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Striking the right chord

GEETHA VENKATRAMANAN
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CHAT A trained classicist, it is through a different medium that Revathy Krishna reaches out. GEETHA VENKATRAMANAN

Keeping the flag flying: Revathy Krishna. Photo by special arrangement
Keeping the flag flying: Revathy Krishna. Photo by special arrangement

T he review (see box) prompted this writer to find out what made Revathy Krishna, disciple of purists K.P. Sivanandam and Sarada Sivanandam, opt for light stuff. “Let's face it. There are no takers for Carnatic instrument concerts, and veena is no exception,” responds the vainika. “But the divine instrument should not become obsolete. On the other hand it should reach more people. Presenting film songs seemed the ideal way,” she adds.

Great grand daughter of Tillaisthnam Rama Iyengar, prime disciple of Tyagaraja, Revathy grew up in a musical background, both parents being trained musicians. Bahula Panchami was celebrated at their home in Madurai with great fervour. A sociology graduate, Revathy completed Sangita Vidwan course at the Music College, Chennai.

“My gurus laid a strong foundation,” says Revathy, who is well known for her classical concerts. “In fact, you need to be strong in basics to try film songs. I have come across people who want to learn (to play) film songs straightway. To them I make it clear that it is not possible. First master the instrument through hard work. The swara sthanas must be at your finger tips, literally.”

Revathy exercises caution while choosing the songs to suit the occasion. “Tamil Isai Sangam wanted songs based on ragas and my list contained all classics,” she says citing an example. A marriage concert will not have anything negative or melancholic and it will be an all-devotional affair at temples. “I eschew songs that have no melody and are beat-oriented.”

Preparation for a concert

Thus a lot of thought and preparation go into each concert. “Certainly,” agrees Revathy. “The content may be light but not the effort. I rehearse until every note is in its place. Of course, there will be requests from the audience and I happily oblige. A complete knowledge of the instrument and dedicated practice alone will help face such situations. The accompanists play a significant role in the success of a concert.”

When did she feel the veena was on the wane? “My entry into the field was rather late (early eighties), due to family commitments. Even at that time, veena concerts were few and far between. The situation has become worse over the years.”

What was her gurus' reaction to Revathy's venture? “They did not disapprove. In fact, even those who raised their eyebrows appreciate my effort these days. It cannot be denied that the songs I play are familiar to the mass. This way I reach more people, and from all walks of life. The late Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan did it with great success. The great violinist had a finger on the pulse of the audience,” observes Revathy recalling the complements she received from a flower vendor outside a temple where she was performing.

“Tears in her eyes, this woman said, ‘I don't know what I did in the past two hours. Stringing the flowers, giving away the strands, taking the change… it was all mechanical. Your music transported me to a different world, where I had no worries. It has filled me with a joy I cannot express.' I was stunned. Such is the power of music.”

Another anecdote

She cites another incident. “It was a wedding reception. After the concert, a young mother came up to me and said, ‘My three-year old daughter sat riveted, refusing to come for dinner. Your music has mesmerised her.' And once a gentleman said, ‘Madame, I came here with the intention of leaving after giving away the gift (to the couple). So disturbed I was. Your veena made me sit and now my mind has calmed down. I feel light.' Such responses are rewarding.”

On a tour of Japan, Revathy learnt a Japanese song and played it at a get-together. They were amazed. “This is the greatness of Carnatic music. It encompasses everything and anything is possible,” she told the audience.

The former President Dr. Abdul Kalam was moved when she played patriotic songs and bhajans at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. She cherishes the experience of performing to a lakh of people at Tiruttani and Melmaruvathur.

Coming back to waning interest in the veena, is the instrument's size a deterrent? Does she favour miniature versions? “Yes, the veena is rather unwieldy to carry. But mini is not the answer. May be for tours abroad, a truncated version can be considered. For majesty and resonance, my vote is for the traditional veena.”

What about learners?

“Well, right now vocalists are much in demand and celebrated. And it needs hard work and perseverance to master the veena. Naturally, it is not the favourite of youngsters. I consider myself lucky to be blessed with talent and it is my aim to keep the flag flying.”

“I eschew songs that have no melody and are beat-oriented.”


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