A committed teacher, T.K. Rangachari presented riveting recitals.

Tandalam Krishnamachari Rangachari ('TKR' as was popularly know) was one of the foremost exponents of Carnatic music. He was known for bringing a fresh and exciting tinge to his performances. Only a few recordings of his music remain today and they are cherished by connoisseurs. This year on December 1, a grand centenary celebration has been planned by the TKR family to be held at the Music Academy.

TKR was born in Varahaneri, a suburb of Tiruchi on June 3, 1912. His mother Rajalakshmi Ammal was a music teacher and imparted the first lessons to him. He was fondly called 'Tavil Rangan' for his propensity to drum rhythmic sequences on the household pots and pans. His mother passed away when Rangachari was ten and he was brought up by his grandmother in Srirangam. His first guru was Kodaganallur Subbaiah Bhagavatar, a music giant and himself a disciple of Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer. Here young Rangachari underwent rigorous training under the traditional gurukula system imbibing his guru's unique aspects namely control over brigas, niraval in three speeds and laya vinyasam.

TKR’s first concert was at the tender age of 10 at the Pattamadai high school near Tirunelveli where he enthralled the audience with a fascinating rendition of ‘Dwaitamu Sukhama’ of Tyagaraja.

In 1929, when the Annamalai University was started, Rangachari was eager to join the Sangeetha Bhushanam course. This was a golden opportunity to train under stalwarts such as Sabesa Iyer, Ponnaiah Pillai and Desamangalam Subramaniya Iyer. Impressed with his performance in the entrance test, the selectors admitted him in the second year.

TKR completed the Sangeetha Bhushanam course and served the university from 1933 to 1942 under the leadership of Tiger Varadachari. He joined the faculty at the Central College of Carnatic music in Madras.

His fruitful years were his stint as senior lecturer at the Annamalai University to which he returned in 1953. During this time he along with the famed Dandapani Desikar embarked on the “Pann” (original melodic modes or ragas used by the Tamil speaking people in ancient times) research. Along with Desikar, he gave several performances focusing on Thevaram and Pasuram. In 1964 he was invited by the Ceylon Art Academy in Sri Lanka for a series of concerts and teaching assignments. He resigned his post at the Annamalai University and went to Sri Lanka for an assignment before returning and settling down in Karaikkudi with his eldest son.

TKR was busy in the concert circuit but his ascent to the top was slow for two reasons. Many stalwarts were his contemporaries and he was committed to teaching. However, he is remembered for his concerts during 1966-1976. One of them was at the Krishna Gana Sabha (Gokulashtami series, 1966) where he was accompanied by Palghat Mani Iyer (for the first time) and Lalgudi Jayaraman. This concert stood out for the soulful renditions of ‘Sri Subramanyaya Namaste’ and ‘Sangeetha Shastra Gnyanamu’ and two spectacular thanis by Mani Iyer. Another concert was at the Music Academy in the same year accompanied by M.S. Gopalakrishnan, Thanjavur Upendran and Mysore Manjunath. His rendition of ‘Tatwa Meruga Tarama’ and ‘Paramathmudu’ sent the audience into raptures. He also teamed up with the legendary Pazhani Subramaniya Pillai.

Most of TKR’s concerts were unplanned and he would shape it appropriately depending on the mood and reaction of the audience. His presentations always had a fresh outlook to them, his concerts were deemed “fashionable” even in those times. Honed to a perfect mix of azhutham and melody, his voice was his asset. He was lively on the stage sprinkling his concert with useful information. Generous in his appreciation of accompanists, he would encourage his disciples to sing along and thus earned the sobriquet, ‘Professor on the Dias.’

“Always respect the audience especially the knowledgeable sections,” said TKR in his 1966 interview with BVK Sastry. His views were that a good musician needs to first cultivate a good “saariram” (voice) and use this as an effective medium to communicate the subtleties of Carnatic music to the audience. He said that artists should listen and imbibe the good aspects of any music, be it Carnatic or Hindustani, and innovate but within the boundaries of tradition. . Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar was his manaseeka guru.

“It was a golden period of my life to be the student of my great guru Rangachari for he opened my eyes to good music…” reflects eminent vocalist Vidushi Neela Ramgopal.

TKR moved to Chennai in 1977 and spent the last few years of his life before passing away on February 19, 1979. TKR trained a plethora of musicians such as the Late Shri Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan, Neyyantinkara Mohana Chandran, Malini Kasturirangan, Jaya Krishnan, Palghat Ambi Iyer and Sadagopan.

He popularised the Tamil kritis of Papnasam Sivan and set to tune several Divya Prabandham hymns and thillanas. He received several awards such as the Kalaimamani from the Tamil Nadu Government and the Sangeetha Rathnakara.

Award for vocalist

The event on December 1 includes Reminiscences – addresses by musical luminaries who were associated with TKR, key-note address by the chief guest N. Murali, president, the Music Academy, Chennai.

An award will be instituted in memory of TKR to be presented to the best vocalist during the Music Academy’s December music conference. A vocal recital by T.M. Krishna will follow the ceremony.

(The author is a grandson of TKR.)