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Instrumental in enthralling listeners

K .Lakshmi
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A passion:It is their love for music that keeps many instrument makers in the business.— Photo: R.Ravindran
A passion:It is their love for music that keeps many instrument makers in the business.— Photo: R.Ravindran

: At first glance, the place looks like a carpenter's workshop. After hours of strenuous work, the wood takes shape into an instrument ready to enthral when musical notes are played.

The city is dotted with many shops selling musical instruments.

But, only a few people continue to make them and have carved a niche in the profession. Many music instrument makers are second or third generation members of the family in the business.

K.Elangovan, who specialises in making harmonium, said the shop in Mint Street was started in 1952 by his father Kannan after whom it is named. Teakwood is mainly used for making harmoniums.

“We make harmoniums with single, double, triple reeds where the same key would produce different tones. We specialise in instruments with four set of reeds.”

Various persons are involved in wood work and assembling the instrument in his shop. Mr.Elangovan who learnt the entire process of making gives the finishing touches and tunes the instrument. Unlike instruments such as veena and guitar, where the tuning is done by the users, harmoniums have to be tuned as they are being made.

For several decades now, many film musicians, including M.S.Viswanathan and T.M.Soundararajan, use harmoniums made in his shop.

“Business has become dull over the years as many people prefer keyboard over harmoniums. Those with foot operated bellows were used in dramas.

“We have stopped making them as professionals are not using the instrument anymore. It is only in use in music classes and bhajans,” he said. With the demand dwindling, many shops like his have started adding to the range of musical instruments they deal in and concentrate more on repairing them.

S.Navaneethakrishnan, a mridangam maker in Mylapore for over two decades, said though several woods are being used now to make mridangams, jackfruit wood is the most preferred for quality. The standard size is 22 or 24 inches. But some ask for 25 inches too.

“It is a difficult job and involves intricate work. I get more orders during the music season. I have started taking up repair work as the competition in the trade is more,” he said. Labour shortage is another reason for many shops closing down.

S.Selvam, a veena maker in Porur, said as it is difficult to find workers, he and his son make veenas.

“We only outsource ‘Biruda' (the wooden tuning component). I take eight days to make one,” he said.

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