A life of musical moments

Padma Bhushana, Sangeetha Sastra Visarada, the late Mysore Vasudevacharya  

Talking to S. Krishnamurthy is like opening the floodgates to a golden past. At 92, his memory is razor sharp. This musician, who is the retired Station Director of All India Radio, is also an author of a book, ‘Sangeeta Samaya,’ and the more recent ones on T. Chowdiah and M.S. Subbulakshmi. He is also the grandson of one of the greatest vaggeyakaras of Karnataka, Mysore Vasudevachar, who was hailed as Abhinava Tyagaraja. Invariably, any conversation with S.K. revolves around Vasudevachar, the legend who shaped his life and music. In fact, for the Shraddhanjali gathering of Vasudevachar (who passed away at 96 years on May 17, 1961), at the Adyar Kalakshetra in Chennai, there was a galaxy of names, who came to pay their tribute. Excerpts from the interview:

Your grandfather is among the brightest stars of Carnatic music. Your father practiced Hindustani music and pursued theatre. Your brother Rajaram, learnt dance and headed Kalakshetra. You are a student of Carnatic music, who also studied Western classical, but chose a non-performing career in AIR. Can you talk about the nurturing of these various temperaments?

My grandfather’s home was the meeting point in those days. Practically every musician, both Hindustani and Carnatic, would drop by. For us, me and my brothers, most learning happened by listening and watching these great musicians converse and sing to each other.

My initial lessons were under Channakeshavaih my grandfather’s student. I used to sing well and had become quiet famous in school. Once when I was14, I was asked to sing for the school anniversary celebrations. Unfortunately around that time my voice began to break. I told my headmaster, who retorted: “Are voices made of glass that they should break? Don’t give me lame excuses. You have 20 minutes, do what you want.” I thought I would play the Jal Tarang and told my grandfather about it. He promptly went to senior artistes B. Devendrappa and Chikkaramarayaru and brought a set for me. Devendrappa guided me and the next few days, I practised. At the end of it, I developed a fondness for the instrument. We ended up buying a set for ourselves, and my brother and I began to seriously practice the instrument.

We would wake up at 4 a.m., study for an hour, and from 5 a.m. onwards we practised music. One morning his Highness, Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar was passing our house. He heard us and later sent his staff to arrange aconcert for us at the palace. It was held on Sankranti at a gathering of learned musicians. At the end of it, the King was so pleased that he immediately ordered that we be inducted into the Palace Orchestra. He told my grandfather that we had to learn Western Music also and without any further delay got us enrolled in Trinity College, Mysore.

My father was interested in theatre and had taken lessons in the mridangam. Later he wanted to learn the tabla and went to Jalandhar on Palace scholarship. He used to accompany Hindustani musicians. Once he had problems with a Hindustani musician during a public performance and my grandfather was a witness to it. On returning home that night he told my father, “Henceforth, play for the happiness of your soul and not in concerts. You stick to teaching, which is better for your temperament.” That marked the end of my father’s career as a performer.

Mysore was home to the best of musicians across genres. The Maharajas would often arrange Hindustani concerts and Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan, Abdul Karim Khan and Barkatulla Khan were frequent visitors. They would come home and have extensive discussions with my grandfather. As a result, he even composed in several Hindustani ragas. My grandfather even listened to film music. I often practiced the piano, and he would sit and listen. He believed that all music came from the same source, and that is probably why so many different kinds of music flowered in our house. He was a gentle and generous human being.

Why did you join AIR and not become a performer?

I did my Master’s in Economics. The situation demanded that I get a job. So when the Reserve Bank of India needed a research assistant, I decided to take up the job and was all set to leave for Bombay. By this time, my grandfather was teaching his Highness Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar Carnatic music. Since the maharaja was trained in Western music, I used to accompany my grandfather to write down the kritis for him in western notations. My grandfather told him that I would be soon leaving for Bombay to take up a job. ‘Why, aren’t there any jobs for him in the Mysore province? He is not going anywhere,’ the Maharaja said. He created a post for me in AIR and I joined in 1947.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 4:34:21 AM |

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