Percussion - Tradition and Trends
Evolution of Artistry over the last 100 years
Sangita Kalanidhi Trichy Sankaran ji in Conversation with Sangeet Samrat Chitravina Ravikiran
By Nupur Joshi
Jan 24, 2021 was truly enriched by a mind blowing discussion between Sangita Kalanidhi Trichy Sankaran ji and Sangeet Samrat Chitravina Ravikiran on Percussion – Tradition and Trends broadcasted live by Indian Fine Arts Academy, San Diego (IFAASD).
When legends interact, profound truths are revealed. The role of percussion in a concert is an extremely important subject in both Indian classical as well as Western music and this interaction gave a true understanding of the word ‘Proportion’.
Tracing back to the olden times, of how the percussion tradition has evolved over the last several decades, the two maestros took the entire audience on a gripping journey, sharing their invaluable experiences and reminiscing about the golden musical moments of the past. Shri Chitravina Ravikiran ji’s extremely insightful questions and Shri Trichy Sankaran ji’s brilliantly satisfying and lucid explanations of the different aspects of percussion, gave a very clear picture about how legendary percussion artists have adapted to the different styles of several main artists.
I would like to share this interaction between the maestros through their own words.
Opening Remarks by Shri Trichy Sankaran ji about Tradition
• Tradition is the basis for all artistic achievements. It represents the sum of all that we have inherited from our forefathers and gurus.
• Tradition has never been stagnant. It has accommodated the necessary changes from time to time. We have to see that the new developments and innovations are coherent and in accordance with the core values of the system.
• It is our responsibility to preserve the heritage and at the same time, move forward with the changing times with a progressive outlook for newer developments and innovations. We can be traditional modernists as well as modern traditionists.
• Every classical tradition has a changeable superstructure and unchangeable core elements. Being rooted in a tradition means preserving the core values of the tradition and moving with the changes of time.
Shri Chitravina Ravikiran ji : Having accompanied musicians of several generations, you are probably one the biggest authorities on Changing Trends over time, over several decades. So covering the vast generations of the practice of Carnatic music, what would be your views on the changes that are broadly seen in terms of the melody artists that has led you to adapt in various ways to the concertplatform as an accompanist?
Shri Trichy Sankaran ji : We consider Narayanswami Appa as the father of Mridangam playing. My cousin Venkataraman Iyer comes from the Tanjore Tradition which made me get familiar with that style too. Tracing back, the artists had placed high value for the art forms.In olden days the audience was less in number and they cared more about maintaining the purity and tradition of the art and that prompted certain styles of playing. It was more a Laya oriented tradition to begin with. In those days there were 4 hour concerts and Nadaswaram artists used to play for hours in those days. The duration has been reducing over the past few decades. The Pallavi was 8 or 16 Kalai Choukam and then it was brought down to 4 Kalai Choukam Pallavi.
“Shri Trichy Sankaran ji’s playing brings out the Naadam aspect of the mridangam. He develops the soulness of the mridangam based on the sangatis of the song.’’
says Shri Ravikiran ji.
“Even though my Guru was the disciple of a great Tavil vidwan, he played Mridangam like Mridangam and not Mridangam like a Tavil. The fingering technique that is applied to Tavil is different from that applied to mridangam.’’ said Shri Sankaran ji.
Ta din gina tom is used in many contexts, and it is of various types. It is used in dance forms too and it has remained an important phrase in all fine arts.
A clear differentiation in the styles of Tavil and Mridangam playing was beautifully demonstrated by TS Sir.
RK Sir : How have the mridangists adapted to the styles of main artists singing or playing and how has your interaction with Ghatam and Khanjira evolved over time?
TS Sir : The mridangam player should have the ‘Patha Gyanam’ . Knowledge of music is highly important. Without the knowledge of music, one cannot accompany an artist appropriately. I have myself undergone vocal training for several years. My Guru Palani Sir was a great singer and gave a full vocal recital at AIR Trichy in Todi ragam with extensive Manodharma – Niraval and Kalpana swarams. That was an amazing feast. My guru and Semmangudi Mama used to exchange swara kalpanas during their travels together.
Palghat Mani Iyer and Palani sir were a team. Mani Iyer played mridangam and Palani sir played Khanjira on many occasions. They talked about ‘ How the Mridangam played the song itself ! ‘
RK Sir : This meant not Verbatim reproducing the melodic sequences on the mridangam. Despite the limitations of the mridangam, he brought out the bhava and the rhythmic content of the phrases which would enhance the concert.
TS Sir : What to play for Pallavi, Anupallavi and Charanam section and what Not to play was important. First we have to study the Kalapramanam of the song as it was not rehearsed in those times. The artists met directly on stage. Getting into the mood of the song is so important.
Fast vs Slow and Simple accompaniment
RK Sir : Just the beautiful presence of Strong, Simple, Single strokes and laying the tempo. The power and weight of the strokes is a very sharp determining factor of the environment created in a concert.
TS Sir : I have also performed many concerts with Shri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Those concerts would give tremendous energy and he was known for sarvalaghu swaras. Sarvalaghuis the rhythm of life. It is so captivating and intriguing.
A very crucial point to keep in mind is that there has to be Parallel Development. I cannot overtake the music. I have to be with the music all the time. I was so involved at times that I did not even want to play more at some endings.
RK Sir : It is a very fine line between Anticipation of a given phrase vs Leading a given phrase. A fine balance between anticipating and leading the main artist.
Sparks of Musical Moments
It takes a lot of musical maturity to understand the importance of ‘moments’ in music. For eg, the spark of the Nadai just for a while,like lightening.
This highlights the style of Classical artists where they understood the importance of ‘ Less is More‘ .
Trichy Sankaran Sir talks about Shri Ravikiran ji playing Raga Ahiri… “ I just wanted to listen to him play and do nothing, as I was so moved by the melody…’’
This is Creating Silence in Music which is so essential. Great artists knew exactly where to just let the music take over. I hardly see these moments now.’’ said TS Sir.
RK Sir : “This is a reflection of your oneness with the melody. Where you are not there and only the music is there. This is more a temperamental thing than just talent. And this probably cannot be taught to any artist. It comes through experience. The art of accompaniment has to be experienced.
The art of silence is not just keeping quiet alone. It is about being able to accompany and still giving the effect of silence to the extent that it is difficult to distinguish between the Mridangam and the Tanpura. That is the sound of silence.’’
TS Sir : Music is a team work. They have to know where to join. It is not about More or Less. It is about looking at the overall effect and enhancing the music. It is about complimenting what we do.
RK Sir : Dichotomy between Siddhi and Buddhi. In your view, how can one balance these two?
TS Sir : Today’s youngsters are very brilliant and enthusiastic and they can understand the math behind the korvais very well. What is lacking is the Siddhi that they have attained with these korvais.
Intellect and Aesthetics have to be combined. Nothing has to be at the detriment of aesthetics. One can be great with the math. But just math alone, cannot satisfy. Aesthetics has to be inculcated. This fusion of Intellect and Aesthetics is inevitable for progress. This Upasna cannot happen in one day. Conviction of your tradition is very important and taking good things from all.
Just Imitation will not help. Insight has to be developed into the Korvais.
TS Sir’s msg to Youngsters : Listen with depth to great masters. To maintain your identity, guided listening is very important. Understand and realize the beauty of Slow music. Understanding the repertoire of each musician is very important.
RK Sir :It is also very imperative for the main artist to be equally aware of the styles of the mridangists. Everybody can become better Tansens the moment they become better Kansens.
One of the most crucial learnings for all music aspirants from this session was to understand how legendary artists made changes to successfully adapt to the changing tastes of the masses. Anticipating the changes and adapting accordingly without sacrificing the form, is very essential.
Apart from the many invaluable gems, one of the most priceless takeaways for me, is developing the ability to create Silence in music which was so beautifully explained by both Trichy Sankaran ji and Chitravina Ravikran ji. I think this is something that each artist and student should strive to achieve. My heartfelt gratitude to Indian Fine Arts Academy, San Diego (IFAASD) for such an enlightening session.