Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Vittal Rangan

By Mannarkoil Balaji


Young voices
(Conversations with emerging artists)

Brilliant in academics, Vittal Rangan, a promising young violinist, is an “A” Grade Artist of AIR and Doordarshan. He has won accolades from senior artists and is the recipient of a number of awards. He also belongs to a rich musical lineage on his parents’ side and his guru’s side. Widely travelled, Vittal Rangan, has been a favourite accompanist of many senior artists, as well as a fine solo violinist.


Tell us about your guru parampara.

Born in a musical family, my initial training began in vocal music when I was five, from my mother Chitra Bilvam who is an alumnus of Tiruvaiyaru Raja’s Music College and an AIR graded artist, Bengaluru. Thereafter I also self-learnt the harmonium and used to play it during bhajan sessions conducted in our home.   Further, my mother was very keen that I learn violin, particularly because of its high versatility and mellifluous sound. I had my initial lessons on the violin from the late R.R. Keshavamurthy for a brief period. Once, we happened to attend an ensemble led by vidushi A. Kanyakumari at Sri Rama Seva Mandali, Bengaluru. I was spellbound and inspired by the way she played along with her disciples and from then on it was my dream to become her disciple, which came true in 2003. My guru is a disciple of three legends—Ivaturi Vijeswara Rao, M. Chandrasekaran and M.L. Vasanthakumari.

School holidays brought me from Bengaluru to attend violin classes at length in Chennai, with either my mother or father accompanying me. We always looked forward to the music season in December when we stayed for three to four weeks listening to concerts. Apart from violin classes we also attended lecture-demonstrations and workshops. These left an indelible mark on the progress of my musical career.

Can you describe your guru’s teaching methods and her uniqueness?

My guru’s bani combines the aesthetics of both instrumental and vocal music, with a focus on the vocals.If you listen to her playing the violin, it would sound beautifully akin to someone singing. Her approach inteaching her disciples is a fine blend of true dedication, devotion and concern. The true challenge for a violinist lies in precisely reproducing the subtlety of the vocal chords. She always insists that we repeat on the violin whatever she teaches through voice. This technique enabled me to appreciate the nuances of vocal music and thereby, improved my capabilities both as an accompanying artist and soloist. Further, she emphasised the importance of practising an exercise named ‘tristhayi’ which involves traversing all the three octaves. It greatly helped me in achieving clarity, speed and sruti suddham.

Any interesting experiences?

It has been an honour to accompany my guru on stage during her solo performances. It is highly challenging as it demands great concentration, especially during swaraprastara and ragamalika. One of the experiences I remember vividly, was in 2009 in Hyderabad when I had just started accompanying her on stage. She played a rare raga called Pushpalatika and rendered a fast paced kriti Ikanaina with kalpana swaras. I was not aware of the raga or the kriti, but she suddenly asked me to play my turn of kalpana swaras, which I got through successfully, based on observation of the raga on the spot! Impressed by that she immediately expressed her appreciation in public by announcing that she had not taught me the raga and that I had played it for the first time.

Another important point about her is that she telephones me immediately after every concert of mine and reviews it. In the ensuing classes she provides appropriate inputs as to how and where I could make improvements. Such is her personal care for her disciples. Learning from her has not only taught me to be deeply involved in music, but she has also inspired me a great deal about the importance of imbibing higher qualities and maintaining impeccable character as a human being.

What is your take on fusion music?

Fusion music is a wonderful medium to express the beauty of Carnatic classical music. Certain ragas, when played in the context of other genres, highlight their mood and intricacies. My strong foundation in Carnatic music, has enabled me to appreciate many genres of music and also attempt to explore them.

At such a young age you seem to have played for several doyens of Carnatic music.

I took up Carnatic violin not to establish myself as a popular artist, but to sincerely learn at least a drop from the ocean contributed by our elders. I have been fortunate to have accompanied many stalwarts and senior musicians such as R.K. Srikantan, T.V. Sankaranarayanan, O.S. Thyagarajan, Neela Ramgopal, N. Ravikiran, Bangalore S. Shankar, T.M. Krishna, Ranjani-Gayathri, Malladi Brothers, Abhishek Raghuram, and Shashank.

Any interesting episodes with these musicians?

During one of the performances, I had made a humble attempt to explore a rare raga called Sivakambhoji and uploaded its recording on Youtube. Having listened to this, vocalist Abhishek Raghuram asked me to play the raga alapana in one of his own concerts, which meant a lot to me.

What are you afraid of on stage and how do you circumvent those fears?

As such, I do not have any stage fear. However I am very cautious with regard to maintaining the sruti suddham and clarity of expressions. I practise every day to meet the demands of performance and make it a point to listen to my own recordings for further improvement.

Tell us about your parents’ role in your career?

I belong to a family with a rich musical heritage. My paternal grandmother and her sister (Saraswati Doraiswamy and Jayaratnam) were both violinists and my father used to tell me that both of them practised rigorously during Brahma muhoortam or the early morning hours. My maternal grandmother Mangalam is an ardent devotee of Tyagaraja and sings his kritis while performing her household chores. She is my oldest rasika, aged 90, and still coaxes me to play for her at night, even after a long tiring day. This sometimes inspires me to practise relentlessly into the wee hours.

My father, the late D. Bilvam was a vainika, a student of C. Krishnamurthy. He had the uncanny ability to play any instrument and he was also adept at playing the mouth organ and the flute. Probably due to this genetic influence, I also self-learnt to play the harmonium. He was a music lover and his constant encouragement inspires me. His unflinching support and blessings have helped me in achieving many things in life and I am able to feel his presence around me, even today.

Chitra Bilvam, my mother, learnt from T.M. Thyagarajan. She is also my first guru and provides many inputs and suggests areas of improvement after every concert. She discusses the intricacies and I take those important points given by her.

Apart from my parents we have, in our family, the famous musicologist Gowri Kuppuswamy and we are also related to Vishaka Hari and Saketaraman, both musicians of high repute.

(Mannarkoil J. Balaji is a mridanga vidwan)

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