His sound knowledge of theory and ability to put it into practice in his performances made him truly exceptional
Veteran musician, musicologist and revered guru T.K. Govinda Rao passed away at his residence here on Sunday after a brief illness.
He was 82 and is survived by his wife Haimavathi, three daughters and a son.
A highly regarded musician, Mr. Govinda Rao received his initial training under Chembai Vaidhyanatha Bhagavathar and much of his advanced music training under the legendary Musiri Subramania Iyer. In 1949, he joined the Central College of Music, Chennai and was guided by great musicians such as T. Brinda. Later, he also served as a lecturer there.
Mr. Govinda Rao’s sound knowledge in theory and his ability to translate that to practice in his performances made him a truly exceptional musician. He made several valuable contributions to the field of music as a performing artist, teacher, musicologist and author.
His books on the work of the Trinity, among others, are considered authentic guides for those learning and engaging with the compositions. He set to tune many compositions, including those of Periyasami Thooran. With his rich interpretation and bhava-laden presentation, he popularised many compositions. He was a specialist in Purandara Dasa compositions, too.
He was a visiting professor at the Annamalai University, Chidambaram, and also worked in All India Radio as chief producer. A scholarly musician, he placed great emphasis on the need for music to complement and enhance the lyrical content of a composition.
Veteran violinist Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, who has known Mr. Govinda Rao since the time the latter was under Musiri, said it was remarkable that he continued making rich contributions to the field of music even after his active years as a performer. “By authoring various books in English, he made the art form accessible to several thousand students in different parts of the world,” Mr. Jayaraman said.
Pointing to Mr. Rao’s reverence for saint-composer Thyagaraja and bhakti towards his guru, Mr. Jayaraman said: "His music was marked by classicism, and he was very humble and cheerful as a person. His contributions in popularising Carnatic music during his stint in AIR were very significant." If contemporary artistes considered him a scholarly colleague, disciples remember him as a very affectionate and brilliant master of music teaching.
His disciples and senior musicians, the Bombay Sisters - C. Saroja and C. Lalitha, who were under his tutelage for nearly five decades, deem it a blessing to have had a guru like him. “He was so generous in sharing his knowledge,” Ms. Saroja said.
He was an expert in different languages, compositions and aspects of music and he was an exceptional “all-in-one guru,” noted Ms. Lalitha. “It was a great honour when we received the Sangita Kalanidhi award last year, for we are the fourth generation in the music lineage to receive it. Govinda Rao sir was so proud of us.”
Eye for detail
Recalling his classes under Mr. Govinda Rao at Annamalai University, Nagaswaram vidwan Enjikudi E.M. Subramaniam said he had a phenomenal eye for detail. “I vividly remember how he taught us Periyasami Thooran’s Muruga Muruga in Saveri. He would give a mild emphasis to the first syllable of the word Muruga and just that ‘mm…’ was soaked in Saveri. He would point to every nuance and ensure that we students enjoyed each phrase as much as he did.”
Mr. Govinda Rao knew exactly where each of his students stood. “Sometimes, he would share some points, saying we may not get them immediately, but will understand them later. Now, I often look back and recall those points and he was so right,” Mr. Subramaniam added.
Secretary to the Highways Department, Tamil Nadu, and musician T.K. Ramachandran, a disciple of Mr. Govinda Rao, said his guru believed that aesthetic appeal and beauty ought to be the core of one’s music. “While approaching a particular raga, he would teach us different compositions in it for days together…he would take up aspects such as niraval and kalpana swarams in each of them and make sure we had an opportunity to obtain in-depth understanding of the raga and its essence.”
As someone who always radiated positive energy and optimism, he was a role model for his disciples. Mr. Ramachandran observed that Mr. Govinda Rao was a very loving and caring guru. “I was a student in IIT-Delhi then and he was with the AIR there. One day, I had gone for class in the morning, and he was so immersed in the music that he spent hours together teaching me. Later, he realised it was 3 p.m., well past lunch time and got all apologetic…he immediately took me on his scooter, to a restaurant nearby and bought me lunch.”
Disciples and associates note that while Mr. Govinda Rao was an advocate of classicism, he was always willing to approach the art form with an open mind, looking at possible avenues for innovation. He was a recipient of prestigious awards including the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the 'Sangita Kalanidhi' presented by The Music Academy.
Keywords: Musician T.K. Govinda Rao