Stringing life’s moments
On the eve of his 80th birthday, violin vidwan T. N. Krishnan talks about music then and now, and much more.
Sangitha Surabhi, Arsha Kala Bhushanam, Sangita Saamrat, Wisdom Star of India, Tamil Isai Vendar and Kala Ratna; hold your breath. For, all these titles have been awarded to violin maestro T.N. Krishnan within a span of 45 days beginning November 2008, creating a record of sorts. His effortless playing of varnams in three speeds is to be seen to be believed. What’s more, he has the ability to carry off a concert single-handed. Tomorrow (January 10), the maestro turns 80.
Excerpts from an interview:
On the shortening of concert duration and its effect on music…
Time constraint does affect concerts, particularly when you take up ragas such as Bhairavi, Todi, Khambodi and Sankarabharanam. Those days, ragas would be sung in three stages and at every stage, I would be allowed to play for a few minutes. The manobhavam will be at its best when you get this vishranthi. Also, rasikas also were patient. Today, things have changed drastically. The schedule is just restricted to 150 minutes and with the tani taking about 20 minutes, we are just left with 130 minutes. Within this time frame, not only will I have to settle down but also give my best. Quite tough. But we have to keep pace with change.
On monitors, sound check etc…
I dislike the presence of monitors on stage. I would only love to listen to the output that flows to the rasikas and play. Watching their reaction will help me adjust my playing. The monitors may not reflect what is being heard by the rasikas. Then this constant transaction with the sound engineer, signalling to him even as the concert is in progress is not etiquette. Sound check is a must for a light music orchestra with scores of violins, violas, cellos and drums. More the technological development, more the complications. When I play a phrase with dynamics, if the sound engineer increases or decreases the volume without understanding the nuances, imagine the consequences. He should have a thorough knowledge of music.
On the Ariyakkudi padhathi...
As everyone knows, he is the superstar of Carnatic music. The padhathi set by him is still going strong except for a few aberrations now and then, which I remember to have predicted about 10 years ago. A day may come when a concert may commence with a padam, javali or even ‘Prahlada Naradadi’. We should take the best out of his pattern instead of talking vociferously against it. His style of packaging concerts was unique and he was always successful in it. I think it is the greatest gift from him to the field.
On his experiences with Ariyakkudi...
There was always perfect camaraderie on his stage. He would give equal respect to all the accompanists irrespective of their age and experience. He always respected the sadas (audience) and would be a little scared every time he went on stage. Convincing him to accept a concert was not an easy task. He would always spot you in a crowd and greet you with love. He would never highlight the shortcomings of his saka vidwans on stage. Instead he would understand their strength and weakness. Active and energetic is what he expected us to be on stage and would not tolerate any sulking. Again, we were expected to have constant eye contact with him during the concert. No turning around to greet someone in the audience!
On violin accompanists today...
I have come across many promising youngsters with abundant talent. However, not everyone is allowed to blossom to their fullest capacity. I feel sorry for them. They are at the mercy of the main artist and have to play second fiddle in the real sense. I did not have such problems when I accompanied the stalwarts of those days.
On the challenges and outlook then…
Never was I informed about the pallavi for the concert by the vidwans with whom I was to play. It was really a challenge and when I came out unscathed, I would earn an inspiring ‘Sabaash’ or a ‘Bale’ from the seniors. Playing for stalwarts helped me hone my skills. Each of them had a unique style. All they knew was only music. They were prepared to go without concerts for days but would wait for opportunities. Ariyakkudi never referred to papers even in a thematic concert. Whether a sabha, a temple or a marriage concert, it was all the same for them. That is why their music is spoken about even today.
On his outlook on music then and now…
I have been playing for 76 long years. I still find something new in the Bhairavi varnam every time I play it. The feeling is fresh. Similarly, I enjoy playing the sadhaka varisais daily that help keeping me in fine fettle. Of course, in the initial stages playing a varnam was not a pleasant task. But once you get into its core, you would never feel like coming out at all. Varnams are a must in one’s daily practice routine.
On the Alathur Brothers…
They were famous for chittai singing and were an authority on pallavi singing. Not that the pallavi did not exist before them, but it attained a special status after them. They were intelligent enough to capitalise on their strength. They were strong in laya.
The field of music is an ocean and you will find everything in it. I have seen a lot of growth in the field. Music reflects one’s character. It is a form of yoga and gives you good health and shreyas. As Tyagaraja says, ‘suswara’ gives you a lot of energy. There is no substitute for hard work. Sometimes, the satisfaction I derive while practising, I may not find in a concert. It all depends on luck. Sadhakam lays the strong foundation but again one should not overdo it.
The son speaks…
PHOTO: V. GANESAN
TALENTED FAMILY: T. N. Krishnan with family.
T. N. Krishnan’s son Sriram says: ‘I do play like a professional but have not taken up violin playing as a profession. Music today has become an industry and it has its own advantages and disadvantages. The circumstances were different when my father started playing. I cannot compromise on certain issues because of my temperament. I’d rather play for a limited audience comprising my friends at home or in a chamber instead playing for 52 week.’
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