‘Where words fail, music speaks’

Aruna Sairam

Aruna Sairam   | Photo Credit: R_Shivaji Rao

Do you remember your first concert? Who is your guru?

M. Sampath Kumar, Erode

My first concert was for the temple bhajana samaj in Matunga, Mumbai. I was 14 at that time. My early lessons were from my mother Rajalakshmi Sethuraman till I was 10 years old. Thereafter, I became a disciple of Guru T. Brinda.

Why doesn’t the current crop of young Carnatic singers give ‘free’ training to a select group of rural / urban students from financially weak backgrounds?

Vedanayagam, Chennai

I am currently helping young musicians in various ways through the Nadayogam Trust that I have established. We donate musical instruments to students who are learning and need financial support for buying instruments. The trust gives monthly stipends to young musicians in far flung areas to enable them to pursue their musical education.

It is said, “Where words fail, music speaks.” Have you experienced this?

T.S. Karthik, Chennai

Once at the prestigious Tropen Institut in Amsterdam, I was packing up after the concert. I missed the usual rush of rasikas to the stage which usually happens when I perform in India. I must confess I was a little disappointed. I presumed they did not like the music. A few minutes later, when I and my accompanists stepped out of the auditorium, we were startled at what happened. The entire audience was standing with their bicycles (Amsterdam is world famous for its bicycling culture). They had made a ‘v’ formation and at once all of them lifted the front wheel of their cycles in a salute. We were in tears… We had experienced the phrase “where words fail, music speaks.”

Padams are not sung too frequently these days. Also, you have recorded many RTPS but sung them only on a few occasions at live concerts. Is it due to paucity of time?

S. Venkataraman, Chennai

Padam is a form which is sung in slow tempo. It demands a lot of training to render a padam in a traditional and authentic manner, which is why this has become rare. My guru Brindamma has taught me many padams. I shall certainly render more of them in concerts, as you have suggested.

The duration of concerts has indeed become shorter. I have composed and rendered many pallavis and am grateful to my rasikas who have appreciated them and uploaded them on youtube. Some of my well received pallavis are: on the Trinity (main raga Thodi, ragamalika in ragas of Pancharatna kritis, and compositions of Dikshitar and Syama Sastri); on Ashtalakshmi with Ashtaragamaliga (main raga Madyamavathi) and Arupadaiveedu with 6 ragas (main raga Bhairavi).

Each artist has her/his own preferences and natural affinity to certain forms of music. I personally prefer to render compositions of the great masters in my concerts.

One notices that in general, apoorva ragas are not chosen, even by leading Carnatic musicians in concerts. Is it for the fear of coming out of the comfort zone and trying out new things? If this trend persists, we may forever lose many apoorva ragas…

Vedantham Narayanan, Chennai

My guru has bequeathed some rare apoorva raga gems to me such as ‘Evvere Ramayya’ in Gangeyabhushani and ‘Paramatmudu’ in Vagadeeshwari. Today, many artists are handling RTPs in apoorva ragas, which is a commendable trend.

Tell us a little about the Veenai Dhanammal bani to which your Guru T. Brinda belongs.

Jaya Vishnu Kumar, Coimbatore

My guru T. Brindamma was the grand daughter of Veenai Dhanammal. Brindamma had her own method of teaching which relied entirely on the aural method of transmitting the music without any aid or notation. After the learning process was complete, the student would have to notate the music from her memory. This method ensured that the information was permanently etched in the mind of the student.

I feel Carnatic music has not reached out to the new and younger audiences. Although your concerts pack the halls, do you feel you have made any inroads into that segment?

L. Rangarajan, Chennai

The average age of the audience in Carnatic concerts is certainly a cause for concern. If more and more young people come and listen, it would be good for Carnatic music and its preservation. I am constantly and pleasantly surprised by the number of young people that attend my concerts. I have fans as young as a year and a half! All of us, I am sure, agree that more and more young people should attend Carnatic concerts because they will take this appreciation well into the future.

I am passionate about singing. I practise a few songs by listening to CDs. How do I maintain a standard voice? Please suggest songs or rhythms that will help in improving the voice culture.

Kiruthika Vasumathi, Chennai

Voice training and voice culture are vast subjects, extremely personal and vary from one individual to another. I would only be able to answer questions on this subject on a one-to-one basis.

You sing in several languages (Indian and foreign). Like Carnatic music, which is based on the seven swaras, do other languages too have a basic swara format?

Aparna Thyagarajan, Chennai

Universally, there are seven swaras – ‘sa ri ga ma pa da ni.’ In western system, it is ‘do re me fa so la ti.’ In other cultures, there are other names. It is a universal phenomenon and in that sense, all music is one.

How long must a person practise to become a full-fledged musician?

V. Chellappa, Nanganallur

This depends on your natural aptitude, your guru, the method of training, application, practise, patience, focus and beyond all this, the grace of God. The time taken can vary from person to person depending on these factors.

Your songs ‘Maadu Meikkum Kanna’ and ‘Vishamakkara Kannan’ inspire me a lot. How did these come about?

R. Narasimhan, Bengaluru

‘Maadu Meikkum Kanna’ is a traditional song, which my grandmother used to sing. I found the script of this song in her notebook. Later on my mother taught this to me. ‘Vishamakkara Kannan,’ on the other hand, is a composition of Oothukadu Venkata Kavi. I have heard this being rendered by Needamangalam Krishnamurthy Bhagavatar when he used to visit Mumbai for his sangeetha upanayasam.

Since I like both these songs, I first tried singing it in place of the traditional kavadi chindu. I am very fortunate that my rasikas love them. Both these compositions take us back to our childhood making us feel happy and blessed.

The raga is explained in concerts using ‘Tha tha ri na.’ What does it mean?

A. Radhakrishnan, Trichy

‘Tha tha ri na’ are consonants used to express a musical idea during the elaboration of a raga. Different musicians use different consonants to peg their musical expression during raga alapana.

How do you maintain your voice, especially as you resort to open- throated singing?

S. Venkataraman, Chennai

Open-throated singing when done in the proper manner helps the voice to be unfettered and free. Thus the voice does not get affected. If the artist catches a cold or an infection, that is a cause for anxiety. For all vocalists, the voice and its health is always a perennial concern. It is a good practice to take ‘recovery’ time off after each concert, to give the voice some rest.

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Printable version | Oct 1, 2020 7:02:04 AM |

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