Thursday, August 28, 2008

Concert at Delhi - A surprise comment from an old timer!

Just got back from a concert at Delhi. After the concert an old timer came up tome and said "Thank you so much for singing Brindavanam iduvo in Suddha dhanyasi. The last time I heard it was by Thurayur Rajagopala Sarma at the Margazhi bhajanai conducted by Papanasam Sivan around the Kapaleeswarar temple more than 40 years ago!" I just replied that I am fortunate there are still people who have heard those things, can remember and identify with the same after so many years. Personally for me, I came across this song some 20 years ago at the same Sivan bhajanai group during Margazhi. Sethalapathy Balu sang an unbelievable "Oorilen kaani illai" viruttam in Suddha dhanyasi followed by this song. I loved it so much that I got a recording and learnt it up immediately. Unfortunately in all these years I don't think I ever sang that song in a concert. Then last week I was due to sing for Nadopasna and it was Gokulashtami day. So I thought it would be nice to sing it then. It was some time but I remembered all those sangatis and was quite sure except that I had completely forgotten the beginning words of the anu pallavi! I kept trying to remember but could not. I was confident I could locate the lyrics online but it was not to be. Finally I decided to call Papanasam Ashok Ramani to get help. We kept singing the song together on the phone because we had both heard Balu mama sing it in the bajanai. Unfortunately he also could not remember the anu pallavi. He promised to call back after checking with his mum Smt Rukmini Ramani. Finally after 15 minutes he called and gave me the lyrics and I managed to sing it in the concert that evening. One rasika even came up to me and said that it was very close to the Balu mama version and that he had a recording of it also. I am happy I got down to tracking the lyrics and singing it and it gave me even more satisfaction that someone who had heard the original version was still around to listen to what I had to offer! I never realised that the song had been sung by Turayur who was well known for his composing efforts. The lyrics were by Suddhananda Bharati and I am sure Turayur must have composed the tune. Sometimes just digging up something from the past can still be fresh and new to another generation of listeners!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Vande Mataram!

I think it was in 1997, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of India's independence that a series of videos were made with the Vande Mataram theme. A few of us in the then 'youth brigade' of the carnatic music scene were specifically chosen to sing Vande mataram together. Here is the video and some info about it. It was commonly agreeed that Bombay Jayashri would set the Vande mataram to music. We were quite clear that the piece should have enough of a carnatic feel to it. She came up with Khamas version that you see below. The recording was done at the studios of AR Rahman in Chennai, unfortunately the MAN himself was not there for the recording! Thought it would be nice to post this today on Independence day. Interestingly you can see that some of the others who were already part of the 'youth brigade' and some others who later gained entry and enjoying substantial success are absent! Vande Mataram!

Concert at Bangalore yesterday

Yesterday was my annual trip to the SGBS concert at Bangalore. SGBS is the Sree Guruvayurappan Bhajana Samaj, that conducts a music festival in connection with Gokulashtami every year in the Odukkathur Mutt, in Ulsoor, Bangalore. This year they finally kicked off their new Unnati Centre and concerts were shifted to the new venue. The venue is a very nicely built acoustically suitable auditorium. The mic systems were good and we hardly had any problems. My only personal grouse was that the ceiling could have been higher than the 16 feet they had allotted. But then there so many other constraints to consider I guess.

Ramesh Swamy, the chief architect and driving force behind the SGBS is an old friend of mine. We have enjoyed a long relationship and I have been singing quite regularly at his festival. I still remember more than 10 years ago when he called met to ask me to sing as a replacement for Trichur Ramachandran, who had to opt out. It was my wedding anniversary and I was reluctant to travel. But he agreed to get my wife also along with me. The concert was even more memorable because it was the first concert that Nagai Muralidharan accompanied me. I called him the previous night and told him that it would be an honour to perform with him. His first response to me was "You remind me of S Kalyanaraman so much!" What more could I have asked for!

Anyway the venue has a lot of teething problems and things should get sorted out in the coming years. The first of course is the bad quality of the approach roads and the rain did not help things yesterday. Secondly like a lot of newly built venues it takes time for people to warm up and generate the kind of buzz and ambience that one is used at the SGBS venue in Ulsoor. This will happen in due course so it is not good to compare the two at the moment. For instance when the Narada Gana sabha was inaugurated it had a similar problem and people were unfairly comparing it to the Music Academy. Over time the place has managed to create its own ambience and acquired a character that is quite unique making it one of the premier concert venues in Chennai. Similarly I am sure the Unnati centre with sustained exposure to music concerts will gradually acquire an identifiable character and artistes and rasikas will start enjoying it much more.

Of course I am not taking anything away from yesterday's experience on the other hand. It was great and the numbers that turned up inspite of the nightmarish traffic and rain was so encouraging. I was not happy to stop after singing for 3 hours and 15 minutes! As I was just getting on to stage I joked with Ramesh Swamy's dad that I will not allow Ramesh to make his customary speech if he did not arrive in time when I started the varnam. As I began the Reetigowla varnam I was happy to see Ramesh stroll in! As the concert progressed and I was ending the main alapana there was movement in the audience as a couple of women took on a plate to pass it around for contributions. This is a huge distraction to the musicians on stage. This is more so in a compact environment like yesterday's. I am used to this in the old SGBS venue but then there is a very open feel to the place and the temple atmosphere also helps. So one is not bothered as much. But here the distraction a bit more. I hope Ramesh can look at putting 7 or 8 contribution boxes around the hall and people take the cue rather taking out the plate right in the middle of the concert.

The next was the interruption for the vote of thanks. Ramesh has a reputation of extending it to almost 20 minutes sometimes. I always feel that this really brings down the tempo of the concert and calls for a substantial effort to get it back on track especially if one wants to sing an RTP. I am happy if this is done after the pallavi. I actually had an extended conversation and succeeded in getting Ramesh to postpone his speech. The net result was that some sponsors who were waiting had to leave. My suggestion would be to honour sponsors in the beginning of the concert itself. And please allow me to finish my RTP before you can start your speeches. Semmangudi once told me that he had a deal with Palghat Mani Iyer. The tani avartanam would normally not take more than 10-12 minutes. He felt that his voice would get dry and he found it difficult to get it back on track quickly. That was why Mani Iyer also played a second tani after the pallavi. I am not making an appeal to mrudangam artistes to shorten their tani. I am only appealing to organizers to shorten their speechifyings!!!

Overall I am so happy that Ramesh has got his dream project running. He is an avid music enthusiast and has been working tirelessly for many many years. I have stayed at his place on numerous occasions and the entire family including his wife Valli, children and parents treat the whole festival as a family function. I am sure Unnati will take off to greater heights and I personally am looking forward to my annual performance for the SGBS at the new venue. An email I received this morning from a friend who was at the concert sums things up "don't you love the gentleman Ramesh Swamy; i looked him up in the dictionary and he was listed under kindness!"

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mic and no mic - Some thoughts

My recent post about a concert in Madurai and some comments encouraged me to write this. The topic of mic vs no mic is an age old topic ever since the introduction of microphones in carnatic music concerts. Some twenty or so years back, I have heard old timers remarking "In those days they never sang with mic. They could sing so loudly that you could hear them a mile away (Really????) These days you all use the mic and sing in false voice modulating everything like light music. This is not true classical music etc etc etc" I never had an answer to these things back then. And you were not suppose to answer your elders you see. Just listen to their rants. Today I definitely have some views on this and thought I could post and elicit a discussion.

Firslty times have changed. Technology has moved into our lives so quickly that we are learning to do a number of things very differently to what we were used to. Let us take the case of microphones. Electronic audio has taken over music performance in a very big way and there is no way it can be avoided. Musicians in the early twentieth century were used to singing without the mic. These concerts were held in a temple atmosphere in one of those thousand pillared halls where even the echo of a snap of your fingers in amplified very well. Singers sang at a high pitch and continued to do so even after their voice broke. My personal theory is that if their voices broke they may have even been discarded as voices unsuitable for singing and asked to take up an instrument! This is not the case with musicians of a later generation. A number of musicians like Musiri, Ariyakudi, Semmangudi, GNB etc all started out at the end of the non-mic era with higher srutis and gradually as mics entered, they lowered their sruti.

The succeeding generations grew up completely with the mic. Classic case is a musician like Dr BMK, who born in 1930, made a highly successful, original and revolutionary style of singing, modulating his voice using the mic intelligently. Coming to our own generation we automatically grew up singing with the mic. Even a couple of songs at a Tyagaraja aradhana was sung with a mic. So can a concert take place in the modern era without mic and what are the challenges.

Firstly the auditorium must be acoustically designed to not have mics. If this is not so the sound will not carry and reach people, unless the audience is 3 people and the place is the drawing room of your house! Secondly, accompanists especially the mrudangam, will have to restraint hemselves completely to avoid dominating the voice. This is again difficult for them because they are not used to it, and their enthusiasm will definitely get the better of them in a concert atmosphere in front of a receptive audience. When this happens, the singer not used to this will have to shout more. It is like two people having a conversation in a marriage hall with noise all round. Each will try to be louder than the other without knowing if they can be audible or not! When singing with mic, the feedback that one gets helps musicians to judge the amount of volume of the voice as well.

In my personal experience I have given several non-mic concerts. The most recent being one in Europe. The best part was that they provided mics with monitor speakers just for feedback, whilst the audience listened to the true sound as they would like to call it. Since we had feedback we never bothered about the volume and the experience was very good for us. The audience also enjoyed themselves and the excellently designed auditorium was one of the main reasons for this. Sometime in the seventies Palghat Mani Iyer started a campaign to revive non-mic concerts. A senior musician once remarked "Malleswaram Sangeetha Sabha had a micless Vina concert by Mysore Doreswamy Iyengar with Mani Iyer. We all heard a three hour Tani Avartanam!"

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Concert at Madurai



Yesterday I was in Madurai singing a concert for the annual festival of Ragapriya. This is a very interesting sabha that started in the early seventies if I am right. Mr Rajam, A grand uncle of mine was involved with this sabha for a long time and I remember going to Madurai to sing there for the first time in 1988. The concerts were always held at the ball room in the Pandyan Hotel. The audience was highly appreciative and had some interesting rules that they followed. Firstly concerts were of minimum 3 hours duration. Except for a few chairs at the end of the hall, the people predominantly sat on the floor. There were no microphones and they prided themselves as a chamber concert audience in the true sense of the word. Finally the audience never clapped for any song! At the end of the concert they would all clap together once for the concert as a whole.

All this changed over time. Back then it was still only monthly concerts until they started having an annual series in 1993 to coincide with their 20th ( or was it their silver jubilee) anniversary. I still remember the occasion because Shri Krishnaswamy of Narada Gana Sabha presided over the function and my concert followed. Since then I have enjoyed going to Madurai every year to sing in their annual festival. The year I missed was when my son was born in August 2000. Since then microphones had entered the hall upon insistence from one particular star artiste specifically according to well informed sources! The said artiste also protested against the non clapping and got it changed. With the result things are as they are everywhere else.Years later Shri Kamalam Thyagarajan, former President of the sabha, flautist and designer of an electronic sruti box, came to me after my concert and said "Do you know that your grand mother never needed a mic to sing when she performed here." I quietly replied "Sir, I did not need one either, if you remember!"

Monday, August 4, 2008

Charsur Arts Foundation officially launched

Yesterday at the Vinyasa Art Gallery, in Mylapore, Chennai, Charsur Digital Workstation officially launched their new venture, Charsur Arts Foundation. This venture is to primarily focus on organising concerts of a number of young musicians, recording them and putting them up online for downloads. CAF is also in the process of tying up with all musicians to enable them to submit and allow copyrighted and legally downloadable music trough the Charsur website. Of course this will involve a fee and will not be freely available. Listeners will be able to pay and download legal music as opposed to the various 'other' available music. CAF has also entered into agreements with artistes whereby a significant portion of the money will go directly to the artistes as royalty.

Earlier the first concert to be uploaded was my concert sung at the TTD in Chennai in June. A number of people have already evinced interest in this venture and though there have been some hiccups, hopefully things are getting more streamlined. Yesterday's launch of course featured a concert by Swarnarethas a student of mine with V Sanjeev, Srimushnam Raja Rao and EM Subramaniam. I managed to get in an hour of the concert. Of course I am not going to review a concert of my own student, but I thought that it was a lovely gesture on the part of the accompanying artistes to support and encourage a youngster. I personally did benefit so much from many seniors (I continue to benefit!), and I am happy that Charsur has taken the initiative and soon more musicians will benefit.

An important aspect of this venture is a step towards making people feel worthy about spending money. The concert itself was only by invitation, but once it is made available online, it is an opportunity for paying rasikas to support the artistes. For instance it would be difficult to get people to buy tickets and line up at an afternoon slot concert during the music season. But then when the same artistes' music is available online it is a chance for rasikas to legally pay and download and encourage such artistes to take it up as a profession. Afterall unless their art is supported in this manner, how can they think of taking it up as a profession? Also the download system works on a micropayment method whereby people can download just a couple of songs if not the whole concert. The recording quality will also be much better and more in tune with the modern standards set by Charsur through their live releases.

Concert photo

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Sanjay Subrahmanyan Show - Episode 4 - Violin accompaniment and other stuff

Talking about janaka/janya raga classification, violin accompaniment and raga alapana singing.

Click below to listen

The Sanjay Subrahmanyan Show - Episode 4 - Violin accompaniment and other stuff