By the time my mother was 14 she had listened to 3 of Flute Mali's concerts of which 2 were accompanied on the Violin by Dwaram Mangathayaru and one was accompanied by Mrs T Rukmini. Mom took a great fancy for Dwaram Mangathayaru and wanted to learn music from her. They were living in the same locality, i.e Triplicane, separated by two streets. (Dwaram Mangathayaru still lives in the same Dwaram house on Bandala Venugopala Naidu street. Mom took me to meet her a couple of years ago once again. She also happened to be my first Guru other than my mother. I remember at probably 8-9 years of age, I took a baby violin and went to learn from her. Didn't last long :))
There was stiff opposition in the house for taking up music as a profession. What would one expect anyway, with the kind of varied offices that the elder men in the house held? My mother was supported by her elder sister who volunteered to foot the bill for the music classes. After quite a lot of commotion the determination of my mother made thatha take her to Dwaram Mangathayaru. What impressed Mangthayaramma my mother did not know (maybe I should go and ask her, but the old timers that they are I wonder if I will wheedle any information from her at all!), but then on, Mangathayaru became my thatha's adopted daughter at the very first instance. The question of footing a bill did not arise as Mangathayaramma refused to accept any fee. It was the perfect Gurukula system. But thatha, from then on, made a habit of buying silk saris and jewelry in sets of three most of the time. One set went to my mother's elder sister. One went to mom. The other went to Mangathayaramma - the third daughter. This went on and a couple of years later, Mangathayaramma got a job in Tirupati and later in Vijayawada and had to move from Chennai. Thus the curtains fell on regular classes with Mangathayaramma. Mom refused to go to any other Guru. I have taken after her as I see. However, whenever Mangathayaramma visited Madras, they met, the connections were intact and occasionally classes did happen. Finally, Mangathayaramma personally took my mother to Carnatic Music College for admission.
The application was given for a Pre-Vidwan course. The then Principal Sri T N Krishnan and the other judges Sri K V Narayanaswamy, Kalpakam Swaminathan, after listening to mom, (guess that was a practice for the entrance examination), took her directly into the Sangeeta Vidwan course of the Carnatic Music College.
Two years flew by. She learned under stalwarts like K V Narayanaswamy, B Rajam Iyer, R Vedavalli, B Krishnamoorthy, Tiruppamburam Shanmukhasundaram.... While most others did not pay heed to the classes of Sri Shanmukhasundaram, my mother's alert ears did not fail to notice the difference in his music and the typical nuances of the Nagaswaram. He, being an alumnus of the same college, trained under Brindamma and Muktamma, showed remarkable tinges of their music. This was carefully registered in mom's memories and she sang the compositions taught by him with relish. They were systematic, dexterously constructed in terms of Sangatis, just as the Nagaswaram tradition would have it. With that, the nuances of Brindamma and Muktamma aesthetically sprinkled here and there, she was very careful in taking a lot from him.
The Dhanamma baani (style) is a classic explanation or embodiment of the real music not being on the notes but anywhere and everywhere in between the notes. (This reminds me of a Bryan Adams quote, where he says music is in between the notes. I am not sure about the theorems and how they go about proving things, but this would probably suffice to say that music is universal)
K V Narayanaswamy would not open his eyes during class. But one student from the 40 and odd group making a mistake, his head will turn, his eyes will open, with a piercing look on the exact person who erred. "Yaar Adhu..!!! Kaezhu (Kaelu)!!" (to be imagined in a low guttaral whisper that can shake the guts out of you). And with a weariness, he would turn his head, close his eyes and resume.
B Rajam Iyer would make very sarcastic remarks making the class laugh out aloud.
Sometimes the teachers would say sarcastically "Oh...!! Apdi ellaam kooda irukko.. Anya swaram ellam vardhe?! Pudussa kathukkanum pola irukke.!! " (Mom is laughing now, as she recalls these events and may I say I am louuuuuing this interview process!!)
Having said that, an example that a person learns all the time was Sri K V Narayanaswamy. Amongst Sri Ariyakudi's disciples, he was the leading. Still, he taught at Carnatic Music College. (Here, I ask Why? Apdidhaan iruppa appo ellam ... cholli kudukkardhu was part of their lives..!!)
Mom sang Nambi Kettavarillavo in Ragam Kalyani for her Quarterly Examination. Rajam Iyer was the examiner. Mom sang a sangati in the Anupallavi which was not taught by Sri KVN. Though it was not a deliberate attempt but it had happened perchance. While Sri Rajam Iyer nodded his head in approval, told my mother that would be all for evaluation, Sri KVN was outside the exam room, listening to this keenly. Mom came out of the exam room, Sri KVN was facing the other direction, turned toward her, repeated the sangati she had just sung and said "Nanna irundhudhu".
Thus her Ramnad connection was reestablished at Carnatic Music college.
There was another example to extol the simplicity of Sri KVN and a message that every music aspirant can take. Sri KVN was a top-notch performer of his times. Mom had already commenced research in voice culture and teaching methodologies. (At this point I feel my mother has wasted a good 10 years of her life on me, especially the past 10 years, like she jokingly says often, being my aayah. Regret.)
She happened to take up this subject and one more, to establish that the music is not on the note. She did this as a demonstration in her special musicology classes. As an ancillary, students had the option of taking either an instrument or Advanced Musicology at Govt Music College. They used to refer to it as "Musicology Special". Mom had chosen AM. Professor V Balakrishnan used to ask my mother to give student enumerations and demonstrations during the classes. In one such demonstration, she spoke about the musical exercises for expanding the range and some of the herbs which would help the same.
This was keenly watched by KVN, Parur Anantharama Iyer and a couple of Veena lecturers from a distance where they could easily hear and observe what was going on in the lecture hall. As the class got over and the students were coming out, KVN called out to mom
"Padmasini chettha inga vaa..!" She shivered in fright thinking she had made a gross blunder in her demo.
"Pinne orukka chollu paappom. Enna chonnayakkum anga..?"
"Ayyo Bayama irukku sir. Romba olarittaena? Thappa sir?
"Illa nanna irundhudhu.. Chollu paapom? Adhellam ezhudhi kudu..!"
She then sat and wrote down what she had just demonstrated, names of the herbs et al and within a week also went to Parry's corner and procured the herbs for him. The specific exercises he took was for Mandra Saadhana for improving the volume and tonal quality in the lower register. He said the exercises and the herbs did immense help to him. And after his December Music Festival concert, he remembered to call my mother and ask her "How did you find my voice?" like a child or maybe like a patient would ask his doctor, with all innocence. This is an incredible memory. Which is why he was an all time great musician. He learned from anybody. Even if it were his student. (Again, reminded of the interview that I had with Sri K J Yesudas a couple of weeks ago at Kollur Mookambika temple, where he went on to explain that life is a constant learning process. He sang the first few lines of Harivarasanam and went on to explain "Arivimardhanam" should not be sung as one word but should be sung as Ari-Vimardhanam, accenting the Vimardhanam. As the word Arivimardhanam has no meaning if sung as one word. This, he said he had learnt only a few months ago, from a Sanskrit scholar and explaining the importance of being a constant learner)
Similarly when mom was giving a demo on "The note alone is not important, its the movement that matters". She took a Swara Pallavi in Todi that she had learned from Dwaram Mangathayaru as an example and narrated the Ga appearing in various tonal colours and placement. KVN promptly called her, asked her to specifically sing those phrases. "Nee edho Todi 'ga' pathi demonstration kuduthiyaame? Ennadhadhu.. Enakku paadikaami...?"
Swarapallavi is not a musical form familiar in the Tamilian parts. It is an exclusive amaanat of Andhra Desam. This became a solid foundation for my mother thanks to Dwaram Mangathayaru. She learned a number of Swara Pallavi-s from her. (Making a mental note to learn these from mom, duh on this blog) He didn't pay any heed to her protests. "Sir ongalukku edhuraka epdi paadardhu.. bayama irukku". He said "Nanna irundhudhunnu kaelvi pattaen.. paadu" Sri KVN made mom write the Swara Pallavi and thereafter sing it out to him. "Nanna irukkae..!" He said. He had an enthusiasm of collecting such compositions.
Eventhough Sri KVN, hailing from Kerala, was considered the prime disciple of Sri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, he had gone to learn from him when KVN was already a performing artiste of repute. Sri Rajam Iyer did Gurukulavaasam under Sri Ariyakudi and therefore he had a lot of narrations about Poochi Iyengar and Ariyakudi, thereby, the Ramnad traditions.
When mom was on a documentation spree, much, much later, when she returned from Bombay, KVN once told her that "Gurukula vaasam panni ore Guru va follow panradhu oru vishayam. Innonnu, pravurthi kaaga praapalyama irukkaravaalta thaedi poi sishyana irukkardhu. Naangallam apdi dhaan" during her interview with him documenting the Guru Sishya Parampara. Not only Sri KVN, but this was repeated by many others, like Sri R K Srikanthan, Smt M L Vasanthakumari., Calcutta K S Krishnamurthi. (Mom had worked on documenting a lot of their work when she had come down from Mumbai. As a child I would accompany her to many of these visits. I still find pictures of me in those pictures taken then. And I hear her steady breathing as she falls asleep)
To be continued....