Tuning a Tanpura.
When the Tanpura came to Mangathayaramma's house after servicing and polishing, she was caressing the Tanpura with relish and the incredible wonder at the destiny of my mother getting it.
She then handed the Tanpura to my mother and said "Here, tune it". My mother's stomach was in knots.
A thread is inserted between the 'Meru' and the strings to generate additional resonance in all the Tanpuras. This Tanpura was resonating even without the threads referred as the "Jeeva". Its very confusing for a beginner to settle on the basic notes to tune the Tanpura properly. With some struggle, my mother managed to tune the 'Sarani', 'Anusarani' and the 'Pancham' but tuning the Mandra Shadja was beyond her purview. Ammayakka, as everyone fondly called Mangathayaramma, including my mother, laughed, explained how it was tuned.
The Tanpura was brought home with all the reverential ado and amma tuned it and sang. And all her practices were pompously (her choice of word) with the Tanpura and she was secretly proud of having it in her possession after knowing of the entire history. Shortly after this Mangathayaramma came to our house for a week to take a break and stay with us. She was very fond of my paati's cooking and my thatha's affection and hospitality. She checked my mother's Tanpura during her visit and in her broken Tamil (had its own dialect, accent and she had basic issues in grammar) she exclaimed "Ada Paavi"
An exclamation that came out after she saw that the Tanpura was tuned to C. Without a word she asked my mother to play the Tanpura and start singing one of the Varnams that she had taught. A varnam, which had a lot of movement in the higher range. Mangathayaramma maintained an expressionless face throughout and later, when my mom was quite comfortable in the tarasthayi sancharas of the Varnam, Mangathayaramma stopped her and exlaimed "Ada Paavi!!""8 kattai la Carnatic music paadriye dee! Evan di onakku pakka vaadyam vaasippaan?? Sama sruthi la vaasikka mudiyaadhu. Oru kattai mrdangam dhaan vasikkanum. C string violin dhaan vasikkan"
My mother couldn't understand what she was saying at that point of time. Nor did my mother's family get it as they were practically musical illiterates. When my mother started intensive research in voice culture and training modules she realized the velocity of Ammayakka's statements. Her fundamental experiment was to improve the range of classical singers. She proved it right starting from me to all her students.
I remember how all her students would come to her singing in G and E and saying "Adhukku Maela ettaadhu" simply because their Gurus decided it was "enough" if they sang classical music in G. Most came to her with a huge complex of "Sa ku maela ettadhu". My would quietly switch on the Shruti box, tell the student that they are singing in G but fix the pitch to A or B instead. They would easily reach the notes with some cajoling. Notes that they were previously told and brainwashed that they cannot reach.
To be continued....