In his recent book, A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story, T.M. Krishna reflects on those misconceptions and stereotypes that stand in the way of truly appreciating South Indian music. He reiterates the unique role played by the (acoustic) tambura / tanpura which is all too rarely heard ‘live’ in Indian concerts today.
For this eminent singer “it is the one instrument that can be said to hold within itself the very essence of classical music. So unobtrusive is this instrument, so self-effacing in its positioning on the stage and so tender of nature, that it is almost taken for granted. It is the life-giver, the soul of our music. … Only a musician who has experienced this sanctity can be a true musical vehicle. In the internal absorption of the tambura’s resonance, music happens.” (pp. 48-50) He asks whether the electronic tambura satisfies the human sense of tune when digitization really changes the manner in which we hear sound, a phenomenon he has explored in practice.
In his view, the practice of substituting the tambura by electronic devices also in the classroom “has worked to the detriment of sruti. All this has consolidated the misconception of Karnatic music going ‘off key'”. (p. 235-6; see the book’s index for more on this and related topics)
Publisher’s note One of the foremost Karnatik vocalists today, T.M. Krishna writes lucidly and passionately about the form, its history, its problems and where it stands today
T.M. Krishna begins his sweeping exploration of the tradition of Karnatik music with a fundamental question: what is music? Taking nothing for granted and addressing readers from across the spectrum – musicians, musicologists as well as laypeople – Krishna provides a path-breaking overview of south Indian classical music. – HarperCollins Publisher (2013) Price: Rs. 699
Miraj is famous for tanpuras made by its craftsmen, who honed their skills by first becoming trained musicians.
How did it ever strike someone to stick a piece of wood on a dried pumpkin, build this bridge and that and twist some strings on it, to make this wonderfully resonant thing one calls the tanpura? […]
“Musical training is the basic foundation for an expert tanpura maker. There are about 500 craftsmen in Miraj and all are musicians.” […]
As much as Miraj is associated with the tanpura, it is also associated with Ustad Abdul Karim Khan saheb, the founder of the Kirana gharana of Khayal. It was after listening to his record, playing in a shop, that Bhimsen Joshi decided at the age of 11 to run away from home to learn music. Music can become as obsessive as that. […]
All great musicians of the Kairana gharana have sung at this festival such as Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Roshanara Begum, Hirabai Badodekar and Suresh Bhau Mane. “We have a tradition of ending the three-night musical offering with a concert by a Kairana gharana vocalist. This year it was Ganapati Bhat,” said Mirajkar.
Abdul Karim Khan saheb’s music was uncluttered and deeply moving. He could tug at hearts with his plaintive and sharply etched swaras, and the power of his music lay mostly in that. Sheer mastery over swaras, what Bhimsen Joshi once spoke of as ‘swara siddhi.’ Veena Dhanam, who was hard to please, had great regard for his music. He was probably the first Hindustani musician to seriously study the Carnatic system and the first to be invited to sing all over the south. He even recorded a Tyagaraja kriti.
I joined Kalakshetra in 1968 to learn Carnatic music. It was there that I met Rajeswari. It was a great event in my life as I came to realise more and more. Rajeswari, along with her music, is the central figure in my book titled Il raga che porta la pioggia (The raga that brings rain) describing my first stay in India 40 years ago.
As a teacher she was totally different from the elderly gentleman who first taught me to play the veena. He was taciturn, introvert, and did not correct my fingering, so much so that I had to stand behind him to observe how he played. Rajeswari Amma (later, as our friendship grew, there was no need for the ‘Amma’) was extrovert, she immediately caught hold of my fingers to correct their position. She was a remarkable teacher, playing a passage again and again, insisting on my repeating it till I got it right. She saw my deep involvement in Carnatic music, and knowing that I would not be staying very long in India, taught me difficult pieces, like the Viriboni varnam in the wonderful Karaikudi style, with all the gamaka-s possible. I had not learnt the subtleties while learning to sing it in a class for beginners at Kalakshetra a few months earlier.
At first Rajeswari Amma was very severe, paying no compliments on how I played the Veena. I remember once when I managed to play a passage very well and she reacted with a cool “Correct”. In later years, however, she would ask me at times to sing to her students, pieces that the great Turaiyur Rajagopala Sarma had taught me – Tyagaraja’s Seetamma mayamma (Vasanta), or Seetapatey (Khamas). In course of time, I became a member of her family. […]
To me Rajeswari was inconceivable without the veena. Hearing her play the listener would be reminded of her great-uncle Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer. Sometimes she sang, matching the veena so perfectly that you were not sure who was singing – the veena or she! […]
The unique Karaikudi tradition has not come to an end, for Rajeswari’s daughter, Sreevidhya, is continuing the tradition. Back in 1969 Rajeswari did not accept the ‘mike’ (as the pick-up was then known). Playing on her veena- she said, “This is the sound of the veena, and not a nasal nonsense.” Like her mother, Sreevidhya too keeps away from a ‘technologised’ veena. And her sons Kapila and Sushruta, still children, are immersed in the veena. Watch out for the Karaikudi Brothers of the 21st century!
Making studies as pleasant as music Review by A. Sangameswaran
Two musicologists of international repute are on an innovative mission to educate music lovers across the world about the intrinsic value of Carnatic music as a potential tool for education and blending cultures. The Indo-Swiss research project, titled “Sam, reflection, gathering together,” is being executed jointly by Emanuel Wuethrich and Ludwig Pesch, in association with Natana Kairali at Irinjalakuda. (…) Their experiments to use Carnatic music for educating students with varying capabilities across the world have yielded remarkable results too.
They conducted joint programmes in different parts of the State to share their teaching and learning experiences.
They say that there is ample scope for introducing some of the Carnatic music lessons in classrooms, adult education and also rehabilitation programmes for the physically and mentally challenged.
THE HINDU, The Hindu, Kerala edition, Sunday 13 August 2006 (Online edition of India’s National Newspaper)
Preserving a rich cultural tradition The Indian education system boasts of a past where knowledge was imparted to the next generation by word of mouth. To pass on the teachings of various art forms, the masters devised various techniques. One among them is rhythmic syllables or phrases called Vaaythaari. These rhythmic phrases, in the case of percussion arts, are construed in such a way that their recitation resembles the sound generated by the instrument, be it the chenda, maddalam, mizhavu, mridangam or edakka. (…) Professor Immanuel Wuthrich, a musicologist at the Bern University of Arts (Switzerland), and Ludwig Pesch, a musicologist and Indologist, have documented this system. Under the joint auspices of the Bern University of Arts and Natanakairali, Irinjalakuda, a workshop was conducted two years ago at Irinjalakuda on the intangible aspects of oral traditions. (…) In the workshop that followed, a lecture-demonstration by Nirmala Panicker on the incorporation of rhythmic syllables in Mohiniyattam, an oral exercise by Vayali, a class by P. Nandakumar on the rhythmic phrases and patterns used in playing the edakka and the mridangam, a demonstration by Kalanilayam Prakasan on the phrases used in maddalam and a painting class by V. C. Arun were included. (…) The organisers hope that the workshop will help create awareness about Kerala’s rich folk art culture.
THE HINDU, Friday Review Thiruvananthapuram (Online edition of India’s National Newspaper), Friday, Sep 14, 2007
‘The Small Theatre (Tamil Sittrarangam) is a chamber auditorium specially designed for Indian performing arts. Based on rural architecture, it provides a congenial atmosphere for traditional performers of dance, music and folk arts, and their audience alike.’
From the introductory note jointly published by The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) The Government of Tamil Nadu The Tamil Nadu Tourist Development Corporation (TTDC)
Beautifully and very imaginatively conceived. India needs theatres of this kind in every village. Goverdhan Panchal, Professor of Theatre Architecture at the National School of Drama in New Delhi
A THEATRE FOR ALL Sittrarangam – the small theatre Madras by Ludwig Pesch with a Foreword by Himanshu Burte
ISBN 90 75785 03 8 2nd revised edition
89 pages 3 colour plates (cover photograph, 2 digital graphic representations for the floor plan of the theatre on the back cover) 15 b/w plates Size: 25,7 cm x 19 cm Weight: 248 g
Price: 36 EUR Libraries and the booktrade: please enquire about customary discount
Contents 1 Introduction 2 A small theatre for Chennai 3 A theatre for all 4 Historical and social aspects of Indian performing arts 5 Access to the living arts 6 Sittrarangam and traditional Indian theatre architecture 7 Sittrarangam: model for a facility serving cultural tourism 8 About the plates and their context Plate 1 Open-air stage (‘Tiger Cave’) near Mamallapuram Plate 2 Kuttambalam stage (Irinjalakuda / Kerala) Plate 3 Interior of Sittrarangam (Island Grounds / Chennai) Plates 4, 5 and 6 Sittrarangam: phases of construction Plate 7 A South Indian vocal recital by Mani Krishnaswamy Plate 8 A leather shadow play by S. Seethalakshmi Plates 9 and 10 Dance performances by Archita and Satyajit Plate 11 Living theatre: Terukkuttu and Kattaikkuttu Plates 12, 13, 14 and 15 The Sittrarangam experience Appendix 1 A theatre according to the Natya Shastra in the IIT Madras Appendix 2 Postscript to the IIT project description Appendix 3 In search of an Indian theatre by Ludwig Pesch Appendix 4 A Chamber Theatre for the Performing Arts Appendix 5 Personal comments (Visitors’ Book 1987, 1988) Acknowledgements About the author Bibliography
A reference to Sittrarangam (with photograph) is found in The Oxford Companion to Indian Theatre edited by Ananda Lal (New Delhi 2004)
“An easy to use reference book for concert, music class and and home” [about the first edition] – Indian Express, Chennai, 29 August 1986
“A neat compilation … ragas mainly used on concert platforms … highly useful as a reference book for listeners in concerts and to students for use in the classroom. …” [about the first edition] – The Hindu, Chennai, 23 December 1986
“Students of music, as well as music lovers in general, will find this a very useful reference book. Neatly printed and attractively produced.” – Sruti Magazine, The Indian Classical Music and Dance Magazine, Chennai, January 1994
“Unique Directory of Ragas … For 15 years he [Ludwig Pesch] studied with the late Ramachandra Sastri (1906-1992) … Pesch not only became a performing artiste on the Karnatic flute but had access to his mentor’s research material. He received many scholarships and put them to good use for enlarging the horizon of Karnatic music by research, documentation and publications … His [is an] ingenious and logically consistent scheme for identifying ragas by an alpha-numerical method … almost encyclopedic in its scope … contains 500 north and south Indian ragas … the Hindustani svaras and their Western equivalents have been given and the scales shown in staff notation … The glossary, with all terms and names cross-referred, is an illuminating compilation … which every lover of music should welcome with gratitude.” – T.S. Parthasarathy, Journal of the Music Academy Madras, Vol. LXV, 1994
“No library of books on Indian music would be complete without Ludwig Pesch’s Raga Dhana (published by Natana Kairali) and Illustrated Companion to South Indian Music (Oxford University Press). They are among the most widely consulted books on Indian music in English. Pesch’s writing is highly regarded for its accurate scholarship. At the same time he takes pains to write in a style that does not intimidate the lay reader.” – S.R. Ramakrishna, themusicmagazine.com, Bangalore, July 2003
The art of vocalization of rhythmic patterns (Konnakkol) … and its importance as a memory aid and a teaching requisite have been duly highlighted … easy to comprehend. … useful for familiarisation with the various rhythmic embellishments used in percussion solo … excellent and free from errors.
The guide to pronunciation is easy to follow. The efforts of the authors to make the techniques of South Indian classical percussion more approachable certainly merit appreciation … will kindle the interest of those who want to know more about the nuances of percussion. – THE HINDU (Book Supplement, 17 December 1996)
Mridangam maestro Trichy Sankaran – Photo: courtesy The Hindu
The Hindu, 31 Dec. 2011
Tiruvarur to Texas, Carnatic musicians have transcended global cultures, echoing the seven notes to the West. Trichy Sankaran,to be honoured with the Sangita Kalanidhi today, summarises Carnatic music’s history in America in a chat with critic Veejay Sai
While everyone is aware of how Hindustani music became popular in the West, especially America, with maestros like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s early overseas concert tours, how and when was Carnatic music an active part of the American culture? “It was Tanjore Viswanathan, the brother of Bharatanatyam legend Balasaraswati, who went on a Fulbright fellowship in 1958 to study Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Veena Balachander went in 1962 with Umayalpuram Sivaraman (mridangam) and Vellore Ramabhadran (kanjira, for this tour),” says mridangam maestro Trichy Sankaran. Balachander and flautist Ramani along with the aforementioned percussionists ideated a project called ‘Sangeetam Madras’ and extensively toured North America. By 1963, mridangam vidwan Palghat Raghu travelled as a member of Ravi Shankar’s ensemble. By then a slow process of institutional interest seeped in amongst the American academia. “It was ethnomusicologist Robert Brown of Wesleyan University who showed great interest in bringing Carnatic music to America. He was a student of T. Ranganathan, the other brother (and a senior student of my guru Palani Subramnia Pillai) of Balasaraswati They were invited as artistes in residence at Wesleyan University and that was the first ever such occasion for Carnatic musicians to go there,” adds Sankaran, in fond remembrance of his guru-bhai. Brown’s interest in Indian music grew from strength to strength and he would think up newer methods of spreading it to American music lovers. “Bob, as we called Robert, started an experimental project called ‘Curry Concerts’ which he would organise. These were a combination of a sumptuous Indian dinner followed by a concert and gained popularity in no time. He was one of the few ethnomusicologists who believed that the study of the art is important with its performing element. He put an emphasis on the performing artistes as well,” recollects Sankaran.
Brown later invited several other musicians like K.V. Narayanaswamy (KVN) and Palghat Raghu to Wesleyan. KVN, as an artiste in residency at the university, went on a coast-to-coast concert tour along with Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan and earned fame at the Hollywood Bowl music festival by 1967. Several vidwans left for American shores to take part in festivals like the Monterey pop festival and Woodstock festival. “Brown went ahead to invite Ramnad Krishnan and Ramnad Raghavan. But Krishnan didn’t stay around for too long as he was very homesick and wanted to return to his family in India. But while in America, he was recorded by a music company with T. Thyagarajan (violin) and T. Ranganathan (mridangam),” says Sankaran, with a chuckle in his voice. “The Western students were also not acquainted with our Indian manners. I had an initial culture shock with students addressing me with a “Hey”, but I slowly got used to it and we taught them Indian manners! Here, we were used to people calling us ‘sir”, “vidwan”, and so on. Ramnad Krishnan was in disbelief when students would walk up to him asking, “Hey Krishna, when is my next lesson man?” and he wasn’t used to being addressed in such a tone!” laughs Sankaran heartily, recollecting how many musicians took the effort to culture Western audiences to guru-shishya traditions. […]
Today, Carnatic musicians rub shoulders with world music greats and collaborate with music practitioners from every other genre. The seductive swaras have showed their triumph once again, reminding how great the power of Indian music is.