A chat with Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna

T.M. Krishna is in the vanguard of Carnatic vocalists of the present generation and a most sought after artiste. During the Chennai Music Academy's prestigious Annual Music Conference 2009 that concluded not long back, he received the awards for both outstanding vocalist and best demonstration. Notable among the many honours lavished upon him are the Young Achievers award of the India Today and the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puruskar of the Sangeet Natak Akademi. In town recently to perform at the Sree Shanmukhananda Sangeetha Sabha's Thyagaraja Music Festival, Krishna took time out for a chat. Experts from the interview:

On his musical journey

I hail from a business family but grew up in a family associated with music in some way or other for more than three generations. Sensing some musical interest in me my mother put me under Seetharama Sarma when I was about five-and-a-half. I gave my first public concert when I was 12. It was a one-hour concert for the Spirit of Youth series of the Madras Music Academy. I did not think that I would become a musician.

After that, for quite some years I did not perform much, except for one or two concerts a year. I utilised this period for listening to lots of Carnatic music. During music seasons (Chennai's ‘December season') I used to leave home at 7 in the morning and come home by 9 at night after attending lecture-demonstrations and concerts continuously. Around the same time, I also got associated with the Youth Association for Classical Music, in which many of the present-day top musicians were actively involved. I was the youngest of the lot. There used to be music related fun games. Senior musicians encouraged and supported us. The association with this organisation was a turning point in my musical career. When you see younger people with the same passion you have, it is more inspiring.

I started performing regularly from 1992. Late Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was the chief guest for one of my concerts in 1996. He was scheduled to be there for only half-an-hour, but stayed on for two hours. Before leaving, he told my father that he should send me to him for further training. This was a big blessing to me, and I learnt from him for six to seven years. I also undertook special pallavi training from Chengalpattu Ranganathan. A combination of factors like family support, guru's teachings and hard work have helped me reach this position.

On balancing his professional and family life

It is a difficult task. I have two daughters aged nine and six, and both of them are learning Carnatic music. My elder daughter is also learning dance. However, my wife Sangeetha, being a musician, understands the mechanics of this field.

On balancing improvised and set kalpithamusic and manodharma music in concerts

Bothare hand and glove in our music. It is important to balance them.

On the need to expose children to classical music and dance and advice to Youngsters pursuing Carnatic music the arts

When children learn classical music or dance, their artistic mind improves. There are several diversions for children today, like TV, the Internet, etc. Despite these, they should be exposed to classic music or dance, and whenever a talent is spotted they should be taught seriously. I do not advocate a ‘military' kind of training. But there should be set patterns for practice sessions.

To improve manodharma music (improvisation), youngsters should learn lots of compositions, whether it is varnam, keertana, or padam. Listen to lots and lots of music. Improve your musical ability. Everything else will follow.

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