Vaikom Jayachandran cannot remember a time when there was no music in his life. His home at Vaikom, he remembers, was always filled with music, as his father is a musician and a teacher of music. Moreover, many of the friends and guests of his father, Vaikom Vasudevan Namboothiri, were also musicians who talked music late into the night and also stayed at their illam. Hence, it came as no surprise when Vasudevan Namboothiri’s two sons also made music their life. Excerpts from an interview with the Chennai-based Carnatic vocalist and teacher of music. He will be making his debut at the Navaratri Mandapam in Thiruvananthapuram this year.
Early initiation into music
My father is my first guru. He is an exponent of Harikatha and has performed at several places in Kerala. He was a student of Vechoor Harihara Subramania Iyer. Later, my father also learnt music from the RLV College of Music, Tripunithura. He worked as a teacher of music at the government girls’ school in Vaikom. As a school student, although I enjoyed music, I was never into competitions. That was left to my younger brother, V. Devanand, who was a keen contestant and won several prizes at various school and college youth festivals. In those days, I was more into light music. Interestingly, now he is a playback singer and I have become a Carnatic vocalist. It was after my pre-degree that I realised that I wanted to pursue music seriously. I became a student of RLV College of Musicand studied there for seven years, gaining my Ganabhooshnam diploma and Ganapraveena post-diploma in music.
Student of music
My father was close to Mavelikkara H. Ramachandran and that is how his nephew Mavelikkara P. Subramaniyam agreed to give me individual classes as and when he could. A dedicated scholar of music and a gifted teacher, Subramaniyam sir honed my skills and gave me a firm founding in traditional Carnatic music. His simple living and high thinking made him an ideal role model for aspiring musicians. Many of the teachers at RLV College were contemporaries and friends of my father’s. Those years gave me the wonderful opportunity to interact with great musicians and listen to many of them.
The way to Chennai
It was Subramaniyam sir who insisted that I apply for a Central government scholarship. In those days, we had to record a song and send the cassette to Delhi. The selection was done there. My teachers felt that if I won the scholarship I should move to Chennai and learn from a guru there. Their choice was Tanjore M. Thiagarajan, popularly known in music circles as TMT. Discreet enquires were made if he would teach me. He agreed to teach me if I won the scholarship. Although my father had apprehensions about my going to Chennai and staying there, once I won the scholarship I left for Chennai with his blessings.
Learning from TMT
He widened my horizons in music and encouraged me to think innovatively. While my gurus in Kerala gave me a firm foundation, it was TMT who furthered that and opened doors that polished my manodharma. He showed me that music is also a creative field where one can use one’s imagination without straying from the framework of conventional Carnatic music. Chennai was a completely new experience for me. I have been here for 20 years and I see myself as a student even now. I never lose an opportunity to learn from or listen to a maestro if he is performing or taking a class in Chennai. TMT introduced me to living legends of Carnatic music and patrons of music. That was how I met S.V. Krishnan.
Moving on to the performance stage
It was S.V. Krishnan who gave me the opportunity to sing at several venues. Sometimes, he would arrange for senior musicians to take a class or two at his home. I managed to attend some of these master classes and learn a kriti or two from veterans like Lalgudi Jayaraman sir, V.V.Subramaniam sir, the late Trivandrum Venkitaraman sir and so on.
There are many that I cherish but one that remains etched in memory is the only occasion I got to sing for M.S. amma [M.S. Subbulakshmi] in her house. I sang a Malayalam kriti in Mukhari. She blessed me and wanted me to sing only Malayalam kritis on another occasion. That was never to be, as she was taken ill soon afterwards. But singing for her remains an unforgettable experience.
However, my teachers have instilled in me that musicians should not feel that they have reached the pinnacle of all that is there is to be learnt. There is always scope for improvement in a vast subject like music. While there might be occasions when everything falls into place and a concert goes well, there is no room for complacency.
And the future…
I plan to popularise and teach chaste Carnatic classical music to my students. I have three kinds of disciples. Some of them come to me to learn a kriti or two, while some of them learn music to further their knowledge and interest in it. Then there are a few who have been learning from me right from scratch. Some of them are really doing well and that gives me a great deal of happiness and satisfaction.
Photo: K.N. Muralidharan
While there might be occasions when everything falls into place and a concert goes well, there is no room for complacency.