SPECIAL FEATURE - Beyond Music by Gowri Ramnarayan
There was something unique about Subbulakshmi’s voice, its ability to range effortlessly across three octaves. The natural gift had been burnished with unwavering sadhakam in the formative years. Vidwan M. Balamuralikrishna once noted that she was the first Carnatic musician to introduce voice modulation. It did not develop out of a focus on craft, but happened unconsciously, as she became one with the music she made. That total involvement electrified listeners when she plumbed the depths in the mandra sthayi, a rarity in women singers, or scaled the peaks in the tara sthayi. As MS swayed gently between the two tamburas, reached a high note and sustained it in karvai, the effort of will produced a profound effect upon her audiences. It was at such moments that “we discover our lost soul.”
Her music notebooks testified to her all round concern for every aspect of rachita or composed music, a vital part of Carnatic music, dear to musicians as the outpourings of saintly souls in Telugu, Kannada, Sanskrit, Tamil and Malayalam. MS sang in north Indian languages too, mainly Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati. One of her albums contains songs in 10 languages! Once-in-a-while attempts include the English hymn by Rajaji that she sang with Radha at the United Nations as a goodwill gesture, and an amalgamation of apt lyrics in Sanskrit, Arabic, Japanese and Tamil (even English) at the Afro-Asian Congress of Ophthalmology in 1976.
Every one of these songs, by composers old and new, was first inscribed with its meaning in her notebook, and then each phrase was notated with its literal and metaphoric meanings. Music notation came next.
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