Song of Surrender

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Vocal (and other) accompanists—of the third kind

By MV Swaroop

One of the unfortunate fallouts of a day job as gruelling as practising law in the High Court is that I am often late for concerts. Sanjay Subrahmanyan's concert at Bharat Sangeet Utsav started only at 7, but I was still about 20 minutes late. When my friend and I entered, his voice was well-settled and he was in the middle of a delightful Ramapriya alapana. Sadly for us, the voice of the middle-aged lady sitting next to us was also well-settled, as she sang along like a distorted echo.

After the usual Korinavaramu and a few snappy rounds of niraval and swaras culminating in a korvai that twisted a cliched bit of Rupaka talam mathematics, he launched into Sri Ramam of Muthuswami Dikshitar. Immediately, there was a rustling of plastic from behind me, quickly followed by similar sounds from my right and from the row in front. It dawned on me; the raga books were being brought out. Someone in the row behind me had the right answer first. Narayanagaula. The answer spread around the hall in whispers. The mama two rows ahead who insisted it was Isamanohari was flabbergasted. He asked the mami behind to pass the raga book. Then, he scrutinised the raga book and glanced disapprovingly at the publisher's name. This flurry of activity made me miss most of the pallavi. I must learn to concentrate better before the season begins.

After this, Sanjay started an alapana with a teasing ni dha ma. At this point, the usual suspects were Hindolam, Todi and Saramati. One phrase later, he confirmed that it was Todi. But I felt an unease in my head; something didn't fit. A minute later, I realised that he hadn't hit the panchamam at all. He was consciously avoiding it. I wondered if it was a stunt, and if he would introduce the panchamam suddenly to create a striking effect. But it never came.

He explained at the end of the alapana, "This was Todi without the panchamam—Suddha Todi." Immediately, the mami next to us sang loudly, Sa ri ga ma dha ni sa. She was completely off key. Then, she cleared her throat and tried again. Sa ri ga ma dha ni sa. Better, but still a bit off. I hoped she wouldn't try bettering herself, but she did. Sa ri ga ma dha ni sa. Still off. She went silent for a few seconds and tried a fourth time. I thought, "Please mami. Even the Olympics give you only three attempts!" My friend glared at her, and she stopped abruptly. After Varadarajan finished his violin response, she tried again. This time, satisfied with her grasp of the raga, she made some loud declamations to her husband about its "limited scope". I didn't know how to politely tell her that if she sang in sruti, the raga's "scope" might improve.

The trend continued throughout the concert, as her Nattaikurinji rivalled the artistes'. You must hand it to her for sheer self-belief. After the Nattaikirunji, when Sanjay sang Khamas, she immediately announced, "Khamas!" and sang two phrases that were still Nattaikurunji. Her husband said, "Mtch-mtch," in appreciation. I hope he was appreciating Sanjay.

Around this time, the hall started clearing up—perhaps the audience was getting late for "Thendral" and "Chellamey" -- and we found two seats away from this mami someone who behaved like an extra violin. Which reminds me -- Sanjay will sing during the season at Vani Mahal with two violin accompanists, Nagai Muralidharan and Nagai Sriram. That promises to be bizarre or interesting or both. Perhaps someone should try being accompanied by a string quartet soon.

1 comment:

  1. Good piece ... Have always wondered abt this need to identify the raga ... Of course, I cannot identify a single one, and, so I wonder

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