I’m slowly starting to get the hang of this blogging thing; if these last few posts seem to have relatively low content, it’s because I’ve been a bit occupied with other stuff lately.
I’ve been watching this clip a lot lately while I’m working. It’s a rendition of the song Atukarada, in ragam Manoranjani. The mrudangist is Bangalore Arjun Kumar, and A. S. Murali and Pramoth Kiran (I think?) are on the ghatam and morsing, respectively. It’s a recording by Jaya TV from a concert in Cleveland in 2007. Arjun Kumar’s playing in this clip is phenomenal, as usual. He’s one of my favorite mrudangists lately; I make it a point to listen to a few of his concerts every year in December. The amount of hard work and practice he has put in shows in every single stroke he plays. His playing for the anupallavi (2nd stanza) of the song is especially noteworthy, with the mel kalam (fast) phrases he plays being highly reminiscent of Karaikudi Mani. It’s not easy to play with that kind of clarity at that speed, and it’s even harder to shuffle phrases around like he does while at that speed (I say this from experience).
I remember vividly that I was going to go to Cleveland that year for the Thyagaraja Aradhana; when I got to the airport, I missed my flight and then ended up misplacing and losing my carry-on bag! I was rescheduled to go on the next flight out, but then decided to cancel my ticket since I had gotten spooked by having 2 mishaps in succession. I ended up using the rest of that day to complete my graduate school applications. Coincidence or intervention by a higher power? We’ll never know…
I really like Jayanthi’s style of veena playing; unfortunately the veena as an instrument is becoming less and less popular lately. Less people seem to be learning it, and so there are less artists to go around, and even lower numbers of rasikas who are willing to listen to a veena concert. The casualties are especially bad outside of India, since foreign students prefer to learn something a little more mainstream (like violin). This also explains the rapid rise in popularity of playing Carnatic music on the keyboard.
I also share the sentiment that the keyboard will not become a classical instrument to rival the violin, mrudangam, veena etc. I say this because there is, in my opinion, a degree of physical training required to become a good musician. In vocal music, voice culture is part and parcel of the training. The long hours of practice required shape the voice and help build breath control and better lung capacity, among other things. Practicing mrudangam, violin, and veena also requires enormous training of the muscles in the fingers for the very fine movements required. In addition, sitting with the instruments is not easy to begin with! Keyboard, on the other hand, requires none of these. This lowers the bar considerably in terms of accessibility for novice students, but because of the relative ease of effort in playing the instrument, more people can reach a “performing” level, so to speak, and it becomes more difficult to impress rasikas.
Of course, I could just be extremely conservative. I’m sure people were saying the same thing about the Mandolin until U. Srinivas came along, and he sure showed them!