REMINISCENCE T.R. Subramaniam presented interesting insights into GNB's life and music.
The late G.N. Balasubramaniam carved a niche for himself in the world of Classical Carnatic music. He was one musician who had charisma that was acknowledged by even diehard traditionalists of his time. Professor T.R. Subramaniam who enjoyed a close association with the popular musician is, indeed, the right person to talk on the uniqueness of the celebrated multi-faceted personality such as GNB.
TRS began his lecture stating that GNB was a highly qualified academician, who never learnt Carnatic music in any gurukulam which was the order of the day then.
Musicians who visited his house were a major influence. His father G.V. Narayanaswami Iyer was a patron of Carnatic music and musicians and he encouraged his son Balasubramaniam's passion for music. Unlike vidwans of those days who generally had only minimal education, GNB was a B.A. (Hons) degree holder in English Literature. But divine intervention brought him to the music world.
GNB never indulged in promotional activities to further his career, said TRS. Offers to perform on stage came to GNB because of his talent. He was recognised and acclaimed on the merit of his music. . To cite an example, after listening to his concert organised by the Kolkata South India Club, in Kolkata, the rasikas wanted him to perform the next day also, and again attended it in full strength. Palghat Mani Iyer was his percussionist on the mridangam on the occasion and GNB paid Mani Iyer substantially, from his remuneration. TRS said that Mani Iyer acknowledged the magnanimity of GNB.
GNB enjoyed the full patronage of the young and old alike. His disposition and his music spelt magic which was sustained, the reasons being his stature, profound knowledge and captivating voice.
The traditional idiom of Carnatic music was to perform in a rather sedentary manner; it was GNB who broke the monotony and introduced fast paced music to shake the audience out of the slumber of overdose of vilambita kala presentations. His super fast renditions were probably the one that inducted the term called ‘briga' in musical parlance. He introduced a sort of freshness to music with the right proportion of speed and ‘sowkyam'.
GNB proved, TRS emphasised, that a raga alapana could be done in three minutes with the most vital phrasings and also extensively for 30 to 40 minutes expounding the entire range and beauty of the raga which he normally reserved for the Ragam Tanam Pallavi. It was for him to demonstrate that the same nuances of raga exposition in nagaswaram can be achieved vocally too.
TRS recalled GNB's great sense of humour and said that he was good at punning words. His academic and musical brilliance notwithstanding, his bonhomie with his fellow musicians and students was amazing.
TRS reminisced on how he learnt the correct pronunciation of Telugu words he used in his compositions and how TRS suggested to him to change the pallavi of his kriti ‘Marakoti Sundari Malini' (Bahudari) to ‘Ma Ramana Sodari Malini' as the former referred to masculinity of ‘Manmada'. TRS also reiterated GNB's creativity of employing ‘dwitiyakshara prasam' in his compositions which is another unique aspect of his kritis. In most of his compositions prasam will be continued and taken to the entire kriti. He wondered at the manner in which GNB fixed the words ‘Bhava aranya Dhava anale' bringing ‘prasa' and ‘anuprasa' in a single line in his kriti ‘Sivakama Kamavardhini' in Kamavardhini.
A few questions came from the audience. One of them was why GNB did not sing Kharaharapriya often. TRS agreed, and said he used to reply jokingly that he had left that raga to other vidwans. Same was the reply to the query for his not having taken up ‘Nagu Momu,' another popular piece. GNB, the brilliant musician, composer and guru that he was, saw his protégés such as MLV and S. Kalyanaraman becoming popular during his life time.
TRS did not digress much from the main subject, though the session went off-track at a few points.