Senior music conductor Srinivasa Murthy talks about his long association with A.R. Rahman, and the thrill of the orchestra.
He's the man A.R. Rahman trusts with his scores. After all, not many music directors use conductors or orchestras to record live music. Having conducted for over three decades now, he's has seen it all — the rise of Ilaiyaraaja, the era when popular music directors scored for 40-50 films a year, the advent of “computer music” and the transformation of the boy next door to a twin-Oscar winning phenomenon who turned a country crazy about his music.
Though older than Rahman, and much senior to him in the film business, conductor Srinivasa Murthy confesses that it was Rahman who made sure a musician like him did not become obsolete when computers became integral to music production.
He enthusiastically flaunts the first Yamaha music computer A.R. Rahman used. It looks as good as new. “It was around 1986 when Rahman was going for the latest music computer Yamaha had launched then (Yamaha C1). He asked if he could pass on the Yamaha CX5M to me. I bought the computer from him but he had to teach me. So, I used to go to his house at six in the morning and wait. His mother would tell me that he had worked all night and had just returned. So, I would sleep there amidst the music gear, and every day he would teach me how to use the computer.”
“Everything has a bearing in life,” Murthy continues. “This (the computer) has nothing to do with conducting. My interest in this made me learn a lot of other things related to electronics and that's how Rahman showed interest in me. I did only two songs in ‘Roja'. I finished all my projects and got back to him when he was doing the music for ‘Gentleman'. From then on, I have been conducting only for him.”
Murthy started learning music when he was four. So, he had built a solid foundation over 18 years of playing the violin when he moved to Madras in 1978, as an assistant to Seetharama Raju, Kannada music director. “I used to play the bass guitar and violin in night clubs in Bangalore. I knew S.P. Balasubrahmanyam (SPB), who kept asking me to come to Madras. I had my own business in the chemical industry then. As a classical violinist, there was not much you could play for — just for newsreels and Government documentaries. And then one day, someone gave me a chance to play for Rajan-Nagendra's (Kannada music director duo) recording for ‘Belligiriya Banadhalli' in Madras.”
SPB played a huge role in Murthy's life. He took him along for his concerts and Murthy toured with him as a violinist from 1978 to 1991. “SPB introduced me to Telugu music director Chakravarthi. SPB was also doing music back then. I became his assistant.”
SPB was doing music for ‘Thudikkum Karangal' when the conductor Gunasingh fell sick. “The other gentleman who was doing it with him had left for Sabarimala and there was no time. SPB asked, ‘Will you do it? If you have the courage to do it, I will back you.' The first day, there were a few mistakes, my timing was all wrong. On the second day things fell in place.”
Meanwhile, Murthy continued to work with Chakravarthi. “He was doing 40-50 films in Telugu in those days. He used to have a second unit and asked me to take care of it. From 1980-1988, I was the conductor of his second unit.” Murthy later worked with S.A. Rajkumar, Vidyasagar, Ousephachan.
Does the future sound bright for musicians who want to conduct?
“Earlier, there were atleast 100 musicians playing in an orchestra. Today, there are just about 40. You cannot totally do away with live music. As long as there are concerts, there will be musicians. And there will always be a future for those interested in conducting,” signs off Murthy.