‘Kelvijnanam is power'

B. Arundhathi. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

V ocalist B. Arundhathi is as versatile a classical artiste as she is a playback singer. An ardent follower of the Semmangudi bani, Arundhathi has had the “privilege” of learning classical music from gurus such as R. Krishnaswamy, Mavelikkara R. Prabhakara Varma, and K. Omanakutty, and understanding the nuances of light music and playback singing at the feet of veteran composer M.G. Radhakrishnan. A recipient of the Kerala Sangeeta Nataka Akademi Award in 2010 and a gold medallist in music throughout her college years, Arundhati was recently awarded the A-Top grade of All India Radio (AIR). The Thiruvananthapuram-based artiste, who is a senior lecturer in music at S.N. Women's College, Kollam, spoke to FridayReview about her journey in music. Excerpts from an interview...

Foray into music

My interest in music was nurtured by my father, Bhagavatheeswara Iyer. He is a musician and music teacher, and is a B-High graded artiste of AIR, who learnt classical music from Semmangudi, GNB, Kalladakurichi, and others. I grew up hearing him sing and teach. Even when I was a young child, I had an ear for music and I could identify ragas. My father himself began teaching me when I he realised that I had a taste for music. In those days AIR would broadcast music lessons – classical music from Monday to Wednesday and light music on Thursdays and Fridays. My father used to insist that I listen to them and take notes. He also insisted that I frequent classical concerts organised in the city and take down notes – making a log of the artistes and accompanists, the compositions and ragas sung, and so on. In fact, for my habit, I was often referred to as ‘the girl with the diary!' All those concerts that I attended held me in good stead later on in life when I chose to make a career out of music: For kelvijnanam (listening and learning) is power, and more important than formal teaching of music. The basis for innovation in classical music stems from kelvijnanam.

Learning from the best

I've had the privilege of learning classical music with gurus who were totally dedicated to music and teaching music. All my gurus were/are followers of the Semmangudi bani, a bhava-oriented style of singing Carnatic music, which I believe is rationally the most correct of all banis. When I was in class eight or so I started learning classical music from R. Krishnaswamy sir – he, along with Neyyatinkara Vasudevan and Kamala Kailasnath, used to conduct classical music classes that were broadcast by AIR. It was the late Mavelikkara Prabhakara Varma sir who really brought focus and methodology to my training. He was a master of manodharma and taught me its nuances. Under the tutelage of Omanakutty teacher, I was awarded my Ph D. in ‘The Concept of Sruti and Gamakas in South Indian Classical Music.' She is more like an elder sister to me than a guru. I have learnt much from her choice of kritis and swaras, her mastery over voice modulation, and so on.

M.G. Radhakrishnan's influence

I would not be where I am without his guidance. Like classical music, light music has been a part of me since I was young, and it was honed by Radhakrishnan chettan. Ever since I auditioned and got selected for Balalokam, a children's programme on AIR, when I was in class seven, I've had the privilege of associating with chettan. His light music was really that – light, and not at all complex. In each of his songs he highlighted the lyrical value of music.

As a guru

As much as possible, I try to carry forward all the lessons that each my gurus has taught me. However, these days that's not an easy task because it's very hard to find students who are really passionate about and dedicated to music, and who are willing to work hard to hone their talent. All that most of them seem to want to do is learn music to participate in reality shows! I peg this down to the lack of awareness and an educational system at school level that does little to identify the innate artistic talents of children. It's high time we brought back music education in our schools. Not only will it create an awareness for music and prompt youngsters to take up music professionally, but it will also provide a means of livelihood for a multitude of graduates in music, whose options are otherwise rather limited. Music, or for that matter all kinds of artistic pursuits, needs to be a part of our lifestyle.

Classical vs. playback singing

I enjoy singing both. However, I find more contentment in classical music because there is much more scope for manodharma (innovation), creativity, and individuality. And there's so much scope that often it's like the singer is the composer.

Notes on reality shows

Whether reality shows are a boon or a bane depends on how each show is conducted. Ideally, we should not judge a contestant based on just one song. We need to evaluate their progress over a period of time and appraise their knowledge, their willingness to improve, and the intensity of talent.

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Printable version | May 3, 2021 11:19:46 PM |

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