Venkataram also talked about Iyer’s insistence on vocal music knowledge for percussionists in getting the chemistry right during performances.

This is the birth centenary year of Palghat T.S. Mani Iyer, one of the greatest percussionists of Carnatic music.

Fittingly, the Percussive Arts Centre here, in its 31st Annual Percussive Arts Festival and Music Conference, Thalavadyotsav 2012 (July 15-22, Bangalore Gayana Samaja), is holding a tribute to the mridangist with special programmes on his phenomenal contribution. Apart from this, there would be concerts, including ‘laya vinyasa’ and ‘tala vadya cutcheris’, as well as lifetime award presentations.

Passionate percussionist

Percussive Arts Centre, the brainchild of the late ghata maestro, Bangalore K. Venkataram, is engaged in the propagation of Indian percussion. Observing this musician’s passion, T.S. Parthsarathy, eminent musicologist and Emeritus Fellow, Department of Culture, was moved to write in the 1980s: “In your dedication, you have beaten the American percussion king Buddy Rich who had 400 kinds of drums collected from around the globe.”

Venkataram, spellbound by rhythm, had taken every step to see his centre grow in stature. He invited stalwarts to perform, honoured seniors in the field, held lecdems and seminars, brought out nearly 40 books on various aspects of percussion, released cassettes and CDs dedicated to ‘laya’, ran a one-of-its-kind periodical, and built a percussion ensemble, Vrushti, to explore the potential of different Indian percussive instruments.

Independent identity

Says Venkatram’s son, the mridangist V. Krishna: “Nearly 15 laya instruments in India, traditionally considered to have only a percussive role, were diligently picked up by my father to establish an independent identity for each, and bring them into focus in ‘tala-vadya cutcheris’ as in Western ensembles. He believed that every ‘laya’ instrument has self-determining qualities that get revealed during percussion ensembles.”

Mr. Krishna is now taking forward the centre’s activities. “Percussionists support Carnatic artistes with extempore play but connoisseurs would know that there could be an overlap in their combined effort. My father brought a revolutionary trend to plan and notate percussive themes to support composed music in Carnatic platforms. Laya Vrushti, our audio releases, has samples of this for varna and kriti formats.”

Iyer’s intellect

Venkataram, who was formally trained in the ghata by the renowned K.S. Manjunath, had a special ear for Mani Iyer’s style. Besotted by Iyer’s intellect that bridged gaps with mridanga idioms to heighten the overall experience, Venkataram unconsciously fashioned his approach on the same lines to gain more acclaim.

After Iyer’s demise in 1981, he dedicated an arts centre — which later became the Percussive Arts Centre — to his “mentor and guide” and propagated the “active accompaniment” of Mani Iyer schooling.

What Venkataram also stressed was Iyer’s insistence on vocal music knowledge for percussionists in getting the chemistry right during performances.

At the music conference inauguration (July 15, 10 a.m.) there will be a special screening of the six-minute video of Mani Iyer’s performance sequence taken from violin maestro Chowdiah’s film Vani, shot in the 1940s.

Multimedia presentations by Iyer’s sons T.R. Rajamani and T.R. Rajaram, and talk by veteran mridangists T.K. Murthy, B.R. Srinivas , Mysore A. Radhesh, Trivandrum V. Surendran and T.A.S. Mani will cover Iyer’s seminal influence.

Concerts by Rudrapatnam Brothers, R.K. Srikantan, T.S. Sathyavathy, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, Kumaresh (violin) and Jayanthi Kumaresh (veena), S. Shankar and Mysore Nagaraj and Manjunath (violin) are also part of the festival. Call 26563079 / 94484 63079 for logon to for programme details.