Of song and spirit

M. S. Viswanathan' group (Shyaam is seated ninth from the left) at the recording of the song ` Avalukkenna Azhagiya Mugam' for the film Server Sundaram.   | Photo Credit: M_VEDHAN

The song begins with the humming of

S.P. Balasubrahmanyan. The heroine, Sridevi, looks expectantly at the fields. The violins play in a high octave. But when her feelings change to disappointment, low notes emerge from the strings, along with the violas and cellos. SPB then begins the song ‘Mazhai Tharumo Megam’.

Shyaam aka T. Samuel Joseph composed this, with the violins describing in 15 seconds the heroine’s mood.

Now in his 80s, Shyaam is busy composing songs for his new album on St. Sebastian. He is preparing to leave for Thiruvananthapuram, when I meet him at his apartment at Trustpuram, Kodambakkam.

“Nowadays, my left shoulder pains if I hold the violin for long. But I am sure the photographs will come out well,” says Shyaam after the photo session.

“I was born in 1937 in Guindy. My parents Mary and Thangaraj were school teachers. Music has always been my interest. My mother used to play the organ at the church. My father, an orthodox Christian, saw to it that I practiced my hymns and school lessons thoroughly.”

His father got him a bul bul thara and years later, after realising his son’s talent, he got him a violin. Shyaam tried to learn the instrument on his own and within six months was able to play it. But once when the priest of the church admonished him, he became serious about learning to play the instrument properly. He joined Dhanraj master in Mylapore and proved to be a good student. When Shyaam joined the Madras Christian College, he would carry the violin with him and leave it behind in a small shop at the Tambaram station, so that he could play the instrument during free hours in college.

He was called to play violin for a dance drama for which the music was composed by M.B. Sreenivasan. There he befriended keyboard player Sekar (father of A.R. Rahman) and mandolin player Palani.

Palani introduced him to film music composer C. N. Pandurangan. “I was adept at Western music and this helped me understand and play with perfection the pieces given to me. Music directors such as Pendyala, T. G. Lingappa, T. Chalapathi Rao, Susarala Dakshinamurthy, Veda, C. Ramachandra, R. D. Burman, Madan Mohan, Ravi, and Salil Chowdhury included me in their violin groups.” Malayalam and Kannada industry also offered him the chance to be the lead violinist.

“Cello player John Alvarez, who appreciated my playing, put me on to M. S. Viswanathan and Ramamurthy. I was diffident about playing for them as I felt their pieces were difficult. MSV took to me instantly, and thereafter, work schedule became tough. I completed my degree and joined Law College, only to bunk classes because of recording work. With more assignments coming my way, I quit college.”

“My father wanted me to take up a job and play music part time. I joined L&T, thanks to the effort of Joseph Krishna, one of the key assistants of MSV. A permanent job was a passport to marriage. Although, I soon quit the job, my wife Violet never objected.”

He cherishes MSV’s group, where one played with musicians who were easily the best. Shyaam realised his lack of proficiency in Carnatic music, when MSV asked him to play at the recording of the song ‘Thangaratham Vanthathu’, rendered by acclaimed vocalist M. Balamuralikrishna.

Fellow musician Rajagopal then took him to Lalgudi G. Jayaraman’s father, Lalgudi Gopala Iyer. Both father and son liked him and accepted him as their student. “I was amazed at Jayaraman sir’s dexterity and over time we began to bond well. He suggested the idea of fusing western music into his thillanas. Thus was born the album ‘Dance of Sound – Thillanas’ for which I scored the prelude and interlude. The album was a hit.”

Shyaam was actively involved in the formation and functioning of the musicians’ union along with some key artists of MSV’s troupe. That earned them MSV’s wrath and they never went back to him. However, Shyaam says that he continued his friendship with MSV.

Shyaam next began assisting music director Sathyam. He then joined Hindi music director Salil Chowdhury. Salilda was very fond of Shyaam and he considers this as one his best periods in the industry.

“My first film ‘Amma Appa’ as a composer, was for the Sheela-Ravichandran pair. Actor Sheela put me on the road to success in the Malayalam industry and introduced me to actor Madhu. My debut film, ‘Manyasree Viswamitran’ was a hit and there was no looking back,” says Shyaam, who is an ardent fan of Henry Mancini, composer of Hollywood films such as ‘Hatari’ and ‘Arabesque’.

He went on to do 250 films winning the Kerala State Awards for his music for ‘Aaroodam’ (1983) and ‘Kanamarayathu’ (1984). Despite churning out hits in Tamil films such as ‘Manitharil Ithanai Nirangala’ and ‘Oru Pullanguzhal Aduppudhugiradhu,’ , he only did about 30 films.

Shyaam now plays Gospel music, helping the physically challenged perform during an annual event. He also trains children in Carnatic music.

“On days when I feel lonely my violin gives me solace. God has been kind to me, giving me the right things at the right time. If you treat the sapthaswaras with respect, success can never elude you,” says the veteran.

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 12:57:32 AM |

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