Friday Review

‘Learning has never stopped for me’

Violinist T.N. Krishnan. Photo: R. Ragu

Violinist T.N. Krishnan. Photo: R. Ragu   | Photo Credit: R. Ragu

An unmistakable feature of talent that is embedded in the classical music tradition is humility. Meeting renowned violinist T.N. Krishnan reinforced this. A gentle presence, his words are simple and straightforward, no tailored statements to impress. A seventh generation artiste with 80 years of kutcheri experience behind him, he is the perfectionist who raises the benchmark, and still strives to better himself.

In Thiruvananthapuram to participate in SPIC – MACAY’s ‘Layam 2015’, the maestro spoke on different topics connected with his field. A recipient of the Padmabhushan and the Kendra Sangeet Natak Academy’s fellowship, the maestro commences the interview speaking on his early steps with the violin.

“Since earlier generations were already steeped in the Carnatic tradition it was only natural that I take up the same. My father, A Narayana Iyer (popularly known as, Narayana Bhagavathar) had many training under him. As a child, I was absorbing the sounds that were a constant in my home. This hearing helped – my father handed over the standard full size violin to me at the age of three – initiating me into this eight- decade journey,” says Krishnan.

Seeped as his childhood was in the ambient musical atmosphere, the young Krishnan had begun to play 10 varnams and kritis by the time he was five. The maiden recital was at the Poornathrayeesa temple in Tripunithura where his family hails from. His further training was under his father’s guru T.G. Krishna Iyer. The young lad with the violin was noticed by masters like Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar during his visits.

Speaking of the current trends, T.N. Krishnan finds the return to classical music by serious students of music as positive and encouraging. The avenues are many. There are organisations such as the Kendra Sangeet Natak Akademi, SPIC-MACAY and a large number of corporates who provide the necessary support to nurture and sustain talent. It is not without a word of caution that he says this. Running parallel is the hurry to acquire a degree and take the quick route to success. He may be termed, ‘old school’ and ‘purist’, but is firm in the conviction that one can never be a master in music because of the sheer vastness of the subject.

During this conversation what was most revealing was the undeniable influence his father’s words have been – ‘people will compliment you for your proficiency, but you must not stop practising 20 hours a day’.

A disciplinarian to the core, one cannot miss the far-sightedness of the father when he thoughtfully steered his daughter N. Rajam to train in Hindustani music for the simple reason that, “two of us in the same stream would mean competition in the house, and that is best averted,” says Krishnan.

“I am still a learner, never give a performance without a full length practice session,” he says in a matter of fact manner. Music sabhas these days welcome any name that can draw crowds and there are music festivals throughout the year. Other demands on the time of the learner have altered learning methods, interest has spread across the globe, things are much easier now. But, the yardstick of lasting power, he hints, is the quality of the output and how it is received by the rasika.

One cannot conclude without asking this veteran of many concerts how he brings the ‘bhava’ to his strings. “God’s grace and practice. To this day I continue to practise the first five varnams my father started me on. The more you practise the more you learn. Some varnams are so intricate that I discover a new element each time I play it. Learning has never stopped for me.”

Child prodigy

The talent in the young violinist received encouragement from the likes of T.R. Mahalingam, Muthiah Bhagavathar, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and the then Diwan of erstwhile Travancore, Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer.

Relocating to Thiruvananthapuram during the years of the Second World War, where his father took up a job in the School of Arts, Krishnan went through his formal schooling at the Model School and the SMV School in the capital city.

Once in Thiruvananthapuram he came under the protective mantle of Semmangudi Sreenivasa Iyer and got the opportunity to perform at the Navrathri Mandapam, which is considered a recognition, and cherished by every classical musician. “In fact,’’ he adds, “Amma Maharani had conveyed to Semmangudi that he should take me along during his visits to the Palace. Therefore, whenever great musicians visited the city, I also would be taken along by Semmangudi.”

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Printable version | Aug 15, 2020 4:54:50 PM |

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