Music in his veins
O.S. Thyagarajan had an immense musical tradition to live up to. The Dean of Annamalai University's Music Department looks back on the valuable experiences of his life
photo: sampath kumar g.p.
EARLY DESIRE O.S. Thyagarajan: `My childhood dream was to become a full time performing musician and today I'm a contented man'
"My childhood dream was to become a full-time performing musician and today I am a contended man," says O.S. Thyagarajan, who was initiated into music even as a toddler in Thanjavur.
His musician father, O.V. Subramaniam, a contemporary of performing musicians such as Mahajarapuram Vishwanatha Iyer, Madurai Mani Iyer and Alathur Brothers, migrated to Delhi to "expand his musical career and spread the Southern art in the Northern region."
As a five-year-old (he was called Chandrashekaran then) he could identify ragas and tap his feet to several kritis as his house in Thanjavur always resounded with Carnatic music, bhajans and ekadasi and pournami devotional concerts. The family of six bothers and one sister were all inclined towards music with O.S. Thyagarajan and O.S. Arun making it big in national and international circles.
"Life wasn't exactly a bed of roses for me," declares OST, as he is fondly known in the musical fraternity now. "I did have my difficult days when I set out to make it big. Even though my father was a popular musician, I had to reach people's hearts with my own spirit and talent," he says. "Hours of early morning abhyasa everyday, listening to LPs of all-time greats and an everlasting ear for anything new all these brought me to this level," he says, fondly reminiscing his years of toil.
"I spent a good number of years in Delhi as my father was rooted there during my impressionable years. All the big musicians coming to Delhi for concerts stayed in our house and this is how my siblings and me were literally melting in the musical bonhomie throughout the year. Festivals were further enhanced with eats, and I remember how Madurai Mani Iyer used to praise my mother's cooking skills. `This vatta kozhambu is worth preserving for a generation' he had said."
As a 15-year-old, OST had first stepped onto the concert platform in Delhi with V.K.Venkat Ramanujam on the violin and Ramanathapuram Eashwara Iyer on the mridanga. He later went on to graduate in commerce before he came to Madras for advanced lessons in music from Lalgudi G. Jayaraman and T.M.Tyagarajan. "The musical greats were able to identify the music in my blood and left no stone unturned in nurturing my talent. I am indebted to them for life," he says. From then there was no looking back for OST. In 1979 he won the first prize at The Music Academy for his solo performance and has since lost count of his concerts and awards that he brought in every year "like a well-oiled machine."
Bhajans were equally a part of their upbringing and it was OST's family that pioneered the Bhajan Sandhya in Delhi with the sessions proving to be soothing and unwinding, akin to meditation, feels OST.
Having been brought up in the traditional mould with yesteryear greats always around, does OST feel choked in the contemporary scene? "Not at all. The younger generation is doing a great job with technology helping them. There is nothing to complain. Every generation has something new to offer," he explains. "Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and many others were used to short raga alapanas, Madurai Mani Iyer brought about a change in concert presentations, G.N. Balasubramaniam took to elaborate ragas, M.L. Vasanthakumari imbibed all that and brought in a variety of kritis, M.S. brought bhakthi into the Carnatic genre while her contemporary D.K. Pattammal showcased serious paddhati and grammar in a slow-paced style, and Dr. M. Balamurali Krishna was innovation galore with shruti and gruhabheda melodic grammar and also created a sensation with his own compositions. T. N. Seshagopalan and me popularised taking up lighter ragas for elaboration, pioneered the use of sacred religious works in kutcheri padhati, and the younger generation is adept at following and also smart concert packaging. Tell me, isn't the journey commendable?" he asks.
And what does the maestro have to say of the Bangalore music scene? "Bangalore is a great place with stalwarts like R.K.Srikantan steering it. The knowledgeable, receptive audience is what baffles me. At the Gayana Samaj recently, I presented Shankarabharana for 40 minutes and there was pin-drop silence. My concert was extended by one hour and nobody would get up!" says the vocalist smilingly.
"Bangalore is appreciably open to manodharma in raga presentations and even asks for variety in kritis. My request to the teeming corporates here would be to take up sponsoring Carnatic workshops and concerts. After all, isn't the Radel innovation in electronic shruti a sensation in Carnatic music now from Bangalore?" he avers. OST is now the dean and head of the department of music in Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu. Interestingly, the maestro was hooked to his characteristic paan even during his 10 weeks of whirlwind U.S. tour recently. "Helps me have perfect voice modulation, Parveen Sultana would agree with me!" says the beaming vocalist.
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