All in the family

March 12, 2010 12:00 am | Updated November 19, 2010 12:53 pm IST


Like her father Gottuvadyam Narasimhan, Kiranavali is also a very persistent teacher.

Extraordinary musical talent runs inher family. Carnatic vocalist KiranavaliVidyashankar's grandfatherwas the legendary GottuvadyamNarayanan Iyengar, a widely-feted chitravinawizard. Her father GottuvadyamNarasimhan is an acclaimed musicianand trendsetting teacher. Her brothersChitravina Ravikiran and K.N. Shashikiranare leading musicians in their generation.

It all made for a highly stimulatingenvironment. So, when Kiranavali couldrecognise over 200 ragas and 175 taalasas a two-year-old, the feat aroused astonishmentin many, but wasn't unexpectedfor those who knew her family background.After all, her brothers too haddisplayed a similar prowess at that age.

However, what was noteworthy wasfather Narasimhan's approach to trainingthese three child-prodigies as well astheir cousin Ganesh. His conviction wasthat with the right methods, anyone canbe taught music. Using a playful, informalapproach to hone their talent, Narasimhantaught them basics to advancedlessons including theory, and mouldedthem to become performers even as children.

Kiranavali gave her first full-fledgedconcert -- with Shashikiran -- at age 11to much appreciation. But then thetraining had been rigorous and comprehensive.In basics alone, Kiranavali wastaught a vast range of saralivarasais anddhaatuvarasais, 35 alankarams in fourkaalams, nearly 30 geethams and 35 varnams."Much more than many studentsare taught today," she adds. For aboutfour years she continued to perform withShashikiran until his voice broke and hisshruti changed.Kiranavali branched outas an individual performer.

Eldest brother Ravikiran also taughtKiranavali as he did Shashikiran and Ganesh.They would all have practice sessionstogether. Around 1991, she cameunder the tutelage of the renowned T.Brinda. Kiranavali was aware that thefastidious Brinda not only demanded totaldedication to the art but also a certaincode of conduct. She had very high standardsand once a student met that, Brindawould impart all her knowledge withenthusiasm and affection. This perfectionistguru also wanted a quiet deferenceto her teaching methods and wouldnot be dictated to by students over whatcompositions they wanted to learn or thepace of their learning.

Over five years, Kiranavali learntnearly 200 compositions including padams,javalis, and rare krithis from Brindaand even accompanied her on stageand for recordings. "Brindamma neverpraised me, though I heard from othersthat she spoke well of me. After our lastrecording together, she made me playthe Begada, and told me that my renditionfrom the point where I had takenover the alapana was good. `You haveeffectively imbibed my style,' she commented.That was the first and last complimentI received from her as shepassed away soon after," reveals Kiranavali.

The chitravina family tradition whichshe had been staying away from seemedan inescapable destiny. Inexplicably forsomeone who had never even sufferedfrom a sore throat until then, Kiranavalisuffered a voice problem at the age of 17,and that drove her to take up the chitravina."I began to learn formally from myfather and brother. Since I am the typewho focuses on something wholeheartedly,I threw myself into the art, practicing10 to 12 hours a day. For threeconsecutive years, I performed at MusicAcademy with Ravikiran, besides othervenues," she says. Brinda also guided Kiranavalithrough her voice problems.

Marriage took her to Mumbai whereshe joined the faculty of ShanmukhanandaSangeeta Vidyalaya, though shehad her own students at home since shewas 17. Later, Kiranavali moved to USAand continues to perform and teachthere while also performing in India. "Ilove teaching and my father is my rolemodel.I rarely give up on a student andbelieve everyone is teachable and haspotential for improvement with rightteaching methods. Given a fair chance,the bad student becomes an average one,the average student good, and the goodone, excellent," she concludes.

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