I was singing a concert at the Academy in Dec 1992, and I finished the concert with “Maname ganamum” in Abheri. A senior music listener and connoisseur, who had introduced me to some exquisite Carnatic music over the years, came up to me and said ” How dare you sing a film song at the Music Academy?” He followed it up by saying he wouldn’t have minded it if I had sung it anywhere else! I had no idea it was a film song! (Yes, MS Subbulakshmi has sung it in the Tamil film Savithri) I didn’t argue or answer but the comment stayed with me. It is interesting how people perceive music, places and form ideas about “what and how” something is to be done. What he meant was, the Music Academy was sacro sanct, and these songs were only ‘allowed’ elsewhere! Of course, he was not a musician, had never sung a concert before an audience in his life, and that gave him the right to say whatever he wanted to me!
I was also slowly discovering ways of incorporating musical nuggets from other forms and genres into my concert singing. Usually it was an inside joke that I enjoyed with my accompanists, family and close friends. However, listeners are clever and they know what is happening over time! They are however most forgiving and accepting unlike the odd snob that crops up here and there like the one mentioned above.
I loved the opening like of ‘Thuninthapin maname” from the film Devadas. It was classic Kalyani with a lovely Ghantasala twist. It was first pointed out by Madurai GS Mani in a lec dem on Carnatic Music and Cinema. Sometimes when I finished an alapana of Kalyani I would quietly recall this phrase. The phrase also allows me to use as a take off to sometimes go into a bit of Yaman. These are indulgences and are fun, enjoyable and fulfilling when you can pull them off!
Around the early 2000s I started using the phrase ” sasasasa sasasasa” whenever I sang Chalanattai in a ragamalika swaram sequence to echo “pani vizhum malarvanam.” Then I got more adventurous and tried a couple of others such patterns from popular songs. It was quite random and never regular. I would do it once, forget about it and then try it again after a few concerts. Once after the season I made a visit to Mumbai for a concert and a listener came up to me and said “Sir, today you never sang any film song! We were really waiting for it!”
Music is universal. Genres have a way of evolving over time like language. You take in some, you leave it out some, artistes find ways of fulfilling creative challenges, audiences like, dislike, accept reject and life goes on! Short Notes was a natural culmination of this personal journey of mine that I have tried to outline. Today I am looking forward to newer experiences, newer challenges and who knows, newer genres????