MUSICSCAN M.V. Ramakrishnan

Of voice and violin

Ever since the Western violin was adopted in Carnatic music long ago, it has been the prime supporting instrument in vocal recitals, just like the sarangi in Hindustani music. But while the sarangi player’s assigned role is usually to follow the vocalist’s line closely like a shadow, the Carnatic violinist has considerable scope to show his or her own pace at every stage -- in the elaboration of ragas, depiction of compositions, adornment of selected phrases and improvisation of melodic notes. That’s why the ultimate goal of every outstanding Carnatic violinist is to emerge as a soloist also, although such a status can normally be attained only by playing the rigorous role of accompanist consistently well.

The arduous experience of echoing the voice is a rich source of excellence for the solo violinist, because the basic spiritual element of Carnatic music is contained in the lyrics of the songs, which need to be echoed faithfully even in a voiceless performance.

In the case of extremely popular songs, whether classical or contemporary, many rasikas in the audience are likely to know the lyrics well enough to recognise them instantly; but in other cases, some prompting with the human voice may be called for. Obviously a solo violin can’t be accompanied by the human voice, since it will only convert the concert into a comic act. But there can be no objection to a few significant lines of the lyrics being rendered vocally by the soloist. In fact, that's precisely what veena players have traditionally been fond of doing, especially to indicate the words of an unfamiliar couplet following the melodic and rhythmic exercises in a Ragam Tanam Pallavi. But while similar action is taken sometimes by other instrumental soloists in the case of the RTP, it isn’t a widely prevalent practice.

While such marginal vocal additives in a solo instrumental recital can be an excellent aid for identifying certain key lines of the lyrics which convey the true devotional spirit of the songs, that’s not their only virtue. For they can also add an aesthetic element which makes the music more beautiful and fascinating, if the soloist has a good voice and can sing well.

This is precisely where Narmadha, the versatile daughter and disciple of violin maestro M. S. Gopalakrishnan, has a tremendous advantage when she performs as a solo violinist in Carnatic music; for she does have a lovely voice, and she can sing adequately well. (Her Hindustani connection, of course, has a different dimension).

How effectively Narmadha can use these assets to enhance her performance was clearly evident in her solo violin recital at the Vinayaka Temple in Besant Nagar on Sunday evening. After rendering Dikshitar’s kriti ‘Siddhi Vinaayakam’ (Shanmukhapriya), she sang the opening lines in chaste Sanskrit before improvising the swaras. And mid-way through Tyagaraja’s song ‘Manasaa Etulortune’ ( Malayamaarutham), she briefly sang the line ‘Kalilo Raajasa Taamasa ...’ and made the Telugu words echo the violin strongly in the fine niraval which followed.

The highlight of the concert was a superb raga alapana of Kalyani which was rich in delicate nuances, a vigorous swara sequence which followed Tyagaraja’s kriti ‘E Taavunaraa’ -- and between them a selected phrase (‘Sree Karudagu Tyagaraja.....’) sung nicely by the violinist. Throughout the concert, Narmadha had excellent percussion support of mridangam (Mannarkovil Balaji) and ghatam (Guruprasad). Incidentally, it was announced that this was Narmadha’s 1000th solo violin recital in Carnatic music, which calls for a special bouquet!


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Printable version | Aug 6, 2021 3:53:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/m_v_ramakrishnan/Of-voice-and-violin/article12572726.ece

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