Friday, December 14, 2012

Sojourned Musically at Perla .....

Sa  Ma pa .That is Sarvasri for you,  a  tri -tonal Raga credited to Dr Magalampally Balamurali Krishna 's innovative genious.

Having grown up in Madras couldnt escape carnatic music as a Child ..but did we like it ?? Not one bit then.. especially the ones with the typical gamakas and pidis which calls for an acquired taste from previous janmas preferably !.

Music didnt reach anywhere beyond the "thenju pona" record -vara veena mrudhu paani -at every golu sung religiously for sundal as a return gesture and very often dished out only to stop it !!

Some maamis had the audacity to ask " haven't you learnt anything else, apart from this ??"  Did maami expect a pulsating thaanam in return for the garnished pulses ??!  How naive!

The tipping point was when I  heard Dr Mangalampally Balamuralikrisha for the first time ... remember the song vividly ..Brihadeeswara Mahadeva ...which had very stylish gamakas and his voice quality was so mesmerising ...and the clarity in lyrics and diction .. Talking about lyrics... was always fascinated with his lyrics , the swaraksharams , .! ( .In case you missed... I tried a swaraksharam with  swaras of Sarvasri  for the tittle to  this post .. dont even want to think about how long I took to arrive at that !! ) Whereas the lyrical value of Dr BMK 's compositions would merit a separate post from a more knowledgeable person than me ...

My tryst with Carnatic music started precisely then ...and continues to grow ..till it took a new turn when I stumbled upon Dr Balamurali Krishna's student Prince Rama Varma 's  video lessons and airings on SVBC channel ..

I found it very appealing and non-threatening ..and lucid .It had all the ingredients ..mesmerising voice quality , perfect diction whatever be the language , melody and stylish  pidis and gamakas yet very authentic and traditional .

And the lovely videos on teaching sessions at Perla ..a quaint little place near Mangalore was so intriguing ..especially the residential 2 day programs in Gurukul format was so enticing ...that I landed up there .

Started off with lots of apprehensions ..doubts ..(silly  urban mind was all the time thinking about the urbane nitty gritty ) and was really overwhelmed with the warmth and friendliness and hospitality extended there by  Yogesh Sharmaji who runs this music school -Veenavadhini and the calm and composed  Rama Varmaji who conducts residential music workshops once every four months ...While there is  a dedicated set of students ..they are gracious enough to welcome music enthusiasts , wannabes , late bloomers .. ( you guessed it right, I am one of them ! )

Before I talk about the music there ..must say a few words about the ambience of this place which smells green with a nearly 100 year old Jack fruit tree ..clean fresh air , star-studded sky accompanied by    simple healthy food ..topped up with Good music . Pure bliss .

And the divergent group .of .participants from all walks of life ..teens , tweens , a mother-to -be , mother -daughter duos , father -daughter too , a grandmother , over the hill moms -who escaped from home ( there I go , again !) ..made it a very enriching experience .

The children who come here get special treat from Varmaji ...bubble makers and generous amounts Swiss chocolates after every session . ( Just why didn't my gurus think of this ?  ..If not Bubbles and bourbons I am sure they could have managed some groundnut chikkis and Pallanguzhi ...Sigh .what a loss .)

The daily chores like cutting vegetables, cleaning up after every meal, doing the dishes were all so seamlessly sewn into our routines ...that it gave such a beautiful sense of involvement.The regular students there take such good care of the new comers and wouldnt let us do any menial jobs at all ...such much hospitality was really touching ..A gurukul with a difference ..serving not only the guru ..but each other too !

Typically the day begins with breakfast and music sessions start at 9.30 am

Every session starts with a warm-up song from their repertoire of nearly 100 songs taught so far from earlier sessions ..the one I attended being the 22nd  such session.

Loved the format and structure of the teaching sessions  adopted and fine-tuned by Varmaji here ..We  proceed on to the new song ..with an elaborate swara exercise in that raga which is the  highlight !.which consumes more than 50% of the time devoted to teaching / learning the song .

The swara exercise opens up the raga  to be  stretched , cajoled , crooned , tugged at , paused appropriately -  only to reach a crescendo , pampered , pushed to touch the boundaries , crinkled , with typical prayogas .., some novel prayogas and dished out   .in a highly  concentrated form much so that the entire place resonates with that raga and smells of it too ..Ah ! that merits a mention about the lovely filter coffee served there . Good food ..Good Music the punch line of Yogesh Sharmaji whenever you appreciate the food !!

By the end of this half an hour of Swara exercise one is ready for a neat take -off .
Varmaji or Varma sir as he is called,goes on to give the lyrical essence of the song explaining the whole song in a common language and sharing little tidbits about the composer, the composition, significance of the lyrics, special themes and most importantly the kriti's meaning is explained  word by word to a bunch of multilingual students.
It ranges from Tulu , Kannada , Hindi , Tamizh , Havyaka ,( a cross between Kannada and Tulu is what I was given to understand ) and  Malayalam .

When you hear them sing though their diction is so authentic that one would think it is a manavaadu  singing an Annamayya Kriti or a true blue kannadiga singing a Purandara dasa kriti  ( no scope for swalpa adjust maadi at all !) or a Bengali singing a Robindra Shangeeth ..or a Mylapore maami singing a Neela kanda sivan composition with the 'zha' in its place !

What a beautiful feeling when the language and diction get their due respect! Fitting  Tribute to the vaggkeyakaras who must be so disturbed turning in their graves each time a composition is rendered with wrong lyrics.

Never will you hear a -Endharoma - haanubaavulu  or for that matter nada thanu - manisham or saramaina maata lenthura - Jaanu Jaanu ra at Veenavadhini School under Varmaji's tutelage ..It is always Endharo- Mahaanubhavulu or  Nada Thanum Anisham or Saramaina Maata lenthu ra -tchsaalu tchsaalu ra !!

Varmaji never  gives the notations for any of the songs he teaches ..surprising , eh ? ! He ,instead takes it from the students ! Which is like a cake walk for the Perla regulars ' after the swara exercises .. Varmaji sings a line and they notate it then and there within a matter of minutes !

Cant help remembering the adage .." A good teacher is one who becomes progressively unnecessary .."

Move over to the song.Each sangathi is taught so meticulously, and the subtle nuances of each sangathi are book marked by cute and funny tips, reminders by Varmaji, which works wonders with the children , who sheepishly recollect the funny reminders while rendering the sangathis.( Oh , yes  It works wonders with late bloomers too who otherwise tend to blunder !)

Never a dull moment during the sessions that stretch from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm with a lunch and tea break .. Actually nobody looks forward to these breaks except the Perla campus cows whose body clock is in perfect sync with the break timings ..Amazingly on-time ..everytime ! There are no cattle traps nor is it a gated community ....spotted a deadly scorpion too.Inclusive living of singers and stingers .

One of my musically inclined  friends wondered  if the cows  at Perla moo with a shudha madhyamam or pratimadhyamam .?! .what with so much Dwimadhyamam flowing out of  Veena Vadhini school through a bhavam soaked Behag and  a ravishing Rohini .

Break ke baad .- the students always have a quick bite and religiously practice whatever is taught and render it so neatly when the session kicks off again ..The songs are revised over and over again that at the end of 2 days they get recorded in just one-take !

The choice of songs is again a heady mix of a ghana raga, a peppy nottuswara , a  hindustani raga, a " thrillana ", and lots of Dr BMK's  lovely compositions ... a Rabindra Sangeeth, a swathi krithi, or a Faiyaz Hashmi's  composition, a Neela Kanda sivan or  MDR composition and some thukaddas generously thrown in!

Was lucky to learn these songs at Perla this time.
1. Ghana Rasike - Hindolam -Dr BMK composition.

   A lovely composition  sprinkled with a lively chittaswaram By
     Varmaji himself.

2. Sankara nin Karunai Purivai- Behag ( my best friend ! ) -Neelakanda Sivan  Composition

 Talking about sangathi's and the little tips that Varmaji gives out to remember the same ..The charanam goes like this "Mangalam ongiya vengirivasa "  -vengirivasa meaning  -Shiva a resident of the snow clad mountains ..and he asked the children to imagine being on a snow clad mountain and sing the second sangathi with a shiver !! A fifth grader there was so quick to catch on and whispered to me  "Aunty .thats a .Behag shiver "! I am sure  he would never forget to render this sangathi the right way in his entire life . Behag shower thus became Behag shiver !

Varmaji went on to explain the nuances of Behag -a dwimadhyama raga and the Rishabham and Dhaivatham prayogas in the South Indian versions.

3.Nava sidhi Petralum - Karahara Priya - Neela kanda sivan again .

    A composition with high lyrical value and the song has scope for  minimal vocal ornamentation, keeping the lyrics as the focal point .

4. Ahir Bhairavi thillana - By Dr BMK

   Simple yet  an awesome Thillana. Varmaji explained the nuances of this raga and its connection with an allied raga Chakravaham .

5. Dora va Dari Vachtiva  -Natta Kurinji - Dr BMK composition

   A  very soothing melody .that refuses to leave my head.

6. A lovely Dikshitar nottuswara -Sankara Vara Pankaja Kara

    Here the notations were given, and the students were asked to try out the tune and the sahitya themselves ..and they all did it at one go. Impressive !

7. Maname Ramanai Pada Maravathe - SindhuBhairavi - MDR composition

   Another lovely composition in Tamizh where lyrics play a vital role .

The only impediment to learning for me was the  internal battle  with in me to just close my eyes and listen to Varmaji's  singing or take in what was being taught so lucidly ....I lost the battle to the avid listener in me and emerged a winner .

you will know what a great teacher he is from this video.

Oh, my god!  In all this exhilaration did I forget to "miss my family" ?? After a  brief  guilty-mom perdition trip only to be woken up by a little girl who wanted me to braid her hair or stand guard outside the cloak late in the night and not to forget the little boy who would nudge me with a sheepish smile everytime  we had to deliver a Behag shiver .

If the music sessions were so absorbing ..the post music sessions were a real treat too ..every one relaxed including Varmaji ... which musician worth his varali would let down all airs and just sit around and chat ever so amicably with everyone alike on just about any topic ..he would sometimes breakout into a rare /unheard of composition of Dr BMK and explain its nuances or the Nava mukhi Taal invented by Dr .BMK ..which he explained to us ..( it is another matter that it went above my head and into thin air !) or   about Madurai Mani Iyer's Keeravani or about MDR's compositions ..Observed that not a day passed without him mentioning his guru Vechoor Harihara Subramaniam ..Something really worth emulating ..

One could just about ask him anything about music ..and he would go on to explain at length ..without any pretensions ...During one such conversation the usual topic of "Thani" and people getting out during Thani avarthanams cropped up ..( Apparently it has never happened in his concerts so far !)
He related one incident in this context from the past where in a famous musician  ( Name with held due to reasons of my poor , failing memory !) halted the concert when a rasika got up to leave the hall when the "thani" started ..and asked him the reason for doing so ..The rasika in all sincerety seems to have replied saying he does not understand the complexities of tala system and hence ..The musician I believe quipped back " So do you mean to say you understood all the swara prastharams and the nuances of the ragas that I sang till now , in its entirety ?"

Varmaji ..left it open ended with out punctuating or being judgemental .. Having driven the point home . Mustered enough courage to ask him what was anyway going to spill out of my loud mouth given my restraint levels ... " What would you say to the idea of accompanying artists also being given a chance to briefly explain the subtle nuances of the Tala / laya etc before they break out into a "Thani" ? With sweaty palms (!) waited for an answer ..when he responded with utmost poise that he has indeed tried it with many artists who accompany him ..but unfortunately most of them do not want to or hesitate  to "talk about their performance "  .. Calls for a paradigm shift here I guess .

The best of Varmaji's concerts are the information he shares about the composer , composition , the raga etc which makes it a wholesome experience .. While we all can enjoy a Pizza wouldnt it add pizzazz  to know what goes into the topping ??

Thats Varmaji - a Maverick of sorts who treats every rasika alike right from the knowledgeable ones to the ones who cant make out a Vasantha from a Lalitha unless they came on two legs ! ( there I go , again !)

What do I say about Yogesh Sharmaji - an Outlier in his own way  ( not because of Perla's location !)
who runs this music school and organises these workshops every 3-4 months for a very absymally low charge ...such is his passion for good music ..( and good food ! )
A very resourceful person himself who has tuned many compositions including that of one of his students  who is a lyricist ..such much talent abounds in this place ..

That is the Perla I left behind which refuses to leave my mind ... I would never have been able to make this escapade with out my DH's support ! ( hope he is reading this there is one more camp coming up shortly ..!!  Cant a woman dream ?? !)

My god ..I must be sounding like a first time "Amreeka"-returned-Desi to anybody crossing my way.
May be putting them down in writing will contain the verbal diahhorea?    May be.

Call/mail / message/inbox me at your risk !

And those of you inspired to check out Perla may write to Varmaji @

or Call Yogesh Sharmaji  @ 9447693944!


Witty Weirdo said...

" no scope for swalpa adjust maadi at all" - good one!!! nicely written Viji Ganesh mam..

shaan said...

Adorable! Both your writing and the unassuming Varma sir’s amazing workshops!! 😊🙏