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guru vandhanam

Tambaram V Sundaresan

Learning music is predominantly experiential and practical (as opposed to theoretical). And so Guru is the most important part of your education. This post is a part of guru vandanam, where I write about each Guru I learnt from.

Tambaram V Sundaresan, or Sundu mama as he is fondly called by his students and circle, took up music full time after he left the postal service. He is a student of DK Jayaraman and propagates the DKJ style of Carnatic music through his students.

I learnt from Sundu mama when I was in high school and early years of college. He was tolerant to the breaks I took in between due to public exams and was the only teacher from whom I had one on one training. He used to drive to each student’s house in his TVS moped, then. He is nearing 80 years of age and even today, he teaches music at his home in Madambakkam.

I had discovered the greatness of Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s compositions by then and requested to learn as many MD songs as possible. He has taught me around 15 major compositions of MD, all the Nava Varnams, a couple of Navagraha kritis and Lalgudi Jayaraman’s thillanas. Kamalamba nava varnam is a bunch of 11 songs (including dhyanam and mangalam) on Kamalambikai, the goddess of Thiruvarur. Check out the below playlist sung by DKJ and his students, for more on nava varnams.

Sundu mama was a very friendly person with a unique sense of humour. His ‘apadiya sangathi’ jokes and guffaws are well known. For those who don’t know, Sangathi is pun for improvisation in the song lyrics.

Speaking of improvisations, he was the guru who introduced me to manodharma sangeetham – which means extempore singing. Though this is supposed to be creative music, he gave me the basic understanding to aalapana, neraval and swara singing.

Thanks for everything, Sundu mama.

Concerts to watch out for today, Dec 2….

4:45 PM – Ramakrishnan Murthy @ Youth Hostel, 2nd Avenue, Indira Nagar, Adyar (Margazhi Maha Utsavam)

Until next,

Vid ūüôā

Prince Rama Verma

This is the third post of the series of Guru Vandanam. The post is about Prince Rama Verma, from the royal family of Swati Thirunaal Maharaja and Raja Ravi Varma, and the disciple of Dr. M Balamurali Krishna. Though He does vocal and veena concerts, he is a true blue teacher at heart and does workshops in Chennai and Bengaluru and also music residential camps in a village in Karnataka, Perla.

It was in one such workshops that I started to learn from Prince Rama Verma. It is quite possible that we might not have a teacher – student bond (he might not even know I exist), because these workshops always have intermediate organizers and are one of type. Nevertheless, I did learn and understand a lot from these workshops.

He used to give rational explanations or historical stories to things Carnatic, in between teaching songs, some words of wisdom which I share below.

“Silence is very under-rated. The performers don‚Äôt give the importance to a long ‚Äėkaarva‚Äô, instead think that heavy, fast brugas establish our superiority over music. The lay people who appreciate old Tamil classical songs, say that these classical concerts are drab and annoying. We in turn brand them illiterates gnana shoonyam). In reality, the gnana shoonyas are us! In case you give a half aavarthana of silence and your accompanying artiste might not follow the same, please warn him before hand in the green room!!” He means that certain Carnatic music performers fill a song/concert with such heavy detailing to just show their prowess and this could possibly be a reason why Carnatic music isn’t interesting enough to a lay person.

It seems there is a logical reason as to why Mayamalava Gowlai has been the incontestable starter raga for Carnatic music beginners all along. Since one of the instruments our music is based on is the Veena, and for a kid to handle a veena and play the initial lessons would be difficult, MMG with swaras coupled next to each other was the perfect choice. (i.e.) [SR1]-[G2M1]-[PD1]-[N2S].

Few of my favourite songs learnt – Omkaarakaarini in Lavangi (by Balamurali Krishna), Pankajamukha nottuswaram by Dikshitar, Aliveni in Kurinji by Swati Tirunal, Karuna Cheyvan in Yadukula Kamboji by Irayuman Thampi.

Here is a lecture video link to give a sneek peek into his classes.

Until next,

Vid ūüôā

Padma Chandilyan

Padma mami aka Padma Chandilyan, daughter of the writer Chandilyan and disciple of Palghat KV Narayanaswamy, has produced many musicians of the upcoming generation. The entire family is also musical with mridangist Srimushnam Raja Rao mama and their son Raghavendra Rao who is none other than music composer Sean Roldan.

Let me start off with the first time I met mami. I had auditioned for a TV show, where I met an old music friend of mine, who was learning from mami then. She offered to introduce me to mami and took me to her house. It was 2 PM and mami had just finished her house chores and was lying down. She said, “paduthunde kekaren… oru paatu paaduma…” (sing something, I will lie down and listen). I started singing Dikshitar’s Ranganayakam in Nayaki raga, and she was up and sitting straight by the time I started singing Anupallavi. She said that is the respect one needs to give to music. Whether I sang that well or not, it did give me a good feel and a nice lesson. She used to refer even a younger musician as ‘avar’ stating the same reason. In a world where musicians spoke ill of their contemporaries, this was a value to learn and adopt.

We have learnt quite a few songs in detail – to the extent that whenever I’m singing that phrase / line of song, I would unconsciously recollect¬†all the mistakes, corrections and advices she gave and a faint smile would creep up my face, every time. One such¬†best memory is¬†with Bhairavi ata thaala varnam, viriboni.

Usually as a warm up during the start of the class, we sing a varnam. That fateful day it was¬†viriboni¬†in bhairavi. Maami came running from the kitchen when we were in Anupallavi, and asked us to stop our shoddy singing. Then she went ahead to re-teach the same, and explaining how and when to use the two¬†dhaivathams –¬†when the next swaram is¬†ni¬†use the second, if its¬†pa¬†use the first. I then realised how wrongly I had been singing the same song for years together! Simply singing at the right note does add to the song’s beauty ūüôā

We used to sing kalpana swaram, neraval and aalapana (these are extempore ways of expressing the raga while a song is being rendered), like a relay. Ten plus students sitting in a semi-circle and singing when their turn comes, secretly plotting how to excel than the others (while waiting for your turn). A mere aha from Maami was all needed; a healthy competition it was.

Raja Rao mama used to take a few classes instead of Maami. During one such class when I learnt the only¬†Harikamboji¬†song I know till date – “Muruga Thirumaal Maruga”. There was a second¬†sangathi¬†for the Anupallavi – “Thiru ulaavum Then Pazhani Deivame”. Maama used to say¬†how the sangathi should be sung¬†if the ones carrying the Lord in veedhi ula¬†were singing it – not on the landing of the beat, but in a whimsical¬†way, matching their¬†footsteps.¬†He used the tamizh phrase¬†kaalara ulaathara maadhiri.¬†And then guffaw at his own imagination!

There are many more songs and great moments¬†to talk about… “Meenakshi memudham dehi”, “Ninne nammithi nayya”, “Bala gopala”, “Aazhi mazhai kanna” – each of it worth a post’s length. But I sign off here with a smile in my face, reminiscing…

Until next,
Vid ūüôā

P.S: This is the second post in the Guru Vandanam series.

Dr. Vijayalakshmy Subramaniam

As said in my earlier post Guru Vandanam, this is my first post in the series.

Vijayalakshmy Subramaniam, or Viji aunty as we call her, is a carnatic music performer and teacher and a Doctorate and the disciple of Rajam sir, and of course my guru! You can read more of her bio on the link above. Because here I am going to talk about my learning experiences under her.

It is said that a place that is surrounded with music all the time will have a certain vibrating effect. Though I have heard many say it, the first time I experienced this was in aunty’s house – the room where we learn. The ambience is that vibrating and musical. Even Casper, their dog would attend our classes regularly and he was always seated in the front row! I even have a recording of us singing bhairavi varnam and Casper’s howl exactly at upper Sa in the background.

I have learnt many dikshitar kritis from her to my heart’s content (I am a huge fan). Vaaya tharandhu padanum is a general advice given to music students. But she showed me how to open up and sing at the same time not sound loud. I also learnt how to put the tambura – it ain’t easy as it looks for sure.

Ksetra Sangeetham is the series of thematic concerts she does. The format is thus, each episode concentrates on a particular religious place (kshetram); there is a initial speech by a historian or a religious person on the Gods and Godesses and other specialities of the kshetram, followed by aunty’s concert of songs exclusively sung on the same place.

I had the opportunity to be a part of a few episodes such as Kanchipuram, Nagapattinam, Swamimalai, Guruvayoor and others, in helping her in primitive research and preparing presentations for the concert. This outside-classroom experience gave me a whole new outlook to the way songs might have been conceptualised, its religious and political setup.

Aunty’s way of teaching / singing¬†a raga is more ingenious than traditional, something I had observed even as a fan of her concerts before I started training under her. Hopefully I retain and reproduce whatever I have imbibed.

Below is one such Dikshitar’s song being taught by Viji aunty in the paatu class¬†broadcasts. Parvathi kumaram bhavaye¬†in Naatakurinji…

– Until next,
Vid ūüôā

Guru Vandhanam

One reason why I love Carnatic music is because of the way it provides freedom for experimenting though within specified boundaries. Probably because I was brought up in a similar way (i.e.) a conservative rule-bound family which gave me the freedom to think and decide for myself.

As the art fraternity goes, passing on skills is predominantly hands-on and by word of mouth. And this gave rise to different schools of music (not in the literal sense, but more like a style of singing), each with its own uniqueness and specialty, and musicians at a level of the hierarchy added something on their own and passed it on. I had the opportunity to learn a few of the styles like Semmangudi, KVN, DKJ, Balamurali.

My initial discovery of carnatic music had been a very bumpy ride. The sarigama exercises and by hearting and reproducing keerthanams (songs) never enticed me and I hated music till my late teens. Later, it was solely my teachers and the kind of music I was exposed to that made that disinterest, interesting. Hence, as a tribute to all the teachers I have leant from till date, I present this series of posts from the next, called Guru Vandanam.

– Until next,
Vid ūüôā

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