Vyasarpadi Kothandaraman will be honoured by Kalki Krishnamurthy Memorial Trust on Sept 9. The Hindu's Editor, Siddharth Varadarajan, will preside over the function and give away the award.
The 2013 award in memory of Amarar Kalki given by The Kalki Krishnamurthy Memory Trust will be bestowed on nagaswara vidwan, Vyasarpadi Kothandaraman, on September 9 at Ragasudha Hall, Chennai. This has come to Kothandaraman as a “huge surprise.”
He had already taken the world by storm in July last year (2012). He had mustered up a congregation of 35 nagaswara vidwans and 25 thavil vidwans, and had performed at the famous Shanmukhananda Sabha, Mumbai - a concert with a unique flair and flavour.
Kalki has always had its strong links with the classical arts, especially Carnatic music. It has been in the forefront in recognising and awarding artists of merit.
Kothandaraman teaches nagawaram at the Government Music College, R.A. Puram, Chennai. An epitome of dedication, Kothandaraman used its Tamil equivalent, arpanippu several times in this conversation.
Who was his first guru? Kothandaraman mentions the name of his father, Gopalaswami, with reverence. Kothandaraman belongs to Tirupulivanam, a hamlet near Kanchipuram, near Uthiramerur.
Kothandaraman has this to say about the teaching methods adopted by his father. “He always had useful tips and taught me, while seated with another nagaswaram in front of me (edhir nayanam). He used to teach in a manner that would always bring out the best in you. After a reasonable stint, he allowed the student to flourish by following his instinct.”
On practice sessions
“The instrument was always kept open. Never was it closed and tied. As children, we used to mix playing and devoting time for the instrument. No time restrictions. No hard and fast rules either. But constant playing was a must. Those friendly yet firm admonitions from my father have stood me in good stead as I stand before this world today as a player. In the same vein, I will have to recall with gratitude my student days at the Government Music College. My teacher was Tiruvarur Latchappa Pillai, who honed my skills with care and instilled the necessary courage in me.” He adds: “I consider it a privilege to teach nagaswaram at my alma mater. I need to thank the principal Veena Gayathri for this.”
Is it necessary to learn vocal music?
“It is mandatory, actually. Sahitya Bhava has to be compulsorily attained and learning vocal music becomes an integral part. One need not be a great singer. But the lyrics and their meanings require to be assimilated first. Any inadequacy will show in the play. When I teach students, I mention this aspect repeatedly. In nagaswaram playing, this (sahithya sudhdham) is attained by thuthagaaram method of blowing. I also learnt the thavil but not to the level of a performer. I used to experiment with it at home.”
On the moments he cherishes, he thinks for a while and answers, “I was barely nine when the World Tamil Conference was held in Chennai. Chennai Vanoli had arranged a concert of mine and we played from the traffic signal up to the light house, opposite AIR. The then Governor Prabhudas Patwari presided. Another moment was when I received the Music Competition award from M.S. Subbulakshmi Amma in 1986.”
Is nagaswaram fading into oblivion?
“I have infinite faith in its future and what we need is a renaissance of sorts, and in this the rasikas have an equally important role to play. Traditions have to be preserved, at all cost.”
Kothandaraman signs off with a word to the youth: “I began learning at seven and performed at nine. Not that I had learnt everything by then. But I had that performing confidence. It is not possible to master everything. Isai is virtually a prasadam given to you. You are fortunate that music has chosen you. The nagaswaram is probably one of the toughest to learn. What is needed are perseverance and commitment. And the individual effort you put in makes a huge difference.”
The award ceremony will be followed by Vyasarpadi Kothandaraman's nagaswaram recital.