Passion, choices, training, concerts and more come up in the conversation between six up and coming Carnatic musicians. G. Seshayee listens…

The husky imminence of rain hangs like ancient velvet drapery in the air. Battling the potholed, slushy roads, six musicians and I arrive at our rendezvous in Alwarpet. Sri Ranjani Santhanagopalan, Bharat Sundar, Amritha Murali, Sandeep Narayan, K Gayatri and Rithvik Raja — geographies, lifestyles, institutions, and principles apart — as one, they meet each other, strongly bound by their passion and religious dedication to Carnatic music.

What was their journey like? When and how did their first concert happen? Did they ever have their own doubts and misgivings? Quite simply, how did music happen and what can they share from their journey so far? Ears trained, and like a vile bat, fresh in the hanging business, I hung about them, and found out gleefully, the answers to the above questions.

Taking root

“It was not like I grew up imagining I'd be a Carnatic musician one day,” says Sandeep, who grew up in the U.S., for whom music was “just one among the ten things back in school”. “I realised this was my calling when my career crossed its initial markings, when I had to take the big decision to move to India after college. Even after I came here, I wasn't too sure. I could've just taken the easier road and moved back to L.A. to become a lawyer and work like a normal American person. But my family and my guru were confident, and only after a few successful breaks, I got the confidence that I'll be good and will be here for the long haul.”

Sri Ranjani Santhanagopalan, the daughter and disciple of the legendary Neyveli Santhanagopalan, was never weighed down by the fact that she was indeed preordained to be a Carnatic musician. “It happened very gradually,” she says, “I was deeply interested in Science, and generally shied away from performing in front of my dad — maybe out of sheer fear that he would critically evaluate my singing. But in my 10th standard, a much-appreciated concert I gave in chamber changed things; before I knew it, I had emerged as yet another exponent of my musical lineage. Though I didn't see it coming, everyone around me did, and I am really glad I made this choice.”

Besides academics

For Amritha Murali, K Gayatri and Bharat Sundar, the journey was more or less similar to each other's, and was also, in every sense, equally riveting as that of Sandeep's and Sri Ranjani's. “Being a first generation musician, I was encouraged to give more attention to academics, while I still took music lessons on the sidelining. When I was 15, my first concert happened suddenly, it was to be in a sabha bang in the middle of the season; until then, I had not even sung in a kovil kucheri! So my mother hurriedly took me to a temple a couple of streets from home, and made me sing to the deity before proceeding to sing in my first concert! The feedback I got after the concert inspired me and that was when I knew I had made my decision to become a musician.”

K Gayatri says, “I wanted to do CA and a few of my doctor relatives wanted me to pursue medicine. Some of them even said ‘forget music', but I was driven purely by passion to take up music full-time. Competitions and the awards that came my way helped me progress, and today, there are no regrets!”

“Initially, I didn't have any serious thoughts about getting into music,” says Bharat Sundar. “I participated in several competitions and won many of them – this gave me the confidence, and slowly I started giving some concerts. It was back in 2004, when a prize I had won at the Sabha, made me realize that I wanted to be a full-time musician.”

“To be frank, I was never interested in studies,” says Rithvik Raja. “I pursued both music and cricket simply because they were two things that I liked doing. Gradually, I started singing in temples and small Sabhas where people came to support and encourage you rather than actually to listen to you, and judge your music. The experience of singing these first few concerts, and chiefly, the feeling of knowing that people responded to my music when I sat on the stage and sang, inspired me to take up music full-time.”

Getting it right

Bharat Sundar feels that, today, competitions provide the “door to fame” to musicians at a very tender age, and this in a way, tends to make them complacent. “I've seen people ask the Gurus — ‘teach my son one ragamneraval swaram and a few krithis, he should sing in a concert.' You can never train yourself for a concert this way. It happens after years of rigorous training and keen listening!”

“Success really lies in taking valuable criticism and introspecting,” says Sri Ranjani. “There is always a bridge between what you sing and what the rasikas want, and prolonged success lies in how hard you try to bridge this gap.” Others murmur in agreement, and Amritha adds, “You have to feel the pulse of the audience, and at the same time be at ease with yourself, enjoy your own music and sing with conviction.”

Seshasayee is pursuing his CA.

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