Nedumangad Sindhu, daughter of veteran violinist Nedumangad Sivanandan, is a name to reckon with on the concert circuit, especially in Kerala. A lecturer in the Chembai College of Music, Palakkad, she has been accompanying musicians from the age of 17 and has played for newcomers and stalwarts with the same devotion. The trained vocalist that she is, Sindhu has given recitals as a singer and solo violinist. She is an A grade violin artiste and a B-high vocalist. But she makes it clear that she enjoys being an accompanist “as I feel that is a trait I have inherited from my father. It is something I have imbibed right from childhood”. Excerpts from an interview:

Qualities of a good accompanist

Playing solo and being an accompanist require two different set of skills and attitude. Knowledge and aesthetic sense are mandatory for both. But during a solo performance, the main performer, in my case the violinist, is the leader and so the recital is in my control. As an accompanist, my duty is to faithfully reproduce what the vocalist is singing and motivate and support the singer. At no stage, should an accompanist try to overshadow or dominate the singer. I enjoy being an accompanist and always try to support the singer to render the next phrase. My father was an accompanist and, from childhood, I have seen how he plays during a concert. So, I guess, it is in my blood. His advice is to always follow the singer, whether a veteran or a child, without upstaging him/her. At times, one even has to cover up drawbacks of the main performer.

Learning the violin

Since my father is a musician, music has always been an intrinsic part of my life. My father hails from Nedumangad in Thiruvananthapuram district but he worked in Cherthala as a music teacher in a school. Vilasini Amma, my mother, is not a trained musician but she is the one who ensured that we practiced and took our music lessons seriously. My brothers and I were brought up in Cherthala. Although both my elder brothers are musical, they are not musicians. I have been learning the violin from my father from the age of 10. Actually, it is my father’s students who taught me much of the basics. At the same time, I was also learning Carnatic vocal music from Marathorvattom Narayana Iyer, Renganatha Sharma’s father. While my father taught Sharmaji’s [Renganatha Sharma] brother Sathyamoorthy the violin, I learnt vocal music from his father. Since I owe my music to my father, as a mark of respect to him, I am known as Nedumangad or Cherthala Sindhu on the Carnatic music circuit.

Making music my career

When it came to choosing a career, I decided to graduate in music. I completed my graduation in Carnatic vocal from NSS College, Karamana, Thiruvananthapuram in 1987, and bagged the gold medal that year. The violin was offered only in the Swati Thirunal College of Music and in those days, there was only a diploma course. Since I was keen on a degree, I decided to pursue vocal music. Post-graduation was from Government College of Women, Thiruvananthapuram. I topped the course during my post-graduation and was one of the first to clear the University Grants Commission’s National Eligibility Test. I worked as a music teacher for 10 years in a Kendriya Vidyalaya in Ernakulam. It was then that I got an opening as a lecturer in Chembai Music College.

As a violinist

I am happy with what I have been able to achieve so far. Music is a panacea for the mind and body. My colleagues and family have always been supportive and so I have been able to make a mark as a musician. My husband, Dileep, is an officer in the Finance Department of the Government of Kerala. He has always supported my career. I have never faced any discrimination because of my gender. I have heard that there are senior male singers who object to women accompanists but I have never had to deal with that. I am quite busy and contented with my classes and performances. I have also performed in Malaysia and Dubai. But I feel that my 10 years in the Kendriya Vidyalaya did hamper my career, thanks to a Principal there who felt that performing in concerts was somehow not quite becoming for a teacher. That was a very trying period in my life when music was my main solace.

My kind of notes

I have no favourites as an accompanist. Of course, comfort levels might vary. For instance, there is a kurumkuzhal vidwan in Palakkad who stages concerts. He knows the limitations of the instrument as it cannot cope with bass notes. So he tells me before the concert to take care of those phases. My job is to understand the style of the vocalist and play accordingly. Learning vocal music has been helpful as that training helps me decipher a vocalist’s style of rendering. Among violinists, I revere the late Lalgudi Jayaraman and M.S. Gopalakrishnan, T.N. Krishnan, Mysore Brothers…I also listen to a lot of music. Certain kritis remind me of the teachers who taught me. For instance, when I hear ‘Padmavathi Ramanan’ in Dhanyasi, it reminds me of the late Neyyattinkara Mohanachandran Nair. One can never forget any of the kritis that he taught his students.

Passing the baton

My son, 18-year-old Adarsh Dileep, is a violinist. A student in Coimbatore, he continues to learn the violin. I have given concerts with my father and son as a trio. It is a different feel altogether. Music, for me, has a spiritual and emotional connect. That is my biggest strength.