At the lecture demonstrations at The Music Academy, various facets of Carnatic music were elaborated upon by scholars, musicians and musicologists.
The session of December 23 began with an invocation by Saranya.
Tunes of Nandanar Carithram collected by T.Viswanathan:
Prof. B. Balasubramanian of the Wesleyan University discussed Gopalakrishna Bharati’s Nandanar Carithiram - its tunes, story and the compositions in it. It was first published in 1861 by a French collector. In 1932, M.S. Ramaswamy brought it out with tunes. There are a number of notations found for the songs. A.M. Chinnasamy Mudliar published it with notations for forty-two songs. Of them, 17 are original. Balu said that there are many changes in ragas and talas and referred to Mudikondan Venkatrama Iyer’s article in The Music Academy Journal 1935. Many additions have crept in during the course of time. In 1971, S .Ramanathan published two versions of Nandanar Carithiram, one with notation and another without. Thanjavur Viswanathan made a complete study of ragas and talas of Nandanar Carithram and notated the entire text with footnotes mentioning variations wherever found.
Balu demonstrated ‘Nondi Chinthu’ in Punnagavarali. He mentioned that four different tunes are available and demonstrated a couple of them. Balu also demonstrated ‘Thirunadai Puvan’ in Chenchuruti, whereas the original text shows it in Khamas.
Teaching and practice of Dwitala Avatanam:
Dwitala avatanam is a feat of maintaining two different talas simultaneously with both the hands while singing, said vidushi Suguna Purushottaman in her talk. The composition chosen may range from a simple swaravali to a complex pallavi. The chosen two talas are normally of same number of aksharas, though they may differ in their angas, jati and/or gathi. Accompanied by her three students Gayatri, Nandini and Saranya, Suguna presented different permutations and combinations of talas for different compositions. She said she was introduced to dwitala avatanam by her Guru late mridangam vidwan Thinniyam Venkataraman Iyer. The highlight was when Suguna invited vidushi Suguna Vardachari to come to the dais and both of them presented a pallavi with tisra rupakam misragati on one hand and tisra triputa khandagati on the other hand having a total of 35 aksharas.
On December 24, an invocation was sung by Usha Rangarajan.
Properties of skin-covered instruments with special reference to tavil: Dr. N. Somanathan of Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai, dealt with three components in his lecture -- classification of drums, contribution of skin to drums and the special reference to tavil. In the modern classification of musical instruments, he mentioned that they are divided as aerophones, membrophones and electrophones. In another classification, percussion instruments are classified as pitched and un-pitched.
The drum played a major role in ancient Tamil society. Sangam literature, particularly ‘Silappadikaram’, is a treasure of information on this aspect. ‘Pancha Marabu’ lists 30 varieties of drums. Drums are extensively used for all occasions.
Somanathan spoke of single layer and multi-layer skin drums. Tavil is an instrument where goat skin is used. He said that the first ever reference to the tavil was made in Tiruppugazh. He concluded by saying a combination of resonance, leather and wood create sound.
Layam – Alayam: Vidwan Valayapatti A.R. Subramanian began his lecture with video clips of his tribute to M.S. Subbulakshmi with 201 tavils, his association with Kunnakkudy Vaidyanathan and many others. He traced the concept of mangala vadhyam attributed to the nagaswaram and tavil. He demonstrated a Mallari in Gambhira Nattai where his disciple Haribabu played nagaswaram and he the tavil. Valayapatti concluded his talk with a thani.
The morning session of December 25 began with an invocation by Krithika.
My association with GNB: Vidwan Lalgudi Jayaraman, assisted by his son Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan, spoke the first few words and his son presented the rest of the lecture on his behalf. Lalgudi’s association with GNB dates back to 1948 and continued till GNB passed away in 1965. GNB was a raga specialist with nagaswaram bani as his style. He made the Carnatic concert platform fashionable and sophisticated, with his imposing presence, and gave importance to aesthetics without comprising on the classical roots. Krishnan played a recording of GNB and Lalgudi to demonstrate the jarus and gamakas in their presentation. There is a particular specialty attached to his presentation of swaras which is marked by clarity and absence of confusion.
GNB sang RTP in rare or minor ragas such as Malavi, Andolika, Chenchukhambodi. Initially, he attempted graha bhedam but dropped it following criticism in later years. When Lalgudi started composing tillanas, he performed the first one in Vasantha before GNB and received encomiums from him.
With many more experiences between them and the inadvertent discordant note in their relationship for a while during GNB’s last days, Lalgudi concluded his lecture by saying that his association with GNB was 61 years old to the day.
Kedaram , Neelambari And Nagadhwani: Vidushi Seetha Rajan’s presentation was lucid and scientific. Based on the murchana of these ragas as in current practice, all the three ragas belong to the clan of the 29th Mela, Dheerashankarabharanam. But it is their characteristic phrases and gamakas that contribute to their melodic individuality.
Talking about Kedaram, Seetha said this is a raga most vidwans begin with because of its briskness. Kedaram, as a janya of Sankarabharanam, has found mention in almost every treatise on music from the 16th century. This raga is generally sung in medium tempo and hence, the brisk effect. Many compositions including those of Thyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar are available. Seetha demonstrated different phrases of Kedaram and showed how they embellish the raga. She explained the place and importance of each note. She said it is an apt raga for tanam. The existence of dhaivatam in this raga is mentioned by some. She then highlighted the oft used sangatis in Dikshitar and Tyagaraja compositions. There is a raga with the same name in Hindustani but in no way related to this.
About Neelambari, Seetha said its phrases are popularly heard in the ‘taalaatu’ and ‘lali’ songs. This raga with its characteristic gamakas has a calming effect. Many compositions are available in this raga ranging from broad- structured Dikshitar krithis to simple Divyanama kirtanas. Shahaji and Tulaja ignored Neelambari in their treatises. Prior to 18th century, it appears that the raga does not find much mention in Sanskrit works. However after the 18th century, it emerged as a clearly defined and popular raga with numerous compositions to its credit. Also, the ancient Tamil Pann Megharagakurunji is equated to Neelambari. There are four compositions of Dikshitar and one of Syama Sastri apart from Tygaraja’s compositions in Utsava Sampradaya kirtanas. Then she explained the place and importance of each note in the raga.
The last raga she took up was Nagadhwani, not a very popular raga. Nagadhwani is a vakra raga with swara patterns, somewhat similar to Neelambari. This raga has been listed as an upanga janyaof Sankarabharanam in many theoretical works. But compositions available in this raga are just a few; ‘Brihadeeshwaram’ of Muthuswami Dikshitarfound in ‘Dikshita Kirtanamala’,and ‘Sri Lalitham’ of Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wodeyar. She concluded her exposition by singing three lines in the three ragas.
The morning of December 26 began with an invocation by Aparna.
Dance Music of Kalakshetra: Papanasanam Sivan – Tiger Varadachary – Mysore Vasudevachariar: Gowri Ramanarayan was ably assisted by musicians and students of Kalakshetra for her lec-dem.
Gowri began by saying that it was an attempt to look at the contribution of three composers who not only created extraordinary music for Kalakshetra’s productions, but whose scores continue to provide definitive examples for all subsequent attempts in this direction. If Rukmini Devi was a pioneering revivalist in shaping the dance drama genre as we know it today, the music composers for these works too were supreme innovators in their field.
Interspersing her presentation with interesting anecdotes about the three, she traced how Tiger was introduced to Rukmini Devi and joined Kalakshetra. ‘Kumarasambhavam’ (1947) was first of his music compositions. The singers then presented how ‘Astyuttarasyam’ was set to Nattai by him.
Among Papanasam Sivan’s compositions for dance dramas, ‘Andal’ shines like a jewel. His expert handling of traditional ragas for the melding of bhava and artha, remains an astonishing feat. He composed music for the school song, ‘Devi Vasante’ addressed to Dr. Annie Besant.
Sivan’s ‘Kannappar Kuravanji’ (1962) shows him at home in the world of tribals. He makes classical ragas serve new purposes and uses folk tunes with flair. From this dance drama, two pieces were demonstrated.
Rukmini Devi’s magnum opus, the six-part Ramayana series, testifies to her holistic approach where choreography, music, lighting, costume, backdrop, as also the use of spatial and temporal dimensions, combine to paint every level of existence—gods, demons, animals, birds and humans. To empower this vast range of beings, Mysore Vasudevachar used ragas from rakti to vivadi. He even created his own ragas. His music played a phenomenal role in evoking character and sentiment. Portions of Ramayana left incomplete by him were later set to music by his grandson Rajaram and Bhagavatula Seetharama Sarma.
The very first sloka ‘Tapasvadhyaya niratam’ was set to Atana. In ‘Rama Vanagamanam’, Vasudevachar employed a new raga Chitta Bhramari to show the illusory state of Dasaratha’s mind. He also used a raga known as Ganga Lahari to show Rama crossing the river and Naganandini to depict the altitude of the mountain range.
All three musicians had, at various times, been resident gurus at Kalakshetra and the architectonic quality of their musical vision make the Kalakshetra dance dramas come alive with an impact strong and subtle.