Music & Dance Music

Crowning glory

T.V. Gopalakrishnan. Photo: K. V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

A complete musician – this was the phrase that came to my mind as I was taking leave of him. Steeped in tradition but with a supple approach that effortlessly embraces anything musical, deep knowledge of both Carnatic and Hindustani, deft fingers and gifted vocal chords – T.V. Gopalakrishnan has showcased the many dimensions of his genius collecting accolades in the process. The crowning glory is the Sangita Kalanidhi title that will be conferred on him by The Music Academy on January 1, 2015, whose annual conference he will chair. Incidentally, he is the third musician from Thiruppunithura, a small town near Ernakulam, to get the award, T.N. Krishnan and T.K. Govinda Rao being the other two. The names of almost all the luminaries figure in the free flowing conversation we have at his house.

Seated by the kuthuvilakku in his drawing room, the vidwan says, “Kanchi Periyava gifted this to me at the Mumbai Shanmukhananda Sabha during a concert.” He then continues, “I was trained in music from a young age - in vocals by my father Visvanatha Bhagavatar, a disciple of Palakkad Anantharama Bhagavatar, and in mridangam by my uncle Narayanaswamy Iyer. I developed a style by listening to stalwarts, both vocal and mridangam, and grasped the best from each of them. Simultaneously, I started giving vocal performances. Stalwarts such as M.S. Gopalakrishnan (MSG), Ramanathapuram C.S. Murugabhoopathy, Vellore Ramabhadran and Umayalpuram Sivaraman accompanied me during my vocal concerts, yet I was known more as an mridangam player than a vocalist during the 1950s and years to follow.”

TVG says he played the mridangam for sustenance, while he sang to satisfy an inner urge. He also cherishes his association with violinist Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu and has special praise for his delineation of ragas such as Sindhubhairavi and Kapi. “Veenai S. Balachander liked challenges on stage and always insisted that I should suggest the talam in which he should play the pallavi.”

On how he moved into the realm of Hindustani music, he recalls, “It was Rasana’s music festival at the SGS Sabha, T. Nagar. MSG was on the violin. Half way through, I sang Nagasvaravali in Hindustani style followed by ‘Garuda Gamana,’ although I had no formal training in Hindustani music. I switched back to Carnatic style and finished the concert. Justice Rangarajan and another vidwan warned me that I was setting a wrong trend that might harm Carnatic music. They advised me to learn Hindustani properly from a guru before embarking on stage for concerts. I then joined Krishnanand’s classes and performed a full-fledged Hindustani concert within six months to a full house, where Justice Rangarajan was also present. He had come all the way from New Delhi. Impressed, he arranged for six Hindustani concerts in New Delhi including the Tansen Festival. My mentor and guru Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar appreciated me too.”

Talking about Chembai and his experiences with him, TVG says, “I received Manthropadesam from him. I was his foster son. I was eight when he made me play for him along side Mysore Srikantan. When the first round of thani was allotted to Srikantan, I was upset. Sensing that, Chembai sang a difficult pallavi and made me play the thani. A test by fire it was.” During the period from the 1950s to the mid-1970s, TVG was a regular at Chembai’s concerts, which he considers his golden period.

What’s his take on the music scene and musicians? “A sense of insecurity is prevalent among artists. Self-confidence and determination clubbed with hard work can take an artist to a peak at an early stage. As a mridangam artist, you have to give your best to make a concert a success. To do that, you have to spend several hours with your instrument. When I was employed at the Accountant General’s office in Chennai, between 1952 and 1961, my routine was to get up at 4 a.m. and practise for three hours. Musiri Subramania Iyer was also working at the AG’s office then. He predicted a bright future for me. That he never gave me an opportunity to play for him is another story.”

“Thambi, I have been observing you practising. I am delighted at your dedication. You should soon play for me,” were the words of M.M. Dandapani Desigar, who was his neighbour. Thereafter, TVG was his first choice.

“A raga can be showcased in just three to four minutes. Didn’t Chembai and Ariyakkudi do it? It is not necessary for you to go on for 20 minutes or more to establish a raga. Beyond a point, it becomes repetitive.”

On his brush with other genres and musicians, TVG has this to say. “Ilaiyaraaja asked me to teach him the nuances of ragas and kritis. Such was his excellent gnana that every time I taught him a raga or a kriti, a song based on the raga would come out as a hit. When I taught him Ritigowla and Dvaitamu Sukhama, ‘Chinna Kannan Azhaikkiraan’ was composed replete with fresh phrases. I sang about 12 songs from ‘Nandanar Charithram’ (Gopalakrishna Bharathi) for an episode in the film, ‘Kann Sivanthaal Mann Sivakkum,’ under his direction.” And then adds, “A.R. Rahman was part of my jazz ensemble. We performed for Doordarshan to celebrate Indira Gandhi’s birthday and I had composed the pallavi in Ramapriya ending with the words ‘Priya’ as Priyadarshini was her middle name. After a few weeks, ARR, who was directing music for jingles, informed me that he had composed nine jingles based on Ramapriya and thanked me profusely.”

As a parting remark, T.V. Gopalakrishnan recalls his guru Chembai’s words. “There are three types of performers, one who sings for himself, one who sings only for others and one who sings for himself and others.” One can classify TVG under the last category as is his wont that has taken him this far.

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2020 8:00:04 AM |

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