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Of great composers and unique instruments

VETERAN MUSICIAN Vedavalli presented an extensive lecture on Tiruchhanda Viruttam of Tirumazhisai Azhwar. She dwelt upon the biographic details and gave examples from the 120 verses composed by him. He is also known as Bhaktisaara who underwent stints in various religions before he was converted as Vaishnavite by Periyazhwar. Vedavalli highlighted some of the compositions of Tirumazhisai Azhwar and said that the author was fond of employing numbers in his compositions with intricate meanings and there are a number of verses to substantiate it. She talked about the second letter concordance in these compositions, the praasa element. Vedavalli said that these verses are set to tunes and are rendered in structured music. It was more of a lecture than a demonstration because Mrs. Vedavalli was giving anecdotes from the life of the Azhwar. Though briefly, some of the paasurams demonstrated in Bhairavi, Sindhu Bhairavi and Surati were very appealing. Vedavalli was assisted by V. Sumitra.

The Bodhaka Award which goes to an eminent teacher of music will be conferred upon Vidwan, Tiruvarur S. Latchappa Pillai this year. He will be the first Nagaswara Vidwan to receive this honour. His disciples presented a brief concert with compositions from the Trinity.

Veena Varadiah (1877-1952) was a great composer of Varnams, Lakshana Geetas using sahitya and kritis. His disciple and son, Prof. R. V. Krishnan, presented the lecture and demonstration with the help of Poornapragna Rao, Uttara Kumar and Shailaja. They demonstrated two varnams in Kanada and Aananda Bhairavi, and a Kriti in Kalyani. Noticeably, antharagaandhara was employed in Aananda Bhairavi.

Sangita Kalacharya and Vaggeyakara Thanjavur Sankara Iyyer came specially to present a Lakshana Geetam in Maayamalava Gowla. There are evidences to show that there were composers who set sahitya to swaraavali before Varadiah. Thaaseepuram Venkatapati and Azhagiya Singaracharyulu were some of them. Veena Varadiah used a raga called Nootana Gowla, which was expected to be presented but was not. Dr. M. B Vedavalli offered comments and president of the year, T. V. Sankaranarayanan commended the efforts of Prof. Krishnan to present and popularise his father's compositions.

Unique to the nagaswaram tradition, Rakti Mela is almost a form of art that is slowly, but definitely receding into oblivion. A passage is taken in misra, trisra or chaturasra and rendered in all the three tempos in which we find a shift of the "eduppu" in each section. Vidwan Vaidyanathan played a Rakti Mela in Raga Kamboji which was crisp and heard with rapt attention.

The septuagenarian, Sri Vaidyanathan, who is going to receive the prestigious TTK award this year, was complimented by Vidwan B. M. Sundaram for his excellent lecture demonstration and adherence to tradition.

Arumukhanam is a percussion instrument, created by S. Gopa Kumar, fitted on an arc shaped steel frame. There are six faces of mridangam. The six faces represent low pitch, high pitch, madhyama, tara shadja, panchama and shadja. A disciple of Sangita Kalanidhi T. K. Murthy, Gopa Kumar has determination, enthusiasm, creativity and imagination in making this instrument. He demonstrated the basic fingering on the instrument and showed how it can be used in different situations. He demonstrated a Navaraagamalika Varnam, Kirtana, Kaavadi Chindu, Meera bhajan and a folk song. He concluded his demonstration with a solo. All the six faces are detachable. The only problem seems to be to keep the sruti all the time for all the six components of the instrument. However, it was an interesting experiment.

Gopa Kumar was complimented for his effort by the eminent mridanga Vidwan, Vellore Ramabhadran.

Often termed as a multifaceted personality and a versatile genius, T. V. Gopalakrishnan in his lecture emphasised the need for scrupulous adherence of principles and adaptability for an accompanying artist. A percussionist should have the basic knowledge of swara, laya, taala, saahitya, kalpana, creativity and concentration. He said that different techniques are to be followed for different kinds of compositions. To substantiate he played the records of Chembai Vaidyanatha Iyyer, accompanied by Palghat Mani Iyyer in Todi, recorded in 1930, and M.D Ramanathan in Kedaram. He demonstrated a recorded version of a neraval of Chembai with Palghat Mani Iyer and Madurai Mani Iyer, accompanied by Palani Subrahmanya Pillai.

While all these were recorded demonstrations, he was assisted by Palghat Ramprasad, Mani Iyyer's grandson, with a kriti, a varnam and a jaavali. In each case, TVG showed how delicately and balancingly the mridangam should accompany a vocalist. To a certain extent the later part of the demonstration gave an impression of a concert.

Gottuvadyam genius

Narayana Iyengar (1903-1959) was a pioneer and trendsetter in the field of gottuvadyam. Most of his recordings are not available. Some of his live concerts are with AIR Bangalore, Tiruchi and Madras. A handful of his 72rpm records recorded between 1928-1930 are available. These are only suggestive of his greatness. Chitraveena Ravi Kumar, grandson o f Narayana Iyengar, gave a lecture and demonstration about his contribution to the filed of Carnatic music in general and gottuvadyam in particular.

He played the record of Narayana Iyengar in Charumati. The alaapana, though constrained by time, encapsulated the beauty of the raga. Left handed technique, continuity, plucking style, speed and clarity are hallmarks of Narayana Iyengar's style of playing the instrument, now known as Chitra Veena. He brought the instrument as close to vocal style as possible. In the movement of the slide, he showed a tremendous innovation. Because he lived at a time when there were no mikes, Narayana Iyengar had to resort to high pitch. In other stringed instruments, normally one string is plucked at a time. Narayana Iyengar used sympathetic strings below the instrument which is a major innovation. It worked like a built-in tambura with the instrument.

Narayana Iyengar standardised the string arrangement and influenced stalwarts of his times to either follow his technique on other instruments or take to Gottuvadyam. He experimented with different kinds of slides made out of different material and finally settled with slide made of bison horn.

He was a court musician of Trivandrum and Mysore. Ravi Kiran, a child prodigy himself, made full justice to the articulated lecture and crisp and relevant demonstration.

Impressive lecture

R. Sathyanarayana of Mysore gave an impressive lecture on the relationship between meter and music, assisted by his son Nandakumar, who presented a few slokas and compositions. Dr. Sathyanarayana began his lecture with two verses, one in praise of Sangita equating Nada with Siva from the Sangita Ratnakara, and the other in praise of Chandas from Abhinava Gupta's commentary on the Natya Sastra. He defined chandas, laya and sangita, and showed how they are interdependent. The very fact that all the treaties on music were written in metrical form is in itself a proof of the important place of Chandas in sangita, he added.

Then he emphasised how some prosodic elements and technical terms have been borrowed to describe the various components of talas. He stressed the importance of ganas and the effects of their usage in the beginning of a composition, as is the practice in literature. In the musical parlance, there are prabandhas, which derive their name from the meter in which they are composed. He stressed that singers should respect the yati, sandhi and splitting of samasa. The words in a composition can be split only in accordance with Chandas so that their music intelligibility enhances. Nandakumar demonstrated a sloka from Saundarya Lahari, a prabhanda, a krauncha pada and a composition of Tyagaraja and Muthuswami Dikshitar.

This was followed by a lively discussion on different prosodic elements and their relation to music in which Dr. Ramanathan, Prof. Harold Powers and Dr. Srivatsa expressed their opinions.

Tamil repertoire

Sangita Kalacharya S. Rajam is considered to be the one who made Koteswara Ayyar's compositions popular and propagated them. Koteswara Ayyar composed in all 72 Melakarta ragas and enriched the Tamil repertoire in Carnatic music. He scrupulously followed the lines of the Trinity and composed in Tamil. S. Rajam, with the help of four of his disciples, presented six compositions of Koteswara Ayyar and demonstrated how they are fit to be sung in concerts, and how neraval and swaram can be incorporated in those. In most of his compositions, Koteswara Ayyar gave the raga mudra and his own mudra as "Kavi Kunjara dasa" because he was the disciple and grandson of Kavi Kunjara Bharati. Vidwan B. M. Sundaram later corrected the common misconception by stating that he was not Kavi Kunjara Bharati's grandson. He was married to his granddaughter, and therefore probably can be called his grandson. Rajam emphasised that Vivadi ragas are not untouchable. Vivadi is a quality and not a demerit.

PAPPU VENUGOPALA RAO

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