Vignesh Ishwar’s music appeals to the mind too

Vignesh Ishwar   | Photo Credit: Ramanathan Iyer

Observing his affinity for nadaswaram ensembles at weddings, Vignesh Ishwar’s grandmother, Sarada Krishnan, enrolled him for vocal lessons at age four. “I am singing now only because of her,” says Vignesh. This young vocalist, gifted with a sonorous and ringing voice, continued with that same teacher in Mumbai, Palghat T.S. Anantharaman Bhagavathar (TSA), for almost two decades before joining T.M. Krishna’s tutelage.

“Amongst the rich crop of skilled and talented youngsters, Vignesh really stands out. Those with good voices rarely exercise discretion in using it, but he has internalised this aspect from Krishna,” says R.K. Shriramkumar, senior musician. According to senior vocalist, N. Vijay Siva, “He combines the rich assets of his guru’s music with his own astute perceptions.”

Initial training

On his initial years in music, Vignesh, who received the Shanmukha Sangeetha Shiromani Award last year, says, “TSA sir laid a thorough and strong foundation. It took three years to reach varnam.” His grandmother would escort him to his classes and take notes on TSA’s suggestions. “She used to make me sing the alankarams backwards in tri-kalam, swaram and akaaram,” says Vignesh, demonstrating it with easy fluency. TSA added further variations — singing each line of the alankaram in a different raga, changing one note each time.

“We had regular screaming matches but my grandmother always won and got me to practice. I have sung even through fever and throat infections,” says the young singer. A single mistake meant the entire cycle had to be repeated.

In 1999, Vignesh heard T.M. Krishna sing in Mumbai. “I was mesmerised,” he says. He began learning from Krishna on Vijayadasami 2008, with TSA’s go-ahead. Until he moved to Chennai in 2011, Vignesh, on a CCRT scholarship from 2008 to 2010, learned from TSA in Mumbai and from Krishna in Chennai. “Both were magnanimous enough to allow that.”

Engineered for sound

Good at studies (“my mother was insistent that I study well and be self-sufficient”), he was confused between music and academics. Krishna roped Vignesh into the CompMusic (Computational Models for the Discovery of the World’s Music) project he was then an advisor for.

With a bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering, Vignesh was a natural fit for the Carnatic music aspects, and he completed his Masters in Barcelona at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, which oversaw the project. The topic was ‘Predominant Melody Extraction in Carnatic Music.’

Although interested in pursuing a Ph.D in engineering, he realised it would mean years of music taking a back seat, so decided against it and plunged full time into music.

“Krishna anna got us to apply ourselves totally and push beyond our mental confines,” he says, recalling how he was asked to sing Bhairavi without the chatusruti Dha. “I had to sing until I couldn’t any more. If I repeated phrases, I had to begin again.” Vignesh says Krishna would give assignments such as learning new ragas, singing swaras at unusual places for known songs, and at usual places for unknown songs.

“He would tell us to sing neraval for songs we don’t know.” Neraval is a transition of sound subject to raga, tala and spacing of syllables — it, therefore, requires complete internalisation of that line. Neraval is harder for lines with lesser syllables. “He would, thus, ask us to practice singing neraval for varnams — madhyama kala neraval is a real exercise. We would go through some rounds keeping each syllable exactly in place before we started exploring how to stretch the placements. Time was totally fluid. We spent many hours, sometimes entire days, at his house.”

According to vocalist Sangeetha Sivakumar, “Vignesh is sensitive to the numerous issues and complexities that riddle this field. He is lucky to be endowed with a charming voice and a natural briga style, with the right ‘weight’ suited for Carnatic music. But more than this, he is sensitive to the Carnatic sound, and has an understanding of its nuances.”

The author writes on classical music and musicians.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2021 11:08:22 AM |

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