Embar Kannan – Melody and Versatility
Embar Kannan, a violinist who straddles the worlds of classical Carnatic music, Western classical music, cinema music and other non-classical genres both as a violinist and a composer. Quite rare that a young musician has mastered the violin so well and walks the path with assurance and comfort. He can sing well too. Personable on stage and melodious with his music, Kannan is one of the few who can wear many hats with ease and grace and is a much sought after violinist.
Embar Kannan was born on 19 February 1975, in a house that was ringing with music. His father Embar Sadagopan was a Sangeetha Bhooshanam from Annamalai University and was taught by T.K. Rangachari and S.V. Parthasarathy. He moved with family to Chennai in 1973, after working in many places down south like Trichy, Devakottai and so on. Kannan’s father started working as a music teacher in a government school in Chennai from 1973 onwards. It was interesting to note that the then Chief Minister M.G.Ramachandran had made music, a compulsory subject in government schools and had appointed well trained musicians as teachers to teach the subject. Mother Padmasini was an employee of the TN Electricity Board. His two sisters Lalita and Geeta also learnt vocal music under Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan and Tiruvengadu Jayaraman. One of them completed BA in Music from Queen Mary’s college and the other a Music Diploma from The Music College, Adyar.
into music and the violin
Even as a toddler, while Kannan was playing with his toys, he was exposed to listening to music being played on a Panasonic cassette player, especially Lalgudi Jayaraman’s violin concerts, as his father had an eternal admiration for him. The father did well to instill music into the young brain of his son, for later on, a musician of merit was to evolve!
Kannan’s father took his daughters to Lalgudi’s house once. At that time Lalgudi Gopala Iyer told him to teach violin to one of them. Though the idea was a good one, the prevailing circumstances did not permit them to do so. Years later Gopala Iyer’s prophetic suggestion, materialised into reality through Embar Kannan.
The violin literally attached to him, by process of elimination says Kannan. With a keen sense of humour that is characteristic of him, he recalls that he was a puny child and it took an effort to make him strong. So, when the thought of getting him to learn music was being discussed, the flute was ruled out thinking he may not have enough lung power. Mridangam was ruled out thinking it requires stamina to play and carry it around. So, the violin was the next best choice he says. However, since the family had relocated to Chennai and were still finding their feet, they could not figure out easily as to how to make this wish, a reality. They found a violin tutor in Subbanna Bhagavathar, a violinist in West Mambalam, who taught Kannan the primer lessons. They would hire a violin on rent for these sessions. As the teaching progressed to playing the Geetam, Kannan’s father, a vocalist himself, felt that the gamakas taught by him for the Geetams were not to his liking, as they were swara based and didn’t take the sahitya along. Musically he knew the problem, but could not correct him on the violin, as he did not play the violin. So, he decided to stop the sessions and think ahead as to how to help Kannan learn better. He decided to approach vainika Raghavan, the grandfather of vocalist Sriram Parthasarathy, for suggestions. Raghavan asked a question, as to whether he would like to play the violin only in the Carnatic mode or expand his horizon by learning to play it in the Western classical mode too, as there would be scope to play for films and orchestras. He also added that it would be good to learn how to handle Western music in the violin, until they found a good teacher to teach the Carnatic style. Thus, the lessons under Diwakar, who was a sought-after name in the film world, began. Kannan says that till date it’s a puzzle, as to how his father who had no exposure to Western classical music or its technicalities, just relied on the suggestion made by Raghavan, whom he considered an experienced musician and a good mentor.
A violinist in the making
Kannan began enjoying the learning sessions, as Diwakar master would teach well and in the traditional way. The notations were not given to him in advance. He had to learn the piece, write the staff notation and get it corrected by the teacher. Only then could he go back home. The classes would be at 5 a.m. and Kannan would be ready in his uniform to go to his violin class and then to his school at Jawahar Vidyalaya, straight from there. On the side, he would constantly get to listen to music being sung at home, by his sisters and father and he would try and reproduce it in his violin. He also began singing, listening to his sisters. He recalls with a sense of amusement his first public singing session in class three for a school program, wherein he sang Nadanmudi mel irukkum naga paambe in Punnagavarali. He today cannot understand how he picked a difficult raga like that to sing and that too for the first public show, as a young boy!
(The author is a Carnatic vocalist, writer and management professional)