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In the line of tradition

RANJANI GOVIND

Narmadha, a third generation musician in the Parur style, blends Hindustani and Carnatic traditions, with a touch distinctly her own

Photo: V. Ganesan

LOCATING HERSELF Narmadha: ‘I am doing my bit to take the school forward'

Don't be a photocopy, your gnana should speak of your creative persona, of course with the stamp of the Parur style,” yesteryear violin stalwart Parur A. Sundaram Iyer had time and again advised grand-daughter M. Narmadha during her growing up years steeped in violin lessons.

Daughter of the renowned violinist M.S. Gopalakrishnan, Narmadha carries forward a profound musicality that is further enriched with her Masters in Music, and a doctoral thesis on ‘Comparative study of the Indian classical ragas.'

Into the third-generation of the Parur family of performers who have established a style nonpareil, Narmadha says, “I am doing my bit to take the school forward and sustain a technical approach that we can proudly claim to be inventive. The Parur-MSG school brings in a Carnatic genre that has some dreamy, transient touches from the North Indian flavour. Sundaram Iyer trained us to have a ear for handling the Hindustani shaili too. This is where an alap in Ahir-bhairav and an alapane in the corresponding Chakravakam will bring out the nuances so explicably well.”

With childhood memories beset with lessons from Sundaram Iyer and MSG, she recalls that as a four-year-old she had held a violin that was taller than her. “If I didn't get up for my practice, my grandpa would throw water at me. He used to be troubled by the fact that music had to have a ‘time sense', and violin play, a ‘bowing wisdom.' The instrument's breath control is in its bow!” he always explained as he sang and demonstrated the bowing, she says. While grandpa and father exposed her to the intricacies of violin play, it was her mother Meenakshi Gopala Krishnan's intermittent vocal rendering that got her into the groove all the more.

Sundaram Iyer hailed from Parur, a village near Kaladi in Kerala in Ernakulam District. Raring to cross boundaries and absorb more, he learnt Hindustani under Pandits Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and Omkarnath Thakur. He also popularised violin at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya at a time when sitar and sarod where ruling North Indian music in Mumbai.

Later when MSG was making waves with his solo performances, it was the Parur fashioning that gained masterly touches with the approach being named the MSG-bow. People flocked M.S. Gopalakrishnan's concert for his versatile blends, while his individuality in accompanying and as well as a solo performer was lapped up by an awestruck audience showering praises.

As a 11-year-old bubbling with enthusiasm, Narmadha had flagged off her stage accompaniment with her father. “From then on there has never been a dull moment with my bow, traversing several continents and bagging various awards,” she says. “Just as MSG brought in newer techniques of ‘one-finger playing' — a thematic development on a single-string capturing all octaves that had Yehudi Menuhin comment on his virtuosity, it was but natural for me also to look into rare facets to have an identity of my own.”

Narmadha's doctoral studies from the University of Delhi under Debu Chaudhuri and Dr. K.G. Ginde took her into the realms of ‘Raaga Sanchara' in both the Indian streams of music. “Since academics involves a lot of thinking and practical exercises, it multiplies creativity and the metronomic accuracy in classical concerts,” she says.

Narmadha went on to learn some singularly different, experimental Bandish, all innovations of Dr. Ginde of Kirana Gharana, smaller versions and in known ragas, in contrast to the longer versions in aprachalit ragas.

Associated with both genres and revelling in jugalbandis, her take on ragas is interesting. “When you contemplate, some beautiful shades of the raga emerge. The potential of each scale to adapt to different genres is amazing. Bhairav is certainly heavy and Bhairavi a light one in Hindustani. Khamas is light and Kambhoji heavy in Carnatic. These contrasts are striking and exciting when I take up a bandish, kriti, alaap or neraval in different form, combination and permutations.”

In all her lecture-demonstrations that are considered educative, Narmadha proposes that every school and college take up music education as part of a compulsory curriculum “for preserving a rich legacy, so Indian and so rare.”

Narmadha trains students in violin, vocal and musicology through skype at drmnarmadha96 or parurnarmadhamusic.com

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