Thursday, October 30, 2008

Children Academy

In the 1980's, Children Academy was one of the premier organizations in Chennai which used to conduct music competitions for children and more importantly, give short-duration concert opportunities for the prize-winners of these competitions.

This used to be a great motivation for us to participate in these competitions. Artists like S.P.Ramh, Embar Kannan, S.Varadarajan, Punya Srinivas (she was A.K.Devi then) and several others were part of this group.

This organization was headed by Smt.Nalini Ramprasad and Sri.Koothapiran (fondly known as 'Vaanoli Anna'). In 1986, after winning the First prize in the competitions held by Children Academy, I was thrilled to get an opportunity to give the first concert in my life !!

Here is the photo where I receive the prize from Dr.S.Ramanathan.
(Smt.Nalini Ramprasad and Sri.Koothapiran are seen in the picture below):

This photo was taken during my debut concert.(And, yes, that is S.Varadarajan on the violin !!)

The same people who managed the Children Academy then, run an organization now,called, "Sri Matha Samarpanam Trust" in Chennai. Last month, they had conducted Vocal Music, Sloka recitation competitions for children in which my daughter, Vishruthi, had participated and won prizes. It was nice to have an occasion again in 2008 (after 1986!)with Smt.Nalini Ramprasad and Sri.Koothapiran giving away prizes ! Another coincidence was that Smt.Punya Srinivas (who was in my group participating and performing at Children Academy in 1986) was the chief guest at this function. She, alongwith her husband, mridangist Sri.D.A.Srinivas are seen in the picture.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Here's my concert schedule during the Music Season in Chennai, from Dec'08 to Jan'09:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Debut Concert in the December Music Season

Madras (Chennai) has always been well known for the December Music Festival which is a very grand affair every year and which has been attracting huge crowds from all over the world.

This concert was for Karthik Fine Arts on the 22nd of December,1990.

It is a very memorable one for two reasons :

1. It was my debut concert during the December Music Season in Madras (it was not called Chennai then!).
2. Since it was one among the afternoon slot concerts, I had to finish my Semester Exam at college and directly head to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan where the concert was to take place. It was my first year in college. After a morning full of Fourier Series and Laplace Transformations (Mathematics was my major subject :-)), I had to get into the "Todi" mood !! In all, a totally new experience for me !!

Here is what I sang at this concert:

1.Sidhdhi Vinayakam - Mohanakalyani- Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar
2.Ninnu Cheppa - Mandari- Patnam Subramani Iyer
3.Tavaka Naamani - Kedaragowla - Maharaja Swati Tirunal
4.Vinaradhana - Devagandari - Tyagaraja
5.Kartikeya Gangeya - Todi - Papanasam Sivan
6.Surdas Bhajan
7.Jayadevar's Ashtapadi

This photo was taken on the 1st of December,2003 (thirteen years after my debut) when I received the "Isai Peroli" award from the same Sabha, Karthik Fine Arts.

This has been one among the many major Sabhas in the city which has supported and encouraged me over the years..

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Hi Friends,

Here's wishing all bloggers, Music Rasikas and friends a very happy Diwali !

Hope you all have great fun on this festive occasion !

Its a season of crackers, yummy savouries (batchanam as we call it in Tamil,also not forgetting the "Diwali Marundu":-)) and sweets being prepared in every household !

Have lots and lots of fun !

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Identifying Swaras in a Raga-Part 2

I would like to expand further on my previous discussion on identifying the swaras in a song/raga.

We earlier saw how the Melakartha Raga scheme could be used as a starting point for us to get familiarized with the usage of swaras in different Ragas.

Suppose we are listening to a Raga Alapana and our task is to identify the Raga. After identifying the inherent Swaras, the next confusion may arise due to similar scales(either in the ascending or descending order) between two Ragas. For instance, the ascending scale S-R(2)-M(1)-P-D(2)-S is common to both the Ragas Arabhi and Saama. When we listen to only the arohana(ascending scale) being sung, we start wondering if it is Arabhi or Sama. Let's now see how such a conflict can be resolved.

In case of similar scales like in Arabhi or Saama, we have to take a phrase that is common to both ragas and analyze it.Each Raga has its own grammar, a set of do's and don'ts. At this stage we need to look into a few more technical terms and aspects.

There are thirteen characteristics (Trayodasa Lakshanas) of a Raga, mentioned in treatises of Music and these characteristics establish the melodic entity of the Raga. A few among the thirteen, which are applicable in this context are the Graha swara(starting note), Nyasa swara(ending note),Amsa swara(or Jiva swara-the swara which is the actual soul of the raga), Alpatva(the note that should be sparingly used in the raga), Bahutva(the note that can be used frequently in the raga).

So, when we listen to the Alapana phrase that is being sung, with the Graha swara, Nyasa swara etc being correctly rendered, identification of the Raga becomes very easy. Compositions in each Raga fully comply with the grammar of the Raga. Hence listening to more and more compositions in a Raga helps one to get familiar with, and to identify the Raga.

Similar doubts may arise with allied Ragas like Madhyamavathi-Sriragam-Manirang-Pushpalathika, Janaranjani-Purnachandrika, Darbar-Nayaki, Bhairavi-Manji and so on.

As a further step, if we take into account the Gamaka (oscillation) given to a note, a phrase with the same set of swaras is sung differently in two different Ragas, because,even though the note is same,the oscillation given to that note differs from raga to raga. Again here, if the Raga is sung with correct adherence to its grammar, with repeated listening to the method of usage of Gamakas, identification of the raga/song with the help of its swaras becomes easier.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Identifying Swaras in a Raga-Part 1

This post is in response to a query that I got a few days back:

"What's the way to identify the swaras that form the backbone of a song?Have been told to get a fix of Sa,Pa and move relative to that. But find it tough when I listen to different singers."

Yes, the first step would be to fix Sa and Pa and proceed with this as the basis. One needs to first get a grasp of the positions of the different varieties of the Swaras,namely,Ri,Ga,Ma,Dha and Ni- how these different varieties are sequentially arranged on the octave, as one proceeds in the ascending order from Sa in the lower octave to the Sa in the upper octave, and vice versa, as one proceeds in the descending order from the Sa in the upper octave to the Sa in the lower octave.

One could get an idea of the same with the help of an instrument like the keyboard, or a fretted one like the Veena. Students of violin may also find this easier, beacuse they are taught about the fingering techniques at each of these swara positions.

After getting an idea about the placements of the different varieties of the Swaras, like the Sudhdha Rishabham-Chatusruthi Rishabham, Sadharana Gandharam-Antara Gandharam, Sudhdha Madhyamam-Prati Madhyamam and so on, relative to the Adhara Shadjam Sa and Panchamam Pa, the next step would be to know about the Ragas which arise from different permutations and combinations of these fundamental Swaras.

The basic Abhyasa Gana (learning and practise lessons)in our system of Music helps in one's attempt of getting familiarized with different Ragas. The Gitams, swarajatis, Jatiswarams have been composed in several fundamental ragas, easy for beginners to learn and get acquainted with the Raga scales.

The next possible step would be to get acquainted with the 72-Melakartha Raga System, the way these 72 Ragas have been beautifully and meaningfully divided into 12 Chakras with 6 Ragas each.Melakartha Ragas are also known as Sampurna Ragas meaning those which have all the seven basic notes. If one studies in detail as to how these ragas within a Chakra vary with respect to its swaras, identifying a Melakartha Raga with respect to its inherent Swaras becomes an easy task. For instance, with repeated listening to(or singing, or playing on an instrument) the notes of Ragas within a particular Chakra, one can start identifying the differences between Raga Charukesi and Raga Sarasangi(both belong to the 5th Chakra), or the difference between notes of Kalyani and Lathangi (both belong to the 11th Chakra).

The above was with respect to Parent or Sampurna Ragas. When we consider Janya or derived Ragas, we will have to first try and identify the varieties of the seven swaras present in the Raga (again relative to Sa and Pa) and trace it backwards to see which parent Raga it would belong to. For instance, if one were to listen to Sriranjani, it might first sound like the parent Raga Kharaharapriya. But on listening intently, a few Swarams will be missing, in comparison with the parent Melakartha Karaharapriya. So, a new Raga is now learnt, which sounds like Kharaharapriya, but which is not actually Kharaharapriya.

This is how,by repeated listening, one's repertoire of knowing different Raga names gradually improves and thus learning to identify the inherent Swaras in a song/Raga becomes more easy. Subsequently, mapping the swara varieties to the different Ragas also becomes easier.

I shall soon expand on this topic and write further.

The Navarathri Festival

This might be a slightly offbeat post, but nevertheless thought I would write about it, as promised in one of my earlier posts..

As early as September every year, I get very excited and active about getting the dolls ready for the Navarathri Kolu at home.

From my childhood we have had this habit of keeping a very grand Kolu at home and my mother always comes up with innovative ideas every year. During our school days, it would be theme parks and zoos, mythological stories and what not !!

This festival, according to me, is not just a mere display of dolls, if one wants to do a real good job of it. Its not as simple as some might think it to be..Lots of planning goes into it, its about collecting nice dolls over the years and maintaining them properly.

If one chooses to exhibit a thematic display, I think the real challenge lies in using the same sets of dolls in many different ways each year and showing one's creativity. After all, one can't keep buying dolls every year for every theme !

Buying the right kind of dolls is another art by itself. One has to look for nice features carved on the dolls, pleasant colors, the right sizes so that,when they are displayed, there is a sense of proportion and symmetry.

The real work is only after the festival, when the dolls have to be carefully packed, cartons to be labelled and safely stacked away.

I attempt a detailed and meticulously planned Kolu at home, with a different theme every year. My kids are equally enthusiastic and help me a lot in their own ways! My 6-yr old son proudly and promptly displays lots of his cars (of course only after I promise him that I would safely hand them over back to him later :-) ), his airport set, train set and his building blocks ! My 9-yr old daughter does a lot of crafts and handwork and she has a separate display of her work. This is of course in addition to the separate section of her (never-ending) list of Barbie dolls being displayed !!

I am sharing with all of you a few photos of this year's Kolu and also a few photos taken during Navarathri in 2005.

This year's theme was Arupadai Veedu of Lord Muruga. In addition to the traditional Kolu, we had kept all dolls pertaining to the Arupadai Veedu Kshetras, namely, Tirupparankunram, Tiruchendur, Palani, Swamimalai, Tiruttani and Pazhamudircholai :

The glass painting of Muruga and the peacock that you see here, done out of colorful ribbons was done by my daughter this year, specially for this theme:

The theme in 2005 was Ganesh Darshan. That year, we had displayed Lord Ganesha in different forms:

These forms of Ganesha on different mediums (like embossed painting, on foil, leaf Ganesha, Ganesha done with pulses and so on) were done by my daughter. She had worked hard on this for almost a year !:

This was the underwater Rangoli that she had done :

In addition to the display of dolls, Navarathri is a special occasion to offer our prayers to the Goddess, invite friends and offer Tambulam to ladies. This has been part of our Indian tradition for many many years now.

Next year I am planning to come up with an altogether different and exciting theme !

Friday, October 10, 2008

My recent visit to M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF):

Dr.M.S.Swaminathan has been one of my role models since the time I have known him personally- for his utmost dedication to his work.

He has done yeoman service in the field of Bio-Technology, Food security and supporting the lives of the poor in rural India. I am in no way qualified to even write about this great personality and each time I meet him, I look upon him with great respect. What dedication and passion towards his chosen field of work !

I have had the fortune of singing the prayer song on several important occasions at his Institute and each time I enter the campus, the faculty members are all there to welcome everyone with a beaming smile ! And one feels so much at home there!

A sentence or two about the Conference Hall, which is where these meetings are held and where I have been singing each time-this room has positive vibrations and the minute I enter the room, I can feel them ! As one sits there, the immortal music of MS Amma gets played at a very soft decibel level and I am sure everyone's mind gets calmed down on listening to Maithreem Bhajatha and the Meera Bhajans.

His field of work has always fascinated me and on each occasion, I have always made it a point to stay there for some time after my initial duty of singing the Prayer, listen to a bit of all the achievements of this great institution and then leave with all those inspiring thoughts fresh in my mind.

We are all endowed with different qualities,talents and traits- Dr.MSS is one person who has very beautifully, meaningfully carved out his life and this,along with his humility, are the qualities that have always inspired me.

I had recently been there to render the Invocation song for the Founder's Day celebrations and here are a couple of pictures taken on that occasion:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The chit that prompted me to write the following:

I gave a concert the day before yesterday at Nerul,Mumbai. After the concert,I got a chit,in which someone had asked me to write about this concert on my blog.Well, that was indeed heartening and here I am, ready to give a detailed version of the concert on Sunday ! Also, there were atleast three others who came upto me,told me about their frequent visits to my blog and promised to keep in touch through this wonderful medium!

The moment I entered the Uttara Kamakshi temple, I got to see the wonderful display of dolls as part of their Navarathri celebrations. It was a great sight to see the rows and rows of lamps being lit and the dolls displayed at the other end.
(Collecting different kinds of dolls for Navarathri has been one of my hobbies-I shall very soon write on the same and describe the Kolu that I keep at home every year..)
As I was keenly looking at the Kolu there,the Vilakku Puja doll set there caught my eye ! (This is something new and I am sure to go hunting for it next year, to add to my collection !)

After this, we got to see a marvellous collection of very rare photographs of Kanchi Maha Periava. Being an ardent devotee of the great saint, I remained awestruck looking at the photos and had to gently remind myself that I had to go and commence my concert shortly !

With a sense of contentment (in Tamil, we say "neranja manasoda") I got onto the stage. I could see a great audience in front of me.There were lots of other devotees too,waiting in line, to have a darshan of Devi Kamakshi.

After about one or two songs, the skies opened up. Oh boy! was this an ordinary downpour?? No, it poured and poured for more than ninety minutes with thunder and streaks of lightning. What made the occasion extra special was that the concert was held on the open lawns, on one side of the main sanctum sanctorum, with only a roof above the stage and the audience! Both sides were open and due to the strong winds, there used to be an occasional cool drizzle coming on to my face too ! I remember this happening twice, once while I was singing Amba Neelayathakshi(Neelambari) and again when I was singing the Kamalamba Navavarna Kriti in Punnagavarali.

This kind of heavy downpour hardly distracted the audience. Not one person stirred out of his/her place in search of shelter- shows how committed they were..

Throughout the concert, I felt as if it were the Rain Gods blessing all of us from the skies- this was such a divine atmosphere, wish I could describe it more poetically !!!

It was around 9.15 p.m, when I sang "Chandiran Oliyil Avalai Kanden" in Chandrakouns. As I was singing, I looked at the moonlit,serene sky and could feel the intensity and deep emotion embedded in these verses. What a great composer Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi has been !

In all, a great experience for me ! After the concert I reached the hotel around 11 p.m and could hardly sleep till 2 a.m- kept looking at the ceiling and my thoughts went back to the concert, the lovely atmosphere and so on. Was up by 4 a.m to take the 6 a.m flight. And here I am, back in (my dear) Chennai !