Music

Amritha Murali and her truly classical music

Amritha Murali

Amritha Murali   | Photo Credit: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

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Aesthetics and grammar find a fine balance in Amritha Murali’s music

“Her music is full of gnanam and sukha-bhavam. Technical competency in her singing is presented most aesthetically,” says Bombay Jayashri. Veteran vocalist, and sought-after guru, Suguna Varadachari states, “She is very sincere to the art form and does not veer away to cater to the gallery.”

Amritha Murali has received numerous titles and awards from all the leading sabhas, including the Outstanding Vocalist Award several times from The Music Academy and the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar from the Sangeet Natak Akademi. Senior mridangist K. Arunprakash states: “Amritha stays true to the Carnatic format. Her sruti suddham is admirable — regardless of what she sings or at what speed, every note will be perfectly aligned to the sruti. Also, she does not rest on her laurels and keeps working to improve an already excellent skillset.” Suguna Varadachari adds, “In addition to all these, she continues to be humble — an important but rare quality.”

Currently under the guidance of P.S. Narayanaswamy (PSN) and R.K. Shriramkumar, Amritha was initiated into music at age nine by her maternal grandmother, Shankari Nagarajan. Tutelage followed under K.R. Kedaranathan and his wife, Meera Kedaranathan. She also concurrently started learning the violin under Vittal Ramamurthy, who taught her all the basic lessons, some varnams and kritis. Later, she joined veteran T. Rukmini for advanced violin training. From Rama Ravi she learnt some exquisite compositions in the Dhanammal bani.

CHENNAI: 26/12/2012:
T. Rukmini with disciple Amritha Murali

CHENNAI: 26/12/2012: T. Rukmini with disciple Amritha Murali   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

 

Amritha’s progress was very fast so much so that Kedaranathan chose her, at age 12, to notate and transcribe (sometimes for hours together) the many compositions he tuned, on the spot, as he sung it. As a result, she can learn any piece from notation without difficulty. Amritha recalls many an occasion when she would change in school, grab a bite to eat in the car and head to class whose duration was unpredictable. No excuses could be given citing homework or examinations. As was typical of senior practitioners, there was no hand-holding and lot of the learning was from listening. Her musical acumen gained a great deal from this rigorous regimen.

Amritha is the first in her family to have taken up music full time although everyone was exposed to the art. Her parents and gurus have all been matter-of-fact without engaging in high praise, which, according to her, helped. “I constantly introspect and question myself as to how I am singing and how it can be bettered.” Despite preferring Science in high school, she decided on the commerce stream to have more time for music. She participated in many competitions which enriched her repertoire.

Amritha recalls performing at M.S. Subbulakshmi’s house when she was 13, along with Meera Kedaranathan, Seetha Rajan, Lakshmi Krishnaswamy, Sangeetha Sivakumar and Padma Sugavanam. “That was a truly memorable occasion,” she says. She explains how Meera Kedaranathan could make any person sing to tune and to talam. “Mami truly believed anyone could sing. She would repeat a line patiently as many times as needed .”

The Kedaranathans conducted an annual Thyagaraja Utsavam where, in 1997, Amritha sang ‘Dhyaname’ in Dhanyasi. Hearing that rendition, S.V. Krishnan insisted that Amritha perform during the season for Nada Inbam. Amritha thus gave her first concert at the age of 15 at Raga Sudha Hall on December 15, 1997. This was quickly followed in 1998 by a concert for the Semmangudi Trust and her maiden violin programme for VDS Arts Academy, where she played for Kunnukudi Balamuralikrishna.

“It has been inspiring to learn from PSN mama in the tradition of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Sarvalaghu swaras would flow seamlessly in any raga when he sang. I have learned many precious kritis from him. Rukmini mami is a stickler for detail and perfection. She would ensure that whatever we played would sound like how we would sing it. Her simplicity and child-like nature are lessons in humility,” says Amritha. She received a Sangeet Natak Akademi fellowship to study advanced Ragam Thanam Pallavi under B. Krishnamoorthy.

Listening is a key part of growth in music. Besides old masters on recordings, even as a young girl, her mother would drop Amritha off at concerts and pick her up just before 8 p.m. “I always slept at 8 wherever I was – it was automatic. Until then, I would note down each piece that was sung and, in the case of a Pallavi, I would notate it and write down the sahityam.” This, she says, gave her valuable insight into how concerts were planned. She enrolled for three Master’s degree courses but music having become a priority, finished only one – in Finance Management.

Amritha was very active in the Youth Association for Classical Music (YACM), where she also served as vice president. She got to interact with, and listen to, many of the senior star musicians of today who were the pioneers of the youth movement then. “I got exposed to so much variety in musical styles — there is something to absorb from each person. Hearing about their own learning experiences too was most illuminating.” As part of the YACM Millennium show, with Vijay Siva, she went to several city schools and trained 500 children to sing ‘Maithreem Bhajata’ at the stroke of midnight. An introvert, along the way, Amritha shed her shyness and inhibition. It would not be appropriate to call her a ‘violinist turned vocalist.’ She has always been both. She has accompanied a plethora of leading artistes and played many duet concerts with T. Rukmini.

“Learning from R.K. Shriramkumar brought freshness and contemplation into my music,” says Amritha. It is not often that a guru accompanies sishyas, but he is one such rare individual. “His presence inspires but never intimidates. There are imperceptible things he does — like settling an odd kalapramanam with a single bow or gently stressing a note, if speeding up. The learning continues on stage, enhancing the spontaneity in my manodharma.”

Amritha’s music is striking for the emotion she conveys. “Initially, we strive for correctness. But there is a level beyond that. The ragam itself takes over. I have been sensing this over past few years. It often feels as though it is just the music and me. It is now an experience.” Amritha is a stickler for singing the songs exactly as taught. “If I have forgotten compositions, I relearn them. I prefer not to mess with the rendering.” She is an integral part of Shriramkumar’s ensemble performances with his students, often on specific themes. Amritha has also provided the vocals for many of Gowri Ramnarayan’s contemporary theatre and thematic performances. She has participated in several workshops and lecture demonstrations for SPIC-MACAY and other organisations.

The gender issue? It exists, but Amritha chooses to focus on the positives — that there are many who willingly play with no regard to gender. She also says that many sabhas select artistes purely on merit.

Amritha also teaches and some of her students have won prizes at music competitions. She is kind with her pupils whilst uncompromising in imparting chaste music. She explains the importance of sarva lagu swarams over kanakku. “It is crucial to get the flow. To remove the anxiety, I often ask them to initially just sing with the appropriate ending note but without worrying about the ‘eduppu.’ Then, I focus on bringing it into the actual tala structure. This way, it is more gradual and seems less onerous.”

Amritha has toured many countries and her first trip to Cleveland in 2007 remains unforgettable for her. “I played for T.K. Govinda Rao Sir and Sowmya akka and it was Vellore Ramabhadran Sir on the mridangam for both concerts.” Other memorable occasions are her first concert with T. Rukmini, accompanied by Shriramkumar and Arunprakash at Shanmukhananda, Mumbai, on MS Subbulakshmi’s birthday, her first Music Academy concert and singing in the presence of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer for a scholarship.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 3:24:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/amritha-murali-and-her-truly-classical-music/article30522694.ece

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