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Updated: November 27, 2009 15:52 IST

‘Playing for bhajans improved my skill’

V. BALASUBRAMANIAN
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Neyveli Skandasubramanian. Photo: V. Ganesan
Neyveli Skandasubramanian. Photo: V. Ganesan

Over the years, encouraged by his gurus and fellow musicians, Neyveli Skandasubramanian has become one of the most sought after mridangam players. Impeccably dressed, he can be identified at once thanks to the sacred ash and vermilion on his forehead and his broad smile. Skandasubramaniam recalls some memorable moments in his musical journey.

Early years and basic training…

My father B.Y. Sundararajan learnt mridangam from Poovalur Venkatraman (a disciple of Palani Subramania Pillai). Compelling family circumstances made him take up a teacher’s job in Neyveli. His unfulfilled desire of becoming a mridangam player was in a way responsible for what I am today. Neyveli Balasubramaniam spotted my love for rhythm and put me under Tiruvarur Krishnamurthy of AIR Pondy, who was frequenting Neyveli to conduct classes. In a year, there were only four or five classes. But I would continue practising. Then there was a lull for four years. But my father was determined and took me to Tiruvarur Krishnamurthy’s house at Pondy. Soon classes began during weekends and holidays. The only difference was I had to travel to Pondy every time. Playing for Srirangam Ranganathan’s vocals regularly helped immensely. Also, my sister, a qualified musician, would sing at home so that I could practise.

My days in Neyveli…

Even as a child, my mother would take me and my sister to all concerts in Neyveli along with my grandmother, who was a good singer. I have listened to many veterans. Music was always my first choice when compared to games in the township. I would never miss concerts even during exams. Competing with my sister, I would run to the main gate to grab the concert notice for the month when it was being distributed. Listening to concerts in AIR was another highlight.

Most memorable Neyveli concert

D.K. Jayaraman’s performance with T. Rukmini and R. Ramesh is still etched in mind. We were in awe as we had listened to him only on AIR. That day, we never wanted the concert to end. The way he encouraged young R. Ramesh was something incredible.

The influence of Pudukottai Sanjeevi Bhagavatar…

Regular bhajans and annual Radha Kalyanam were part and parcel of Neyveli life. Pudukottai Sanjeevi Bhagavatar would stay in our house when he came to participate in the Radha Kalyanam festival. It was he who made me play for his bhajans. I received my first ever sambhavanai of Rs.75 from him. Playing for bhajans regularly improved my skill, what with varied style, different talams and tunes and long hours of non-stop playing.

Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam and an important decision…

After completing DME, I immediately got a job. Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam, a nephew of my first guru, knew me even during my Neyveli days. After convincing my parents, he made me take up mridangam full time. Then I moved to Madras. His words of encouragement helped me overcome my initial diffidence in a new atmosphere. His mother T.R. Aanandavalli sang a lot for my practice sessions. Bhaktavatsalam made me participate in several competitions and in the first year of my entry, I won prizes at The Music Academy, IFAS and MFAC . Incidentally I got the Government scholarship to learn mridangam under him.

Professional life…

Winning competitions earned me a few concerts. My guru also recommended me to many artistes, and sabhas. S.V. Krishnan of Raga Sudha boosted my morale by featuring me at least twice a month. One such concert for Rajee Gopalakrishnan really pushed my career ahead. My maiden tour abroad was with her, arranged by Cleveland Sundaram. Playing for veena vidwan K.S. Narayanaswamy in the presence of M.S. Subbulakshmi is something I will cherish forever. At the end of the concert, Veenai Vasu virtually lifted me from the stage on his shoulders, showering praises.

My association with Sudha Ragunathan…

After playing at a few concerts for her, there was a gap. Then, all of a sudden, she called me up and asked me to accompany her. There was no turning back after that. Accompanying her for concerts, there has not been a place that I have not visited both within India and abroad.

Encouragement from other vidwans…

O.S.Thiagarajan is a big source of inspiration and so is T.V. Sankaranarayanan. Playing for Priya Sisters, Nithyasree Mahadevan, Sikkil Gurucharan and many others regularly, has helped me adapt to different styles.

Love for Tiruppugazh…

Our house in Neyveli would always ring with Tiruppugazh. My parents, brothers and sisters were all good at it. These hymns of Arunagirinathar are the ultimate statement on rhythm. Taking part with T.V. Sundaravalli in her Tiruppugazh concerts and albums has been soul satisfying.

Most cherished moments…

The blessings I received from Kanchi Paramacharya when he released the first Tiruppugazh CD of T.V.Sundaravalli at the Mutt and the pat on my cheeks from Sathya Sai Baba after I played with Priya Sisters in Puttaparthi… I will never forget those moments.

Approach to concerts…

On the days I have concerts, I get up early and set my mind for the evening’s concert. Tuning myself to the style of the artist whom I am going to accompany that evening goes on the whole day. By the time I leave my house, I am all set. On concert days I never undertake any domestic work. Non-concert days are reserved for my family.

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