When she walked up to receive the Senior Musician’s award from the Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer Trust on 28 January, Lalgudi Srimathi still evoked memories of her accompanying brother Lalgudi Jayaraman “solo” for decades beginning 1957. On the occasion, speakers recalled how the second fiddle by Srimathi was by no means a meek following but matched the style of her brother. Srimathi later became a versatile ragam-tanampallavi exponent after teaching at the Pittsburgh temple in the U.S. for three summers. In an interview after the award, Srimathi recalled her intense training under her father and brother, her experiences playing more than 500 concerts solo with her brother, her enriching moments, and how she continues to be a stage “solo” performer in tandem with daughter Anuradha, a performer and teacher in the United States. Srimathi’s son Shriram is a performing mridangam artist based in the U.S.
Excerpts from the interview at her Mylapore residence.
Did you expect the award?
Yes. It was expected since the trust has been asking me for the past few years. Accepting the award, I recalled the 1960s and Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer and his wife who were family friends. About the award, I feel whatever will come will come. For me, music has been a life mission, since I have been playing from a time when women were not allowed on stage. I was groomed to look only as far as my violin or at the most at the fingerboard of my brother’s violin on stage (laughs).
The award certainly makes me recall memorable instances such as the great Palghat Mani Iyer agreeing to play when I was on stage with my brother, despite his policy of not accompanying women. I also remember Palani Subramania Pillai, another doyen who accompanied us on several occasions. The award brings back memories of the impeccable training my father and brother gave me in my younger days.
Is there time and space for the Lalgudi style in today’s frenetic pace?
The Lalgudi style is indestructible. The impact, the style will endure. It’s like a timeless classic. We have heard Mokshamu galada countless times; do we say “enough”?
Between performing and teaching, why did you choose teaching?
I did not choose teaching. I took to it because so many people wanted me to teach. I have several students who are stage performers, but I am still a performer and a teacher.
Did you take a sabbatical from performing?
No. People have the misconception that I have moved to the U.S. (I did go there occasionally and to teach in the Pittsburgh temple for three consecutive summers.)I performed everywhere including Singapore, Malaysia, U.K., U.S.A.,Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I am still in Chennai;Anuradha and I performed five concerts even this music season.
What is your opinion of the place of violin solos in the onslaughtof popular instrumental solos by other Western instruments such as the mandolin, keyboard, saxophone, and the piano?
People are looking for novelty. What can the instrument do? If the music is good, people will listen.
What would you pass on to young musicians from the training you received from your father Lalgudi Gopala Iyer and Lalgudi Jayaraman?
Discipline and hard work. Parents should be involved. My father ingrained these qualities in me. The parents cannot be watching TV while the child is trying to learn.
What is your advice to youngsters who have no family name to propel them?
With discipline and hard work, you do not need a family name to achieve your goals. I mastered the violin by discipline and hard work.
(The author, a professor of journalism at California State University in Los Angeles, now a Chennai resident, is also a Carnatic vocalist)