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Monday, April 29, 2013

Carnatic Music Today: Dr. R. Ganesh

Dr. R. Ganesh is the unlikely musician. He could well be your everyday vet, until you hear him sing. All those vaayilla jeevans become mesmerized when this vaayulla pillai (pizhaikkum) sings. He is able to successfully revive the memories of his great master Sri. Maharajapuram Santhanam with a similar sounding voice and style of rendition.

Doctor Ganesh, as my father used to address him fondly when alive, worked for Vishwapriya Financial Services as an Investment Advisor way back in 1996. My father's depth of carnatic music knowledge drew him to Dr. Ganesh who was already a promising artist, because of his sishyathva with the renowned Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sri. Maharajapuram Santhanam. Vishwapriya had many well known and rich investors even at that time, but Dr. Ganesh was drawn specially to my father. That is when my father received a complimentary cassette from Ganesh that contained rendition of different krithis by different sahityakartas, all on Lord Subramanya. Dr. Ganesh had sung the Brindhavana Saranga krithi Swaminathena Samrakshethoham, but again his clear diction and somewhat nasal, thin voice stood out. Maharajapuram paani was quite evident in his style. That was my introduction to this young singer on whose gentle shoulders rests today the mantle of the Maharajapuram tradition. It is worth his effort at cultivating his voice power through his present tutelege with Sangeetha Kalanidhi Sri. O.S. Thyagarajan, because that used to be the singular weak point in his repertoire.

A lot of information about his awards, such as Sangeetha Chintamani, Yuva Kala Bharathi, Isai Arasar, Asthana Vidwan of Kanchi Mutt and his various social activities are available in his website. He pioneered the creation of the Maharajapuram Santhanam Rasikas Trust in the year 1993 and the innovative Irai Isai Payanam for dilapidated temples requiring funds for renovation. He is also immersed into Naama Sankeerthanam as a spiritual practice. Below are snippets from Dr. Ganesh's carnatic cutcheris and naama sankeerthanam:

Carnatic Music Today: S.P. Ramh

S.P. Ramh is one of the bright, aspiring, young vocal/veena musicians carving a niche for himself in a privileged world where it is easy to meander aimlessly and get lost easily. Grandson of the acclaimed Kalaimamani and Sangeetha Bhushanam Sri. G.N. Dhandapani (Veena artist and teacher), and hailing from a veena music parentage, Ramh had it going for him right from his young age.

But rigorous training is the sadhana each aspiring musician has to undertake in order to reach that elusive pinnacle in his/her musical journey. Luckily for Ramh the teacher who would give him that midas touch happened to be the music legend Padmabhushan Sri. Lalgudi G. Jayaraman himself. In a thriving musical career so far, he has won the YUVA KALA BHARATHI and Music Academy merit certificate for Best Concert Singer in a chosen category. His son Vikram Prabhu Ramh is also a gifted musician with a mellifluous voice like his father.

I have had the pleasure of hearing Ramh for the very first time, render a krithi in a cassette exclusive of Vishwapriya Financial Services (where Dr. R. Ganesh, the other musician I am writing about had worked) dedicated to Lord Subramanya. Not sure about the piece he sung, but his voice was quite captivating. He has clarity of diction and characteristic sweetness in rendition that is a hallmark of his earnestness. Below is a sample demonstration of his veena skills where he plays along with his sister Srimathi. Pavithra Mahesh rendering Sarojadalanetri Himagiriputri, an exquisitely beautiful krithi of Shyama Sastry:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Carnatic Music Today: Neyveli R. Santhanagopalan

Writing about Neyveli Santhanagopalan is as pleasing as the artiste himself. Born in 1963, he is hardly an year older than me. So does that make me young?

The eternal temptress of scintillating and flamboyant performance has lost to a few musicians during her tenure of allure. Sri. Santhanagopalan is one such strict adherent to the sangeetha paddathi, who said no to her even during his hay days. So much so, he is termed as a "purist" in the academic tradition of doyens such as KVN, Ramnad Krishnan and Nedunuri Krishnamurthy. Because of this he excels as a reliable and gifted guru of Carnatic Music, with pools of talented students to validate his teaching credentials.

Right from that well ironed and spotless jibba, angavastram and veshti, an elegant sandana namam on his vibhuti laden forehead, and a winsome smile on his face, Santhanagopalan signifies the dignified aura of a classical vocalist. A Vainika and percussionist as well, his manodharma rides like a confident train on the twin rails of rigorous raaga interpretation and impeccable laya gnana. He is reputed as a thinking man's musician.

Santhanagopalan is a recipient of the Vani Kala Sudhakara of the Sri Thyaga Brahma Gana Sabha, and has also received awards and felicitations from Bharat Kalachar, Kartik Fine Arts, Tyaga Brahma Gana Sabha, and the Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer Foundation. He is also the recipient of the title Vidhya Tapasvi from TAPAS Cultural Foundation in 2008. He is, in addition, a Grade 'A' artist with All India Radio and Doordarshan. In addition, he is also a philanthropist who contributes his time and energy to charitable causes. As an anchor of SaRiGaMaPa programme on Jaya TV, he has helped the knowledge of Carnatic Music reach millions of eager listeners and avid learners. He has also been a key member in the panel of musicians who judged rising stars in the programme BRU Carnatic Music IDOL whose chief guest was Dr. Balamuralikrishna himself. His daughter Sriranjani (click photo inset)  was also one of the competitors. Incidentally, she has been aptly groomed by him as a promising talent and is already an independent performer. In summary, Santhanagopalan is the epitome of an ideal guru any earnest student of Carnatic Music will readily seek. He too earnestly reaches out to his fans and students through the blog and e-Learning websites.

But there is also another side presented by a disappointed rasika of his in this thought-provoking blog post as far back as in 2009. Sri Santhanagopalan would do well to read such balanced reviews too, and pay heed to the crux of the opinions expressed therein. Below is a snippet of his bhakti and bhava laden music, and another that demonstrates why he is such a sought after Guru:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Carnatic Music Today: Vijay Siva

I had reserved the write-up about Vijay Siva for the last (but best) among the male performers series. But delaying any further seemed to cost the effectiveness of a timely post. So, presenting to you without further ado, Vijay Siva.

Vijay Siva and I share quite a few attributes and are markedly different too. Vijay is dark skinned, so am I. Vijay's college is Vivekananda, so is mine. Vijay is an accomplished mridangist learning under Kumbakonam Sri Rajappa Iyer, I am a passable student of Sri. K. C. Rajappa, Advocate who is himself the disciple of Madurai Sri Krishna Iyengar. Vijay is orthodox in his thinking, so am I. He seems well informed in brahminical and vedic tradition, so am I (his narratives at RMKV music fest are a case in point). Vijay was known for his quicksilver temper during his youth, so was I. He cannot tolerate dishonesty and hypocrisy, so can't I.

But there ends some of the commonality. He is portly, I am exceedingly lean. Also age-wise, he is a dear younger brother. But what a rise in career for someone who hails from the accomplished musical household of Sri. A. N. Siva and Srimathi Akhila. He trained in music under the able guidance of the redoubtable pair, doyens Srimathi D. K. Pattammal and Sri D. K. Jayaraman. Siva is a recipient of over 100 prizes, notable amongst which are:
  • The coveted "Rajaji Tamboora" in 1981 from the Tamil Isai Sangam, Chennai
  • The "Isai Peroli" title (1995) from Karthik Fine Arts
  • The very first recipient of the prestigious "Kalki Krishnamurthy Award" in 1996
One of Siva's unique recent presentations is the "Geetha Vedantham". In this he demonstrated the flow of vedantic truths through the medium of carnatic music, chosing from the krithis of select composers. Vijay Siva is an imaginative singer gifted with a mellifluous voice who is rooted in tradition and often seems devoid of any eagerly anticipated musi-nastics (and nasty music as well). Musi-nastics is a term coined by my late father (who doyen Sri. Ariyakudi was fond of), that is a word marriage of music and gymnastics. We become dissolved in Vijay's bhakti bhava laden voice and transported to the realm of divinity. Below is a sample from RMKV, which features a song that is so close to my heart (I hail from Trichy), which is about the Thayumaanavar Temple in Malaikottai, Trichirappalli:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Carnatic Music Today: Sanjay Subrahmanyan

Some of the present day carnatic musicians are also professionally well qualified, other than being the accomplished performers that they are.

What would a Chartered and Cost Accountant, portly (like Lord Ganesha), sharp-witted and sought-after musician aches to do during his leisure? Play cricket or fly kites after preparing and applying maanja (a type of abrasive mix of powdered glass) to the string roll. He would also profess himself to be a web savvy geek and board gamer, and chuckle at his own jokes.

Welcome to the somberly, yet simple world of Sanjay Subrahmanyan, the garrulous gadfly of Carnatic Music. Other peers may have their own "flash"y websites, but our computer geek has mastered the art of striking a different note - he owns a blog instead, with all bells and whistles such as his own youtube video account, a podcast and hold your breath, a  account as well.

Sanjay Subramaniam began his musical gurukulam at the age of seven, when he was trained for violin and vocals, under many renowned music teachers, including violin maestro V. Lakshminarayana, Rukmini Rajagopalan, besides Nadaswaram maestro, Semponarkoil SRD Vaidyanathan. But the sculptor who fashioned him for the stage was Calcutta K.S Krishnamurthy, and the training with him led to his decision to blend tradition with modernity, while retaining the essence of good diction, ease of rendition and soulful music. Armed with pliable sruti (pun intended), racy brigas, training in intricate ragas, complex rhythms and compositions, abiding interest in Tamizh Isai and Literature and a novel delivery, Sanjay is truly an outstanding exponent of Carnatic Music in this generation.

Without further ado, we present you a facet of this gem, Bharathidasan's piece-de-resistance Thunbam Nergaiyil set to DESH raagam and Adi Taalam (Play Or Iravu film version):

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Carnatic Music Today: P. Unnikrishnan

What profession would an erstwhile Tennis player, Senior League Batsman and Wicket-Keeper, now life time member of Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) and player for Madras Cricket Club (MCC) choose?

If you said Carnatic Music you are 50% correct. Why only 50%? Because you ought to have included Light/Film Music and Semi-Classical (Ghazals, Bhajans etc?) in the mix and your answer would fit the description of P. Unnikrishnan, the most sought after vocalist in India and abroad. If there is a long list of heart-broken women fans for any young playback singer, then he is most likely causing it. This soft spoken, mild-mannered breakheart express is happily married to Priya, a Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam danseuse herself, and is the proud father of Vasudev Krishna (13) and Uthra (6). He hails from a renowned family of Ayurvedic physicians and is the grandson of the renowned Dr. K. N. Kesari. He learnt carnatic music, first with the doyen Sangita Kalanidhi late Shri. Dr. S. Ramanathan, then with late Shri Calcutta K.S.Krishnamurti, and finally with Smt Savithri Satyamurthy, an accomplished violinist.

He is the only other male ambassador of Carnatic Music after the awesome legend Shri. K. J. Yesudas to have bridged the divide between Carnatic classical and Film Music, striding both with consummate ease. Unnikrishnan is now a household name, and the inspiration to many budding vocalists and film music playback wannabes. His USP (Unnikrishnan Selling Proposition) is a gradual buildup of raaga and a seemless transition to the krithi, then kalpana swaras, finally finishing with a touch of his elegant originality.

He is gifted with a mellifluous voice pliable to different styles of singing. Like his inspiration Shri. Yesudas, he has been able to keep critics at bay with the purity required for the Carnatic dais, while exuding the same gentle grace of the playback maestro Shri. S. P. Balasubramaniam in Light Music concerts. There have been occasions where unlike Yesudas, while singing in uccha sthaayi, he has sounded closer to the musical genius Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna. This is not to be misconstrued as an accusation, it is merely an observation of a rasika. But his performances today are marked with the stamp of authority that comes with the maturity of stage presence over time. As an active alumni of YACM, he is also instrumental in creating widespread interest in Carnatic Music amongst youth, rubbing shoulders with T.M. Krishna, Vijay Siva, Sanjay Subramaniam, Bombay Jayashree, S. Sowmya and R.K. Shriramkumar.

He won the prestigious National Best Playback Singer Award for 1994 for Ennavale (Kadhalan) his first best, and "Uyirum Neeye" (Pavithra) which was rendered soulfully. He is an awardee of many other leading institutions and an A grade artist of All India Radio. Presented below are the two songs that launched his film career, and my personal favorite, Baagayanayya in Raaga Chandrajyothi set to Aadi Taalam:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Carnatic Music Today: T. M. Krishna

He is a Raagamalika composed of Enfante Terrible, Innovateur and Haute Couture amongst the young carnatic musicians. His gifted voice is not only youthful, but also yuleful. Funster, Prankster, Playful, Comical, Outrageous, Fashionable, him anything. He is all that plus a mega dose of seasoned singer. Don't let that "kadukkan" on his ears deceive you into thinking he is a run-of-the-mill bhagavathar. Hailing from a business family, he is a shrewd businessman too, leveraging his suaveness to promote YACM (Youth Association for Classical Music) along with other leading young voices on the stage today. YACM is the benefactor and platform for the young and aspiring in Classical Music, other than serving as a cultural mecca. His bearded looks at times sporting just a srichurnam on his forehead hides his humility, versatility, confidence, talent and voracious appetite for life itself.

All this and a few parts more constitutes the irrepressible T. M. Krishna, one of the frontranking performers from the hoary Semmangudi school. Sans a flute, this ultra modern Krishna still weaves his (world wide) web savvy Mayajaal on scores of his avid fans. He started his tutelage with Sri. B. Seetharama Sharma at the age of six. He is also an alumni of KFI (J. Krishnamurthy Trust). This economics graduate is married happily to Sangeetha Sivakumar, who is also an accomplished Carnatic Musician. He is the proud father of two lovely daughters Arya and Anantha. He is presently working on audio archiving the Sangeetha Sampradaya Pradarshini, a musical treatise of very great importance and significance in relation to the compositions of Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar. The video snippet below showcases his deference to "sampradaya sangeetham" and the "musical trinity". A simple wish - if only he would curtail his irresistable stage theatrics :-))) (huge friendly smily from us).