Friday Review

If the flute sings, it must be Ramani

N. Ramani

N. Ramani  

Carnatic instrumental music is complete only when the spiritual content of the lyrics is felt by the audience, says flute maestro N. Ramani. He will be conferred the Vishesha Acharya award on February 15.

If you talk about flute maestros of the past, then there can be no conversation without the great T.R. Mahalingam at its nucleus. Move to the present and you have to build it around N. Ramani; the conversation on this instrument will remain incomplete without discussing him. A successful career of over 70 years and over five hundred students across the globe, Ramani is legendary for his contribution. It is indeed apt that Vishesha Fine Arts of Bangalore, will confer the Vishesha Acharya award on the maestro on Sunday.

Excerpts from an interview:

What was it like to train under T.R. Mahalingam?

My grandfather Azhiyur Narayanaswamy Iyer was actually my first guru. He taught me to sing, to play the violin and the flute. At the time, I was most keen on vocal music and I had reached the level of expertise needed to become a music teacher.

Mali was related to me and when he heard me playing the flute, he asked me to study under him. Lessons were mostly informal and the bulk of my learning was based on listening to him and playing with him. Whenever I asked him to teach me a particular kriti, his process was always to first notate the song to his satisfaction. I remember his painstaking notation for ‘Sarojadalanethri’ in Shankarabharanam. I might have learned 50 songs from him through this formal training, but the rest of my repertoire came from the informal lessons of listening and playing.

Mali’s training involved a significant amount of freedom for me, but with it came a lot of probing on the nuances of music. I have been in situations where he posed great challenges to me on the concert platform. The first time I ever played kalpanaswarams in Bhairavi in thisra nadai in the second speed, it was on stage. He casually turned to me and indicated that I was the one to play the next round of kalpanaswarams.

You are credited with bringing international attention to the bamboo flute. What did you think of this kind of responsibility?

I feel a responsibility more to the Carnatic art form than specifically to the flute. I believe that Carnatic music has an intrinsic appeal to even the most casual listener. So, I don’t think that Carnatic music has to be modified in any way to appeal to the public. In fact, my greatest responsibility is to showcase Carnatic music in the way I have been taught, without diluting the art form.

Today, instrumental concerts are largely marginalised when compared to vocal concerts. Why is it so difficult for instrumental concerts – especially the flute, to get solo slots? Also, why does the flute not get main concert slot at The Music Academy?

I don’t think that instrumental concerts are marginalized at all! If you look at instrumental musicians like Chitravina N. Ravikiran and the late Mandolin U. Shrinivas, they have both had massive success in both concert opportunities as well as audience acceptance. I think that gifted musicians will always have concert opportunities regardless of their choice of instrument – voice or otherwise.

How important is virtuosity and creativity for music, especially in the context of the flute?

Both go hand in hand, and it is not relegated to the context of the flute. I cannot imagine that one is more important than the other nor that there are special modifications to them in the context of the flute.

As an example of the importance of virtuosity, I remember a conversation with my friend, the late T. Vishwanathan (an extraordinary musician himself), who commented that certain ragams like Saveri could not be played on the flute due to the limitations of the instrument. It was a few of my new fingering techniques that convinced him otherwise. Today, these techniques are a standard part of instruction for the flute and young students are able to play these ragas quite well.

Who were your icons in your years of growing up?

I was primarily interested in vocal music when I was younger, but when I heard Mali, who was older to me by about eight years, I was struck by not just his music, but also the fluidity of his technique. From that point onwards, I wanted to play like him. I was listening to a lot of vocalists at the time including GNB, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Madurai Mani Iyer, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.

I was particularly enthralled by Thiruvarur Namachivayam Pillai, to the extent that I went to him to learn a couple of kritis. Both T. Brinda and Madurai Mani Iyer have had a tremendous influence on my playing.

When I came to Chennai and had an opportunity to meet the number and variety of artists here, I was humbled. I realised that I had a long way to go to join their ranks. I sought out quite a few musicians, some of whom were wildly popular others who, though not popular, were widely respected in the Carnatic community. It was their guidance and tutelage that really set me on a path of success and growth as a musician.

As a teacher, what did you focus on?

While teaching the flute, I make sure that students spend a fair amount of time developing the mechanical skills to play well – this includes blowing techniques, fingering techniques and developing stamina. Throughout this process, I keep young students interested by constantly teaching them new songs that require use of the techniques that they have just learned. After students reach a certain level of proficiency, I instruct them about some of the finer points of manodharma.

As a guru, I believe in the use of public performances as a teaching tool.

The nature of the live performance makes sure that musicians have one chance and only one chance to get it right – this drives a higher level of purpose in their practice.

Ramani’s Academy of Flute hosts an annual concert series making sure that even the youngest and most timid students are given stage experience.

About the vocal bani of the flute — why does the flute aspire to be like vocal music?

To me, the emotion of Carnatic music is captured not just in its musical phrasings, but is captured in equal measure by the lyrics of vaggeyakaras which was inspired by their spiritual yearnings and experiences. My emotional connection to Carnatic music is also through those lyrics and their inherent spirituality. Even if I present concerts of technical excellence that are rooted in classical music, I believe that my audience will be missing out on a large part of the emotional content of Carnatic music.

Vishesha Fine Arts will conduct Vishesha Utsava 2015 between February 13 and 15.

The schedule is as follows

- Feb 13, Augusta Hall, Brigade Gardenia, Bangalore, 6.30 p.m: Ramakrishnan Murthy, with Charulatha Ramanujan (violin), Neyveli Narayanan (mridangam) and G. Guruprasanna (Khanjira).

- Feb 14, Augusta Hall, Brigade Gardenia, 9.30 a.m.: Ramana Balachandran (veena) with Anoor Vinod Shyam (mridangam). 11.15 a.m.: N.J. Nandini with Vittal Rangan (violin), B.S.Prashanth (mridangam) and Amruth Kumar (morsing).

- Feb 15, MLR Convention Centre, J.P.Nagar, 7th Phase, 8 a.m.: Performances by Vishesha Fine Arts students, 8.45 a.m., M. Lakshmanan and B.S. Ramesh Babu (nagaswaram), 10 a.m. Awards ceremony. Dr. N. Ramani will be awarded the ‘Vishesha Acharya’ award, G.V. Krishnaprasad with ‘Vishesha Kala Poshaka’, K.U. Jayachandra Rao with ‘Vishesha Kala Chetana.’

This will be followed by the concerts of O.S.Thyagarajan (11.15 a.m.), Vani Sateesh (1.30 p.m.), flute duet by Heramba and Hemantha (2.30 p.m.), Hindustani vocal by Ustad Fayaz Khan (4.15 p.m.), violin duet of Mysore Nagaraj and Mysore Manjunath (6.30 p.m.).

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 7:16:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/interview-with-flute-ramani/article6886850.ece

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