Musicians and their multiple talents

Carnatic musicians are undoubtedly creative. Sangita Kalanidhi designate S. Sowmya and vocalist Vidya Kalyanaraman make soaps in vibrant hues and fun shapes, Gayathri Girish puts up golus in the most mind-boggling themes, Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi captures stunning photographs of nature and writes poetry, and Krithika Natarajan makes colourful, hand-crafted jewellery. As much as I am awed by their creativity, I’m also inspired by their ability to devote time to the pursuit of a non-musical passion amidst their physically and intellectually exhausting performing, teaching, learning and practising schedules. I speak to two multi-talented musicians, senior vocalist Vasundhra Rajagopal (who runs A Pinch of Turmeric, a health and wellness website and store) and young Jayakrishnan Unni, disciple of Neyveli Santhanagopalan, and an accomplished artist and painter.

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Far from the Mylapore crowd

They grow up far from Chennai, the Carnatic homeland, but their passion for Carnatic music can put the best of Chennai-bred music students to shame. They don’t have as many listening, learning or performance opportunities as in Chennai, yet they become musicians to reckon with — performing alongside the crème de la crème of Chennai’s music scene.

What is it like to learn and perform Carnatic music as a second-generation immigrant? I find out from two talented vocalists, Vidya Kausik (a disciple of Smt. Bala Narasimhan in Toronto and Smt. D.K. Pattammal and Calcutta Shri K.S. Krishnamurthy in Chennai) and Manasa Suresh (a disciple of her mother Smt. Anu Suresh in the US and Shri P.S. Narayanaswamy in Chennai). Continue reading

For the love of Carnatic music – 2

Inspired by the incredible stories of British Carnatic music rasika and student Nick Haynes and Malaysian–Chinese vocalist Chong Chiu Sen that I published earlier, I asked readers to write to me about the craziest thing they have done for the love of Carnatic music. The responses I received were heart-warming (and I don’t mean the ones in which I was asked whether it was a ‘trick’ question and about ‘exclusivity and confidentiality clauses’!) — there is so much love for Carnatic music out there! Continue reading

For the love of Carnatic music

For someone who understands its intricacies, Carnatic music may appeal at an intellectual level — they may marvel at an artist’s expansive manodharma, recognise a rare sangathi when they hear one, appreciate a percussionist’s laya prowess, and so on. To others, it may appeal emotionally — they may not be able to identify ragas or understand the lyrics, yet it may tug at their heart strings, provide solace, and so on. But when the impact is so profound that it makes the listeners — non-Indians at that — travel half way across the world to Chennai in pursuit of the art, you know that it has gone beyond mere emotional or intellectual appeal. Carnatic music has transformed their lives.

This article presents the stories of two extraordinary gentlemen — British rasika and music student Nick Haynes, who has made Chennai his home, and Malaysian–Chinese vocalist Chong Chiu Sen, a disciple of the doyen Smt. D.K. Pattammal.

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Grooming without gurukulavasam

Gurukulavasam is acknowledged in the Carnatic music world as a very efficient system of knowledge transfer. From Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer to Dr S. Sowmya, it has produced some of the most brilliant Carnatic minds. But gurukulavasam is hardly in practice any more, what with gurus touring the world and shishyas doing a multitude of things besides music. Yet, the shishyas of today are turning out no less worthy, you will agree. In this article, I write about how, in spite of their busy lives, today’s gurus are producing shishyas of high calibre — with inputs from young vocalists Anahita Ravindran (disciple of Shri Chitravina Ravikiran) and Krithika Natarajan (disciple of Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman and Smts Ranjani-Gayathri). Continue reading

Lessons from the concert stage

Musicians spend years, sometimes even decades, as students before they become performers. They learn hundreds of compositions, practise endless hours, listen to thousands of concerts and recordings, hone their manodharma, even brainstorm with their peers — you’d think all that would fully equip them to become performing musicians. But it doesn’t — at least, not enough. For there are certain things that a performer learns for himself/herself only by virtue of performing. It takes experience gained on the stage to learn many vital things that make a good performing musician. Continue reading

Altruism first, artistry next

Musician K.N. Shashikiran is updating his Facebook wall every few hours these days. And not because the December Music Season is in full swing — it is not. The floods in Chennai have ravaged the city, leaving no one unaffected. Homes have been flooded, people’s belongings washed away, thousands marooned in their homes with no way to buy basic necessities, water, milk or food, there has been no electricity for more than 72 hours in many homes, with patchy or no mobile and Internet connectivity — Chennai is utterly and completely devastated. Continue reading

The musician makers

As the anchor of a TV show on young musicians, I have had the opportunity to interact with hundreds of parents over the years. Every week at the shoot, a bunch of very tense parents would watch nervously from the sides, adjust their children’s clothes and jewellery, give them bottled water between songs, reel out instructions (‘keep the kalapramanam tight’, ‘remember to smile for the camera’, etc.) and deliver pep talks — while their children, the incredibly talented musicians that they were, would take the stage nonchalantly and perform like it was what they were born to do! Continue reading

Of Carnatic music and cockeyed misconceptions

This is an article I wrote back in school, when I was about 14. It was originally published here.

It was a seemingly innocuous question (but on hindsight, a pitiable blunder) that made my final couple of months in school last year almost a living hell. It was a scorching afternoon in Chennai, as all afternoons are, and I was in school. It appeared to me as I tackled my chemistry assignment, that a group of my friends were having a lively conversation. The ear detected a good deal of ‘Radio Mirchi this’ and ‘Radio Mirchi that’ and so, it seemed to me that the gist of their very animated conversation was about a particular ‘Radio Mirchi’. Curiosity aroused and not wanting to be left out of all the fun they apparently were having, I asked ‘so, what’s this Radio Mirchi thing, anyway?’. My question was followed by a deafening silence – one that I can only describe as a lull after a storm. Six pairs of very bulging and disbelieving eyes goggled at me, hoping they hadn’t heard what they thought they’d heard. Continue reading