As a phase of nature and foreign speculation, interest in Karnatic music is scaling new peaks. Democratic ideals have smashed social restrictions and enlisted new recruits to the profession which was either anathema or apocryphal, Foreign students of music are accustomed to the latest and modern pedagogic devices for inculcating music without tears. Explosive interest in music is now coeval with noise pollution even on the musical horizon. We are simultaneously challenged by the problems of transition from the gurukulam to the factories of music in schools and colleges where the hitherto unknown scientific enquiry is inescapable for precise and unequivocal comprehension. The present anthology, ‘Shobillu Saptasvara’, by Smt. Savithri Rajan and Mr. Michael Nixon, is but old wine in a new bottle to teach Karnatic music to the naya- vidyartis of all ages with cross- cultural backgrounds and also to those starting from scratch. Mrs. Rajan and Mr. Mike represent conflicting interest with Indian and alien backgrounds respectively, but realize in common the inadequacy of positively unscientific methods for plumbing the illimitable sangita sagram.
At a time when written music was at a discount in the gurukulam, any printed material was avidly swallowed, even if it lacked indications of tala and sthayi. Singing from sight is a must in the new dispensation where groups learn and sing new songs in unison or play in instrumental ensembles. The present compilation endeavours to continue, but not ignore, the tradition of accredited guru and acharyas of the eminence of Tiruvotriyur Tyagier, Veena Dhanammal, Sangita Kalanidhis Tiger Varadachariar and K. Ponniah Pillai, the Tatchur and Tenmatham Brother. Modern trends and needs are kept constantly in view.
Intimacy with just a single acharya purusha listed above is a matter of pride. Mrs. Rajan has had the unique privilege of learning at the feet of the maestros Tiger Varadacharian (‘Appaji’) and Veena Dhanammal.
Affiliation with the entire lot in flesh and blood (except for the elder of the Tatchur Singaracharyulus), even as ante- natal experience, cannot fail to condition the tastes and aesthetic refinement of those endowed with unimpaired audio- visual faculties.
For a trusted errand-boy for Tiruvotriyur Tyagier (1845-1917), a full plate of sundal prasadam as quid pro quo from the Tatchur Music Festival was by no means marginal. I could not but feign enjoyment of the distortions of Tyagier’s voice teaching several technical exercises appropriate to my mother’s age. He employed his own teaching aids as a foil to his voice (of which he was a carping critic) and flourished his index finger like the baton of a conductor of orchestras. By way of ample precaution he used to forewarn his sishyas to ignore his voice and concentrate on the directions of the Index finger. The varnams still current in the family through my mother are priceless treasures viewed from any angle. Having outgrown my puckish impudence of giggling at the veteran’s music, Surya namaskaram at seventy- six (not out) is paying dividends when eyes and also ears recall the incredible continuity of his music.
My grandmother, Dhanammal, was also Tyagier’s pupil and mentor simulataneously. The Begada varnam, ‘Inta chalamu’ recorded by her for the Columbia Gramophone Company is a leaf from his book. His own varnams he considered rude unless ‘polished by Dhanam’. As a performer she played the role of a armed with a rod. She was enemy number one of anything loud, Be it stand or light or dress and , as a devotee of silence, imposed pin- drop silence at all the concerts and frowned on the noisy beats of people keeping talam. She rarely raised even her angry voice when teaching and thus compelled the undivided attention of her sishyas. She mercilessly put her foot down when it came to written music. To the thirteen-year-old Savithri Rajan, the usi eduppu of ‘Janani ninu vina’ was a red rag and she had to be all eyes and ears watching Dhanammal’s fingers. She knows where the shoe piches and it would be too much to expect any pedagogue to cure the in-built nervousness of pupils ready with difficulties for every situation.
Chinna Singaracharyulu was friend, philosopher and guide to any musician for whom he provided violin accompaniment. His intemperate language hurled at ill- disciplined rasikas was an even richer golden treasury for music education than the Tatchur manuals of music. None dared leave or enter a concert hall in the middle of a performance.
The Tenmathan Brothers were, by contrast, monuments of patience and affability. ‘Anna Garu’ Narasimhacharyulu and Varadacharyulu were stock accompanists in my mother’s concerts and also those of Coimbatore Thayee. The younger brother could be found in the concerts of Kanchipuram Nayana Pillai. The Brothers constituted the Acharya Peetham for my mother, Lakshmiratnammal, violinist. Abhiramasundari, dancer Balasarasvati and flautist Viswanathan. Very few remember that Varadacharyulu taught veena to Thiru Muruga Kripananda Variar Swamigal. Rare devotional songs like ‘ Ramanuja yati varam’, ‘Bhutapuresam seshamsam’, rare ragas like Ahiri Nata and catchy devotionals for children were literally spoonfed to children in the play way. Several meaningless sahityas made way for spirituals clothed in their original tunes.
Prof. K. Ponniah Pillai was a decendent of the Tanjore Quatette who inherited the traditions of their guru, Muthuswami Dikshitar and were praised by their guru as ‘Bharata Srestas’. In his time K. Ponniah Pillai become the sishya of Tiruvotriyur Tyagier and later joined the staff of the first ever music college in South India in the Annamalai University. He was the only one entitled to be considered a Sangita Vidvan for he was proficient in the three branches: Gita, Vadya and Nritya Mass production of musicians in a college was a new venture. He faced the challenge of the transition when a set of dedicated novices proved to be the only teaching aids to supplements his heritage. A long list of Sangita Bhushanams came in handy in the services of new colleges, schools, All India Radio and the film studio. Dr. S. Ramanathan, like his brilliant class-mates, has made a name for himself in India and abroad as a teacher and author of books. Ponniah Pillai is credited with infinite capacity and smiles to coax the most backward to keep step with him.
Tigers, lionesses and even lambs as music teachers overwhelm and overawe the pupils by the sheer tyranny of their eminence. But neither can babes teaches babes. Savithri Rajan’s own experience at the feet of Tiger and Dhanammal does go a long way in her present role as an instructor. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and her devoted pupil, Mike, is a worthy and enviable product.
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