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Born to be a teacher

SUGANTHY KRISHNAMACHARI
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MEET B. Krishnamoorthy, who is at his best when he is explaining the nuances of Carnatic music to aspirants… SUGANTHY KRISHNAMACHARI

STUDENTS LOVE HIM: B. Krishnamoorthy. Photo: D. Sandhia
STUDENTS LOVE HIM: B. Krishnamoorthy. Photo: D. Sandhia

A veena player once threatened to kidnap B. Krishnamoorthy, if he refused to teach him vocal music. But hearing the musicologist talk about his love for teaching, I think he wouldn't mind being kidnapped, as long as he can teach music, even it were to his kidnapper!

A former principal of the Government Music College, and recipient of many awards, Krishnamoorthy began formal music lessons under Ramanna, one of the senior most disciples of Ariyakudi. When he moved to Madras, lessons continued under elder brother B. Rajam Iyer. A two-year diploma course at the Madras Music College followed and then Rajam Iyer and Krishnamoorthy sang together for some years, as the ‘Rajam' brothers. Later Krishnamoorthy went solo.

For one keen to be on the concert circuit, how did he end up in the groves of academe?

“When I was 40, there was a vacancy at the Government Music College, and my wife felt that it would be better if I took up a post which assured a monthly income.” Krishnamoorthy was popular among the staff and the students.

While he was teaching second year students, first and third year students would also come to listen to him, and the hall would be full. So much so, Krishnamoorthy felt he was singing before a sabha audience! During lunch break, students studying instrumental music would come to him for help with vocal, a subsidiary subject.

Krishnamoorthy says he was fortunate to have had teachers such as Mudicondan Venkatrama Iyer (from whom he learnt pallavis and Mahavaidyanatha Sivan's 72 melaragamalika), T. Jayamma-T. Brinda (padams), Musiri and T.N. Swaminatha Pillai.

He also learnt 300 Tyagaraja kritis from Rajagopala Iyer, son of Umayalpuram Swaminatha Iyer of Tyagaraja sishya lineage. He notated all the 300 kritis. Fifty Divya Nama kritis that he learnt from Rajagopala Iyer and notated, are being published by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, and will be released shortly, along with a CD.

Modern version

Krishnamoorthy's notations for Venkatrama Sastri's ‘Prahlada Charitram' were published by The Music Academy in 1965. The academy had in its possession nine notebooks, which it had acquired from the family of Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar. These notebooks had rare compositions of Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer, Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Garbhapurivasar, Tarangambadi Panchanada Iyer, Pattabhiramayya and Tirvottiyur Tyagayyar with notations.

However, the notations were of the old type. Mudicondan Venkatrama Iyer and Krishnamoorthy rewrote the notations in consonance with the modern method. The book was published by the Music Academy.

“What a blessing to have been associated with such projects,” Krishnamoorthy says. He composed music for all the Sanskrit plays directed and staged by Dr. V. Raghavan. “My brother Vaidyanathan played sage Kanva in ‘Abhignana Sakuntalam.' R. Vedavalli too played a role,” he recalls.

When Krishnamoorthy sings, one can't help noticing many Ariyakudi touches. He didn't learn directly from Ariyakudi, but was often present in his house, as when the stalwart was setting to tune Tiruppavai. “Payale, come home as often as you can,” Ariyakudi would tell him.

Krishnamoorthy has revelled in presenting complicated pallavis. There is one that he is particularly fond of --- an anuloma pallavi, with three kalams and tisram in one avartanam. He has sung pallavis in rare talas such as Pratapasekharam and Samam. MLV learnt ‘Saramaina', ‘Jambupathe' and many other kritis from him.

Great scholar

Krishnamoorthy has a paternal affection for his students. Nandini Ramani, one of his students, says, “My guru didn't stop with teaching us just music. He would draw from his deep knowledge of Sanskrit texts, and would come up with quotes and examples to explain the meaning of the compositions.”

Has he ever felt that he hasn't had enough recognition for his vidwat? “No,” he says emphatically. “I've had blessings that few could dream of. When I set to tune Venkatesa Suprabhatam, and was asked to present it at the Tirumala temple, I sat close to the sanctum sanctorum for two hours. Tell me, how many people have had this kind of good fortune?”

He adds, “We get what God wants us to have. I am happy that I have been able to teach.” This does seem like the customary tribute to Providence that a dejected person might make, except that in Krishnamoorthy's case, he is not dejected or fatalistic. He makes the observation with joy, faith and such cheer that one cannot but salute him!

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