‘Paddhati’ not as rigid as portrayed

Lakshmi Sreeram’s point of view on violin accompaniment (Sruti 275) is very interesting and raises many relevant issues. Obviously, the observations have been based on widespread contemporary practice. However, the ‘paddhati’ or norm, need not be viewed as rigidly set or imperative. Long time listeners can point out varied patterns over a period. In the ‘golden age’ dominated by highly gifted vocalists (particularly during their ‘heydays’) the accompanists were known to have played their role with ‘propriety’. This was more so in the case of the ‘unpredictables’ (read geniuses), not to talk of those with ‘eccentric’ tendencies! Which violinist could have scored satisfactory marks in anticipating the manodharma of Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer or would have dared to anticipate in alapana or niraval by Flute Mali? There would have been some instances similar to ‘Yaazhmuri’! (I heard a concert recording in which, a Sangeeta Kalanidhi violinist ‘gave up’ his attempts to reproduce Mali’s alapana phrases, pleading that the flautist do it all on his own: “Neengale vaasicchudungo”! In the case of Madurai Mani Iyer, it was a package of continuously flowing melody, blending the vocal and the violin, without such pronounced breaks, as in the case of most others. He also used to butt in to supplement the violinist, in a sense keeping the flow ‘on track’. It is common knowledge that the standard in instrumental music talent has grown higher over the years. The balance is getting restored to some extent, with the emergence of some highly accomplished vocalists now getting established. Even in the current scenario, different styles can be pointed out.

There are violinists who just keep moving the bow softly during the alapana, playing the last phrase in each sequence, without trying to anticipate each phrase and interfering with the flow of the ideas of the vocalist. The equipment and attitude of the violinist, as well as the relative stature of the main and the accompanying artists, are among the important deciding factors. When the accompanist is part of a regular team and the main artist is known to follow a set pattern generally, anticipation can be expected to a considerable extent. At times, such a violinist may also take on a filling up role to mask the limitations of the main artist. Again, when an up-and-coming A Response ‘Paddhati’ not as rigid as portrayed musician opts to ride piggyback on ‘famous’ names for accompaniment, he asks for trouble and cannot complain too much. The amplification arrangements, with all the shortcomings and ignorance about balancing, play their part in the ‘aural confusion’, if not cacophony. To avoid any such problem, a famous contemporary vocalist is known to opt for unknown or little known artists for accompaniment and keep the ‘mike management’ in his own hands. Another leading vocalist, treading the classical and the light genres with equal ease, takes full control of the system, planting personal equipment and operating personnel as well. A variety of measures, including the sensitising of the audience, seem necessary to improve the situation. Of course, the pattern can never be uniform.