I think musicians of those days swore by practice and more practice. I remember my guru would practice for hours and hours, and insisted we all do the same. But I feel that kind of commitment and dedication is lacking now.

Here’s a singer whose music and training speaks volumes about his talent. Pt. M. Venkatesh Kumar is a name to reckon with in the Hindustani music firmament. Famous for his vachanas and Haridasa kritis, the Dharwar-based vocalist found great support from his fellow musicians such as Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Gangubai Hangal. In April this year, he was conferred the Krishna Hangal National Award instituted by the Hangal Music Foundation, in memory of Gangubai’s daughter.

He is currently a faculty member at the Karnatak College of Music, Dharwar. During his recent visit to Chennai to participate in the Ganayogi Hindustani Festival, Pt. Venkatesh was happy to share his thoughts on his career and icons.

The significance of the Krishna Hangal Award…

I feel deeply honoured to be conferred the award and getting it from the doyenne and my role model, Gangubai, herself, made it even more special. She was so frail and could hardly sit, but her presence made all the difference. She was an affectionate person. Her encouraging words, charming smile, simplicity and above all, her supreme command over her art… all these will surely be missed by the music world.

Childhood years…

I was born in 1953 in Lakshmipura, a tiny hamlet in Bellary District of Karnataka. My father Huleappa was a janapada (folk) artist and I imbibed the love for music from him. My maternal uncle was a Hindustani singer and he spotted my talent when he heard me sing raags. He introduced me to Pt. Puttaraj Gawai, a well-known vocalist, who asked me to sing something. I did and soon I was under his tutelage.

The gurukul days…

I stayed with my guru for 11 years, in his gurukul. My guru was an exponent of both the Gwalior and Kirana Gharanas. So I was instructed in both the styles. He gave us the freedom to experiment and explore but at the same time, maintain the identity of each Gharana. I owe everything to him.

Formal education…

Even as I was a student at the gurukul, I completed my post-graduation in Music from the prestigious Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Dharwad. I became an A Grade AIR artist and have remained so for over 17 years now.

My first concert…

I think it was in 1975. The Art Circle of Belgaum had organised a Youth Festival. I got a chance to sing there. I remember so many people came and congratulated me after the concert.

It was a humbling experience. In fact, I gave my first concert quite late, by today’s standards (laughs)… I was 21. But that was because my guru insisted that we ‘learn first and then sing… no singing before you learn completely.’ I believe that kind of rigorous training has come in good stead today.

Memorable performances…

There are many. But one stands out. The concert in 1993 at the Sawai Gandharva Sangeetotsavam at Pune. I still can recall every moment vividly. There were thousands of people. When I saw so many sitting in the audience, I became nervous. I remember many stalwarts — including Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai akka and Pt. Jasraj — sitting in the first row. But once I sat down, prayed and began to sing, everything was forgotten.

Raags I enjoy singing most…

Actually, whichever raag I practise for a longer period becomes a favourite. Besides Hindustani classical, I enjoy Marathi natyageet and thumris.

Current trend in music…

It is heartening to note that more and more youngsters are taking up classical music. Not all of them may have the talent to make it big. But the interest is surely growing. I feel even to appreciate classical music, you need to have basic knowledge.

Veterans vs. Gen Y…

I think musicians of those days swore by practice and more practice. I remember my guru would practice for hours and hours, and insisted we all do the same. But I feel that kind of commitment and dedication is lacking now.

Today’s youngsters want instant gratification. So much so, practice and perfection take a backseat.

Your advice to budding artists…

Our classical music is truly unique. We need to find time to appreciate its finer aspects. And remember, practice is the key, and perhaps the only way, if you want to make it big.

My inspiration comes from…

So many of them... First and foremost is my guru. D.V. Paluskar, Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai, Girija Devi, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Begum Ahktar… the list is long.

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