Chennai and Tamil Nadu
‘I yearn to teach this dying art’
Astounded by Mahadevan’s mastery and the sheer beauty of the sound of morsing, after the concert I walked up to him and asked him whether he would train me in playing the morsing.
Srirangam Kannan has proved wrong the popular belief that to become an accomplished musician one has to hail from a euphonious background or grow up in an atmosphere of ragas and talas. Kannan has given up his bank job to pursue a career in morsing, even more vigorously. A detailed talk at his recently built apartment in Adyar about his coming into music and the events that occurred thereafter…
I hail from Srirangam. None of my ancestors was connected with music. On my friends’ compulsion, I attended T.V.Sankaranarayanan’s concert at the Nandrudaiyan temple, on East Boulevard Road, Tiruchi, where doyens of Carnatic music performed. Tiruchi Sankaran (mridangam) and Pudukottai Mahadevan (morsing) were the accompanists. Astounded by Mahadevan’s mastery and the sheer beauty of the sound of the morsing, after the concert I walked up to him and on the spur of the moment asked him whether he would train me in playing the morsing. Actually he was a businessman (the erstwhile Hotel Jayanthi in Thillai Nagar belonged to him) and music was just his passion.
He suggested I learn mridangam also for he was of the strong opinion that it would help me perfect my playing skills. He put me under the tutelage of Kanadukathan Rajarama Iyer (the son of Malayappa Iyer, a disciple of Pudukottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai.) Simultaneously morsing classes went on with Mahadevan teaching me a lot of sollukattus, jathis, korvais and other techniques. Observing my guru accompanying Madurai Somasundaram in several of his concerts was one of the great learning processes. My first performance was at the Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy temple. Mahadevan’s encouragement was incredible. Meanwhile I also secured a job with a bank in Srirangam.
The bank transferred me to an obscure place where music was a rare commodity, and I just kept practising whatever little I had learnt. After a few years I moved to Palakkad and a chance meeting with B.V.Raman - B.V.Lakshmanan helped me earn a place in their concert that evening. Though I was not a very accomplished artist, the few avartanams I played alongside Mavelikara Krishnan Kutty Nair earned me a lot of appreciation. Taken in by the sound of the morsing, the organisers asked me to accompany Neyyatinkara Vasudevan the next day. I was very diffident as I was well aware of my limitations, but I had to give in to their request. After listening to me in a concert of A.Sundaresan at Calicut, Lalgudi Jayaraman advised me to shift base to Madras, to go up the music ladder.
About Karaikudi R.Mani and his influence…
As luck would have it I was transferred to Madras. Thanjavur Upendran who was well known to me, spread the word and I was called to play at many concerts. T.K.Govinda Rao recommended my name to Karaikudi R.Mani, when his Sruthilaya group was in its formative stage, as he felt that a morsing, basically a rhythm instrument oozing with sruti, would give a different colour to musical presentations. Heeding his suggestion, Karaikudi Mani invited me to his house and asked me play a few talams. Impressed, he taught me a few korvais which I could play at once. The lessons became a daily routine as I would go to his house on my way back home from office. Classes would go on until 9.30 p.m. I honed my skills and my confidence grew by leaps and bounds. Playing with great musicians of Sruthilaya was a Divine gift. Thanks to Karaikudi Mani, my name became well known in music circles. The album of Sruthilaya of which I was a part added to this.
Other leading vidwans such as T.K.Murthy, Umayalpuram K.Sivaraman and Palghat R.Raghu also took me into their fold. Playing as a upapakka vadyam with all the leading mridanga vidwans helped me upgrade my knowledge to a great extent. I learnt various complicated korvais, arudhis etc., which bore each one’s stamp.
My first tour abroad was with Karaikudi Mani. In Malaysia I played with tabla maestro Zakir Hussain in front of a 6000-strong audience. After the concert the King of Malaysia wanted to see the instrument. He asked me to give a short demo, and as I played he listened with amazement.
Misgivings about the instrument…
I have no disciples. I yearn to teach this dying art to many, but none is forthcoming. The misgiving is that the instrument will cut the tongue. It will never happen, if handled properly (He demonstrates). In fact during Umayalpuram’s demo, a rasika went on and on about the morsing cutting the tongue. Umayalpuram called him up to the stage and made him play the morsing to prove the impression wrong. Morsing vidwan Palghat Satchidanandam Iyer’s grandson keeps coming to me now and then to learn the art.
The award I cherish the most…
I have received Kalaimamani, Mannargudi Natesa Pillai award instituted by Sri Ragam Fine Arts and a few other titles. Mannargudi Natesa Pillai was called Morsing Chakravarthi during his time when he accompanied Kanchipuram Naina Pillai. The first thing I did after deciding to take up morsing, was to make a trip to Mannargudi to receive not only his bountiful blessings but also his morsing ,which I consider invaluable.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu