The eminent Carnatic vocalist and the sought-after guru, P.S. Narayanaswamy says that after a point in his career he wanted to be a teacher and not a performer. This revered musician will be conferred the title Vishesha Acharya on February 23V.
He is a towering personality in the field of music, adored by musicians, disciples and music lovers alike. Unaffected by the many honours he has received, he is an epitome of endearing humility. Padma Bhushan P.S.Narayanaswamy, eminent Carnatic musician and guru will be conferred the title of Vishesha Acharya on February 23. He shares memories, insights and views in this interview.
Could you please tell me about your early years?
PSN: I was born in a place called Aanandathaandavapuram, where the poet Gopalakrishna Bharati lived. I started learning music at the age of nine from Panju Bhagavathar, at Konerirajapuram, where my father, a doctor, had settled down for his medical practice. Early on, I was influenced by the film compositions of Papanasam Sivan on radio. Tiruppambaram Somasundaram Pillai and Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer were my teachers in the succeeding four or five years.
An opportunity to sing before Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was a blessing and led to my Gurukula Vasam in his house in Trivandrum. I owe my sangeetha jnaanam to him. He taught selflessly, unmindful of the time of day, and gave me innumerable opportunities to practise. This most beneficial time of my life helped me gain much knowledge.
I was married by the age of 19, and moved to Madras to continue to learn from Semmangudi maama. Meanwhile, I also began to get a few concert opportunities. In course of time, I began performing at the (Music) Academy and other Sabhas. I gradually settled down in Madras, joined the Vadya Vrinda of AIR and worked for 18, and began teaching at the same time. My father acquired this house in this (Narasimhapuram) colony, and I have lived here for nearly 55 years ever since. There is not much else to boast about.
You have dedicated yourself to music, and achieved so much! Did you also pursue a formal academic education?
PSN: For me, music was the priority. I had given up schooling after the eighth standard. My father supported my decision. No regrets about it. Music has bestowed a lot upon me, without my asking for it.
As far as music is concerned, my students are my heirs. I feel very blessed.
Through them, you have laid the foundation for passing on the tradition of Carnatic music to the next generation.
PSN: I have had great interest in doing so. I have beckoned youngsters to come and learn and partake of the tradition. I must transfer what I have learnt to them before my memory begins to fail. Of late, I have scaled down my schedule considerably. I am afraid I might not do justice to more new students.
Have modern gadgets made performers depend increasingly on them, at the expense of ‘kelvi jaanam’? Is that a problem?
PSN: Yes. But in earlier times, a musician used to learn not more than around 250 compositions. Today, rasikas expect a much bigger repertoire of songs of many more composers. It is tough on the musicians. Nevertheless, they must practise each composition assiduously before singing it in a concert. Of course, with today’s tight schedule that is increasingly difficult. Bhâvam comes only from constant practice. Semmangudi stressed listening; this resulted in our absorbing the nuances which could not be taught. He set a glorious example for tough and incessant practice.
Whose music has influenced you the most, apart from your Guru’s?
PSN: I liked GNB’s music very much. His influence is distinctly perceptible in my singing. Even my Guru has pointed it out. But of course, the major influence is that of my Guru. Some senior artistes accompanied me in those years. Respected artistes like T.K. Murthy, C.S. Murugabhoopathy, Papa Venkataramaiah, Mayavaram Govindaraja Pillai, Lalgudi Jayaraman and T.N.Krishnan have accompanied me as well. A great privilege indeed!
You have been both a performer and a teacher. Which role have you preferred?
PSN: Initially, I wanted only to be a performer. My senior musicians, Musiri Subramanya Iyer and GNB encouraged me. Madurai Mani Iyer even made me sing in his house and showered appreciation. A number of students approached me while I was at AIR. I enjoyed the role of teacher. Especially when my students attained great proficiency in a short span of time, it was very rewarding. I have gained immense satisfaction as a teacher.
In training so many disciples, you have made a selfless contribution to the cause of perpetuating our music.
PSN: I have done what I could without expecting any returns. I cannot claim that my disciples have done well only because of me. They have practised incredibly hard and I am proud of it.
What are your thoughts about the future of Carnatic music?
PSN: Carnatic music has a bright future. It shall never fade. The tradition will be preserved thanks to today’s technology. The encouragement from parents, the support of rasikas, abundant opportunities and intense competition all augur well. A musician must only watch out against the temptation to take shortcuts or resorting to fanciful ideas in an attempt to earn quickly.
What has given you a sense of fulfilment?
PSN: I have never hankered after any award. I am surely grateful for all the adulation that I have received. But I think it is all the result of my Guru’s blessings, his anugraham, and God’s grace. I am content with what I have received and do not expect or desire anything more.
Vishesha Fine Arts will confer the title Vishesha Acharya on P.S. Narayanaswamy on February 23 in Bangalore at MLR Convention, JP Nagar VII Phase. The day long Hindustani, Carnatic and percussion ensemble programmes begin at 8 a.m. The awards ceremony is at 10 a.m. For details, firstname.lastname@example.org