By Shuchita Rao
Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi gave seven solo violin concerts, eight jugalbandi concerts with Hindustani violinist Kala Ramnath and a vocal concert in a tour that spanned across several cities in the US. She spoke about her ideas on Carnatic and Hindustani music and her career as a Carnatic violinist.
The Lalgudi bani
It is basically a vocal bani demonstrated on the violin. We take extra care to follow the lyrics when we approach a composition. The glides and intonations typical of vocal music are closely simulated on the violin. It is very heartening when rasikas tell us that they can actually hear the lyrics when we play the violin. Not only the fingering but also the bowing has been developed by my guru and father Lalgudi Jayaraman to bring out the nuances and continuity typical of vocal music. The Lalgudi bani pays attention to emotions and aesthetics.
The influence of her late grandmother
Savitri Ammal, my father’s mother who passed away recently, was an iron-willed lady, hard working, emotionally very strong—which is why she could be a silent spectator when Grandfather put Appa and my aunts through a rigorous upbringing. She could sing from memory all the folk songs composed by her mother-in-law. She was quite a cerebral person who enthusiastically solved puzzles and riddles. It was quite a sight to watch her play board games with my father when she was over eighty. She was a repository of proverbs and interesting folklore.
The different challenges of violin solo, duets with brother Krishnan, as accompanist to vocal artists and in jugalbandi
As a soloist I am at liberty to draw the outline of the concert and the flow of my expression and imagination. In duets with my brother, it is he who leads and I thoroughly enjoy the challenges posed by him, to go with the flow of his imagination and to sync with him. As an accompanist I strive to give my best and support the main artiste and embellish the concert. It is also important to make an indelible mark in an understated way. When it is a jugalbandi concert, it is important to respect the other artist's creativity and to give her space to express herself. Kalaji and I have perfect understanding and respect for each other’s music.
Her take on the Carnatic system as different from Hindustani
In the Carnatic system, we have very intricate, quick moving gamakas as opposed to the straight notes and long glides of Hindustani music. (She demonstrates by singing a melodic phrase in the Carnatic Dwijawanti and contrasts it with the Hindustani Jaijaiwanti) On the violin particularly as opposed to instruments with frets, you have to be very precise in the manner of creating the gamaka.
Comparison with taans in the Hindustani system
Imagine a graph showing the melodic movement. In the Hindustani style you would see straight lines going up and down, connecting dots (pitches). In Carnatic music, you would see twirls, rounded lines connecting many more dots (pitches). We use overtones extensively. (She demonstrates by singing gamakas in the Carnatic raga Todi touching varied semi-tones and comments that in the corresponding Hindustani raga Bhairavi the notes are handled very differently). When our gamakas travel, we deceptively make the musical note sound as if it is within the raga. More semi-tonal variations are used to infuse the Carnatic flavour.
The Lalgudi bani vis-a-vis the straight note approach of Hindustani music
My father does feel that using straight notes can add great beauty to the Carnatic system. (She demonstrates a melodic movement in Kharaharapriya first in the chaste Carnatic format, then using straight notes and meends in the Hindustani style). Many of my father’s compositions use the feature and it is a unique aspect of his bani.
Preferred ragas do in jugalbandi with Hindustani musicians
For my USA tour this time, Kala and I chose to play Charukesi, Kiravani and also Dharmavati (with Kala playing Madhuvanti). These are not really hard-core Carnatic ragas but they hold an important place in the Carnatic system. (She demonstrates the ascent and descent in Dharmavati as well as Madhuvanti). The Hindustani Madhuvanti skips “ri” and “dha” in the ascent as opposed to Dharmavati and that adds a unique flavour.
On-stage communication between main artist and percussionist
In the Hindustani system, the tabla player is maintaining the taal cycle and keeping track of beats and movements while in the Carnatic system, the accompanist improvises, maintaining the tempo. When I play a composition, I keep track of the tala in my mind rather than take a cue from the mridangist. Hindustani artists have to keep track of tabla “bols” – and therefore the rapport between the artistes is much closer than in the Carnatic system. The body language changes as the main artist plays along with the percussionist and Hindustani musicians communicate differently with their accompanists.
Playing the electric violin
I have played it once or twice. When it comes to sound, I am quite conservative in my taste and choice. I love the natural timbre and tone of the violin. I even hesitate to use the contact mike to amplify the sound of my violin. My brother and I travel together and play duets. Two years ago, when we were playing in Amsterdam for a music festival, we were asked to go to the concert hall at 3 pm for a sound check for a 6 pm performance. The hall looked like an opera house and could seat 300 people. When we went on stage and started to play the violin, we found that the smallest sound was so amplified because of the acoustics of the hall – we decided perform without microphones. The concert was sold out and listeners sat in complete silence while we played. It was a wonderful experience.
The future of the violin
The violin is and will continue to be emperor of instruments. Whether it is classical, film or semi-classical ghazals, you will always find the violin as an accompanying instrument and of course, it has a unique place as a solo instrument. We've come a long way. Carnatic music needs more attention on a global level. It is my dream and desire to contribute in a significant way to the celebration of our music globally.