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The Pensieve

If you have something to say, I might be saying something as well

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January 2016

Dr. Vijayalakshmy Subramaniam

As said in my earlier post Guru Vandanam, this is my first post in the series.

Vijayalakshmy Subramaniam, or Viji aunty as we call her, is a carnatic music performer and teacher and a Doctorate and the disciple of Rajam sir, and of course my guru! You can read more of her bio on the link above. Because here I am going to talk about my learning experiences under her.

It is said that a place that is surrounded with music all the time will have a certain vibrating effect. Though I have heard many say it, the first time I experienced this was in aunty’s house – the room where we learn. The ambience is that vibrating and musical. Even Casper, their dog would attend our classes regularly and he was always seated in the front row! I even have a recording of us singing bhairavi varnam and Casper’s howl exactly at upper Sa in the background.

I have learnt many dikshitar kritis from her to my heart’s content (I am a huge fan). Vaaya tharandhu padanum is a general advice given to music students. But she showed me how to open up and sing at the same time not sound loud. I also learnt how to put the tambura – it ain’t easy as it looks for sure.

Ksetra Sangeetham is the series of thematic concerts she does. The format is thus, each episode concentrates on a particular religious place (kshetram); there is a initial speech by a historian or a religious person on the Gods and Godesses and other specialities of the kshetram, followed by aunty’s concert of songs exclusively sung on the same place.

I had the opportunity to be a part of a few episodes such as Kanchipuram, Nagapattinam, Swamimalai, Guruvayoor and others, in helping her in primitive research and preparing presentations for the concert. This outside-classroom experience gave me a whole new outlook to the way songs might have been conceptualised, its religious and political setup.

Aunty’s way of teaching / singing a raga is more ingenious than traditional, something I had observed even as a fan of her concerts before I started training under her. Hopefully I retain and reproduce whatever I have imbibed.

Below is one such Dikshitar’s song being taught by Viji aunty in the paatu class broadcasts. Parvathi kumaram bhavaye in Naatakurinji…

– Until next,
Vid 🙂

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Discovering MDR

One usual compliment that is generally said after someone sings is, “You have a sweet voice”. The listener observes the pleasantness in the voice than the rendition. And a corollary to that would be that a musician with a tough, base voice would be less pleasant to hear. At least I was looking at music with this perspective for sometime. Especially with respect to one particular yesteryear musician called MDR.

Even when Diwakara Tanujaha used to play MDR songs when I was around, I used to crink my face and run away from there. One day he said, “Vid, you will be able to fully appreciate Carnatic music only on the day you can appreciate MDR”. Though he never forced me to listen, that line kept haunting me and seemed to have stayed active at some corner of my mind all the time. That very line made me curious to go and explore a couple of recordings. I searched youtube for MD Ramanathan and listened to the below link, a thillana.

He is an enigma. I read that he sings songs extremely slowly but I have listened to quite a few fast paced ones, like the thillana above. And his voice is very misleading – one booming unintelligible sound that I had heard once, now seems a voice that is one with the tambura and deep.

In the recordings I have listened to, I have not known one place where there was an unwanted kaarva or sangathi. Many a times while singing, we commit this mistake of adding ornamentation to music at the wrong places, just to show we can. Probably that is what makes carnatic music boring to the Muggles. MDR taught me not to.

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MDR on the right

MDR has composed krithis under the name (mudhra) Varadadasa as a tribute to his teacher Tiger Varadhachari. Today, a group of MDR aficionados have a group on Facebook called Varadadasa (maybe the name is a tribute to the tributer! ) These guys help me in my MDR discovery further. Uploads from media fire that I have downloaded on my phone, makes sure I have “Coffee with MDR” everyday morning during my travel to office. Thanks to them!!!

– Until next,
Vid 🙂

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