musings on music and life

April 25, 2013

STEM worker shortages debunked!

Filed under: Chemistry Jobs — Tags: — sankirnam @ 12:23 pm

The Economic Policy Institute just released the results of their studies on the “high-skill” US labor market, and came to some rather surprising results (well, it is really only surprising if you believe the tripe that Obama and the rest of Washington D.C. has been spewing).

To cut to the chase:

  •  the United States has more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations
  • The flow of U.S. students (citizens and permanent residents) into STEM fields has been strong over the past decade, and the number of U.S. graduates with STEM majors appears to be responsive to changes in employment levels and wages (in other words, the STEM labor market is just that. People (domestic workers/students) today don’t study STEM or go into STEM jobs simply because there is no money or security in those fields, compared to previous decades).
  • For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job (Proof that maybe we have *GASP* too many STEM graduates???)
  • In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations. These responses suggest that the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry (I really, really hope that the policymakers in DC are reading this. Can’t make it any plainer than this…)

And finally:

  • The immigration debate is complicated and polarizing, but the implications of the data for enacting high-skill guestworker policy are clear: Immigration policies that facilitate large flows of guestworkers will supply labor at wages that are too low to induce significant increases in supply from the domestic workforce (in other words, indiscriminately handing out H-1 visas will continuously depress salaries until the proletariat revolution takes place).

The article also states that the US produces a large number of internationally competitive STEM graduates; this is overlooked because everyone only looks at the statistical average, which is highly misleading in this case. The message needs to get out there.


April 22, 2013

In memory of Lalgudi G. Jayaraman

Filed under: Carnatic Music — Tags: — sankirnam @ 6:54 pm

Earlier this morning, the violin maestro Lalgudi G. Jayaraman passed away. This has been a very tragic year so far for Carnatic Music – first the loss of M. S. Gopalakrishnan, then renowned guru Sripada Pinakapani, and now Lalgudi G. Jayaraman. Music worldwide (not just Carnatic or Indian classical music) has lost a great musician who was also a genius, innovator, composer, performer and trailblazer on so many levels.

Lalgudi Jayaraman burst onto the music scene at a young age when he established himself as a performer of repute even as a teenager. There are legendary stories associated with his early years, such as how Palani Subramania Pillai staked his career backing Lalgudi Jayaraman (Palani stated that he would give up playing mrudangam forever if people found Lalgudi’s playing was not satisfactory!). Of course, as a performer in those days, he quickly became one of the top violin accompanists, and played for all the well-known top vidwans in Carnatic Music, including Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, GNB, Semmangudi, Madurai Mani Iyer, the Alathur Brothers, Sathur Subramaniam, Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, Voleti Venkateswarulu, among others. Special mention should be made of the GNB-LGJ-Palghat Raghu combination, which was one of the most enduring and successful combinations in music, lasting nearly 2 decades until GNB’s untimely demise in 1965.


(I couldn’t find a photo of GNB with Lalgudi and Palghat Raghu – this is with UKS sir).

Lalgudi Jayaraman’s accompaniment skills were legendary – he was blessed with a mind that could very quickly grasp and analyze what the main artist delivered and reproduce it or elaborate on it! Keep in mind that when doing kalpana swarams, often times you do not have time to think – this mental processing must be instantaneous. Thus, it is especially mindblowing when you listen to concerts with Lalgudi’s accompaniment and hear him not just reproduce swara patters exactly, but sometimes backwards too! Another thing to note is his posture, which is evident in the photo above. He sat with his back completely straight, and was utterly relaxed when playing the violin. This is in contrast to violin vidwans today, who hunch over their instrument, as if they are trying to make themselves as small as possible.

Lalgudi developed the gaayaki style of violin playing, which tried to emulate vocal music to the maximum degree possible. This is especially evident in his solo recordings, where he also uses the concept of vallinam-mellinam (loud and soft) to great effect in order to properly convey the rasa (mood) of the composition. Being from the town of Lalgudi, Jayaraman could trace his musical lineage back to Thyagaraja! In fact, there is a commercial solo concert recording of his from Krishna Gana Sabha in 1967 that features all of Thyagaraja’s “Lalgudi Pancharatnams”! These five krithis were composed by Thyagaraja in the village of Lalgudi in praise of the deities in the temple there; they remained in obscurity until they were bought to the musical limelight by Lalgudi Jayaraman. The krithis are:

1. Eesha Paahimam – Kalyani – Rupakam

2. Gathi Neevani – Thodi – Adi

3. Lalithe – Bhairavi – Adi

4. Mahita Pravruddha – Kambodhi – Triputa

5. Deva Shri – Madhyamavathi – Misra Chapu


(This is a picture of an old solo concert – Lalgudi Jayaraman and his sister Srimathi Brahmanandam, with double mrudangam. Palani Subramania Pillai on the right (left-handed) and Trichy Sankaran on the left (right-handed))

Lalgudi was also famous as a solo performer, and had given concerts all over the world with along with vidwans such as Vellore Ramabhadran, Trichy Sankaran, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Karaikudi Mani, and others. He had performed numerous concerts for All India Radio and Doordarshan, and some of these have been uploaded on Youtube.

This is a particularly famous recording that I remember vividly from my childhood days in Chennai, as it would come repeatedly in the morning on TV. For those who don’t know Tamil, the song is “Aadadu Asangadu Vaa Kanna” in Madhyamavathi, written by Oothakadu Venkatasubbuiyer. Karaikudi Mani sir is on mrudangam, and Srirangam Kannan is playing morsing. Vittal Ramamurthy is providing tambura in the back! Lalgudi Jayaraman’s son, GJR Krishnan, is playing along with his father.

Lalgudi Jayaraman was also a renowned teacher with many students to his credit. His son and daughter carry on the musical legacy of the family, and of course there are many other students in the younger and current generation of musicians, including Vittal Ramamurthy, Padma Shankar, Bombay Jayashri, S. P. Ramh, Sankari Krishnan, Saketharaman, and Vishaka Hari.

 And of course, one cannot have a discussion on Lalgudi Jayaraman without mentioning his numerous compositions. Unlike most composers, he lived to see his compositions achieve mass popularity! Lalgudi composed all kinds of classical Carnatic compositions, but he is most famous for his varnams and thillanas. Initially he used to perform these in his concerts, but over time, his students also started performing them, and soon musicians from other banis were also presenting them in concerts! Recordings of these are available commercially. Supposedly, Lalgudi Jayaraman had composed the rageshri thillana at the request of Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, and had composed the Pahadi thillana specially for Voleti Venkateswarulu, as he would best be able to bring out the beauty of the ragam.

This is a recording of the Pahadi thillana that I just mentioned, rendered by Voleti. Lalgudi is playing violin, and you can hear his verbal appreciation of how beautifully Voleti renders his composition! According to my records, this is from a 1978 Music Academy concert, with Trichy Sankaran on mrudangam.

This is a rendition of Thyagaraja’s Darini Telusukonti from one of Lalgudi’s violin concerts with his sister Srimathi Brahmanandam. This is simply an outstanding rendition, and amply demonstrates Lalgudi Jayaraman’s mastery of the gaayaki style; it’s almost as if the krithi is being sung! The sangathis in the charanam for the line “Rajithamanigaana…” are simply breathtaking, building up slowly and logically to dizzying speeds. The mrudangam accompaniment by Umayalpuram Sivaraman sir is also noteworthy. It is very unobtrusive and supportive, and blends with the song beautifully. He used a kappi mrudangam back then, as opposed to the kutchi mrudangams he uses today, and has a very clean tone, almost exactly like that of Palghat Mani Iyer! His thoppi handling is also special, serving to help maintain the thalam.

EDIT: This is from a 1969 Music Academy Concert (the main piece is an RTP in Thodi in misra jathi triputa thalam)

Finally, this is a song from G. N. Balasubramaniam’s last Academy concert (1964). He had just finished a stint in Trivandrum, and so this particular concert featured a few Swathi Tirunal krithis. The one here is a krithi in Begada, Kalayami Raghuramam. The support by GNB’s “two eyes”, Lalgudi and Palghat Raghu, is something unique.

Lecdem 4-21-2013

Filed under: Carnatic Music — Tags: — sankirnam @ 9:55 am

I gave a lec-dem yesterday on thalam aspects in Carnatic music at the invitation of some families in Irvine. It was very heartening to see the huge turnout and interest in our community in this subject – even though some people may say that laya aspects are very esoteric and difficult to grasp, there is still enormous interest in our community in rectifying the situation. This bodes very well for the future of Carnatic Music.

A lot of what I covered yesterday has already been mentioned in some detail in this blog. Starting with the fundamental nature of rhythm, derived from the periodicity and repetition of natural phenomena, I moved to an introduction of various thalams (rhythm cycles), and introduced the concept of jaathi and nadai. The crowd present was very mixed, with some people having substantially more knowledge than others, so it was a challenge to cater to everybody. The concept of different eduppus was also introduced. Just for fun, I also demonstrated a few tricks with the Bhairavi varnam Viriboni (including singing it in Adi thalam with chatusram and tisram). That very thing was what won Bharat Sundar the Carnatic Idol a few years ago – where’s my prize? I kid…

In the time allotted, that was all that could be covered. But, there were people in the audience who were interested in having more such lec-dems in order to cover more topics in greater depth.

April 7, 2013

lithations vs. grignard reactions

Filed under: Chemistry — Tags: — sankirnam @ 12:04 pm

I don’t know how common this is, but when I need to do nucleophilic alkylations or arylations I find myself reaching for the butyllithium instead of the magnesium. Even though Grignard reactions are more common and safer, they are also more tedious to carry out. It is easier to do a reaction where you just need one piece of glassware (in the case of a reaction with butyllithium, a schlenk flask), as opposed to a Grignard reaction, which requires a three-neck flask, reflux condensor, addition funnel, oil bath, and dewar for cooling.

Since Sheri Sangji’s death in December 2008, there has been a lot of negative hype surrounding the use of butyllithium (both n- and t-) in organic chemistry. This is, in my opinion, completely unfounded. They are both extremely valuable reagents in the laboratory, and can be used as strong bases on their own or for effecting lithium-halogen exchange. Lately, I have been using both these reagents almost daily for the latter reaction, and have not had any accidents at all. I remember one of the senior graduate students in my lab musing in January 2009 that “thousands of people worldwide use butyllithium everyday, and they don’t meet with accidents. This is just an outlier.” And that is probably the case. Of course, the drawback with the use of butyllithium is the safety factor, as mentioned above, as well as the inevitable degredation of solutions upon long-term storage, which requires titration every now and then. However, this is a small price to pay for being able to do a reaction in one pot, or “bucket chemistry” as some people call it.

Going back to the original topic, there are some substrates for which Grignard reactions are a poor choice, and the use of butyllithium is superior. For example, lately I have been doing a lot of work on aromatic -SF5 chemistry, and using 4-bromophenylsulfurpentafluoride as a building block. The metalation of this substrate is especially difficult with magnesium, as it requires a special entrainment method using CH3I according to the literature. However, lithium-bromide exchange proceeds readily with t-butyllithium at -78 C. Another example I found the hard way is 4-bromo-anisole. The preparation of p-anisylmagnesium bromide, although trivial on paper, is difficult in practice, as it requires long reflux times and highly activated magnesium (e.g. Rieke Mg). Lithium-bromide exchange with this substrate is again very trivial when t-butyllithium is employed at -78 C.

Also, the use of cerium in organic chemistry deserves some mention here. CeCl3 is a useful additive in nucleophilic reactions with easily enolizable ketones, as it suppresses the basicity of the nucleophile and increases it’s nucleophilicity (I don’t know off the top of my head if this actually been quantified by Herbert Mayr). There are very few ketones, however, for which it is actually required. In practice, a lot of ketones with α-protons are not quite as enolizable as one may think. Acetophenone works like a champ in my hands, as do 1-indanone and α-tetralone. β-tetralone, on the other hand, enolizes very easily, and all the reactions I have conducted with it without CeCl3 have resulted in poor yields (usually around 15%). Imamoto’s papers serve as a useful guide for this chemistry.

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