‘I go by the music, not the musician’
I believe if your grounding in vocal music is strong, you can pick up any instrument and play it with ease.
There are few artists who have given the veena its due on the concert platform. Punya Srinivas is one of them. She has been performing Carnatic music for over a decade now, and her most recent concert at Ganayogi Hindustani Music festival, showcased yet another facet of her talent. In this interview, Punya talks about her love for Bach, Hindustani music and self-help books.
I am one of those musicians who was born listening to the strains of the veena. My mother had learnt the instrument and had even passed Lower Grade in Music. But she gave it up after her children were born. As a five-year old, I used to play with the instrument... more like a toy. But, that was perhaps the best way to get acquainted with it. By the time I was seven, my mother decided to train me in a more serious manner. Initially, I learnt vocal music to improve my knowledge of Carnatic music, and then graduated to the veena. Even in school (Children’s Garden School), I was known more for my veena playing skills and would be sent to all music competitions.
Though it was my mother who initiated me into the veena, my first guru was Jayalakshmi ma’am of the Music Academy. My mother happened to meet her teacher Kamala Ashwathama (E. Gayatri’s mother) and that led to my training under her. She played an important role in shaping my career. Several concert opportunities came about thanks to her. I also did my B.A. in Music from Music College.
My first concert…
I have faint memories of that first time I performed on stage. I think I was nine then. I won the first prize at a competition held by the Russian Cultural Centre. After the prize distribution, I played the veena. ‘Vatapi Ganapathim’ was one number that I played often.
The Hindustani touch…
I did not learn Hindustani music formally. But during my recordings with sitar artists, I would watch their fingering technique and that’s how I picked up that genre. I love the tone of the sitar and that led to my listening to more and more Hindustani music. Soon, I could play Carnatic ragas on the sitar and Hindustani ragas on the veena. I believe if your grounding in vocal music is strong, you can pick up any instrument and play it with ease.
Love for Western classical music…
Again, it is something that is self-taught. I would listen to a piece and then reproduce it exactly on my instrument. To augment my knowledge, I studied Western classical music up to Grade 4 and learnt to read notations. The first composer I tried playing was Bach. Now, I can play about 10 different Bach pieces that too, without a score. Here, I must add that it is not too difficult to play Western classical on the veena as there are no gamakas to work on.
One memorable concert…
That would be a recent concert, where I played with violinist V.S. Narasimhan. It was Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor. A truly satisfying moment!
Few takers for the veena…
Well, the situation is changing. Those days, though veena was considered a divine instrument, there were very few players. Maybe because tuning the instrument was an arduous task. Also, many believed it was not a travel-friendly instrument. But, today with technology offering so many options such as a veena that can be dismantled and the electronic version, and most important, the contact mike, more and more people are willing to try out the instrument.
I go by the music I listen to and not the musician. Any piece of music that touches my heart and suits my mood at that point in time, becomes a favourite. Though my grounding is in Carnatic music, I prefer Hindustani and Western classical. However, I am inspired by artists such as U. Shrinivas and flautist Shashank who add innovative touches to their playing. My other passion is reading self-help and spiritual books.
I am part of a band called ‘Panchajanyam’ comprising the veena, keyboard, mridangam, tabla and the rhythm pad. We want to move in a new direction and try something different. For instance, we compiled some famous chittaswarams and created a new song. We are planning to record what I’d simply call classical fusion.
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