Song of Surrender

Friday, 23 February 2018


Sruti, February 2018

Carnatic music has been going through a longish phase of a relative lack of interest in instrumental music concerts despite recent attempts at veena or nagaswaram festivals. Perhaps it is time for organisers and musicians to find new ways of attracting audiences to these programmes. Does the answer lie in the inclusion of specific compositions for instrumental music in concerts otherwise offering the usual spread of well established kritis the audience can identify? Artists like Ganesh-Kumaresh, and surely other instrumentalists, have achieved some success in such ventures. Even if the core value of instrumental Carnatic music is represented by the gayaki style of playing, the strengths and unique qualities of different instruments are exploited to the hilt by their best exponents. Examples abound among both wind and string instruments. Veena concerts at their best do make the best use of the instrument’s special affinity for tanam playing. The flute is of course at its most exciting when it is not merely song-oriented, but while offering a variety of rivetting soundscapes in its manodharma segments. The violin in the hands of a master can convince you that it was made for Carnatic music.

How do we bring instrumental music centrestage? Does the answer lie in specially curated, properly publicised chamber concerts which give the audience a total listening experience? Ideally, these should be acoustic concerts, played on acoustic instruments.

One of the innovations of the past two decades has been the preponderance of contact microphones adopted by veena players, violinists, even ghatam players! Some of us do not enjoy the sound produced by microphone-aided instruments, and seriously wish our favourite musicians would go back to playing ‘unplugged’. Elsewhere in this issue, however, a critic has expressed his pleasure at listening to the sound of a particular artist’s veena with a contact microphone. Is it a case of the artist finding the correct microphone which produces the appropriate tone, which would mean that the problem lies with the tonal quality produced rather than the amplification itself?

We at Sruti spoke some years ago to a violinist of repute about the possibility of his taking part in concerts giving as much importance and time to the instrumentalist as the vocalist, practically offering a vocalist-violinist jugalbandi of sorts. The violinist thought it was an idea worth pursuing, which we failed to do, but T.M. Krishna’s concerts in recent years have been offering greater scope for the violinist, in fact, equal opportunity. Especially when he leaves the onus of the raga alapana or tanam to the violinist, he also avoids the risk of boredom or repetitiveness that can occur when the violin plays follow the leader. In an ideal vocal-instrumental jugalbandi, we could have the two artists playing individually for about half an hour each, before they come together as a duo after that, as is fairly common in Hindustani music.

The well trained human voice with sruti suddham and deep emotional appeal can touch a chord in a certain type of listener. Here I refer not to the impact of lyrics soaked in bhakti but to the ability of raga music to move the aesthetically evolved rasika, and there is no reason why such rasanubhava cannot be experienced in instrumental music. It is time to present such music regularly to the listening public.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

V. G. Jog

                                                              Birthdays & Anniversaries

22.2.1922 - 31.1.2004

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Imitation Gold

By V Ramnarayan

Ponnadai! What magic the word wrought, when as a kid, you read it in Tamil historical novels or poetry! Everytime you came across a raja honouring a poet in sheer amazement at his extraordinary talent, you imagined a robe as resplendent as the shower of gold coins with which he rewarded him. After all, the word ponnadai meant a golden garment or golden shawl, didn't it?

I saw a ponnadai in real life for the first time perhaps in the 1980s. It was no golden shawl, but it was silk, a nice tan colour and had a zari border. It was something someone might have happily worn over his jibba without feeling seriously embarrassed. This was at a function to honour a musician.

Since then, I have seen many shawls through the decades, shawls that dignitaries wrapped around other dignitaries on the dais (or dias, to be more precise), not to mention yours truly. These once second rate pieces of cloth have got steadily cheaper and uglier, so that they are now worse than third rate in colour, texture and overall quality, so gaudy that you need protective eyewear to look at them, so flimsy that they come apart in your hands even before you descend from the stage. 

What does the receiver of a ponnadai do with it? I tried giving mine away to the watchman, rickshawwallah and milkman, but none of them was interested. They invariably said, "This is totally useless, sir. Who'll want it?" Can't you use it as a blanket?" I asked one of them. The withering look he gave me was in the Ajit or Rajnikant class of sarcasm and subtle warning. A musician I met the other day recalled how an organiser pounced on him after he wrote to his sabha that instead of decorating him with a shawl they could give the Rs. 100 or so to charity. Another friend of mine confesses that she consigns shawls to the nearest dustbin, often inside airports if she has received them while travelling. "In the US, NRIs insist on inflicting cheap shawls they bought in Chennai on us!"

There was a theory some years ago that the shawl draped around you today is perhaps a second hand one, something an earlier recipient disposed of in the flea market. I am informed by a very reliable source that this is standard practice in the film industry. At best it is a ponnadai that the sabha secretary was adorned with last month and kept safe for the person he has decided to "honour" today. At worst, I think it is an atrocious insult delivered to its innocent recipient. The insult is compounded by the casual so-called felicitation address by someone who has no clue who you are, and sometimes turns to you and asks you to fill in the blanks when he forgets your name or initialsall this while two other so-called dignitaries on the stage are engaged in their own loud conversation. Humiliatingly, the crowd in the audience begins to grow from 20 or so to a decent number towards the end of the function, because there's a concert scheduled to follow.

If India ever develops a national culture policy (something we haven't done in 70m years), I hope the first casualty will be this disgusting practice. Ban ponnadais!

Monday, 19 February 2018

Theatre Olynpics

A protest by a playwright

Click below to read an article by Sunil Shanbag in the New Indian Express

MS Anantharaman passes away

Violin maestro Parur MS Anantharaman is no more.


We are deeply distressed to receive news of the death of violin great M.S. Anantharaman, early morning on 19.2.2018 at Chennai.

Born on 26 August 1924 in Madras, Anantharaman was a son and disciple of Parur A. Sundaram Iyer, the eminent violinist and pioneering guru responsible for the spread of the violin beyond Carnatic music into Hindustani music as well. Anantharaman received training in playing the veena as well as the violin, and in Hindustani music. 

A long-time exponent, Anatharaman besides giving solo recitals and trio concerts with his two violin-playing sons, accompanied many renowned musicians in their performances in India and abroad. A teacher with a fine reputation, he served the Tamil Nadu Government Music College in Chennai as professor of violin from 1962 to 1983. Subsequently, he taught in Pittsburgh, U.S.A., for some time.

Anantharaman was honoured with the Kalaimamani award of the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram, the T.T.K memorial award of the Music Academy (1996) and the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1998). He was the Asthana Vidwan of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.