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Updated: March 17, 2011 15:32 IST

Beats of classicism

K. Pradeep
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Trichur C. Narendran. Photo: V. Ganesan
The HIndu Trichur C. Narendran. Photo: V. Ganesan

His intricate rhythmic patterns, sense of proportion, sharp anticipation, short, carefully thought out phases of silence, and the ability to give the mridangam the much-needed soft touch make Trichur C. Narendran a truly talented mridangam artist. Narendran has accompanied more than five generations of musicians, from Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar to Sreevalsan J. Menon. One who prefers to mainatin a low-profile, Narendran talks about his musical journey. Excerpts...

The beginning…

I was fortunate to be born into a family where music – and the arts in general – was integral. My grandfather, Manakkulam Valia Kunhunni Raja, was a connoisseur of arts and contributed a lot to the formation of the Kerala Kalamandalam. There was always music at home. I grew up with my brother (violinist C. Rajendran) and sister (vocalist Prema Balachandran) in such an ambience. We used to have our own concerts with family members as audience.

First steps…

Prior to formal training, it was Kongorppilly Parameswaran Namboodiri who spotted my talent during a dance rehearsal at an annual family get-together at Manakkulam Palace, and started teaching me the basics of mridangam when I was seven. I owe a lot to David Bhagavathar of Kunnamkulam who instilled in me this interest in music and inspired me to seriously take up the mridangam. E. P. Narayana Pisharodi and Koduvayur Radhakrishnan also honed my skills at that early stage.

The dilemma…

The trend those days was to get a degree and find a job before venturing into something like music. So, I went on to complete my degree in Economics but there were times when I had to make difficult compromises. Like when on the eve of my pre-degree examination, I had this chance to play for Puducode Krishnamurthy. There were a lot of people who told me to concentrate on my studies, while there were others who advised me not to miss this chance. It was tough but I decided to play at the concert. When I failed the examination, this was cited as one of the reasons for the failure.

Early concerts…

The first one that comes to mind was playing for Chembai and K.J. Yesudas at Peringode. I must have been 15 or 16 then. Rajendran played the violin. I have also accompanied eminent musicians such as Mavelikkara Ramanathan, C.S. Krishna Iyer and K. V. Narayanaswamy (KVN). That first meeting with KVN mama was a turning point in my life. Mavelikkara Krishnankutty Nair was supposed to accompany him at a concert at Paravur but could not make it. The organisers asked David Bhagavathar to suggest a suitable replacement and he suggested my name. That was how I played for that great vocalist and good human being for the first time.

The KVN connection…

KVN mama was my mentor. He was happy when I reached Chennai to continue my advanced training with Palghat Raghu sir. From then on, I became his regular mridangam accompanist. He introduced me to some of the luminaries of Carnatic music such as Semmangudi, M. S. Subbulakshmi and Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna. I was soon travelling and accompanying almost all the eminent artists of the time.

On being Palghat Raghu's disciple…

To be Palghat Raghu sishya was one of my biggest dreams. I was always fascinated by the way he played. The great Palghat Mani Iyer was a manasa guru and it was this bani that I wanted to follow. In 1973, immediately after my graduation, I left for Chennai with the help of a Government of India scholarship. I had the fortune and privilege of being one of Palghat Raghu sir's early disciples. The first thing he asked me to do was to unlearn all that I had learnt earlier. He began right from the beginning. This was when I really understood the intricacies of playing the mridangam.

As a visiting professor…

My first tour abroad was with K. S. Narayanaswami to the U.S. in 1982. The next time I toured the U.S. was with KVN mama. He was then teaching at the San Diego University. It was through him and one of his friends Dr. Brown that I got an invitation to teach there.

Stint with AIR...

Life came a full circle when, after many attempts and interviews, I finally got a job with AIR in 1992. I finally say I was settled in life, for even when I was a busy artist there was this nagging feeling that there was nothing to fall back on. I firmly believe that every artist must also have a regular job to back his career. I retire from AIR this year. Looking back, my first association with AIR has been fruitful.

Memorable moments…

I moved to Chennai in 1973. It so happened that I got the opportunity to accompany KVN mama in the presence of Palghat Mani Iyer. Then in 1978, I played the double mridangam with my guru at the Jazz Yatra organised by Dr. V. K. Narayana Menon in Mumbai. Another unforgettable incident took place in Coimbatore where once again I played the double mridangam with my guru at the Rama Navami Festival. Raghu Sir's train was running late. The organisers wanted to start the concert exactly on time. KVN asked me to get on stage. An hour after I began playing, Raghu Sir came. He joined us in the concert and asked me also to play. It was a thrilling experience.


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