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Soulful strokes

Sitarist N.V. Gopinath is caring, open-minded, and has none of the forbidding tendencies of intractable gurus

GRACEFUL Gopinath began his musical career as a veena artiste Photo:K. GOPINATHAN

Sitarist N.V. Gopinath's recital at Naada Sandhya, on the occasion of Guru Purnima, featured a mellifluous raag Kamod not very often played on the sitar and was followed by a soulful dhun in raga Des. To me, Gopinath's Kamod felt like an extension of Vilayat Khan's rendition of the same raga. Vilayat Khan's gats in Kamod were cited to highlight how his taan patterns were influenced by modern khyal vocal practices. Here was Gopinath rendering celebrated vocal cheezs in the form of gats — vilambit ("Hoon to tan man), madhya laya ("Kaare jane na doongi") and drut ("Chaand de more anchara"). The gayaki ang here struck an immediate chord, by its underlying resemblance to the creative outpouring of the gayaki maestro.

There were several emotional themes that flourished in recurring patterns in NVG's alap and gats. These patterns both in their isolation and also as a part of a long string of phrases pointed to the same emotional experience. While the accent on the gayaki ang was very soulful, the veena-like strokes and the sudden dramatic leaps and surprising shift of notes created some very exciting musical experience.

Vasudeva Murthy in What the Raags Told Me describes the essence of Kamod as "restless, happy, flushed with the absolute joy of being able to experience life!" and likens it to a garden in spring with several young girls playing and shouting excitedly. This kind of zest and joy was evident in NVG's Kamod.

Gopinath's sitar always sings. He plays with great ease and clarity resulting in a rare richness of expression. His style is characterised by breath-taking meends, long-winding phrases, a variety of embellishments, gamaks and filigree effects of a subtle nature. What emerges is a heightened aesthetic experience marked by a remarkable gayaki ang. His is a silent achievement over long years, a dedicated pursuit away from the hustle and bustle of commodified musical circuits.

Initiated into music at an early age and trained under Vidwan G.N. Subramanyam, Gopinath began his musical career as a veena artiste. He later lent himself to training in Hindustani vocal and sitar under Pt. Seshadri Gawai. Eventually, it was the sitar in all its melody offering inexhaustible possibilities in terms of music that held his imagination, leading to a lifetime engagement with music.

A ceramic factory job at Jabalpur turned into an opportunity for him to learn the techniques of the sitar under Pt. Govindrao Kulkarni, a disciple of Ustad Allauddin Khan of Maihar gharana who nurtured his skills thoroughly. After his return to Bangalore in 1969, sitar has been his fulltime vocation. From then on for over three decades, Gopinath continued his tutelage under the veteran tabla maestro Pt. D.S. Garud. This sustained learning accounts for his acute sense of laya and his awareness of rhythm as an inherent intrinsic attribute of music. Probably, his idea of training his students to follow an internal clock, and to keep track of the tala without a parasitic dependence on the tabla, stems from this awareness. It is a great compliment to his talent that Pt. Garud voluntarily offered tabla saath to this chosen student and accompanied him on the tabla for several years. Besides being a versatile player, he is also an inspiring teacher. Gopinath believes that teaching music is all about enabling students to explore possibilities on their own, while also equipping them with necessary skills and techniques in doing this. As a sitar master, the crucial attention he pays to each aspect, be it the posture, the positioning of hands and fingers or the right kind of movement to be adopted while applying different strokes, is an elaborate lesson in itself. To help learners transcend sheer technique and make possible a creative engagement with the swara and laya patterns is Gopinath's concern.

As a person, he is caring and open minded who has none of the forbidding tendencies of intolerant gurus. Right from his major concert in 1972 under the auspices of Swarasringar, his programmes have been memorable events for connoisseurs. Even after years, his Sham Kalyan, Malkauns, Durga and Rageshree at the Hindustan Kalakar Mandali Concert in 1994 are much talked about and remembered. His music is always a serene experience for the discerning listener, carrying with it a distinct tenderness characteristic of his persona.

Sangeeta Kalaravinda by Sangeetha Krupa Kuteera, Nadashree conferred by Hindustani Sangeeth Kalakar Mandali and Tansen Sangeeth Kalanidhi by Tansen Surasangam of Tiruvanthapuram are some of the major awards that have come his way. Unmindful of the fact that he deserves many more kudos he plays on with humble grace and dedication.


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