Song of Surrender

Monday, 3 July 2017

Birthdays & Anniversaries

M.L. Vasanthakumari
(Excerpted from the Sruti archives)

MLV was a brilliant vocalist and dedicated teacher, a pioneer who created space for woman-musicians on the concert stage, contributing significantly to the development of Carnatic music from the 1940s to the late 1980s.

She came to be widely known as MLV. Her initials can be said to depict three outstanding features of her music: Melody, Laya and Vidwat.

The combination of these in her music, in which melody enveloped the other two, won her the admiration of the cognoscenti but also appealed to the lay listener.

The child Vasanthakumari wanted to become a doctor. She was always perhaps regretful about what might have been. “Doctors save lives,” she was fond of saying wistfully, voicing her admiration for the medical profession.

Vasanthakumari’s parents—she was born as an only child on 3 July 1928 in Madras—were both musicians. Father Koothanur Ayyasami Iyer was well-versed in Carnatic music and had a keen interest in Hindustani classical music as well. Mother Lalithangi belonged to a family traditionally devoted to the fine arts. She had learnt music from Coimbatore Thayi and Flute Subba Rao, and padam-s and javali-s in particular from Veena Dhanammal. She was an active concert artist. She and her husband were both justly praised for their efforts to propagate the devarnama-s of Purandaradasa in the South (See Sruti 14). MLV grew up amidst sounds of music—listening to the songs of Purandaradasa, the kriti-s of the Tiruvarur trinity and other Carnatic music composers, and to khayals, thumri-s and dhun-s rendered by visiting Hindustani musicians.

But genes more than environment probably accounted for the ability of Vasanthakumari, even as a two-year-old toddler, to identify the swara-s embedded in the melodies she heard. She was, in other words, a child prodigy, even though she was not so proclaimed or publicised by her parents.

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