November 26, 2013

Interview

Tradition & Change

My husband and I are fond of recalling the words of Dr. S. Radhakrishnan: It takes centuries to create history and it takes centuries of history to create tradition. Therefore tradition cannot be brushed aside. I am not against change but I am by conviction an uncompromising traditionalist and purist. My view is that you can make use of your manodharma in alapana and swaraprastara but pathantara suddha should be maintained in rendering kriti-s. Some of the compositions of even the Trinity might have undergone certain changes over time as a result of the manodharma of the musicians rendering them, but most of the kriti-s have remained intact and we must ensure that their 'aas' or basic form remains intact. Kriti-s project the musical vision and creativity of their composers and it is not right to meddle with them or distort the raga swaroopa built into them. There is scope enough to use all your imagination and virtuosity within the parameters of tradition.

Whenever I sing, I always imagine that my masters are sitting in front of me. I put a question to myself: will, what I am now singing find acceptance with the masters who taught me? I am always conscious of the responsibility of faithfully rendering what I have been taught by the great masters. They did not believe in waste and nor do 1.1 have been accused of rendering things in a parrot-like manner; I do not mind this criticism, nor do I plead guilty. I believe my masters have taught me all that is necessary. What was unnecessary for them is unnecessary for me too. I will not play to the gallery. This is my approach in my performances.

Guru & Sishya

A sishya need not—rather should not—imitate the guru's mannerisms, either physical or musical. He should take the essential features and adapt them to suit his own temperament and the range and dexterity of his own voice. It is by following this approach that I have achieved uniformity in my own style. Though I have learnt from several guru-s, I have not changed even a single swara from what was taught to me. Sometimes conflicts do arise and I will not sing the song concerned until I have resolved them to my satisfaction. For example, I learnt Dikshitar's Meenakshi mey mudham first from Budalur; later when Musiri taught me the same song, I found he had explored some sangati-s which were different.

This created a problem for me and, for a long time I did not sing the song in a concert. Then one day, in my mind the sangati-s taught by Budalur and Musiri fell into place and I felt the kriti had obtained a good format. Only then did i start presenting the song again.

If an aspiring musician should seek to model himself on another, he should listen to different concerts of the model, grasp the main features of the music and then try to make them his own, keeping in mind his own strengths and weaknesses. There is a need to listen to different concerts because a good musician would present the subtle nuances and embellishments differently in different concerts.

I myself am an avid listener of music in my home; the radio keeps playing continuously. Sometimes I do not like what I hear and switch off the radio; but after a couple of minutes, I think perhaps the music will get better and switch it on again. When I started singing on stage, I began to look for patterns in other musicians's, in which he had sung Namoralakhnpa. He offered some interesting sangati-s which i had not learnt. I then wrote to T.K. Jayarama Iyer who had taught it to me and requested him to listen to the recording which must be available with AIR and then give me his permission to add these sangati-s to what I had already learnt from him.

Raga Exposition

There are major raga-s like Kalyani, Kharaharapriya and Sankarabharanam which have attained immortality. They are inexhaustible and however much one sings, there is still more to explore in them. This is not the case with all raga-s, of course.

The kriti you plan to sing after the alapana is where you find clues to the swaroopa of the raga you should project. This is particularly true of Dikshitar's compositions, though Tyagaraja and Syama Sastry have also embodied in each of their songs, the raga swaroopa that they wished to convey.

The raga alapana has to be proportionate to the length of the song which follows. Take Pattammal, MS or MLV—I tend to cite women musicians because I am one—they follow this principle. If it would take 10 minutes to render a kriti, the alapana could be for 12-15 minutes.

I believe practice makes perfect. Practice is essential to keep your powers of imagination alive. Therefore it is important to practise a lot at home. If you plan to sing a raga alapana for about 10 minutes, you should be ready with material sufficient for 30 minutes, because in the tension of performing before an audience and keeping tabs on the accompanists, you might forget quite a bit of what you had planned. You should practice even while doing your daily chores; this will help to hone the voice as well. The trend today is to sing light raga-s throughout the concert. This is not right. Even established musicians today prefer to sing raga-s like Mohanakalyani and Revati in a row. When they do so, they misguide the young. Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastry composed many kriti-s in the major raga-s, but only specimens, so to speak, in raga-s like Bindumalini and Nalinakanti. They used raga-s like Harikambhoji, Kalyani, Kharaharapriya, Sankarabharanam and Todi extensively because these raga-s offer scope for endless exploration.

There is a tendency also to adulterate raga-s. For example, many sing Kalyani with shades of Mohanam. We have certainly lost the original conception of Mohanam, since what most sing today as Mohanam may be called Mohanakalyani! Also, what are called 'misra' raga-s may be acceptable in Hindustani music, but we must preserve the purity of each raga we sing.

On Sampradaya

Indian music has bad a long evolution—from nada to sruti-s, from sruti-s to swara-s, and from swara-s to hundreds of ragas-s which are the special features of our music system. Sampradaya, or tradition, and knowledge of the sastra or theory, enable one to master this music. Sampradaya means the expertise acquired by gurukulavasa, and the imbibing of musical wisdom from a qualified teacher. Sampradaya is so important in our music that Tyagaraja, in one of his songs, describes Cod himself as a Sangecta sampradayakudu'.

Sampradaya is thus, the soul of our music, and I consider it my good fortune that I learnt it from vidwans who were the custodians of tradition.... Music is a vast ocean and no one can claim that he or she has completely mastered it. Learning is a continuous process. I therefore, continue to be a humble student of the art. Eminent musicians and musicologists who presided over this Conference in the past have given precious advice to the future generation and lam not qualified to add anything new to their suggestions. Yet, I wish to place before you a few impressions gathered during my tutelage under some of the titans of music of this century.

In my opinion, it is wrong to think that there is no room for 'manodharma' you must have or musical imagination in sampradaya or tradition. In fact, the touchstone of the musician's calibre is his capacity to display manodharma in alapana, niraval, kalpana swara-s, etc. But it will do incalculable harm to our music if, in the name of manodharma, the original tunes of kriti-s are tampered with. If this practice continues, the original versions of the compositions of master composers like Tyagaraja will soon become unrecognisable. This advice was constantly dinned into my ears by my guru-s and I am proud of the fact that I have never deviated from the versions taught by them. Special festivals are being conducted to give |youth| the much needed exposure and the newspapers have taken very kindly to these. If I may offer a piece of advice to the younger generation, it would be to urge them to maintain the purity of our tradition and not to permit cheap applause and quick success to influence their outlook. Many undesirable features and disturbing trends have started creeping into our music which we should guard ourselves against. This is the reason why I am offering this advice. Hard work, dedication and perseverance are needed for achievi ng some measure of success in the music field. There is no short cut to this. I was given only junior chances in this Academy for 11 years before I was promoted to the subsenior level. It took me eight more years to reach the senior grade. Each performance is a challenge and a test for a musician and even a little remissness or complacency will let him or her down.

Ragam - Tanam - Pallavi

Rendering of ragam-tanam-pallavi as the centre-piece of a concert was a tradition in the past. This has been partially revived, thanks to the Pallavi Project conceived and initiated by the Sruti Foundation. The pallavi has been reinstated in the concert format, but only a few have the patience to sing a pallavi properly these days. Some imagine that rendering a pallavi is difficult, but it is really not so if you understand the principles well. If you have the capacity to sing niraval-s, you can sing a pallavi also, but in rendering a pallavi, you have to pay attention to karvai and execute the trikalam properly and to do so, atained a degree of perfection.

Alankara-s and the features called pratiloma and anuloma are also very important in pallavi-singing. Even in a two and a half hour concert, it is possible to render a pallavi well, provided you give it at least 45 minutes. But I know it is difficult to really do justice to a pallavi in that time frame. I hence feel that the duration of concerts should be increased to three hours.

Young Talent

The focus today is on young artists and the seniors should not grudge this. I am extremely happy that more and more young people are performing today and performing well too. Undoubtedly, they need encouragement from the sabha-s and the patrons of Carnatic music. It is true that in my younger days I did not have as many opportunities that a musician with hardly two or three years' experience has today. But this cannot be helped; this is so in every field. While saying so I must utter a word of caution on the way young musicians are projected today. I am not happy with the way half-baked young musicians are being promoted. Young musicians who are not really ready for the stage manage to wangle performances here and there, through the courtesy of generous sponsors. And they get publicity in newspapers. All these things go to their head and they think that they have nothing more to learn. This danger should be avoided. In this task the roles of the teachers and promoters and the responsibility of the parentshusbands of the youngsters are very great.

Music Criticism

I welcome criticism. I do appreciate the role that critics play in the field of music. Certainly a word of praise will be a great motivation for any artist. In my own career I have not been spared by any critic. I can illustrate this. Subbudu, the most misunderstood critic, was staying with us during one of his annual visits and that year I sang in the Music Academy. My second song was a Tiruppugazh and he came down heavily upon me in the next morning's newspaper saying that Tiruppugazh should find a place only during the last part of my recital. I welcome useful suggestions from critics, but I would like them to appreciate the constraints under which a musician has to perform today. In the past, concerts used to be for five or six hours and great artists by their personalities and performances made people to listen to them. Nowadays the concerts are for only two and a half or three hours, within which the performer believes he should—and he is—expected to sing quite a few compositions. Again the performer has to see the environment and prepare the songs accordingly! Within this short period, he or she has sometimes to render as well a ragamtanam-pallavi which is thus bound to be sketchy. Over and above all this, the accompanists too take time to display their talents. So, how can justice be done to the listeners and to music? I wish the critics would appreciate this predicament of ours.

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