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Remembering S Rajam
Issue : 305
Published on : February, 2010

$.5.00

Cover Story: A great loss to Sruti, GNB CENTENARY: Recorded for posterity

COVER STORY

A great loss to Sruti
- V. RAMNARAYAN

Sruti was devastated when its founder Pattabhi Raman died in December 2002. The recent passing away of Contributing Editor S. Rajam has been no less a loss. His was the sage counsel we sought whenever in doubt about matters historical or technical in music. He responded enthusiastically to our repeated requests for illustrations – both independent and to accompany his expert contributions on Carnatic music. Till the very end he showed the curiosity and excitement of a schoolboy while constantly seeking to add to his substantial knowledge. He drew and painted until about a month ago. His doors were always open to us, as indeed it was to any genuine student of the arts and their history. He taught and encouraged countless students of music and any artist who sought his gentle but firm mentoring. He retained his inexhaustible fund of enthusiasm for the great cave art of India – Ajanta, Sittannavasal, and so on – all his life. Even as recently as November 2009, he hosted a slide show of Ajanta paintings and sculpture at his Mylapore residence by Prof. Subramaniam Swaminathan, sharing his boyish excitement and sense of marvel at the astonishing wealth of the art on display.

He was a master of two arts, music and painting, though he perhaps did not make a major mark as a concert musician. Still, it is difficult to determine which was his better suit, his music (as a scholar and teacher) or his painting. It is reasonable in view of his twin gifts to assume that we shall probably never see the likes of him again.

Last year, Sruti featured him on the cover for our profile of him to mark his 90th birthday. We used a photograph from his youth, s superb profile in which he looked every bit as handsome as a Greek god. In the interview, he had said of his youth, "Those days, I had long hair and looked smart, cycling everywhere. 'Master Rajam,' they used to call me." When we suggested that with his dashing good looks and multiple talents, he had probably been a ladies' man in his youth, his denial was instant and vehement. Click here to read more ...

GNB CENTENARY

Recorded for posterity - LALITHA RAM

Let’s go on a journey to the past. To 1940. We find GNB in his room, lost in thought, with a copy of a Tyagaraja kriti in his hand. Let’s follow his chain of thought without disturbing him. What does the pallavi of the song say? It draws your attention to the dwarapalaka shouting the name of Vasudeva. Surely, the guard called out in a high-pitched voice? Doesn’t it mean that Tyagarajaswami must have opened the song in the tara sthayi? How do we know that the present form of the song is faithful to the way Tyagaraja composed it? Many musicians start the song in the madhya sthayi panchama and render it with emphasis on the madhya sthayi. True, Kalyani oozes beauty regardless of the sthayi or swara adopted as its base, but doesn’t each song merit a distinctive treatment?

Let's imagine GNB's thought process: "How can the singing reflect the enthusiasm of the shouting guard if it doesn't start the name of Vasudeva on the tara sthayi shadjam? Take the sentence 'Vasudeva, he shouted'. Ideally, we must articulate the name Vasudeva at the tara shadja, then come down to the madhya sthayi to reflect the narrator’s voice, before going back to the tara shadja to express the word ‘shouted’ appropriately. Doesn’t this express the song best? Why don’t I try modifying the pallavi in this manner?” Click here to read more ...

SPOTLIGHT

The Madras Youth Choir
Still going strong - V. RAMNARAYAN

We walk into a rehearsal of the Madras Youth Choir, and find a group of middle-aged but dedicated chorists from soprano to bass focused on practising a variety of songs based on Indian classical and folk music idioms, adapting Western harmonic arrangements. The brainchild of the late composer and pioneer of Indian choral music M.B. Srinivasan, the unique choir is 40 years old. The young musicians who joined him back in 1971 are still as enthusiastic as ever about his legacy, though no longer young.

Led by its president K.S. Subra­maniam, retired bureaucrat and well known translator of Tamil author Jayakanthan, MYC is still alive and kicking. The secretary D. Ramachandran and P.C. Ramakrishna sing bass doing themselves and the choir proud with the high quality of their wholehearted singing. Other senior members are equally dedicated to the cause, concentrating hard on the song at hand. Click here to read more ...

DEBATE

Where words fail, music speaks - GANESH-KUMARESH

First there is silence, then there is sound. Then there is language; and then there is a theme. The first thing that penetrates silence is sound. There are two types of sounds – musical and unmusical, nada and noise. The nada of the tambura is all pervasive and soothing. That is the first layer in the fabric of Carnatic music – sruti. The sound wave from the tambura is not regional, not religious. It has no words. But it conveys peace, calm and tranquility. Isn’t that the end result that good music must produce?

Now, if a musician has to penetrate this tranquil nada already created and create something more on that, he has to use two tools – raga and tala. Again, both these are non-regional and non-religious. One is melody and the other is rhythm. The nature of melody conveys the context of the mood. Raga also means colour and content. The nature of rhythm and tempo conveys the pace and the pulse of the music. Click here to read more ...

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