Mridangam artist Delhi Sairam and his vocalist wife Chaitrra Sairam are a rare couple in Carnatic music. Sairam (DS) accompanied Chaitrra (C) in a concert for the first time 2001 and they were married in 2008. It was their shared passion, Carnatic music, that brought them together. They speak with respect for each other’s talent and their mutual influence has evidently helped them immensely in their musical pursuits.
Tell me about your journey in music so far.
C: I was initiated into Carnatic music at a very young age. Music has been part of my genes. My great grandfather was a musician in Mysore, Sri C Rangiah. My mother was my first guru. I learnt from various teachers before coming under the tutelage of my current guru Bombay Jayashri Akka. I have been learning from her for the last 12 years.
DS: Unlike my wife, I am the first musician in my family. My talent was first noticed by my parents when I used to tap on vessels and walls. My first guru was Sri TR Dhandapani in Delhi, where I lived for the first 16 years of my life. I started learning from Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam Sir in 1997 and have been his student since.
Please describe the experience so far.
C: Learning from Akka has been one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. She taught me how to enjoy music, the different nuances to be enjoyed and how to present the music in a way that others can experience the same joy. Without her, I would not know how deep and vast this ocean of music is. Akka gives all her students the freedom to explore different aspects of music. As I have studied psychology, music therapy is an area I would like to do further research in. I believe music has the power to heal people and I am keen to use my musical knowledge to do the same.
DS: It has been nothing short of wonderful! In fact, moving to Chennai and learning under Sir was the big break for me. I should thank Vinayakram Sir for this opportunity. When my first guru learnt about my decision to move to Chennai, he suggested I learn from Vinayakram Sir. As he was busy with other commitments, he suggested I go T.V Gopalakrishnan Sir or Bhaktavatsalam Sir. I contacted the latter first and he readily accepted me as his student. I would not have a career in mridangam if not for him; he has been my source of inspiration in many ways.
What is your schedule like during the year?
DS: I spend most of my year performing. Since 2009, I have been going to Canada to teach at Sir’s music school. I usually leave in the month of May and return in August. Apart from teaching, I also perform with artists visiting Canada. I had the privilege of performing with Sir and Sri V.V. Subramaniam and Sri V.V.S. Murari in 2009. I have performed with Sri Sikkil Gurucharan and Sri Sashank Subramanyam since. My wife also travels with me. We are part-time lecturers at this music school called Kalaikovil Academy of Fine Arts.
Your most memorable concert experience?
DS: One of them would have to be my first overseas concert tour with Smt Ranjani-Gayatri. We had 23 concerts in the USA. It was humbling to see rasikas drive for two to three hours from other cities to listen to our kutcheri, an inspiring, unforgettable experience. Another memorable experience was accompanying in a double mridangam concert; that was also my first kutcheri with him. We performed with Sri Suryaprakash at the Raghavendra temple in Tiruvallur.
C: Travelling with Akka to Europe for her concerts was definitely special. I learnt a great deal about choosing appropriate songs for the audience and venue, creating a rapport with the listeners and about being a professional artist. Performing along with her in Malaysia also holds a special place in my heart.
How has marriage to a musician helped you?
C: We both never run out of things to say to each other and it’s mainly because of music. We have so much to share and understand. Having him in my life has given a different colour to my music. His influence has helped my music to be distinct from my fellow Jayashree disciples; it is more laya oriented. As a vocalist, I was always concerned about pleasing the audience. I learnt from him that it is just as important to have a good understanding with the co-artists on stage too. Understanding the traits of the mridangam and violin players helps to enhance the concert and listening experience.
Another important lesson I learnt from him is the need to finish a song at the same speed in which I started it. I tend to get excited on stage when handling quick brigas or singing swarams in the second kalam, resulting in an increase in tempo. He pointed it out to me that such fluctuations in tempo can pose problems ideal for the mridangam player.
Do you perform together regularly?
DS: We don’t perform together regularly in Chennai. We do not want to get too used to each other on stage, too predictable, as we practise together regularly at home.
C: And that might make the concert experience a tad boring for both of us. I might expect him to cover up my flaws on stage and it is not wise for me to get used to such comforts. Performing with other co-artists will force me to work on my weaker aspects and have varied inputs to my music.
DS: However, when we perform out of Chennai, we travel together as it is also an excuse for a good holiday!
What changes do you see in the music scenario?
D: I think creativity has increased tremendously over the years. There are many opportunities to perform now and that motivates the performers to think of new songs or new interpretations to the old songs. Even when we look at the mridangam; back in the day, people did not play korvais as extensively as they do now. The music has evolved technically and creatively to suit the audience’s taste.
C: The need to do something new has become a must now. The audience does not want to come back to listen to the same music. Everyone demands something different; a new collaboration, or a fresh approach or a novel idea. While the current music industry offers many opportunities and platforms, it has become harder now to carve a niche for oneself. The artist has to have a distinct strength to stand out and grasp the audience’s attention