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WELL composed!

Musician, composer, teacher…Sreevalsan J. Menon gives a new spin to the whole concept of juggling, K. Pradeep discovers

PHOTOS (COVER AND ABOVE) THULASI KAKKAT

Yen for perfection A classical vocalist, Sreevalsan J. Menon is open to all genres of music

Agricultural scientist, Carnatic musician, composer, theatre actor, badminton champion, Sreevalsan J. Menon’s multi-tasking skills can put some of the busiest to shade.

But Sreevalsan has been quick to realise that multi-tasking can be a myth. “Time comes when one understands that you are only getting work done. There’s no point completing projects that are sub-par in the first place. If you want to do anything that you will actually be proud of after completion, it’s all about focussing. Now, I’m not the juggler I was. I have focussed myself on my music and my job,” says Sreevalsan, who works as Agricultural Scientist, Kerala Agricultural University, Mannuthy.

Music was a childhood passion. The house in Thrissur where he stayed was bang opposite a music school, ‘Jaya Sangeetha Vidyalayam.’ “That was the ambience I grew up in. Music was always in the air. I joined the school when I was just five. Rajalakshmi Krishnan, who was my first teacher, instilled in me a love for music. For three years I was also trained by T.V. Ramani, who taught me the basics of manodharma sangeeta.”

Badminton

Badminton was another interest that Sreevalsan developed during his high school and pre-degree days. “I think this juggling is an aptitude. Upbringing perhaps. It matured through time. Badminton, for instance. I took up the game seriously to become Thrissur district junior champion. I used to watch players like John of Matha and George Thomas play at the indoor stadium in Thrissur, sometimes as a line boy. Watching them play I realised where I stood. Also I developed a tennis elbow that hastened my decision to stop playing.”

Sreevalsan became involved in theatre during his college days at Vellayani. “Those five years I spent at the College of Agriculture were the most productive, most creative. I acted in numerous plays in college, most of them experimental ones, even going on to win the university best actor award. This was also the time when I met my guru Neyyatinkara Vasudevan Sir.”

Acting ended once Sreevalsan left college, but the bond he struck with his ‘guru’ continued. “It was a relationship that lasted over 18 years. He instilled in me the confidence to take up music professionally. He put so much of trust in me. One year after I joined him as his student he took me along for his concerts. I came into contact with some of the masters who accompanied my guru. Their comments, advice, suggestions were in a sense, invaluable lessons. I was being unknowingly transformed, moulded.”

By the time he left college Sreevalsan had turned into a promising young vocalist. He put on the back burner his other interests, focussing all his energy on music. When he went to do his PhD at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, Sreevalsan continued his music training with Neyyatinkara. “We had trimester there with a week’s break. I used to take another week, come down and spend time with my guru. The Delhi experience was enriching. I got the chance to listen to a lot of different kinds of music, kept in touch with theatre and frequented all the film festivals.”

Music sans barriers

All the multi-tasking and cultural outings helped Sreevalsan when he set out to composing music. A traditionalist when it comes to his concerts, Sreevalsan is not a rigid, single-pointed composer. He is one who enjoys any kind of music, open to any genre of music.

“There is a creative energy point in composing. Although I jumped into it quite accidentally, I think I had that urge to create something new. My first album ‘Krishna: A Musical Reflection’ did well. But it was ‘Monsoon Anuraga,’ musical compositions based on classical and contemporary poems to convey the various moods of the monsoon that got me a break in films.”

Sreevalsan made his debut as film composer in Rupesh Paul’s ‘Laptop.’ The songs were well received. “Rupesh said that he zeroed in on me after he listened to ‘Monsoon Anuraga.’ The only thing I asked Rupesh was complete freedom in my work. I believe that a composer needs that. I got that for ‘Laptop.’ I did a Tamil film ‘Katrivel,’ that Rupesh directed.”

The other notable albums composed by Sreevalsan are ‘Vanaprastham,’ a musical interpretation of a M. T. Vasudevan Nair’s award-winning short story, ‘Sringaram,’ love poems of Swati Tirunal, ‘Ramanan,’ and ‘Jugalbandi,’ with Kalamandalam Sankaran Embranthiri. He has just completed work on the music of ‘T. D. Dasan Std VI B,’ a new film directed by Mohan Raghavan and is composing for Shobana’s new dance production ‘Krishna: God of the Future.’

“These are bad times for the audio industry. I consider myself fortunate to work on so many projects. They also brought me into contact with great masters from other walks of life like MT, Artist Namboodiri, Sankaran Embranthiri and so on. And this year is special for me. It will be my first solo performance at the Navarathri Mandapam in the city on Sunday. The last time, 14 years ago, I had accompanied my guru there. And once again I have been invited by the Madras Music Academy to sing in the senior slot for the coming December season,” says Sreevalsan.

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