Thursday, August 28, 2014

Songs of emotion

Seen, Heard Read


Many of the recent concerts I attended have been emotionally rewarding. The first was a memorial tribute to a rasika, R Venkateswaran, a regular in the Chennai kutcheri circuit for several decades, who was at some sabha hall almost every evening of that period, taking bus rides, share autos and the like to reach his destination from his West Mambalam residence.

A chemical engineer and materials management expert, he was described by a friend as an asura rasika, meaning a monster of a rasika. The friend of course meant it as a compliment, and there was much to commend in Venkateswaran’s devotion to music and literature (I learnt of his considerable interest in the latter only posthumously, though). S Sivakumar, freelance journalist, and Kulkarni, rasika and founder of the very popular music site were among the speakers on the occasion. 
As warmly and affectionately rendered as the speeches was Sriram Parasuram’s vocal recital, accompanied by Sertalai Ananthakrishnan on the mridangam, KV Gopalakrishnan on the khanjira, and Gurumurti Vaidya on the tabla. Rendering both Carnatic and Hindustani ragas and compositions, Sriram Parasuram was at his evocative best in his Marubihag essay, as well as his twin offering of Sriranjani and Bageshree.
This consummate violinist is a marvel in the seamless manner he can straddle the two Indian classical systems, investing every phrase with the appropriate rasa. His exposition of the ragas and the musical and social milieu of the songs was lucid as ever, and he even stopped midway to share a few thoughts with the audience about the honouree of the evening. Sertalai Anantakrishnan’s  nuanced percussion  was a revelation.
I spoke at a recent community listening event of concert recordings of Madurai Mani Iyer at PS Higher Secondary School, Mylapore, in a long series conducted month after month, year after year, by his diehard fans including Venugopalan and Vishnu Ramprasad, who developed and maintains the portal The devotion with which the audience and organizers together participate in a collective celebration of Mani Iyer’s soul-stirring brand of  music is probably unique in the world of commemorative listening, resembled perhaps only by the following enjoyed by the likes of MD Ramanathan.
During my talk, I wondered aloud if Mani Iyer had cracked the genetic code of raga music, sp full of the essence of Hamsadhwani were every swara and every phrase of the raga was the Vatapi Ganapatim bhaje we heard that evening. “What is it about Mani Iyer’s music that unites so many of us here today,” I asked ? “I have been mulling over this question ever since Sri Venugopal asked me to speak here. And the answer seemed to come to me out of the blue, when I was listening to Anil Srinivasan play some gorgeous western music on the piano at Kalakshetra a few days ago. Among other things, he played Mozart’s Twinkle, twinkle little star, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, some Bach, Chopin, Schubert, preludes, nocturnes and so on. Much of the music was celebratory of nature, tender, even cheerful, but there was no stopping the tears welling up in your eyes. 
Doesn’t the pure voice of Madurai Mani Iyer have the same impact on us, whether he is singing Tiruvadi saranam, or Eppo varuvaro, or Subrahamanyena rakshitoham, Ka va va, or Rangapura vihara, or even the English note. To touch the heart, melt it, you do not necessarily need profound sentiments, words of bhakti, to bolster your singing, though those will obviously move us when rendered in a clear, unsullied, sruti-perfect voice as well.
In the case of a good soul such as Mani Iyer, profound, deeply evocative music emerges not merely from his throat, his lungs or his diaphragm, but from his heart, his whole being. It is an expression of the ananda, the bliss he experiences in music. In Carnatic music, I can only think of one other vocalist who had the same impact on the listener, no matter what the composition or context. And that was MS Subbulakshmi.
Listening to Sanjay Subrahmanyan in concert with S Varadarajan (violin) and Arjun Ganesh (mridangam) for the Vidya Mandir Alumni Association on 17 August at the Music Academy was a similar experience. Sanjay was in excellent voice and mood, probably buoyed by the experience of singing for his alma mater and his old schoolmates. If his Sankarabharanam raga alapana followed by Swara raga sudha was a grand tour de force, the raga in which his handling of the lower reaches revealed a new strengthening of his voice, altogether more sonorous and vibrant than in the past, his variations while emoting the different bhavas of the later songs of the concert like Chinnan chiru kiliye were at once majestic and evocative, without resorting to sentimentality. He was in effect combining the vocal gravitas that Carnatic music demands with the rasanubhava usually more explicit in the popular genres of music than in the classical tradition. The violin and mridangam were a perfect foil to the voice, making it a true concert.

1 comment:

S Venugopalan said...