Many seek the limelight through performances, but Guru S. Vishwanathan has concentrated on teaching.
With titles like Sangeeta Guru Thilagar, Sangeetha Acharya Ratnakar and Acharya Bhaskara, it is not surprising that the home of Guru S. Vishwanathan is bustling with students from across the National Capital Region seeking to learn Carnatic music. The 77- year-old guru who has about six decades of teaching Carnatic vocal music and the veena behind him, was recently named Sangeetha Kovitha by the cultural organisation Gayathri Fine Arts during its annual day celebration.
Vishwanathan, who also worked as an accounts executive in a private firm, began teaching music in the Capital from 1958, and since his retirement has only plunged deeper into the field. Many of his students are now in the concert circuits of both Delhi and Chennai.Music, however, was not his first calling as a youth. “While studying at school, I was not keeping good health, which did not permit me to pursue studies beyond matriculation, even though I was good in academics. Therefore, I joined a full-time course in Carnatic music, both vocal music and veena, initially at Kalakshetra and then at the Music College. After I took training in teaching Carnatic music from the Teachers’ Training College, Chennai, I shifted to Delhi to teach Carnatic music,” says the veteran. Does he follow any special techniques while teaching music? “Usually, the basic lessons like the sarali varisai (basic ascending and descending sequences of the seven notes) and the jantai varisai (patterns in which each note is sung twice or thrice to practise levels of forceful intonation) are taught in Adi tala with eight beats and in three speeds. But I teach these in the ‘2 kalai chavukam’ Adi tala with 16 beats and in four speeds, which gives the students a good grip on the tala even in the initial stages of learning. I also try to understand the psychology of the students who come to learn music not out of their own interest, but due to parental compulsions. I make learning interesting for them by explaining that music is not only an art, but involves mathematics and science too. I also introduce the theory of music through informal conversations,” says the guru who insists on hard work and regular practice.
As a student, he says, he worked very hard to master the art and recalls how this habit came to his aid at the music college. He and another student would compete with each other on hours spent on practice. Every day they would discuss how many hours each practised the previous day and would keep on increasing the duration of their practice to outshine each other. In the process, though veena was a subsidiary subject, he says, he even completed the lessons prescribed for those who had opted for veena as a main subject.
Guru Vishwanathan is of the strong view that even in the present age of Internet and cell phones, students can pursue both their academics and music simultaneously, with proper planning. “Unable to find time for practice is a lame excuse,” the guru signs off.
S. Vishwanathan began his training in Carnatic vocal music under Cuddalore Srinivasan Iyengar. He went to the renowned Kalakshetra, Madras (now Chennai), where he came under the guidance of masters like M.D. Ramanathan and Boothalur Krishnamoorthy Sastrigal. Again, as a student of the Central College of Carnatic Music, Madras, he had the opportunity to learn from giants of the field such as Musiri Subramania Iyer and Mayavaram Krishna Iyer, Sandyavandanam Srinivasan and the legendary Brinda. He learnt the art of playing the veena under the guidance of renowned artistes Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer and Devakottai Narayana Iyengar. Vishwanathan has been teaching music in the Capital since 1958. Many of his students perform on the concert circuits of Delhi and Chennai.