For the discerning ear
SINCE KIRTANAS form the mainstay of a concert its excellence or flop depends on what the musician chooses to sing or play. No doubt there are thousands of songs composed by hundreds of vaggeyakaras past and present, but how many of them can be said to be concert worthy? From just stringing of words to imitative structural framework there are compositions galore to which many artistes today pay homage to claim they have brought to light new kirtanas. What charm is there in singing the old songs over and over again is their refrain, which to a large extent reveals their poor understanding of the musical content of new songs they include in their programme.
This attitude of over-solicitousness to songs new has to be seen against the practice generally followed by the vidwans of an earlier era whose sense of selection of songs for a concert was aesthetically and pragmatically motivated. They were aware of many new songs composed and existing during their career years. But just as one turns and looks at every side of an apple in a fruit stall before purchase, so did they scrupulously examine a kirtana to know whether it is rotten or ripe. It must also be seen that even in the case of the songs of the Trinity and some post-Trinity compositions, their selection was fastidious.
Of the 600-odd Tyagaraja kirtanas, about 450 Dikshitar and nearly 100 songs of Shyama Sastri how many of them had been aired by past vidwans? May be just 60 or 70 put together. Does it mean that the old musicians carried on their profession hoodwinking the listeners with the 60 or 70 songs they had been rendering in their performances? Were the rasikas there led by the nose with a meagre repertoire? Is it only that the present generation has exerted to do justice to songs that the old veterans did not think to be fit for concerts.
Another aspect also crops up. No doubt the old vidwans had fixed their stamps on select kirtanas by their performing excellence. We cannot on that score conclude that they were unwilling to sing unfamiliar songs. They did sing kirtanas composed by other vaggeyakaras, but only those which could enhance the status of their concert. Nothing was handled because it was a new kirtana. And of such new items introduced, their choice was unerring because of the rigid standards of selection. And so they find favour even with our new generation of artistes.
This raises the vital point as to what qualification helped them to sift the grain from the chaff. They were two - a vast repertoire of songs well-learnt, thought not sung in concerts and the Spartan training on value-based music. If out of the many songs of Trinity, they sang a few, they had also learnt many of their songs by heart. In Sankarabharanam, Kalyani or Todi, for instance Ariyakudi Semmangudi, Musiri, GNB, Alattur and others knew 50 or 60 in each of the ragas. In this connection I quote from the Golden Jubilee article on Ariyakudi by Mr. C.V. Narasimhan. "I remember one evening in the summer of 1942 when I was sub-collector in Devakottai. Sri Iyengar (Ariyakudi) helped me compile a list of the songs he could sing in the raga Todi alone, and which in fact, I had heard him sing at different times. The number was close to 60 or 70." "So was the case with Semmangudi, Alattur and others. Unless one has acquired immense aesthetic knowledge about the several distinctive aspects of Todi, for example, how can one judge the concert-worthiness of a new kirtana in Todi? By singing unfamiliar kirtanas, have our new-generation artistes shown any indication of the two qualifications of vast repertoire and well-grounded training to embark on popularising new vaggeyakaras and their songs? It is not as if new is absolutely worthless. They have to be vigorously put to test before being introduced in a concert.
These thoughts arose on hearing Flute Ramani for Nadopasana. Look at the items: "Teratheeyagaraada" (Gowlipantu) "Sri Narada" (Kanada) "Teliyaleru Rama" (Dhanuka) "Giripai" (Sahana) "Maamava Meenakshi" (Varali) and "Nadopasana" (Begada). Could the concert be anything but heart-warming with such a programme? An ear well tuned to Carnatic music could have also discerned how "Giripai" "Nadopasana" and "Maamava Meenakshi" inspired Ramani in his alapana phrasings of Sahana, Begada and Varali. Experience has given judgment; but the irrepressible, innovative inclination of some young colts has not learnt the lesson.
With soothing poise Ramani built the structure of the three ragas. The songs rendered reflected the quality of interpretative experience. S.D. Sridhar on the violin was content with short sketches of the ragas. R. Ramesh (mridangam) played without the normal frenzy that is associated with some percussionists.
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