Music

The value of rhythm

USEFUL TIPS: Arun Prakash, Vaithyanathan, Patri Satish Kumar and Adyar Balu. Photo: S. Thanthoni

USEFUL TIPS: Arun Prakash, Vaithyanathan, Patri Satish Kumar and Adyar Balu. Photo: S. Thanthoni

To those who thronged The Music Academy on a windy, rain-washed Saturday morning with the question ‘What are we going to learn today about the art of mridangam accompaniment?' on their lips, the ready answer was ‘Quite a lot, actually.' It came from the energetic percussion team of Arun Prakash, J. Vaidyanathan, Patri Sathishkumar and Nellai Kannan.

Crisp, to the point and sustaining listener interest, the mridangam artists added pep to the lec-dem series with their presentation ‘Mridangam as Leader and Follower'.

With Bharat Sundar providing the vocals, Vaidyanathan highlighted the niceties of providing accompaniment to compositions, kritis in particular. For instance, in the iconic ‘Mayamma' (Ahiri, Syama Sastri), the mridangam should be necessarily muted during articulation of ‘Maatladaraadha' to avoid drowning out the inherent subtlety. For such perceptive playing, the mridangam artist should be well-versed in sahitya and sensitive to sahitya bhava.

When a composition begins, the golden rule is to wait for the main artist to clearly establish the kalapramana, in the space of the first avartana of tala, after which the mridangam artist can join in. When he is accompanying a vocalist/instrumentalist for the first time, it is advisable, again, to wait for him/her to take the eduppu of anu pallavi or charanam which may vary from the pallavi eduppu.

Any assumption about the eduppu before the main artist actually indicates it would result in confusion, as artists follow different patanthara and the eduppu cannot be taken for granted. For example the anupallavi of ‘Kaligiyunte' (Keeravani, Tyagaraja) could be either at 1/2 edam or 3/4 edam at the discretion of the main artist.

Does silence, when the mridangam artist abstains from playing, actually enhance the effect of sahitya? Yes, demonstrated Vaidyanathan, in a composition like ‘Varugalaamo' (Manji, Gopalakrishna Bharati ) in the line ‘Karai Kadanden'.

Sathishkumar dealt with the art of accompaniment for niraval. Often, the calibre of the mridangam artist surfaces during this segment. When, what and how to play or conversely, NOT to play is the indicative factor. Proper understanding of sahitya bhava, familiarity with patantara, tuning in to the main artist's mood – all these contribute towards sensitive accompaniment. Soft, long gumkis, farans, mohras and other devices embellish and uplift.

Sound clips of luminaries such as Palghat Mani Iyer, Palani Subramania Pillai, Palghat Ragu, Kamalakar Rao and Tiruchi Sankaran in kutcheris illustrated these points. Sathishkumar made an earnest plea for a dedicated ½ hour slot to be provided in kutcheris for mridangam solo so that rasikas could actually be drawn into the rhythmic episode rather than be seen to walk out during the tani avartanam.

Arun Prakash dwelt on the apt accompaniment to be provided during kalpanaswara. ‘Refrain from playing melkala sollus during kizhkala swaras and kizhkala sollus during melkala swaras', was his observation. Also, one must avoid cramming meaningful pauses choc-a-bloc with sollus, just because one has the ability to execute them.

While anticipation is essential, do not make assumptions about permutation patterns, as these may be unpredictable and vary mid-stride. Though a safe, non-intrusive sarvalaghu gait may gel with the singer's swaraprasthara, anticipation yields richer dividends during odukkal segments and surprise twists, enabling the mridangam artist to keep pace with the singer's ideas (‘Vangi Vasippadu').

Sadly, Adyar Balu, the well-known accompanist for dance, who was to have participated, passed away. His place was taken by Nellai Kannan, also a prolific dance accompanist, whose experience spans 35 years. Kannan let his sollus do the talking, while dancer Roja Kannan illustrated concepts. In ‘Mohamana' the Bhairavi varnam of the Thanjavur Quartet, mridangam was seen as follower initially and as leader later, when Kannan took the lead with khanda nadai which the dancer followed during a ‘swami purappadal' sequence.

Vocals by Radha Bhadri and nattuvangam by Sharanya added to the appeal. Roja emphasised that without tala, there could be no Bharatanatyam and concluded with dance guru Adyar Lakshman's thillana (ateeta eduppu).

It was refreshing to see young, in-demand percussionists in a new light in their role of musicians who thoroughly understood and lucidly explained the finer points of their craft. A sense of deep commitment and responsibility to the parampara they each represent came through in their presentation.


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Printable version | May 19, 2022 8:54:08 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/the-value-of-rhythm/article2795486.ece