Friday Review

‘Concert singing was a revered thing those days’

Suguna Varadachari Photo: R. Shivaji Rao   | Photo Credit: R_Shivaji Rao

Senior Carnatic vocalist Suguna Varadachari has been performing for the past five decades both in the country and outside it. Suguna, who served as a faculty member at the Department of Indian Music, University of Madras, for two decades, is a disciple of the renowned vocalist Musiri Subramanya Iyer. Many of her students are already on the concert circuit.

In the Capital recently for a series of programmes including a lecture-demonstration and a vocal recital, Suguna took out time to answer a few questions on her musical career. Excerpts:

How did you get the opportunity to learn from the renowned Musiri Subramanya Iyer?

In the year 1967, I got a scholarship under the Government of India Cultural Scholarship Scheme, which enabled me to learn music from him. Till then, I had learnt music only in institutions like the Central College of Carnatic Music, Chennai, etc.

How did Guru Musiri Iyer conduct his classes?

He would take classes every day except on Sundays. Our classes would start at 2 p.m. and would go on till dusk. In a day, he would take up a song and teach it completely, along with the neraval and kalpana swaras. Having taught the song that particular day, it was not that he would not teach the same song again. He would teach us the same song again and again for about a month so that we heard it again and again, sing the song again and again, till we attained perfection.

When did you get into the concert circuit?

In those days, we did not get a chance to sing in concerts till we were 25 years old or so. The concert exposure was less than how it is today. The thrust was on learning and attaining perfection. Concert singing was not an aim at all. We were also worried that someone would pass sarcastic comments on our getting into the concert circuits quite early. Concert singing was a revered thing those days.

Was it difficult to to balance your busy concert schedule, teaching assignments at the university and family commitments?

Yes, it was a difficult task in the initial days. It was a little bit of a struggle to balance family and music. With the support of my family, particularly my husband, I managed it.

But, during the December music season, I would reduce my classes.

What is your advice to young students of music?

Practice and hard work should be their key words. Without these, perfect singing will not be achieved, no matter how creative one is. I recollect what late Pandit Ravi Shankar once said about practice. “If I don’t practice for a day, I come to know when I perform on the stage. If I don’t practice for two days, my accompanists come to know. If I don’t practice for more than three days, my audience comes to know”.

Do you think technology has been a boon to students of music?

Technology has both advantages and disadvantages. Yes, you can download and get to hear lots of music and even record your entire music classes. When you sing along with the voice recorder, it might appear to you that you are singing correctly. But it may not be the case always. The recorder will not tell you that. It is your guru who tells you that, the nuances and the finer aspects of music and singing methods.


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