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27 comments | Friday, January 19, 2007

I was listening to this recording of "Deva Deva Kalayaami te..", mayamaalava gowla keerthanam by Shri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer with my friend during the christmas vacation at home. This was an AIR broadcast, and was done during the last days of Sri SSI. My friend is a staunch carnatic enthusiast and has this rather strange philosophy.

Critisism of music is a flexibility available only to a listener, but a student of music is not entitled to it. He should look for only the positives and learn from them and NOT get into the fault finding mode.

Well, I am sure, he is not the only one who thinks that way. I have seen eyebrows go up and voices getting heavier when I used to remark Shri SSI should have stopped singing atleast 30 years before he actually sang his last concert. His shruthi lapses where too many, his voice was unpalatable to my ear. ( Now the elitist will argue that you have to grow beyond the voice to appreciate carnatci music, there by weakening the line between caliphony and cacophony!) I have tremendous respect for the knowledge of Shri SSI and the enrichment he has provided to the art. But wait!! Just beacuse I am a student of music, I am allowed to talk only about his postives and not about his rough and unwieldy voice. Hypocrisy taking another form. period.

As much as I learn from the greats of carnatic music about whats good about them, I also learn whats miserable about each of them and how not to let that happen in my singing. I feel thats just getting constructive. Most of the guys who oppose my view take the apologetic supportive stand "Man, he is 88 and still he is pretty very good!". Bah! Mohinder amarnath played a crucial part in winning cricket worldcup to us, but he retired when he knew he was no good. Unfortunately many of our musicians have never heard that word. They will sing, croon, cry but wont give up!

If a student of music doesnt look at the art with a critical angle then its a shame to call himself or herself a student. A student of music is more equipped to be a better rasika and he/ she should use discretion to point out flaws in the past master's renditions along with imbibing their virtues. It is just not a one sided coin. Criticism is the best form of music appreciation and it should form a major part of the cumulative mindset of all music enthusiasts / students of music.

I came across the following in Shri G Ravikiran's blog:
KVN showed me just what soukhyam actually meant!!
SSI showed me what singing with life and energy was all about.
MDR was shruti and bhaavam personified.
MSS symbolised purity and clarity in every aspect of music.
Ramnad Krishnan embodied grace and finesse.
Brinda was the epitome of aesthetics.

So true, The qualities he as mentioned were the positve differentiators for the above mentioned greats of carnatic music. Ofcourse every student of music should learn these nuances from these masters of the past. In another post Shri Ravi writes:

Is there ANY great musician who has not toiled day and night in the hope of mastering the art?
Arent all human beings prone to a fault (or faults)?
Being a student, if I casually form opinions and stay that way, my music would definitely not grow!!
This is the point that I oppose:

If I were to write down what aspects of the above mentioned artiste's that I would work hard NOT to absorb, then it will look like this.
KVN showed me how you can create boring monotony by rendering almost all the rendition in the same vilambita kaalapramaanam, which lacked grip, tempo & excitement.

SSI showed me what having a good voice meant to the listener with his rather rough and unconditioned voice and also how raaga aalapana akaarams make or break the soothing effect it is supposed to provide (ex: instead of the usual na, tha dha ri na... he had a rather annoying "nghya nghya...")

MDR showed me, much like KVN, singing slow is not always the way to go as almost all his renditions were like a tortoise race. He had biological reasons why he had a 1/2 kattai shruthi but then will you accept it in a sports form if the athlete had a disability which makes him less capable than some one else?

MSS showed me that music without vyavahaaram is like coffee without sugar. It was like sitting in a plane that will never take off. And also how much on stage creativity adds value to a concert by demonstrating the lack of it!

GNB (I have to confess, I just love his style and attitude to singing, and he is almost close to what I think is exciting concert rendition with absolutely no predictability). showed me that it can be terribly annoying to race through all compositions at 100mph! Also when you sing brighas at machine tempo, your shruthi could go for a six.


Okay, I am sure many of you folks who read this will find my representation haughty, boorish and filled with hatred (Thats what my friend tells me most of the times...) I reiterate the fact that I have learnt gazillion things from these greats but I have no hangups pointing out their shortcomings. I feel that makes me a neutral, non apologetic and keen to learn rasika / student of music. I agree every body has their shortcomings, but the community / artist should have a bigger heart to accept criticism on the etablished norms and also appreciate younger folks criticizing the former generation. Music, for god's sake does not quantify against age, it is the amount of time you spend analyzing it.


Blogger SimblyDimply said...

Carnatic music stinks of many such hypocritical dogmas. Students are tamed with such "truths" floating around in Carnatic circles. Contrary to what is deemed right, I feel the Carnatic student should be the harshest critic- both of his own performance and others. Not the rasika who curls up in bed after a concert, while the musician toils to take his music / musicmanship to his next venture.

Also, for long I have cribbed and griped about such "taming" philosophies. "Just sing what the thalaivaars have left us" - is what SSI had to tell youngsters in an interview. Imagine such progressive thinking coming from the pitamaha of carnatic music! My take is: Every musician's music is his experiment in the music world. MDR saw his world as a tortoise race and hence his experiments taught us WHERE the tortoise race works and WHERE it fails miserably. So, if a student has to take the right lessons from this experiment, he needs to understand the range of applicability for the tortoise gait. And that means, you know where NOT to be a tortoise! That is basic research 101. Now the fact that research and scrutiny is completely excluded from Carnatic domains under the name of "carrying on the illustrious tradition of our forefathers" is only very lame. It is almost saying we ought to not grow a spine and think analytically about the music of these great experimentors. But see, this is too high a dose of independent thinking for a community that believes in doing "what GNB did" "Singing like TNS" or "Dont question what your teacher teaches you".

11:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Harish,
Nice lucid writeup.
Regarding retirement, in general it is an issue with people in all areas in India. Politicians,cricketers,Research Profs,even Godmen(!).
I agree with all your points abt the negatives of the yesteryear greats except may be MDR's voice. I think voice is not that important for a classical singer. MDR's Entharo Mahanubhavulu, Bhavayami Raghuramam are the best which proves to me that even with a 1/2kattai voice, with the right bhavam you can make wonders. I would compare voice of a carnatic singer to beauty of atheletes(woman tennis!) A classical singer with a good voice gets noticed for all the wrong reasons - all know who belong to this category.
As you say everybody have their shortcomings, I feel/think these yesteryear greats knew their shortcomings and worked on their positives to distinguish themselves from others and have left us with all the wonderful renderings.

Sorry to take too much of your space - living in usa I got to watch only couple of episodes of your airtel super singer shows. You have a great voice and bhavam. Wishing u all the best.

9:38 AM

Blogger Krishna said...

Cant agree with you more ... ! I remember a wonderful comment by Umayalpuram K Sivaraman : "It is important for Musicians to know their limits and capabilities" !

I dont see any problems with criticizing. But i always look out for things i can pick up from an average musician (a sangathi, a new sancharam .., new swara pattern ..)

And among the greats i have set my own expectations and take aways from them .. :D

Raaga Aalapana : Seshu, GNB, SSI, MLV, SKR (S Kalayana Raman)
Thanam : Seshu, MSS
Pallavi : Seshu, MLV, DKP
Kriti Rendition : MSS, DKP
Neraval : Seshu, KVN, MSS
Swaram : Seshu, Ariyakudi,SSI MMI

9:30 AM

Blogger Anshuman said...

Hi Harish! Nice reading your blog (even for a noob in music like me). :) How are you doing?


1:55 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

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4:32 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I'd tone it down a bit and say that every artist has his or her strengths. They try their best to hide their weaknesses but as time catches up with them, their weaknesses tend to show out a bit more. SSI's asthma reared its ugly head more often when he was older. MMI had problems with progressing leprosy. The amount of God-given gift and effort (practice, travel et al) it takes for artists to perform at that level is something almost monumental and those that break through and shine should be commended/respected. There's a huge gap between being a well-informed/knowledgeable rasika and an accomplished artist. I feel that sometimes rasikas underestimate the size of this gap and throw casual criticisms at artists. I used to be one such "rasika/critic" but after observing up-close a leading artist (I married into her family), I came to realize how big this gap is. Not trying to categorize you but just thinking out loud.


12:48 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is this blog still alive?

7:38 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope all is well with you ..its been long time..

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11:08 PM

Anonymous Deep said...


As listeners, we have the right to find faults. It's all relative, isn't it? A fault to you maybe a boon to some other person.

PS: Check out http://www.hummaa.com/index.php
for some great music!

1:50 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Venkatesh, that was a singularly sensible reply. kudos.. i do believe the so called rasika of today is completely oblivious of the gapping chasm that separates him/her from some of these monumental performers. it fails to impress his/her intellect that the performers are _at least_ as trained/knowledgeable as the critic, if not infinitely better, which is often the case: otherwise things wud've taken an 180 phase shift. Its a bit like a physics student learning GR underestimating the genius of Einstein for his cosmological constant mistake.

that apart, i cudn't care less for a musician's voice. a voice like Gangubai Hangal or SSI can work wonders. Its creativity that matters, time and again, for me. I can and will accept occasional lapses in execution when the content/intent are laudable. a perfect, vainika struti alignment is definitely desired but that is not all.

my last bit: i do agree that certain things certain musicians do are painful. i _hate_ MMI's la la la; but i jst can't hate HIM! same with MLV's brigas or MSS' diction. every artist have their own idiosyncratics; can't be helped. its is simpler, and often useful, to pick the right things and leave the rest. it doesn't pay one to linger over other's mistakes longer..


9:33 PM

Blogger Harish Sivaramakrishnan said...

Well, The Singular point i vehemently oppose is that I just cant look only at the positives and leave out the negatives. All of us agree people have negatives, You chose to ignore it, I chose to point them out. Thats the difference!

10:34 AM

Blogger adarsh said...

hey.. saw ur performance on Ohlalala last week.. it was amazing.. as expected..
ofcourse i have listened to ur compoisition on ur blog itself :)

all the best for your future..

4:27 PM

Blogger Blogeswari said...


Lovely performance on Ooh la la..

Please update blog

9:04 AM

Anonymous Harish said...

Hi Harish,

Its a world of too many bizarre coincidences, and well let me explain how I was forced to comment here :)

My name is Harish too, and I am very much a carnatic music buff with a few years of training as any chamattu tamizh paiyyan would have. Was searching for another friend named Harish on orkut and chanced upon a community about your music. Still had no clue what it was about, but followed the link. Then the community talked abt Agam, and it struck me, I had heard ur song just day before!

The freakier coincidence is because of the fact that i live in singapore now, and have no access to tam channels, and was checking out the oohlalala website on someones reco. and of all episodes, chanced upon the one that featured u :) and given my memory, its a miracle that i remembered the band name, and i still didnt know ur name was harish!

phew. anyways, loved ur song and composition. lovely use of classical pieces and the violin. and a lovely voice. hope someday i will fulfil my dream and compose something like that. rock on, bro!

(mailback at narayanan.harish@gmail.com)

3:41 PM

Anonymous Padmaja said...

It requires a lot of guts to talk about the negatives of stalwarts.

All humans have negatives. The old generation you have mentioned was just not used to open criticism because no one dared to pin point, not that they did not want to hear. I am sure they worked on their negatives too.I agree with you that they should know when to call it a day. But some of them really did well even after 80's, their music kept them healthy and energetic.

6:38 PM

Blogger Sindhuja Bhakthavatsalam said...

Interesting. Completely empathise!

5:39 PM

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7:12 PM

Anonymous krishna S said...

Truly an interesting blog on Indian music. the subject matter it excellent and the presentation is awesome. truly this blog is an asset for music enthusiasts

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6:23 PM

Anonymous Thaya said...


I find this article well versed and highly representative of the present situation of carnatic music. Having said that, I am too a very beginner of carnatic music, and as such a student in the preliminary stages. Yet I agree on the fact that the knowledged should move forward to critically anlayse every aspect of the obvious, not to take it in the form as it seems.

Till I came across musicians who were content enough to demonstrate perfection in rendition, like Padmashree Hariharan, Unnikrishnan, Bombay Jayashree, I was also taken away by the claim that higher stages of knowledge in carnatic music pardons perfection of even shruthi (Which is a very serious self satisficing disaster).

Perfect rendition, is a must and its the ability to present the art in an adorable way. "When you sing.... if a lay person can also listen to your performance..., you are doing justice..". Nuances can be so delicate and tuff, but there is no excuse to say that "weighted carnatic music is only for connoisseurs". One who fails miserably in rendition, as an artist who can see the picture himself/herself and yet can't paint it properly.. Its a pity...


9:06 PM

Blogger Ramesh V said...

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11:42 AM

Anonymous Manoj - Outsource Survey Processing said...

This is a excellent blog, would you be involved in doing an interview about just how you designed it?

2:28 PM

Anonymous bhashkar_Quantity-Takeoff said...

The freakier coincidence is because of the fact that i live in singapore now, and have no access to tam channels, and was checking out the oohlalala website on someones reco. and of all episodes, chanced upon the one that featured u :) and given my memory, its a miracle that i remembered the band name, and i still didnt know ur name was harish!

1:33 PM

Anonymous sketchup4architect said...

Nice blog and well content. thanks.

5:20 PM

Blogger Karnpriya said...

Hi Harish!!!
This is Karnpriya, a fusion band from Mumbai...
It was nice reading your blog!!!
Agreed that a student must have the right to criticize and actually he must....
But at the whole criticism depends on what you like...and liking differs from person to person.
Anyways, agreed to your point of retirement if you're not capable anymore!!!
Good luck

10:37 AM

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3:18 PM

Blogger Vidya Sagar Challa said...

Carnatic music is the mother of all music styles Fusion Music

1:45 AM


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