Classical singer who's cyber-savvy

Sanjay: `Anyone interested in music can learn it.'  

IT ISN'T often that youngsters get to sit and listen to an hour of Carnatic music in school. But students of Vidyaniketan Public School, Ullal, Sri Vani Vidya Kendra, Rajajinagar, and Adarsh College, R.T. Nagar, recently did so, and heard Sanjay Subrahmanyan, the much-travelled 35-year-old Carnatic singer. "Children hardly have the time or the opportunity to listen to classical music nowadays. Now I realise just how lucky we were that we did not have the diversion of a hundred television channels" says the `A' Grade artiste of All India Radio, who is featured regularly on various television channels.

Sanjay was in the city recently and performed in educational institutions on the request of the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth (Spicmacay). He has won titles, awards and accolades from the time he was a teenager, but he continues to believe that his fame is only due to hard work, practice and his culturally rich home-environment. "I think anyone who is really interested in Carnatic classical music can learn it — may be, a person with talent may learn it faster than one who is not."

As a seven-year old, Sanjay started learning to play the violin from V. Lakshminarayana (father of the renowned violinists, L. Shankar and L. Subramaniam). He took to singing when his manual dexterity was impaired by an accident. "When I began learning from my grand aunt, Rukmini Rajagopalan, I realised she was a big fan of D.K. Jayaraman. She would get recordings of songs such as "Nekkurugi", "Shri valli", "Enadu manam", and "Unnai allal" and make me learn them. She felt that DKJ was the best repository of kriti pathantarams for people to learn and follow," recounts the singer who woke up to Carnatic music every morning. "The radio was always switched on in our house, and it was always only Carnatic music. If I picked up film songs it was during visits to friends' houses."

"Film music now is a mix of techniques, voices, background and a lot of other elements. Music directors are forever searching for new voices so that they can come up with the mix that clicks. I've been getting offers too, but frankly I don't think I may be of any use to the film industry," says the modest recipient of the Spirit of Youth Award for Outstanding Performance from Krishna Gana Sabha under its talent promotion scheme.

"Modern technology is a boon for creative people," feels Sanjay paradoxically, for the world is crying itself hoarse on how technology is killing creativity. "Creative people get bored with routine very easily, and very soon. They want to experiment, they want to try new ragas, and they want to explore new avenues for their art. What can be more creative than technology that is changing every minute," says the purist who likes to sing in the traditional format. "The contribution of the Trinity to Carnatic music is so vast that one lifetime is not enough for anyone to learn all the songs that they composed. So I'm happy trying to learn rarely-sung compositions, improve on my rendition of them and try to achieve that perfection that all of us aim for in whichever profession we may be in."

He calls himself a compulsive listener and credits his well-received performances all over the world to the hours he spends listening to masters. "Even though I started to learn music only because my parents insisted on it, I developed a passion for it when I was 16." His second guru was Calcutta K.S. Krishnamurthy. "That was when I started participating in Spicmacay programmes. Now, I'm grateful to my family for giving me that solid foundation in music."

Sanjay is the recipient of the Outstanding Junior Musician award from the Annual Conference of the Madras Music Academy. This year he receives the Isai Peroli Award from Kartik Fine Arts. But the Chennai-based vocalist considers himself merely a sincere worker in the profession of Carnatic music.