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Notes from various masters

ARUNA CHANDARAJU

His name is synonymous with the flute. This living legend, the soft spoken N. Ramani, with over six decades of music behind him, is a disciplined musician.


"Mali would demand an extempore pallavi. Or ask me to play Bhairavi varnam in thrisra nadai." — Ramani

Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

HIS MASTER VOICE Flautist N. Ramani is always in awe of his guru, flute Mali, who constantly threw challenges at students.

As on his flute, he is soft, restrained and gentle. We caught up with N. Ramani, renowned flautist and disciple of the legendary T.R. Mahalingam, who spoke about what makes for great music. Ramani began learning from his grandfather, more as an informal routine than a strict regimen. And it was all vocal lessons than on the flute — but this helped familiarise Ramani with sahitya. "The vocal exercise is an important facet that strengthens the foundation for any musician," says Ramani. "Today, unfortunately, several instrumentalists don't concentrate on lyrics. They focus only on swaras, which is bereft of sahitya bhava."

Mali's methods

Later, it was Mali's teaching methodology that veered him into this school of playing. "Mali's teaching methods were worth emulating," says Ramani. He was also encouraged by his guru to attend the concerts of stalwarts. Ramani listened to giants — Ariyakudi, GNB, Ramakrishnayya Pantulu, Alathoor Brothers, Maharajapuram V. Iyer and several more. "Each one had a style that was so enriching."

Madurai Mani Iyer in swaraprasthara, GNB and Maharajapuram in raga alapana, Alathoor Brothers' laya-sense and pallavi, Ramakrishnayya Pantulu's bhava-laden style. And these I imbibed and blended it with the Mali method. The result was a unique Ramani approach!"

"A good teacher should be open to learning from his students too," avers Ramani. "Mali learnt Aahiri raga from me, which I had learnt from T. Vishwanathan, Balasaraswathi's brother," recollects the 72-year-old artiste.

And even at this age, Ramani continues to perform with his son and grandson — three generations of a family on stage together. And yet another feat was bringing together a fleet of 25 of his own students who accompanied him in the U.S.!

Actually, Ramani was amongst the earliest Carnatic artistes to attempt jugalbandis. He also took South Indian classical music to the West. This not only fetched recognition for his own self, but also to the art. "Jugalbandis with Hariprasad Chaurasia gave me valuable insights into the Hindustani style, with Lalgudi Jayaraman, it was music education."

Mali would constantly throw challenges at his students says the flautist which would help uncover a student's potential. "Mali would demand an extempore pallavi. Or ask me to play Bhairavi varnam in thrihra nadai. Tough, but I would manage!"

Ramani also learnt from Mali his famed techniques of cross-fingering. He himself is renowned for producing fast gamakas on the flute. "The Indian bamboo flute can produce superior gamakas compared to the western or metallic flutes," he says. He strongly commends yoga for playing the flute, which packs power over one's breath — a vital requirement for flautists.

Size and sound

Ramani plays his flute at a shruti of 2.5, unlike Mali and other earlier flautists who played at 5. But does low shruthi-long flutes, as used by Hindustani artistes produce a more melodic sound? The maestro has himself reduced the shruti to 2.5, after being inspired by a Pannalal Ghosh performance! To demonstrate what the length of the flute does to melody, he played ragas Mohana and Keervani, with three different flutes of three different sizes.

He stresses that technique is undoubtedly important but equally vital is the sangeeta gyaana or scholarship which distinguishes the outstanding musician from the average one. "Technique is something the teacher gives you." After that, it is up to the student to gather gyaana (developing the discipline of listening to more number of artistes more and more) and benefit from the experience and wisdom of vidwans by asking them for their insights/advice. Studying music-theory and constantly welcoming a feedback are but the last features of a good classroom revision," opines Ramani.

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