Carnatic vocalist Neyveli Santhanagopalan on a life dedicated to music
From the tradition of gurukulavasa (residing with the guru to learn not just the art but also the life approach and lesser known features of professional life) to teaching over the internet is a big leap but Neyveli Santhanagopalan has taken it with aplomb. On a recent visit to the Capital, the Chennai-based tech savvy Carnatic vocalist known for his concerts soaked in bhakti and bhava (devotion and emotion) took a few questions about his musical journey. Edited excerpts from the interview:
How did you get initiated into learning Carnatic music?
The cultural scene at Neyveli, where I was brought up, was vibrant in the 1970s when I was a young boy. Not only would children learn vocal music and instruments with great enthusiasm, but a lot of cultural programmes, including Carnatic music concerts would also take place. I would attend all these programmes with interest. My mother (Jayalakshmi Ammaal) initiated me into music. I started learning from Chembai Ananthamani Baghavadar initially and later on continued under Srirangam Ranganathan. Once Seshagopalan Sir came to Neyveli for a performance. I had already heard him many times. But this time, I was deeply moved by his performance. As soon as his concert was over, I went up to him and told him that I wanted to come with him that very moment to Madurai to train in the gurukulavasam system. Since I was studying in school, Seshagopalan Sir did not take me. Subsequently, after completing my studies, I joined his gurukulam for advanced training. I also learnt the veena from him.
What about other members in your family, are they musically inclined?
My wife Meera hails from a musical family. She has supported me throughout and is also my critic. My daughter Sriranjani is a full-fledged performing vocalist and my son Shankar Prasad is learning the mridangam.
After your studies you got a bank job, but soon gave it up in favour of to take up music full-time. Now, looking back, Have you ever regretted this decision?
No, not at all. I was sure that music would take care of me. It has not only taken care of me but has given me everything.
You have been a judge at judging young students of Carnatic music in various music forums. What is your opinion of on the younger generation pursuing Carnatic music?
The IQ of youngsters is very high, in any field. The availability of inputs to them is also more. Yet, some sort of moulding is required. They should put in their ‘heart and soul’ and follow the bhakti margam (path of devotion). The purpose of the art form they are pursuing should get reflected. I would, of course, welcome youngsters gaining popularity through TV channels and competitions.
Through your Neyveli Gurukulam you have trained a number of music students. Now making use of the information technology you have reached out to students globally. How many students are learning under this programme?
In the NSGNETLEARNING programme I have designed music lessons and teach music through recorded tracks to students across the globe. More than 300 students are learning under this programme. While some are performers, some are teachers and some are keen learners.
What tips would you offer youngsters to develop manodharma music (creative aspects like raga alapana, niraval, swaraprastaras, virutham, etc.)?
Students should first gather the creative aspects from their gurus. They should then understand, analyse and assimilate the compositions of Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Shyama Sastri. They should also turn to compositions of Papanasam Sivan, Gopalakrishna Bharati and other composers.