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The dulcet duet

RANJANI GOVIND

There was no constant hammering to learn and practise. The Priya sisters speak about their very democratic childhood

Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

DIFFERENT ORDER For the Priya sisters, music classes were fun sessions with bhakti overriding the mood and ambience and not bhaya

It is normal to hear established musicians talk of their challenging childhood with exhausting practice sessions and demanding parents. But that’s not the case with vocalists Haripriya and Shanmukhapriya – popularly known as Priya Sisters . “We had no early morning wake up calls from dad and mom nor did they insist on systematic gruelling sessions. Our weekend classes were informal and we would sing along with my father’s students at home,” say the sisters, who were initially trained by father and vocalist V.V. Subbaram (student of Chittor Subramanya Pillai and Harikesanallur Vaidyalinga Bhagavatar) in Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh, where they were initially brought up.

The sisters, settled in Chennai, are unique in calling themselves after the ragas too - Priya Sisters - given the fact that most duos singing on stage have the names of places associated with them. Shanmukhapriya is a well known raga, and Haripriya too is a raga of Sarangi janyam, explain the sisters. “In fact Alathur Vijayakumar has sent us his composition in Haripriya which we will take will be taken up shortly,” says Haripriya.

For the sisters who now relish taking up at least 100 concerts a year, stepping on to the performer’s stage was something they wouldn’t have visualised for themselves. For, Shanmukhapriya, a quiet, calm and bold persona, graduated in zoology, music was always a part of her growing years and Haripriya, known to be a Tom-boy, specialised in English Literature and was part of the ‘Under-15 Women’s Cricket Team’! “Our parents insisted that we assimilate good culture and music. Name and fame were the last things we thought of,” says Haripriya.

“My father thought a formal training in music would help us tread the melodic path easily, so we moved to Chennai,” continues Shanmukhapriya, and we approached Radha and Jayalakshmi who were then in the peak of their career. “We could sense the initial hesitation as they were used to a briga-oriented style, but when we sang the Vasantha varnam, we knew we had knocked on the right doors.”

From then it was no looking back for the Priya Sisters. Even as they reminisced incidents of people being aghast about them leaving Chittoor for pursuing music, “the journey was worth it,” say the sisters, ever so grateful to the far-sighted decision taken by Mr. Subbaram.

Happy time

Music classes were fun sessions with bhakti overriding the mood and ambience and not bhaya, recollect the duo.

Radha and Jayalakshmi would insist that we learn every aspect of melody with sincerity and present them with buoyancy, say Priya Sisters. Another aspect that comes through in Priya Sister’s performance is the clarity of rendition, much insisted upon in their classes, they say. “We would be told that our style on stage should help people take down notations , persisted Radha and Jayalakshmi.”

And what is the kind of understanding the sisters share on-stage, given the fact that they seem two ends of the spectrum off-stage, even their hair styles coming in as an example!

Says Shanmukhapriya, “Small time arguments do crop up, but with 25 years of performing, it is more or less a natural glide on stage. It is only after-concert that we reflect upon more often for our parleys. But we do plan our concerts as far as raga and kriti goes. We see to it that we get in both pratimadhyama and shudhamadhyama ragas in a concert and also have the Sahana and Andolika-kind to paint a canvas of melodic colours throwing in diversity. Also the order…it would be meaningless to take up Sriranjani after Harikambodhi, so we think of Mayamalavagowla, for instance.”

Priya Sisters are also known for their adherence to tradition as much as their love for tukdas. “We enjoy the middle order seriousness of a Todi or Bhairavi, as also the lilting Behag or Kapi as the tail-end entertainers,” says the cricket aficionado Haripriya, even as the sisters elaborate on their appreciation for ‘innovation’ in fusion ensembles.

Carnatic music has an abundance of everything that we should be proud of, say the sisters. “Look at the assortment of languages, composers, composition-styles and lyrics. It’s a challenge to deal with them,” feel the sisters who have several awards and albums to their credit. Priya Sisters are right now taking advanced Pallavi lessons from the King of Pallavis, T.R. Subramanian, who is taking them on an ingenious path of novelty.

That’s not all, “Interior décor too interests us,” is their parting comment.

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