Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Musings from a Veena Concert

It was Saturday evening.  On invitation I was attending the M.J.Srinivasa Iyengar memorial concert. 'Invitor' was Venugopal, father of one of the young pupils of  MJS, the great veena maestro.  MJS passed away a few months ago.  It was Venugopal's response to my blogpost on MJS, [written a few weeks before the passing away of the maestro - click on MJS in the above line], had brought us in contact.

I was late to the concert by an hour.  I satisfied myself by staying till the end and showing my face to my 'invitor'.   It was the Nadabrahma Sangeetha Sabha's programme held at the Mysore K.Vasudevacharya auditorium, situated about seven minutes by 'Dinu's walk' from home.  Something like crow's flight. 

The concert on stage was by D.Srinivas playing the veena, [stringed instrument] with accompaniments of a ghatam [mud pot, tapped by G.S.Ramanujam] and a mridangam [percussion instrument, struck by K.U.Jayachandra Rao].  These instruments make a pleasing combination.

See only the instruments. This is not the picture of the concert I went or showing the very artistes, but a web-grabbed one.  Wanted to show how they were sitting on stage.  Note the mridamgam player here, who is also left handed. 

It is said that music is the language of the soul.  Even though I do not qualify as a connoisseur, I enjoyed the soul-stirring concert while also observing certain things as a music lover.  Read on.

I realized why the left handed mridangam player was sitting to the left of Srinivas, facing the audience. That was because the striking fingers must face the audience. He was proving how strong the leather head was of his mridangam. The mud pot artiste sitting to the right of Srinivas was trying to break his pot by tapping it with different fingers and at different rhythms but it survived the whole length of the concert.  The veena had different strings to produce different frequencies and by the end of the concert, he was successful in producing many pleasing frequencies, without snapping any of them. 

None of them sang but rehydrated themselves like singers or speakers every once in a while! And they would wipe their foreheads with a napkin as if they had run a 400-metre running race.  They would produce the napkin from below their knees like magicians.  Why, even I was perspiring just by sitting despite fans in operation!  It was quite warm really, as it is towards the end of 'summery May'.   

The sound from the loud speakers were too loud, temporarily defying the renown melodiousness of the veena as the artistes in unison took the keeerthana [song] to its crescendo.  Electronic amplification at its 'best' service!  I was happy that they were only attached to the veena and not to the ghatam or mridangam!  I would close my ears to bring down the volume to my toleration level.  How much pleasing it would be to listen without microphones and loudspeakers, I felt.  I went back to the olden days, imagining, when no such amplification existed and the audience [smaller] could hear the notes perfectly.  I thought why not the 'engineer' reduce the sound levels even considering the possible presence of some of the elderly audience in the not-even-half-full-hall who may be hard of hearing!
In my opinion, melody exists in low volume levels.

Some in the audience were following the 'taala' [clapping in rhythmic pattern], with exaggerated actions when the 'raga' [tune] was extra impressive and penetrated deep into their souls.  I was watching and enjoying particularly one who was surprisingly, a youngster - a rarity in such a gathering.  A few empty seats separated us in the same row.  He was beating the palm on his right knee, shaking his head, also pushing it forward and straightening the arm at the elbow.  He was so engrossed and very appreciative at times that he would do this esp. when at the time of a crescendo.  He would look towards me to check if I was watching him enjoy!  And he knew I was, but he was in his own world of a truly delightful music that was filling the auditorium.  

A middle-aged couple was sitting in the next row.  The man was following the taala with exaggerated gestures of the fingers and clapping them against the left palm held next to his right chin, turning towards me during the process of shaking the head every now and then to check if I was noticing his 'enjoyment'.  Indeed I was.  I was also timing my taala to his taala when I pretended to know something about the technicalities of music. I would follow his actions from the corner of my eye without looking towards him and tap my finger on the knee or lightly shaking my head.  

At some distance, a lady was in animated enjoyment, shaking her head in all directions and doing the taala tapping with her hands held in front of her face as if she was in a trance.  Older people were enjoying in their own way, shaking their heads in jerky nods to match the taala of the music piece.  

The artistes themselves have their own styles of dramatizing on stage. The Veena player Srinivas would look at the accompanists sitting on either side, smiling when he plays a tune to his own satisfaction and they would acknowledge in nodding, smiling gestures which were self-revealing.  He would relax the thighs by lifting a few inches and dropping back every once in while as the thigh got tired because the instrument rested on his left knee. The mridangam player would rest his forearms on the instrument whenever he was not required to play for short periods. The ghata player would do the same on his shiny clay pot.  Usually ghatam players will have a pot belly, but this Ramanujam did not have one. He would hold the round pot with his two calve muscles and often brought it back to touch his tummy as it tried to roll away out of control as he tapped and tapped. 

Whatever they did, they produced delightful melody.  Being there for nearly 90 minutes was quite rejuvenating.  I had not done such a thing for a long time.  I do not know if I sat that long if I was not entertained by the audience, if not by the artistes!  

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