The Right Chord Music

Vittal Rangan explains the importance of ‘tristhayi’ exercise

Of this artiste who had over 60 concerts in 40 days this past music season, Aruna Sairam says, “He is an excellent violinist and the music world has great expectations from him.”

Ranjani and Gayatri state, “He first played for us as a young boy and was self-assured even then. He catches on very quickly even with rarely heard ragas like Basant Bahar, Haricharan and Deepali and maintains the energy of the concert.”

Twenty-five-year-old B. Vittal Rangan has accompanied numerous artistes from R.K. Srikantan, T.V. Sankaranarayanan and Neela Ramgopal to Sanjay Subrahmanyan, S. Sowmya and many more. Growing up in Bengaluru, he began with the harmonium, at age six, reprising what his mother, Chitra Bilvam, sang, and playing in neighbourhood bhajan sessions. Chitra, a graded vocalist of All India Radio, Bangalore, was a student of T.M. Thiagarajan at the Thiruvaiyaru Music College. Even as a child, Vittal could identify several ragas. Chitra enrolled Vittal in 2002 with senior artiste R.R. Keshavamurthy for violin lessons. Keshavamurthy guided Vittal awhile until he reached kirtanais. He heard veteran violinist A. Kanyakumari at a concert then and was struck by her clarity and ease of playing. “These aspects continue to amaze me,” says Vittal.

He began to train under Kanyakumari in 2003, having classes whenever she visited Bangalore or he travelled to Chennai. There were differences in bowing and fingering techniques, particularly with gamakams. “It was a challenge to unlearn. I went to Chennai for two intense weeks of daily classes. This was a significant turning point.”

Sahitya reflection

Kanyakumari focused a lot on reflecting the sahitya of the composition accurately. She also initiated Vittal into manodharmam early on. He first attempted phrases of Mohanam under her guidance (after learning Bhavanuta), which Kanyakumari asked him to try and further develop. “She corrected errors and made suggestions, also alerting me to repetitive phrases,” he explains. For kalpanaswarams, to return to talam, Vittal suggests that learners practise many different endings of varying counts. The initial step is playing swarams without any karvais and coming back to the starting point.

He listened extensively to vocal recordings and paid attention to how stalwarts had accompanied . He performed his first solo at age 13. Vittal deftly sandwiched school between violin sessions during Grades 10-12 too, fitting in 3-4 hours of daily practice. He passed all his Chartered Accountancy examinations in the first attempt and has been employed since. “The articleship period was tough – however, I somehow managed to work, study, practise and perform.”

Vittal particularly stresses the importance of the ‘tristhayi’ exercise, traversing multiple octaves from mandara sthayi to athi tara sthayi as seamlessly as possible. He repeated this 300-400 times daily. “It covers all tensions of the strings, warms up fingers and the instrument too — every note is equally spaced and sruti shuddham emphasised.” Vittal continues to do this exercise as a warm-up prior to every concert.

“There is an involuntary absorption process when accompanying,” says Vittal who plays for artistes across a gamut of patantaras and banis. “Learning occurs unconsciously and ideas can strike impromptu.” He accompanies Guru Kanyakumari regularly. “Playing with her is intense learning every single time.” Vittal also received guidance from his cousins Vishaka Hari and S. Saketharaman.

He stresses the importance of breathing technique. “Slow, steady breaths in synchronization with what is being played is most helpful. It gets the mind calm and is particularly useful during raga alapanas.”

Violinists can face interesting, unexpected challenges. Vittal recollects the first time he played for vocalist Abhishek Raghuram who sang a Pallavi in Kalyani. “It took me a while to figure out what talam the Pallavi was in.” He paid attention to the placement of the words and its spacing and played accordingly. “It was actually Rupakam but put in a different way, perhaps to more appropriately reflect the gait of those lyrics. Even if the talam is unfamiliar or put differently, the violinist still has to respond instantaneously but there might not be enough time to figure out that complexity and do the necessary mental calculations.” In such situations for kalpanaswarams with korvai and kanakku, Vittal suggests violinists pay attention to the point at which the vocalist embarks on the kanakku, using that as a baseline.

“ Without transgressing the Carnatic idiom, Vittal conveys original ideas in ragas, expanding my own horizons,” summarises Ramakrishnan Murthy.

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Printable version | May 19, 2021 6:23:07 AM |

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