June 22, 2021

‘If you can speak, you should sing,’ says T.V. Gopalakrishnan

Gopalakrishnan was barely eight when legendary Carnatic vocalist Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar requested him to accompany him on the mridangam at a live performance in Thripunithura in central Kerala in 1940. His father, hailing from a household that had been palace musicians for 2 centuries, was clearly reluctant, pondering that Gopalakrishnan was too inexperienced to play with a musician of Chembai’s calibre. However Chembai insisted. Though there was one other mridangist on stage, on the pallavi, Chembai requested Gopalakrishnan to take over. And the boy fearlessly performed a four-kalai pallavi and not using a stutter.

Chembai was impressed and requested Gopalakrishnan’s father to ship him to Chennai to pursue a profession in music, however his father needed him to complete his research first. The boy stayed again however performed for the veteran musician each time he got here to city. Beneath Chembai’s wings, he blossomed not solely on the mridangam, but in addition in vocal music. By the point he was 14, he was performing vocal concert events too. And it was a couple of extra years earlier than he joined Chembai in Chennai.

What adopted was a exceptional profession and the emergence of an establishment in his personal proper. Dr. Tripunithura Viswanathan Gopalakrishnan, fondly known as TVG, has traversed totally different genres and types, and, maybe most significantly, is an inclusive and secular instructor who has created a legacy that’s held aloft by top-class musicians starting from Ilaiyaraja and A.R. Rahman to Ghatam V. Suresh and violinist S. Varadarajan.

As he turns 89 at the moment, it’s exhausting to summarise his profession: a wonderful mridangam exponent who has accompanied stalwarts; a vocalist who sang in each the Carnatic and Hindustani kinds; a scholar and composer; a cross-over star who shared the stage with the likes of George Harrison, Dave Brubeck, and Pt. Ravi Shankar; and, above all, an astute talent-spotter and mentor. “What makes him stand tall is his openness to all genres, his allegiance to aesthetics, and his innate ardour to share information,” says Devie Neithiyar, singer and disciple, who manages the TVG Academy of Music and Arts.

Varadarajan says that however for TVG, he wouldn’t have turn out to be the musician that he’s at the moment. “A metamorphosis occurred once I began studying from TVG sir in 1987. New views, strategies, and a deeper understanding of all facets of music and efficiency. Beneath TVG, I used to be not simply studying the violin, however music in its totality.”

“Music is all the pieces for me. Essentially the most occupying factor in my thoughts. Every part I do is an extension of my music,” says TVG. Within the Carnatic world, that may typically be an unique socio-cultural ecosystem, TVG is an exception. No person else has democratised entry to Carnatic music as he has over the past many many years. “I need extra individuals to study. Music is cosmopolitan. It’s for everybody, each event.”

Though deeply entrenched in classical music, TVG doesn’t take sides. “What’s classical? Classical means there must be grammar and custom. That it ought to conform to some kind.”

However doesn’t he assume there’s something that’s nonetheless pulling Carnatic music backwards, preserving it from being extra modern? That even some extremely expert younger musicians are slowed down by ‘custom’? Why, for instance, ought to there be a lot affected voice mannerisms when straighter notes sound extra pleasing?

Singing with mannerisms

“Some don’t determine the distinction between mannerisms and music. Some assume that it turns into Carnatic music provided that they sing with the mannerisms. Many connoisseurs additionally like Carnatic music to be on the overwhelmed monitor. However singers ought to realise that after 50, the physique begins protesting; by 60, their potential to specific what they need declines, and the music that they developed with mannerisms may also fail to specific itself. There can be issues with sruti and stamina. In reality, when one sings sudhaswarams, it sounds easy, however many individuals are used to music with mannerisms. Sadly, for about 90%, Carnatic music is nostalgia, as if what I heard and what I do know is my benchmark,” says TVG.

When educating, how does he be sure that his disciples discover and pursue extra sudhaswarams relatively than drowning in mannerisms? “Throughout phonation, nothing ought to transfer besides the vocal cords, the mandatory mechanism for making sound. That’s how singers like S.P. Balasubramaniam, S. Janaki and Parveen Sultana sang. Readability, pitch accuracy, vowel motion shouldn’t endure due to mannerisms. In music, the vowels carry the sound. Should you sing like that, music can be simple on the ears. The identical with devices too — in the event you play with out mannerisms it’ll sound good. Custom doesn’t imply it ought to sound previous.”

He provides, “Madurai Mani Iyer’s concert events used to attract massive crowds. His music was 100% pitch excellent and in delectable layam. All dwelling issues reply to purity of tone and rhythm as a result of that’s primary. However this purity shouldn’t be misunderstood as conservatism.”

TVG additionally doesn’t subscribe to the concept of fine and unhealthy voices. “Voice is a singer’s identification. However the primary drawback is that some individuals imitate. Some are likely to sing like their academics, and the instructor’s accountability is to stop them from doing that.”

In TVG’s world, Carnatic music is common, with unparalleled depth and variety. “It’s so panoramic. Countless types, countless repertoire, broadly assembled and analysed rhythms, beautiful aesthetics, and so many languages. No different music on the earth has so many languages. It’s all-encompassing and really structured. Our rhythm is measured to infinity. Carnatic rhythms are probably the most advanced and refined,” he says.

Does one must be mathematically oriented to be a mridangist? “No. Carnatic rhythm is barely arithmetic.” So can people who find themselves poor in arithmetic play the mridangam? “Why not,” he replies. Ghatam V. Suresh, one in all his foremost disciples, says that his guru believes that layam can’t be cramped inside some intellectual mathematical calculations, which might at most help a efficiency. “He insists as a substitute that the nada from every stroke on the instrument has an emotional join with the listener, the perpetuation of which makes somebody a real musician.”

TVG based his academy to take music to everybody, notably these from underprivileged backgrounds, and in addition to coach academics within the TVG coaching technique to construct, restore and free each vocalists and instrumentalists. “Each particular person ought to have music of their life. Should you can communicate, you must sing,” says TVG. And that epitomises his artwork and follow.

The author is a journalist-turned-UN official-turned-columnist

based mostly in Travancore.

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