musings on music and life

January 31, 2013

Food for thought

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: — sankirnam @ 4:33 pm

Why should a successful [Carnatic or other classical] musician still make less than a professor who is doing unoriginal, derivative work? If the contribution to society is being measured, then the musician has produced greater value through the happiness provided, compared to the mediocre achievements of the professor. We as a community should invest more into our culture.


January 21, 2013

Upcoming concerts!

Filed under: Carnatic Music — Tags: — sankirnam @ 9:58 am

2013 is getting off to a good start!


Grand House Concert 30

January 15, 2013

On The December 2012 Music season

Filed under: Carnatic Music — Tags: — sankirnam @ 4:20 pm

I got back from Chennai about 2 weeks ago and didn’t really have time to pen down my thoughts on the music season until now, so now that I have a few minutes, I’m getting around to doing so.

The 2011 Music season was interesting because it was evident that we were in changing times; the younger generation of musicians was coming up and slowly starting to displace the older generation. The tastes of rasikas was in Chennai was slowly changing to reflect that, as the younger artists started to draw more crowds and attract people who would have otherwise attended the concerts of the old timers. By this season, the shift was essentially complete. In 2011, the younger generation of vocalists, including my friend Saketharaman, Sikkil Gurucharan, Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna, and Abishek Raghuram among others, had been promoted to the senior slots in most sabhas (such as the Music Academy). Senior mrudangam vidwans were playing concerts for them regularly, including Umayalpuram Sivaraman sir and my guru Neyveli Narayanan sir among others.

By the time this season rolled around, the next set of musicians, including Bharath Sundar and my friends Ramakrishnan Murthy and Sandeep Narayan had also become very popular. Bharath Sundar won the Carnatic Idol competition in its inaugral season, thus promoting him to instant fame. Raam and Sandeep, through hard work and consistently performing at a high level, had also achieved a celebrity status of sorts among the Carnatic community. I was not able to attend their music academy concerts this season due to other commitments, but I had heard through the grapevine that they performed to a full house. They also both won awards at the sadas this year for the second year in a row, which is not a trivial accomplishment.

In any case, as usual, the majority of my time was spent attending concerts. This is the only way for any musician to learn new things and get exposed to new ideas. Attending concerts is also essential in order to hear the real standard that people perform Carnatic music at in Chennai; what you have in other parts of the world will naturally be diluted and of a lesser standard. Regular exposure to the Chennai music scene is essential in order to mentally maintain that level. That being said, this time I got to hear 3 concerts by Abishek Raghuram, the “boy wonder” of Chennai (although I shouldn’t say that since he is older than I am). In one concert in Karthik Fine Arts, he sang a 28 minute Kalyani alapana, and in Mylapore Fine Arts, he did a Shankarabharanam RTP for the main piece, where the ragam and thanam went for 55 minutes! The beauty of Abishek’s music is that when he does such elaborate raga explorations, there is never a dull moment. There is never a time where you feel like he is repeating himself and the concert tempo is sagging. The highlight of the season would have to be a concert of his I attended in Adyar where my guru played for him. That concert featured Paalimpa (Arabhi) and the main piece was Kaligiyunte (Kiravani), with fast-paced kalpana swarams in khanda nadai.


Abishek Raghuram (vocal, middle), B. U. Ganesh Prasad (violin, right), Neyveli Narayanan (mrudangam, left). Me and Abishek Iyer (another student of Narayanan sir) are sitting on the stage as well.

As mentioned earlier, I also performed several concerts in Chennai this year, and just like the last season, one of them ended up being reviewed in the Hindu. Unfortunately, the reviewer was too critical and ended up liberally tearing apart Akshay’s music. I have an issue with these types of overly critical reviews, in that they are not helpful at all to the main artist. Rather, it almost seems like an exercise to see how far he or she can go with publicly humiliating someone! The other thing is that nobody knows the credentials of these critics. They may turn out to simply be casual rasikas! Critics should only be people who are equally qualified as those performing on stage, and even then, the best course of action is to keep your mouth shut! All musicians know this, as we all have enormous respect for each other, since only we know the amount of hard work and effort that goes in to getting to that level. Even then, when on the stage, anything can happen since the art is highly improvisational, which is why all artists have respect for “the stage”. My friend Arun Ramamurthi (whose name was misspelled in the article as “Ramamurthy”) played violin, and fortunately we were left unscathed.

EDIT: I found that Akshay has uploaded one song from our concert here:

The other thing I did during the season was record concerts that I attended. I have been doing this regularly every December. In previous seasons, I would make recordings on my old iPod (with the iTalk) addition. That setup was pretty good – the audio quality was surprisingly good, although it did leave a lot of features to be desired. Finally, in 2009, I purchased a Zoom H4n recorder as an upgrade. I decided it would be worth it to splurge on something high-end if I was going to get mileage out of it. I didn’t have the opportunity to properly field-test it until this season, and I have been very satisfied with the results. In closed environments (such as small rooms or mini-halls), the quality is exceptional. Listening with headphones or on a good stereo system basically reproduces the effect of listening live. However, when making outdoor recordings, the sensitive microphones on the unit also pick up the sound of moving air (this can also happen when sitting under a fan indoors). This problem can be remedied by putting the wind screen (which comes with the unit) on top of the mics. I didn’t bring that with me to Chennai but will be sure to do so next time. The issue with using that is that is makes the unit, which is already pretty big, even more conspicuous. I had several people come up to me after concerts asking me for copies of the recording since they had seen me sitting with a recorder in my hand!

There’s more that I want to discuss, but that will be for next time.

January 9, 2013

internet fame

Filed under: Carnatic Music, Internet craziness — Tags: — sankirnam @ 9:36 am

Well, not really. But someone did add my name to the list of “current mridangam players” in wikipedia (as of January 6, 2013)


I’m flattered that it comes under Tiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam’s name too. This is just to set the record straight that I did not add my name! I’m not that narcissistic…

Also, my dream of getting in a shot edgewise during a Jaya TV program was realized last year:

(see between 2:45-2:50).


January 6, 2013

on M. S. Gopalakrishnan

Filed under: Carnatic Music — sankirnam @ 11:49 pm

I just got back from the December music festival in Chennai a few days ago, and while I did have a blast as usual, there were certain developments that painted a somber mood over the whole occasion. Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away a few days after I arrived in Madras, and during the middle of the season, the tragedy involving Nithyashree Mahadevan’s husband occurred (which I will not go into for privacy reasons). And finally, the night I left, to my shock, I heard through facebook that the esteemed violin vidwan Sangita Kalanidhi Padma Bhushan M. S. Gopalakrishnan had passed away.

M. S. Gopalakrishnan (or MSG as he is popularly referred to by Carnatic rasikas) was one of the foremost violin vidwans of his day, and belonged to the Parur school of violin playing. This bani was first established by his father, Parur Sundaram Iyer, but it was M. S. Gopalakrishnan who took it to unparalleled heights. One of the trademarks of this bani is the fact that all vidwans in it are proficient in both Carnatic and Hindustani music. In fact, MSG had also performed Hindustani concerts, both solo violin, and accompanying famous artists, including Pandit Omkarnath Takur and others. In the Carnatic idiom, MSG was considered one of the top violinists, and was one of the “violin trinity”, which also includes Lalgudi G. Jayaraman and T. N. Krishnan. MSG had accompanied all the leading artists of the “golden era” of Carnatic Music, including GNB, Madurai Mani Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Dr. Balamuralikrishna, Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, Voleti Venkateswarulu, T. N. Seshagopalan and others. His best concerts, however, in my opinion, were with Thanjavur S. Kalyanaraman and Ramnad Krishnan.


Picture of a concert featuring Nedunuri Krishnamurthy (vocal, center), M. S. Gopalakrishnan (violin, right), Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman (mrudangam, left), and T. H. Vinayakram (ghatam, behind Sivaraman sir). The Malladi Brothers can also be seen in the back.

I am not an expert on violin, so I cannot comment on the technicalities of MSG’s playing. Nonetheless, from what I have heard from some of his students, his playing methods and fingering style were very novel, incorporating aspects of Western and Hindustani music as well. In my opinion, MSG’s approach to violin playing differs fundamentally from that of Lalgudi and TNK. While they used the gayaki style in their playing in order to approximate vocal music to the maximum extent possible, MSG did not do so. Instead, his method of violin playing was purely instrumental, making his style of playing very distinct. In fact, when I started listening to Carnatic music seriously, he was one of the first violinists I was able to identify accurately, due to the uniqueness of his style of playing. MSG was also famous for being able to play the Kalyani Ata thala varnam on one string of the violin! His solo concerts and recordings are masterpieces, especially the ones where Trichy Sankaran has accompanied him.

The combination of MSG and SKR (Thanjavur S. Kalyanaraman) was one of the most successful combinations in Carnatic Music, as I mentioned earlier. This is because both artists had open minds about using Hindustani approaches to music within the Carnatic idiom. One example of this is included here:

This is from a 1970 Krishna Gana Sabha concert, with Karaikudi Mani on mrudangam. SKR announces the ragam as Deepali, which is one of a set of “dwi-madhyama” ragas that were created and popularized by him. But listen to the taans (fast-paced akara phrases) at the end. This is typical of Hindustani music. The speed and accuracy of Kalyanaraman’s taans is mindblowing, but what is even more amazing is the uncanny ease with which MSG is able to match him!

Ramnad Krishnan’s music, on the other hand, represents the purest form of Carnatic music. This is because he learned from Brinda and Mukta, and was heavily influenced by the Dhannamal school of music. Even there, MSG’s playing brings a new dimension and depth to rakthi ragams, such as Bhairavi, Kalyani, Shankarabharanam, Thodi, and others. His Madhyamavathi from a 1969 Music Academy concert is unforgettable, but I have included here a Sahana from a 1968 Music Academy concert.

Even the purists cannot fault his playing, which is why the Madras Music Academy fittingly bestowed upon MSG the Sangita Kalanidhi in 1998.

I consider myself fortunate that I got to see MSG perform live several times. I have also seen him perform live with my guru Neyveli Narayanan sir. In fact, there is a famous Doordharshan program of MSG featuring Neyveli Narayanan on mrudangam, and I used to see it on the TV frequently when I was in Chennai. Part of that is included here:

I’ll publish my thoughts on the 2012 music season within the next few days…

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