Chennai-based vocalist Gayathri Venkataraghavan on a career that came about by chance but is maintained by effort
Like many children, Gayathri Venkataraghavan too took to music at a young age, rather by force of her parents. Her parents were very serious in imparting Carnatic music to the child and even named her after the child prodigy ‘Baby’ Gayathri of those days (now Veena artiste E. Gayathri).
So began her tutelage under a number of gurus like Rajalakshmi, Padma Veeraraghavan, Rukmini Ramani, V. Subramaniam and Lakshmi Natarajan. Her advanced training was under a very dedicated guru A. Sundaresan. She is currently under the guidance of veteran P.S. Narayanaswamy.
Today Gayathri is a popular Chennai-based Carnatic vocalist and a sought after artiste, performing regularly in India and abroad.
When and how did she begin to pursue music with all seriousness?
“I think I was 14 years old then. I attended a concert of KVN Sir (the late Palghat K.V. Narayanaswamy). I was moved very much by his music and from then onwards, I took music seriously. This was actually a turning point in my musical journey,” says Gayathri, who performed recently in the Capital.
From winning prizes in inter-school, inter-college and other competitions, how did she graduate to the concert platform as a performer?
“In my case, the change from a student of Carnatic music to a performer happened slowly,” avers Gayathri.
She explains that in some competitions conducted by organisations like All India Radio, Indian Fine Arts, etc., the winners have to give concert performances, and this got her to the concert platform.
Gayathri also participated in the group presentations of Shyama Shastri kritis and other lecture-demonstrations conducted by her guru A. Sundaresan — whom she fondly refers to as a “treasure trove” of Carnatic music.
She feels it is under the guidance of Sundaresan, as also that of P.S. Narayanaswamy, who she says is a wonderful teacher, that she got to know the finer aspects of Carnatic music.
Ups and downs
Slowly concert opportunities began coming by and she had completed a round of performance in Chennai sabhas.
At a time when her musical career was blossoming, says Gayathri, her marriage, her doctor-husband’s higher studies and the family moving out of Chennai to various places like Madurai, Tirunelveli, etc. changed her focus from performance to family responsibilities. This resulted in an eight-year hiatus.
So how did the revival come about? Says Gayathri, “When we were in Tirunelveli, the secretary of Nellai Sangeetha Sabha, a family friend, once visited us. He told me that I should start singing again and even offered an opportunity to sing in his sabha, which I did. Soon, Yagnaraman Sir (late music connoisseur of Chennai) of the Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai, requested me to sing in their Skanda Shasti festival. Initially, I refused. But as he insisted I performed in Chennai after a long gap.”
Gayathri considers these two concerts as pivotal in her musical journey as they brought her back to the concert platform. Soon the family shifted to Chennai and there was no looking back for the young vocalist.
“All the events in my musical journey just happened and fell in place at the appropriate time,” says Gayathri. But that doesn’t mean she takes her career for granted. Her attempt, she says, is to keep adding to her repertoire by learning new songs. She saves time by not watching television and keeps up with the news by going through the newspaper every day.
Gayathri treats every concert as an examination. “As we prepare thoroughly for an exam, I too work hard before any concert.”