the conclusion of the article says "it is possible for two entirely different forms of the raga to exist today, each associated with different compositions, and for a variety of forms to be permissible in the performance of nagumomu"

The only thing missing in the above article is any reference or mention of Devagandhari.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Sanjay Subrahmanyan Show - Episode 3 - On Semmangudi with Sriram V

A chat with Sriram V on Semmangudi and an upcoming coffee table book that Sriram has co-authored.

Click below to listen

The Sanjay Subrahmanyan Show - Episode 3 - On Semmangudi with Sriram V

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Karnata/Karnataka Devagandhari

Please refer my earlier post about Abheri/Pantuvarali where there was a discussion about the origin of these ragas and their nomenclature. Firstly I had made an erroneous conclusion on 'Karnataka' being added by Mysore Vasudevachar. Thanks to Arunk for pointing that out. Arunk was also kind enough to come up with some interesting info and my later research into the same yielded the following. Instead of burdening the comments with more of that I though I can start up a separate thread here just on the above topic.

My source for this has been entirely Hema Ramanathan's Ragalakshnasangraha, fantastic work, that collects the raga descriptions from various musical treatises.

1. Sangraha Chudamani (SC) - Karnata Devagandhari - Born from Keeravani mela
2. Sangeetha Sara Sangrahamu (SSS) - Karnataka Devagandhari - Born from Keeravani mela
3. Mahabharata Chudamani (MC) - Karnataka Devagandhari - Born from the Keeravani mela
4. Raga Lakshana - Karnataka Devagandhara - No raga description but the verse on Malavi (under the 21st mela which is Keeravani) ends with the Andhra text version of three ragas one of which is Karnataka Devagandhara.

So this was probably a completey different raga as opposed to the Devagandhari of the 22nd mela! So now all musician has to do is sing an RTP in the scale s g m p n/ s n d p m g r in the Keeravani mela and call it the 'original' Karnataka Devagandhari!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sriram V has a blog

For those not familiar Sriram V is a prolific writer with two important books on Carnatic Music to his credit - Carnatic Summer (The chronicling of the lives of 20 great carnatic musicians) and The Devadasi & the Saint (The story of Bangalore Nagaratnammal). Sriram and me jointly ran Sangeetham.com for many years. Sriram continues to write articles regularly on music, especial muscial history and heritage, besides other historical matters. He now has a blog online where he posts his writings. Some of the articles which have been abridged by the 'eager beavers' of the editing department of the various publications, can be found in full here.

Music Heritage and Music

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pantuvarali, Abheri etc

I thought I'll post something more technical for a change. Last December in the Music Academy, I had sung an RTP and called it Abheri. The raga I sang was the popular Abheri as identified by the current rendition of Nagumomu and widely referred to as Abheri. There were some posts on the Internet and remarks by some musicians that what I sang was not the original Abheri but rather Karnataka Devagandhari. A musician even sang an RTP in the 'original' Abheri announcing it as that. This is a well discussed subject and there are some points that need to put in perspective before coming to any conclusions.

1. The raga I sang was S G M P N / S N D P M G R in the 22nd mela. The historical documentary evidence about this scale shows that this was called Devangandhari. Please not that originally it was not called Devangandharam or Karnataka Devagandhari as perceived by some. The scale is also the exact counterpart of the North Indian raga Bimpalas.

2. Abheri as per historical documentary evidence, is the same scale S G M P N / S N D P M D R in the 20th mela. Many musicians and musicologists have said in the past and continue to say that this was the raga in which Nagumomu was composed by Tyagaraja but the change to its present form was brought about and popularised by Musiri Subramaniya Iyer through his immortal 78 rpm record.

3. The 22nd mela janya scale could not be referred to by its 'original' name Devagandhari becasue of the presence of the more popular Kshirasagara and their like. This more popular Devagandhari was a completely different raga. So how could you have two different ragas with the same name?

4. The term 'Devangandharam' was taken only after finding that Dikshitar has used this word in his kriti 'Panchashat peetha roopini.' It is still a matter of contention whether that was a raga mudhra. Since the SSP (the last word on Dikshitar kritis and other issues for many) calls it only Devangandhari. Now it could be conveniently distinguished with two different names for the two ragas.

5. Now comes the term Karnataka Devagandhari - My take on this is that this was coined by Mysore Vasudevachar for his composition 'Bhajare bhaja manasa.' I cannot be sure about this but I remember people only referring to this song as Karnataka Devagandhari.

6. Since Bimpalas is a north indian raga it could be conveniently used for tukkadas and not kritis! So one found this being used to refer as the raga name for a song like say Vella tamarai.

Given this situation what can one call the raga I sang? I can call it Karnataka Devagandhari, Bimpalas or 'Xerox' Abheri if you like. The reason I choose to call it Abheri is that the most popular and well known song Nagumomu, sung in this exact same scale is referred to only as Abheri! Like Kamal Hassan said in the film Nayaka "Ask them to stop and I'll stop!" Let them stop calling the raga of the present day Nagumomu as Abheri and I'll do likewise.

Now let me present a different case and show that the parallel of what I have done is what the musical community has done over time. This is the case of the popular Pantuvarali. Almost 5 years ago I wrote and article on sangeetham.com asking "Is it really Pantuvarali?" I managed to hunt down that article and I am reproducing it below.

Pantuvarali is a fairly popular and well-known raga in Carnatic music. Just as G R Viswanath often went in "two down" in the Indian batting order, Pantuvarali has invariably been "one down" in a concert! That is the third piece after a varnam and a short, sharp piece.

But is the Pantuvarali that we commonly refer to the real Pantuvarali? A look at some of the historical facts surrounding this issue raises interesting questions. The common Pantuvarali that we all know is the 51st Melakarta - Kamavardhini. Now Kamavardhini found appearance only in the 19th century when the Kanakangi mela scheme was formed. Prior to that, this scale was always referred to only as Ramakriya. Also, as per the asampoorna mela paddhati, it was Kashiramakriya.

Now one proof that the current Kamavardhini was the old Ramakriya can be got from texts which give Dipakam as a janya of Ramakriya. The notes in Dipakam are exactly the 51st mela.

What happened to Ramakriya? Well Ramakriya, which has always been the 51st mela in the old texts, slowly got erased and replaced by Pantuvarali. For instance, some texts of Tyagaraja kritis give some songs as Ramakriya and some as Pantuvarali. 'Appa Rama bhakti' and 'Ennalu urage' are given as Pantuvarali whereas 'Vadera daivamu' and 'Shambho Mahadeva' are mentioned as Ramakriya.

Now coming to the other point in this whole issue. What was Pantuvarali? According to Venkatamakhi, Pantuvarali was the 45th mela or the current-day Shubhapantuvarali. According to the asampoorna mela paddhati, it was called Shivapantuvarali. So that probably explains 'Ennalu urage' being mentioned as Pantuvarali as it is sung predominantly as the current day 45th mela Shubhapantuvarali.

So, finally, we have a situation where Ramakriya has disappeared and become Kamavardhini. Pantuvarali has become Shubhapantuvarali. And Pantuvarali and Kamavardhini are the same today!

I have put the things on the table. It is upto people to form their opinions and come to conclusions. This is just a summarised view. It is not too elaborate. Everything that I have written can be substantiated with documentary evidence, but this not a research paper so I will refrain from doing the same.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The first radio programme

This morning I had a recording at the AIR Chennai studios and as I walked in I was reminded of my very first stint there. It was 1984 and I had been selected to sing for 10 minutes at the Ilayabharatham (Youth programme really) on Madras 'B' station. I had received the contract and had signed and returned it after reading through all the four pages of some of the most incomprehensible legalese that a 16 year old could be exposed to. About a week before the programme I got a call from a guy called V Sethupathy, who said he was playing the mrudangam for me and wanted to have a rehearsal. He also told me that we could have it in his house and that his father would be there. I had no idea who his father was and why he should be there when we practiced, but I just decided to go ahead. I took my cycle and went to his house on South Mada St in Mylapore. His father was sitting there below a photograph of a Nadaswara vidwan. I still had no idea who he was or who the nadaswara vidwan was. I did not even think it necessary to enquire and find out. I was just too involved in myself you see! Anyway the rehearsal went well. After we finished his father actually sang the pallavi of the song that I was singing and told me to give a pause for him to play an aruthi before taking up the anupallavi. His mouth had betel stains and he was wearing a white half khadi shirt and also sang, so I assumed that he must have been a musician.

The programme was a Live one and was scheduled at 7.40 AM and so I was there at the studios promptly at 7.00 o clock all excited. The only such previous experience as exciting as this was the morning of the first sub junior cricket match that I played for St Bede's against PSBB at the RKM ground! The entry was empty and I walked in to the lobby. There was a guy standing there, who asked me to fill up some particulars in a register and made me sit down.After about 10 minutes I got jittery and went up to him again to ask if some one was coming. He just motioned me away with a wave and I was back where I started on a chair in the lounge. At about 7.25 the mrudangist arrived and filled his name etc and sat down next to me. It was also his first programme and we hardly spoke to each other. At 7.30 another gentleman came in and motioned to both of us to follow him into the studio. We entered the studio and sat down. The AC was on full blst and the place was freezing. There was no Tambura artiste and I had brought along my sruti box. No electronic ones then and it was the old fashioned 'petti'. It was almost 7.35 and we were going on air in 5 minutes. I thought that there must be no violin for this because it was a youth programme. Just then the studio door opened and a disheveled old lady came walking in quietly with a violin box. It was Dwaram Mangathayaru. The clock was ticking and at 7.40 I looked up to see a red light flashing and an announcer just beginning to announce the programme details. As he was finishing up Dwaram madam quietly took out her violin. As I started Gajavadana in Sriranjani, she was just tuning her instrument softly and by the time the anupallavi started she had joined in enthusiastically!

After the program finished we walked to the duty room to collect our cheques and left, but not before being asked for 25 paise for a revenue stamp. I had no idea that this was required and I had no money on me. So I had to borrow from the mrudangist and that was that. After a couple of weeks I was at a concert and I saw this father of my mrudangist sitting and singing with another person. It was a concert of Tiruvarur Sethuraman and Kuzhikkarai Viswalingam and the man who's house I had been to was Viswalingam. The nadaswara vidwan's photo now made sense to me because it was that of Kuzhikkarai Pichayappa!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

My concerts available for download - TTD, Chennai May 2008


Charsur, the company for whom I have been exclusively recording my commercial and live albums, have today launched a new initiative. They will be offering select concerts as albums for download only. This means that these concerts will not be available as CDs, but rather as digital tracks only.

They have launched it with a concert of mine sung at the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), Chennai on May 31st 2008. The entire concert is now available for a download price of Rs 250/- or US$12.98. Individual tracks can also be downloaded separately. The concert is available at the link given below.

The speciality of this new feature is that Charsur are doing it entirely at just cost and sharing the complete revenues with all the artistes directly through a royalty system. This means that for every track downloaded, all the artistes, who participated in that concert will get a share of the revenue. This is a first as normally accompanists do not figure in the royalty scheme of things with most Indian carnatic music production houses. Charsur has also decided to forego their share of the profit and give it to the artistes. As and when they release further concerts of mine I'll put links up at the blog as well. Way to go Charsur!

Download Sanjay Subrahmanyan live at TTD

PS: When I began this blog, a few friends emailed me, saying that I should introduce a subscription model for the podcast, or atleast have a "Paypal donate" button like in most blogs, if not run Google ads. Personally I think this venture of Charsur is a sure shot better way, and if people who read this blog are genuine supporters of carnatic music, they will download legally distributed music by paying for it and ensuring that all artistes get their due.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The music competitions

I had begun learning vocal music only in 1982. This was after my violin teacher had migrated to the states. My violin playing had also stopped almost and I was singing more frequently and attending classes with my grand aunt Smt Rukmini Rajagopalan as well as her daughter Sukanya Swaminathan. My mom was quite an Academy regular in the sixties and she kept telling me that I should participate in the music competitions in the Academy. It was 1984 when I walked into the Academy office to pick up the application form. Going through the requirements I realised I was hardly qualified. For instance Tyagaraja compositions required that we know 15 kritis and 2 of them had to be Pancharatnams - I knew only 1! Next was Swati Tirunal which required knowing 10 kritis only but 3 Navarathri kritis. Dikshitar also required 15 pieces with 3 Navavarnams. My grand aunt said I could enter Swati Tirunal as it was easier to learn up the songs. I gave in the entry with only 2 Navarathri pieces as my grand aunt thought we could get through as they may not be very strict.

On the day of the competition, we landed there with the full 'jing bang' crowd including parents, two sets of grand parents etc. As luck would have it one of the judges was TM Thiagarajan, a stickler for rules and the exact wrong guy who could excuse us. Even before the competition commenced, Shri TMT called out my name. I went up to him and he asked me why I had not included three Navarathri pieces. I confessed that I knew only two and he promptly disqualified me! A rather painful debut at the Academy competitions I should say.

The next year I was better prepared and managed to grab a few third places. The rumor was that judges like Shri TMT also encouraged male participants because of the sheer low number. We were only about 4 or 5 males compared to a 100 odd female participants! Indian ine Arts was a tougher competition. Though the number of songs required were lesser, one had to sing neraval and kalpana swarams for every piece. This was the best preparation one could make, because if one entered in about 4 or 5 competitions like say, Tyagaraja, Dikshitar, Syama Sastri, Swati Tirunal and Papanasam Sivan, then we had to practice about 30 songs and be able to sing neraval and swarams for every piece. This was much better preparation for a student than say preparing for a single kutchery, where every aspect of manodharma could be memorised.

That was not all. On the day of the competition you could be put to further tests on the spot. Once during a Dikshitar kritis competition, I was singing Karikalabha mukham in Saveri. I had practiced neraval at the anupallavi Harihayaadhi. As soon as I started singing, Smt Vedavalli who was one of the judges asked me to perform neraval at the pallavi line itself! So I began this and managed a decent few avarthanams. I kept singing the neraval to the samam eduppu. As I began singing kalpana swarams, the judge stopped me again and asked me to sing at the 1/4 eduppu from the samam!

Once there was a competition at the East West cultural association in Bangalore. I saw an ad somewhere and found that there was a cash prize. So a few of us from here made the trip to Bangalore. Among us were Anuradha Sriram (the M.Anuradha and a disciple of S Kalyanaraman), KN Sashikiran, Dr Ganesh and some talented students from Bangalore including MS Vidya (the daughter of one of the Bellary brothers). In the final round we had to sing raga alapana and neraval swarams. The judge was Maharajapuram Santhanam. Anuradha went first and was asked to sing Saveri ragam. She sang quite superbly. Asked to do neraval, she promptly took up Sankari sankuru of Syama Sastri. I went in next and was asked to sing Reetigowla! As soon as I heard it I knew I was done for. I knew NO song in that ragam. But I had listened to a lot of alapanas from GNB as well as my grandfather and managed quite well. Then asked to do neraval swaram, I just told Shri Santhanam I knew no songs. He then sang the first line of the anupallavi of Paripalayam and asked me to continue doing neraval. I was so upset, because I did not know the song, hardly could get the words, it was a pressure situation and I don't think Shri Santhanam himself had done neraval in that place! It was very unfair! I just managed to sing a bit and got away with a second prize.

Competitions really were an excellent breeding ground for us students and they demanded a lot of hard work and practice. We really built up a decent sized repertoire early on only because of this constant exposure. Another important thing with competitions were that they were excellent places for talent spotting. A number of sabha secretaries became aware of our names and how good we were from here. Indian Fine Arts, gave the Tyagaraja kritis winner a concert in their next season festival. Senior musicians noticed us and recommended us at important times.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Sanjay Subrahmanyan Show - Episode 2 - Creativity

Episode 2 is up. Feedback from the previous episode, beginners and exposure to carnatic music and creativity.

Click below to listen to

The Sanjay Subrahmanyan Show - Episode 2 - Creativity