Carnatic vocalist and teacher T.R. Subramaniam, who infused a sense of populism in pallavi singing without compromising its complexity and classicism, died here on Friday. He was 84 and is survived by his son and daughter.
“He had an original mind and an intellectual approach to music. He experimented and his experiments were very much within classicism,” said music historian V. Sriram, who had had long discussions with TRS in Delhi when he was teaching in the music department of University of Delhi.
A post-graduate in English literature, TRS learnt music from Musiri Subramania Iyer. As he was a great admirer of G.N. Balasubramaniam, one could always find traces of GNB in TRS’ music. He knew many languages and his deep knowledge of Telugu came in handy while singing Tyagaraja kritis.
“He was with me in a concert on Thursday and went to the Music Academy to teach students on Friday morning. In the afternoon he developed breathlessness, requiring hospitalisation. But he never recovered,” said V.V. Sundaram curator of the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana Festival.
TRS was the first musician to take part in the Tyagaraja aradhana organised in Cleveland. He visited there in 1979 and thereafter performed many times in the festival.
Mr. Sundaram recalled an incident that bore testimony to TRS’ mastery over pallavi. “He was hardly 19 and participated in a music competition organised by the Music Academy. He presented the judges a pallavi without any raga and tala. When the judges asked him about it, he said he was prepared to sing it in any raga and tala. He went on to sing the pallavi set to Mukhari and in Sankeerna nadai. He got the first prize,” said Mr. Sundaram.
Driven by an instinct for intellectual pursuit, in the 1970 and early 1980s, the “thinking musician”, as he was known, introduced a bani in pallavi singing. He simplified the execution of pallavi singing, but never compromised on the essence of music.
“He was a trendsetter in the sense that he would have a non-conformist approach to the concert pattern. He may begin it with a javali or a varnam. Today, some musicians try to imitate him,” said S. Narashiman, a Carnatic music rasika and a collector of music of yesteryear greats. TRS also popularised many modern day composers.