Genius many fold


T. V. Gopalakrishnan

T. V. Gopalakrishnan  

The tonal variety and the resonance of the voice of the 73-year-old singer held the listeners, both young and old, spellbound. It was the final day of the Chembai Music Festival organised by the Sri Chembai Memorial Trust in Thiruvananthapuram. The performer was the renowned Carnatic vocalist and instrumentalist, T. V. Gopalakrishnan, this year's recipient of the Chembai Puraskaram.

TVG, as he is popularly known, was born in 1932 in a musical family at Thripunithura. His father, T.G. Viswanatha Bhagavathar, was a musician to the royal family of erstwhile Cochin, and also served as professor of music at SKV College, Thrissur.

When he was four, TVG started playing on the mridangam. At the age of six, he gave his first public performance at the Cochin Palace. After a couple of years, he began accompanying the doyen of Carnatic music, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, initially on the mridangam. Thus began his long association with Chembai whom he considers his guru and inspiration.

Under Chembai, TVG soon became an outstanding vocalist too. In TVG's own words, "My guru used to be very free with those who accompanied him. He would tell me `ayya paadu' during the kutcheri.''

TVG learned to sing extempore and improvise for the audience from Chembai. "Guru used to say: `Look at the people before you. There are special invitees and others too. Sometimes a man with just Rs. 2 to buy a kilo of rice may have come to a concert, you should sing for him because he has sacrificed his time just to listen to you.' Guru did not stick to any hard and fast rules while singing. Sometimes the thaniavarthanam would occur in the varnam itself."

TVG is, perhaps, the first vocalist who performed with equal mastery both Carnatic and Hindustani classical music. In 1969, he gave his first Hindustani concert. He also made a name as an accomplished violinist. In a career spanning over 60 years as a classical musician, he has presented hundreds of concerts as vocalist and instrumentalist all over the world.

TVG'S style is unique, the way he conducts his concerts too. He says, "Ruchi, sahitya soundarya, raga rasam, bhava rasam. The ingredients combined in the right proportion makes music an eternal bliss. No harm in giving kanakku. Of course, not for all the songs. It is like a speech - you speak continuously, pause for a while, giving importance to the dhwani. See, music is a performing art. There is scope for elaborating or reducing according to the occasion. In a two-and-a-half hour concert, thaniavarthanam can be limited to 10 minutes, preferably in the first half. That leaves the vocalist to focus on the lighter numbers or devotionals he sings subsequently. He gets some breathing space too."

TVG believes musicians are actors - tonal actors. Like an actor one has to play different roles, through voice modulation. "Get the salient features of the music and render it in your own way. Concerts should be like fireworks," he adds.

Being an accomplished mridangist helped as the mridangam is an excellent rhythm guide. Sometimes TVG performed that rare feat - singing and playing on mridangam simultaneously.

TVG has the rare gift of spotting young musical talent and grooming them. The list includes Ilayaraja, T. V. Vasan, Vidyabhushan, Rajkumar Bharati, Bhupinder Singh, V. Suresh, Devi, Rajasekhar, Pavan, Madhu Balakrishnan, Andre Fertier, Herbert Lang, S. Varadarajan, Sali Vahan and many others. He continues to teach music at various institutions in India and abroad.

According to TVG, singers from a very young age should be nurtured with scholarships as is done at the famous Chetham's School of Music in England. A feeling of security that a scholarship would generate will attract more students to music.

TVG is very particular that all his students should be socially conscious and responsible citizens, contributing to the general welfare of society. Only such individuals can become good musicians.

TVG is the founder of the Indian Academy of Music and Arts (IAMA) in Chennai, which has honoured eminent personalities such as the late M. S. Subbulakshmi, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, and D. K. Pattammal, with the title Sangita Sarva Bhouman for their contributions to music and society.

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