Thursday, November 23, 2006

Frog in a well

I've not written in a long while which is so typical of me. I've been quite busy being lazy that I couldn't find time to blog though I've had quite a few interesting thoughts come to my mind in the past few months.


MDR - M.D.Ramanathan

MMI - Madurai Mani Iyer

GNB - G.N.Balasubramanian

Ariyakudi - Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar

SSI - Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer

KVN - K.V.Narayanaswamy

TMK - T.M.Krishna

TRS - T.R.Subramaniam

I think I may be a little too prejudiced when it comes to Carnatic music possibly influenced by my propensity to sing along with the music most of the time. I'm at a stage in Carnatic music where I'm not 'qualified' enough to understand the greatness of GNB, Ariyakudi or Alathur's music but have gained sufficient listening experience to abhor (extremity is a passion of mine) the music of Yesudas, Aruna Sairam et al. The latter stems from being a passionate listener of MDR, MMI with frequent visits to SSI, TRS, KVN, S.Balachander to name a few. MDR and MMI were stalwarts in their own right with MMI having a mass following then and now. MDR, on the other hand, has come to be appreciated only recently though he did have a few dedicated fans then. Regardless, both these musicians were unorthodox in their own right. MMI developed a distinct style of his own, introducing 'la la' phrases in his alapanas, predominantly singing sarva laghu swarams and from my observation, not laying too much emphasis on the krithi rendition. MDR distinguished himself by his slow pace (when speed was the name of the game), nonchalant and laidback approach to music using the krithi itself as a vehicle for manodharma.

This is just a theory and I'd be glad if people can prove me wrong. The common factor in both their music is that, from a musician's perspective, it's difficult to learn from them. Though MMI was successful as a performer, his success was primarily due to his ability to present complicated music in a simple manner thereby making it appealing to the layman (depends on the layman though :-) ). It is difficult for someone to mimic his style and become as successful. The fact that TVS has done a fairly good job of it is laudable but he is still considered by some to be a poor copy of his uncle. Again, I don't blame him given that he had the unenviable task of carrying on his uncle's bani and trying to be different at the same time. The same logic applies to MDR and in his case it's fairly obvious that no musician is going to succeed singing at his pace. I have heard people criticizing TMK for singing too slowly. (D'oh!! Just when I was thinking that that was the best part of his music).

So, this alienates me from people who are learning/have learnt music since they tend to listen to say GNB, Ariyakudi more. But having listened to MDR, MMI, I also cannot listen to Yesudas, Santhanam since they don't sound very good to my ears. This alienates me from a lot of newbies and people who seek less from music than me. Understandably, it's difficult for newbies to appreciate MDR or MMI. Due to the reason mentioned in the beginning of this post, I also do not tend to listen to female artistes much except MLV. This puts me in a position where the number of people I can relate to, in terms of music, is a handful.

Well, I forgot the point I was trying to make. I leave it to the reader to make his own conclusions. :-)


  1. I just like to say that when it comes to music, different people have different tastes. Therein lies the charm. It's only fair that you like some voices while you hate others. I don't think anyone can refute the theory that you have proposed.

    By the way, you can check out for some great music. It has a comprehensive collection of songs.

  2. I've been listening to carnatic music very sriously for about 5 years now. And I seemed to have reached the same conclusion as you have. MMI and MDR are probably my favorites along with ARI and SSI. I cannot stand to listen to many of the new artists as well. Even TNS and Sudha Raghunathan bore me as do many female artists. MS seems to me just a less soulful version of SSI. My family who considers me one of the eccentric ones, can't seem to understand the music of MDR. I played an absolute gem of a kharaharapriya for them (Sathatham - Swathi) and they complained it was too slow and that they had heard better kharaharapriyas. The thing is that I've heard kharaharapriyas sung by SSI and although really amazing (the last swaraprastharas will probably never be replicated again) lacks some of the feeling MDR can evoke in ragas like kharaharapriya, khamas, reethigowla and yadukula kamboji. I guess I don't know how to express it correctly but after attending a rock concert last weekend at the request of all my other college buddies, I HAD to come home and have a session with my beloved MDR. His music is indeed special.

  3. i would tell be careful on commenting great musicians like TVS.Nobody can be compared with the class of MMI.

  4. Along with MDR, I listen to a few more legendary musicians such as Musiri, Voletti, Sandhyavandanam, Pudukkodu, Dr. Pinakapani, and Palghat Rama Bhagavathat (I have just one Kedaragowla sung by him).

  5. Though I tend to understand your point of view and have to admin that at some point, I have also formed a view similar to yours but with a subtle difference. TVS, MS, in my view have reached significant heights in the perception of many a great men/women who have been critics.. I would not go so far as to make an observation as strong as you've done. IMHO, there are certain songs that are best sung by some including TNS, MS and TVS - which I can only listen to them. To the list, I've taken a fondness to Sri Chembai who I feel is an institution unto himself, though Yesudas unfortunately seems to have lost the direction sometimes. Besides, TNS is a multi talented genius.. if ever you had a chance to interact you'd know as your experience has been with Sri TNK.

  6. I am a great fan of MDR. Been listening to music for the past 30 years. Started with Madurai Mani Iyer, used to buy Vaanoli ( A publication by AIR) and mark the timings as to when they would be broadcasting his songs. Then finally arrived at the twin destination Stations - MDR and KVN. Now no more interested in travelling further. :) This is the first time I am reading a comparison between MMI and MDR. One comparison that I often do is between KVN and MDR. There are lots of songs that both have sung and famous for. (Sri subhramanyaya namaste, Varugalamo to name a few). One thing which KVN did but not MDR, is to sing another's composition. (KVN has decided not to compose,I am told). I heard at TTD centre, Chennai a Sagara Shayana vibho. Sitting right across him, there was no stage. What a rendition! When we came out, people were sitting on the platforms, all over Venkat Narayana Road, as the concert was relayed through speakers! I would love to hear any comparative study your erudite mind has attempted between KVN and MDR