Congratulations to Shri T. V. Gopalakrishnan on being appointed as the Sangeetha Kalanidhi designate for 2014 by the Madras Music Academy! This is a richly deserved title to a multifaceted genius.
My experience with TVG sir is primarily as a mrudangam maestro. I have had the privilege of hearing him play live in Chennai several times, and each is an unforgettable experience. Even at his age, his speed, vigor, and stamina are indescribable. He has pioneered new playing techniques on the mrudangam, including new ways to play melodic notes on the thoppi (left or bass side). He pioneered a new type of drumhead for the valanthalai (right or treble side), the kambi type (complementary to the traditional kucchi or kappi). The kambi valanthalai is prepared by insertion of a very thin metal (usually copper) wire underneath the meetu skin. My mrudangam maker in Chennai has told me that these are extremely difficult to make, as the wire is prone to puncturing the skin (once the skin has a hole, it loses any ability to make the desired sound). But when done properly, these mrudangams are renowned for their rather exaggerated sound in the dhin and chapu strokes. Their harmonics can last up to 20 seconds!
TVG sir also uses a wooden stand for the mrudangam, as opposed to the traditional posture of resting the instrument on the calf of the right leg.
(Chittibabu (veena) with a young T. V. Gopalakrishnan on mrudangam)
TVG sir is also an excellent vocalist and violinist. Unfortunately I have not had the opportunity yet to hear his violin, but Vidwan S. Varadarajan is his most famous violin student and is a torchbearer of TVG sir’s style of violin playing.
On the other hand, I have had the good fortune to hear TVG sir’s vocal music. My aunt worked with him for a year or so and helped him publish a book on voice culture. Around that time, I attended TVG sir’s lecdem at the Madras Music Academy (during the December 2007 music season) on different types of thanam. My aunt helped prepare the powerpoint slides for the lecdem. I vividly recall TVG sir’s demonstration of the various aspects of thanam, as taught to him by Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. Most notably, I remember him demonstrating a type of thanam sounding like that of a frog croaking! Not surprisingly, he received the best lecture demonstration award that year, if my memory serves me correctly.
(TVG (vocal), L Shankar? (violin), and Palghat Raghu (mrudangam))
TVG sir has several mrudangam students, but so far the ones I have heard are Ambur Padmanabhan and Vijay Natesan. I distinctly remember last December Vijay Natesan performed with Bharat Sundar at the Music Academy; after a brilliant thani by Vijay Natesan, I saw TVG sir get up and leave…but not before giving his student a big two thumbs up!
This is a thani from a concert of Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna in Bombay (don’t know what year or sabha, unfortunately). The uniqueness of TVG sir’s style is amply evident here.