If the main artist sings/plays for five minutes, the accompanist should not exceed two and a half minutes.
Soloist and accompanist of repute for over two decades, violinist Usha Rajagopal has performed widely in India and abroad. She has earned the appreciation of audiences and artists alike for her traditional style, adaptability and quick-silver responses. The artist shares her experiences and views.
Initiation into music
There were no musicians in my family. My guru, Padmavathy Ananthagopalan, was our neighbour. When I was six, I began a student for vocal music under her, but as my voice could not traverse the upper register, I was considered better suited to be an instrumentalist. My guru is a great vainika. However, my mother requested that I be taught the violin as this instrument was easier to carry! Thus, vidwan Ananthagopalan began teaching me the violin.
Rigorous training and gurus' blessings
I always kept my music books and violin in my gurus' house — I practised there. A demanding schedule really put me through my paces. Every morning, my guru would make me play sadhaka varisai in at least one melakarta raga. Thus with the familiarity born of practice, even vivadi ragas became easy to handle. Then I'd play four varnams in 2 kalas each, two in Adi tala, two in Ata tala, followed by Pillayar kritis. After a short coffee break, I would play a list of kritis as per an alternating timetable, so that I was thorough with all the songs I had learnt. Next came raga alapanas. It is this kind of intensive training and discipline that keeps these kritis still fresh in my memory. For all this, I am totally indebted to my gurus Padmavathy and Ananthagopalan. Vidushi Srimathi Brahmanandam was also kind enough to teach me.
The listening habit
Listening to music of eminent vidwans was an invaluable part of my training. My gurus made me observe and understand the exchanges between artists and subtleties of accompaniment using these recordings. This routine was particularly followed when I lived with my gurus in Singapore for two years.
The importance of gurukulavasam
Since I learnt in gurukulavasam, I can say with conviction that it is the best way to learn. One look from your guru can direct the very next note you sing/play. Nowadays, e-learning exists as an important tool, so that classical music can reach many students long distance. But there is no substitute for direct guru-sishya learning — that immediacy of knowledge transfer, rendering sahitya without pada chedam
The art of accompaniment was impressed upon me by my gurus. If the main artist sings/plays for five minutes, the accompanist should not exceed two and a half minutes. So, I would always check the time on my watch and play accordingly. The accompanist must remember that his/her role is to complement the main artist, not to supersede. This discipline has endeared me to many artists who appreciate this quality and request my accompaniment.
On twin tracks
Being an accompanist provides an invaluable experience in different aspects. Becoming acquainted with new compositions, following niraval turns, (during solo, instrumentalists usually do limited niravals) gaining expertise in RTP in different talas. However, a solo is a one-man show in which the artist can display creativity and prowess through vistara. One can develop alapanas at a leisurely pace and catchy ragas such as Behag in the tukkada section can be dwelt upon. As a soloist, my personal approach is paddhati based - varnam in two speeds, focus on different vaggeyakaras' compositions in different talas
Apart from my gurus, I owe so much to the Bombay Sisters Lalitha and Saroja. They are the backbone of my life. During the short time when I was unable to play, they bought me a new violin, gave me a fresh lease and brought me into the public eye. For about 15 years, I have accompanied them in all their concerts. My ability in manodharma sangeeta grew under their watchful eye.
The AIR experience
I have been an AIR staff violinist for 21 years now. Playing programmes everyday, in itself constitutes daily practice. I have accompanied and had the opportunity to interact with so many great vidwans, learnt new kritis and participated in Vadya Sandam — a challenging, satisfying job.
Beginning with college culturals, I went on to win prizes at the Music Academy. I was conferred Kalaimamani in 1995.
Sometimes, taken for granted. Earlier, sabhas used to invite accompanists to accept concerts. Today, the convenience factor dictates that main artistes themselves engage their accompanists. In the process, artists who have been performing for many years, are overlooked and don't get a chance to perform.
It is important for an artist to equip himself/herself academically. So, I recently completed my M.A. in Music. My son is a mridangam artist. The best lesson I learnt — practice makes one perfect. And, hard work yields the best results.