For two-days, the workshop at Thennangur provided a platform for learning and sharing of musical experiences, ideas.
A group of 22 talented young musicians participated in the two-day workshop on music, Nadasangamam, at Thennangur, under the aegis of Narada Gana Sabha.
Thennangur is a sleepy little village about 110 km from Chennai, beyond Uttiramerur, where an infrastructure has been built around the temple. There is a hospital, a goshala that takes care of the entire milk supply of the hamlet, comfortable rooms to stay in and a hall to conduct such sessions.
Santosh, a software engineer, who is deeply interested in music appreciated the holistic approach to music: singing in the temple, manodharma during the sessions as well as the role of music in allied forms such as Harikatha.
The sessions each day began with yoga and pranayama guided by Kiran Kumar, a young and enthusiastic yoga teacher.
R.K. Shriramkumar made sure that the students learnt the Chaturdasha ragamalika of Muthuswami Dikshitar. The composition is a masterpiece with a subtle change from one raga to the other and finally a cascade of the 14 ragas in the reverse order before coming back to the pallavi line, ‘Sri Viswanatham'. His knowledge of Shastras and Sanskrit were reflected in his scholarly handling of the composition.
The creative element is what differentiates the classical from other forms of music. R. Vedavalli spoke about the nuances of niraval singing. Drawing responses from the students, she showed them how niraval could be sung for a kriti and a pallavi. She also drew attention to the role of the violin and the mridangam during the niraval singing. Sumesh Narayanan, a young mridangam artist, followed her suggestions closely and Shriramkumar on the violin showed how the sahitya was stressed during the niraval.The fundamental flaw was in choosing the wrong line for niraval - lines with too many words, or without sufficient akara and ikara, or with negative meaning, or with incomplete words and this was brought out in a powerful and masterly manner through an interactive session.
The students felt that the whole experience was unreal and needed time to sink in. They had seen artists such as Vedavalli, R.K. Shriramkumar from a distance and here they were interacting with them! They had seen the voice expert, Ananth Vaidyanathan, on television but here he was in their midst asking them to sing and open up their voices.
History of Harikatha
Dr. Prameela Gurumurthy spoke on the history of Harikatha and its journey to the South. She has worked extensively on the subject under the guidance of veterans such as Bannibai. Although the students had heard some Harikatha, it was an eye opener for them, to know that terms such as ‘dindi' and ‘ovi' were actually metres in Marathi poetry. It was this poetry that was musically rendered in Harikatha apart from other songs. She taught the students a couple of lilting abhangs explaining the meaning of ‘abhang' as one that cannot be broken.
Suresh Gopalan of Charsur explained the meaning of sound and how to use the audio system in an auditorium. He explained why it was important to have two mikes for the mridangam as only then the sound could be heard as a whole.
Dr. R.S. Jayalakshmi, the convenor of the workshop, quietly observed the sessions and gave her astute comments wherever necessary. Behind her quiet and simple exterior lies an ocean of knowledge that she has gathered over the years in her teaching career. Her observations and comments were thought provoking and educative.
Her session on drawing from compositions for manodharma showed her inclination towards research. She gave examples of phrases in a raga used in compositions but never in manodharma and vice versa. Her sense of humour and thoroughness came out in her introduction of the resource persons.
Exposure to the music of yesteryears helps in a mature approach to music and Mala Mohan, one of the core committee members, showed a documentary on Ramnad Krishnan produced by Swati Soft Solutions. Due to paucity of time, the entire film could not be shown.
A quiz session was organised to keep the musical brains working. Five enthusiastic groups named Semmangudi, Kunnakkudi, Ariyakkudi, Mannargudi and Lalgudi, participated and the winning team was awarded Sruti CD roms from Eswar. Two other teams were given CDs of Guru Haridas Giri's bhajans.
Sumithra Vasudev and Mala Mohan anchored the quiz with inputs from Vedavalli, while Dr. RSJ. Sumathi Krishnan had clippings of musicians of yesteryears such as T.K. Rangachari, Sattur Subramanya Iyer, Madurai Somu and Ramnad Krishnan for the audio round.
On the two evenings, the participants witnessed the Dolotsava and Garuda seva. The young musicians sang at the temple led by Vedavalli in an atmosphere of bhakti.
The idea of a workshop for musicians, was conceived last year and saw fruition because of the meticulous planning and effort of the Coordinator, Dr. Sumathi Krishnan.
The hospitality, care and warmth at the venue made the stay all the more worthwhile. R. Krishnaswami, secretary, Narada Gana Sabha, was the person behind this unique effort.
S. Kannan helped in organising the transport and accommodation.
This event will become an annual one as it is a platform for learning, sharing of musical experiences and ideas.