Carnatic musicians Ranjani and Gayatri on the transition from violin to vocal and the recently-concluded Margazhi season
Their music can be described as a fine blend of voices, perfection of sruti, powerful voice control, and impeccable aesthetics. They deeply experience and enjoy what they sing. It has a mass appeal that ranges from laymen to connoisseurs. Carnatic vocalists Ranjani and Gayatri are “sought-after” artists. Initially, they started learning violin from Professor. T.S. Krishnaswami in Mumbai, where they were brought up. Soon they began to give violin duet concerts, establishing themselves as top-class violinists. After shifting base to Chennai in 1993, the sisters came under the tutelage of renowned vocalist and guru P.S. Narayanaswamy. They started giving vocal concerts since 1997 and, within a few years, established themselves in this sphere too.
Ranjani and Gayatri were in the Capital recently for a performance. They took time to answer questions on a variety of topics, including their exposure to abhangs. Excerpts:
The famous Chennai music season has just ended. How many concerts did you take up in this season?
Ranjani: We tried to limit the number of concerts to what we believe is a reasonably optimum number, say, eight to 10. It is a challenge to bring in freshness, creativity and a special magical experience to a concert every time, apart from keeping our voices intact during the inclement Margazhi weather in Chennai.
How was the music season to you?
Gayatri: This time too we had a wonderful run. It was a great joy to craft new RTPs (ragam-tanam-pallavis) in melakarta ragas, consciously avoiding the ghana ragas. The ragas that we chose included the familiar ones, like Chakravakam and Subhapantuvarali, and relatively rare vivadhi ragas like Kanthamani and Nasikabhoosani. There were also three or four new viruthams, and a new abhang that we set music to. All this is a great opportunity to keep our creativity flowing. It is not just as performers that we like to challenge ourselves; we would also like to explore all dimensions of our potential.
You switched over to vocal from violin. Do you also give violin recitals?
Ranjani: The long hours of practice that we put in as children and teenagers have really helped us retain that touch on the violin. We discovered this in a recent concert during the season. We had to play a violin duet concert at the last minute as Gayatri had a throat infection. Initially, we were not too sure if we would be able carry on. However, as the concert unfolded we revelled in the joy and pleasure of rediscovering our old touch on the violin.
How do you select the verses for your viruthams, which are so looked forward to in your concerts?
Gayatri: We select the verses in a way that it blends and beautifully flows into the song that we would be singing after our viruthams. We also try to ensure that the verses capture the essence of that song.
How were you exposed to did you get exposure to the abhangs, which are also looked forward to in your concerts?
Ranjani: Growing up in Mumbai gave us the familiarity with Marathi as well as an exposure to abhangs. We have also learnt some abhangs from a few Hindustani musicians. Most of the abhangs that we present in concerts today are tuned by us.
What is your advice to youngsters learning Carnatic music?
Gayatri: We share with youngsters the precept that we hold dear, i.e., to deeply enjoy the process of learning music for its own sake, and never to cloud the minds with any other consideration. Once we drown ourselves completely in the ocean of music, it will yield us pearls that outshine and outlast any material attainment.