‘Virutham is our forte’
The greatest favour you do to your audience is to be true to yourself. This is what we believe in.
The vocalist duo Ranjani-Gayatri won the Sanskriti Award recently and received it from none other than sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar. The young singers were in a cheerful mood on a Sunday morning at their parents’ home in Mylapore, on the eve of their departure to Australia on a concert tour. They will be performing in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Canberra. There will also be a lecture session in one of the centres, said Ranjani. Here, they talk about the award, music and much more.
On getting Sanskriti award…
This award is instituted by the Sanskriti Foundation, Delhi. It is given to young achievers below the age of 35 in recognition of their intellectual contribution to the filed of performing arts, culture, journalism, etc. It is based purely on merit and no recommendation or outside influence is considered. Only the opinion of connoisseurs is taken into consideration. It consists of cash award and a citation. The last recipient from the South, I believe, was Sanjay Subrahmanyam, who got it almost a decade ago.
On being invited by the Ravi Shankar Foundation in February…
Well-known singer Lakshmi Shankar had told him about our music and about the Margazhi Mahotsav festival telecast on Jaya TV, which was posted on YouTube. When he heard us, he is believed to have said, “This music has moved me. I want to listen to it live.” Ravi Shankarji then organised the concert. The audience consisted mostly of North Indians and rasikas from other nations and family members of Panditji. When the concert was over, he gave us a standing ovation. He then invited us to dinner at his house. He chatted with us till around 11.30 that night and then told us, “My heart is full. I am very happy.”
On concert planning…
Although we plan our concerts in advance, sometimes we change the items sensing the mood of the audience after a couple of songs. Yes, we do seriously plan during the season concerts. We would choose songs that are not sung often. In the case of Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi, we plan the theme in advance. For balanced singing, planning is necessary. One song would certainly be in prati-madhyamam and of course, the Trinity Tyagaraja, Dikshitar and Syama Sastri certainly find a place, besides one or two Tamizh songs. We begin the concert in ragas such as Mayamalavagowlai or Pantuvarali or Harikamboji as they brighten up the mood. The ghana-ragas sucha as Bhairavi, Thodi, Sankarabaranam, Kalyani or Begada add depth. It is impossible to satisfy everyone’s taste. However, we try to communicate to the audience without making any compromise. The greatest favour you do to your audience is to be true to yourself. This is what we believe in. You have to be creative and spontaneous in a live concert. Ninety per cent of our concert is heavy classical. Virutham is our forte, too.
On Virutham singing…
While singing Viruthams, the raga-bhavam is given more weight but the important point is that the beauty of the lyrics should not be lost in the process. (Gayatri sings the line ‘Soolam Piditha Ema Paasam Suzhatri’ from Arunagirinathar’s Tirupugazh in Khambodi and the clarity of the words add to the charm of the gliding gamakas of the raga.) We have to concentrate on ‘mozhi’ (language) and then it must touch the listener’s heart. Whatever one presents should be melodious and true to sruti. Ramyama Irukkanum. During a concert in San Francisco, a gentleman (who later introduced himself as a musician) was visibly moved to tears after listening to a Virutham. He did not know a word of Tamizh, did not know the content but yet, the soul-stirring feeling he got from the music was enough to move him.
On singing abhangs…
We happened to sing ‘Hiranmayeem’, the Lalita raga kriti of Muthuswami Dikshitar in the presence of Manik Bhide, mother of Ashwini Bhide, once. We had just started and she immediately asked Ashwini to listen to the song. We already knew a few abhangs, which we learnt from Kolhapur Appa Saheb Deshpande. We learnt some more from Manik Bhide. The emotion you bring in, the modulation of voice, the timing and the way you sing it… all these matter in rendering abhangs. Above all, it should be made concert-worthy. Abhangs have universal appeal. In a concert in Houston, a Spanish sound engineer virtually began to dance! We have a good understanding of Marathi and have tuned a few abhangs, too.
On the switch over from violin to vocal…
True, we were successful as a violin duo thanks to our Guru, T.S. Krishnamurthy of Mumbai, who was particular about sthaana shudham, and our father, a real critic. We joined PSN sir in 1994. One day in 1997, he told us that we should begin giving vocal concerts instead of violin. We were hesitant initially but he himself organised our maiden vocal concert for Nadopasana. He is a great guru, generous and ever willing to share his vidwat.
Women musicians were not allowed in the Navaratri Mandapam concerts at Thiruvananthapuram until recently. When they changed this rule, we were invited to perform there, but unfortunately we could not accept it.
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