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Music > Face-To-Face
Face to Face with Sri T V Gopalakrishnan
26 August, 2014

- Uma Krishnaswamy

Sri T V Gopalakrishnan, this year’s Sangeetha Kalanidhi recipient, is immensely happy to receive it and the Sabhash team takes this opportunity to congratulate him, and wishes him all the very best. He has great regard for The Sangeetha Vidwath Sabha of the Music Academy. He recalled how all the Vidwans in those days used to sing with nationalistic feeling, wearing only Khadi. He had been in the expert committee of the Academy for a number of years. He has given a number of demonstrations on topics like, 108 Talas, Time theory of ragas, Morning Ragas, Comparison of Carnatic and Hindustani music, to name a few. He is really an Ashtavathani, who is proficient both in Carnatic and Hindustani vocal, Mridangam, Violin, Saxophone, Veena, Kanjira, and the Flute.

His Guru Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar got this award in 1951. He is also proud to acknowledge the fact that he is the third musician from Thirupunithura to get the award, after T N Krishnan and T K Govinda Rao.

Tell us about your initial training and how did you land up learning many instruments as well?

My first guru was my father. I grew up amidst music. My father, grandfather, and uncles were always teaching in our house simultaneously either vocal or some instrument. Music was in the family and hence I had plenty of access to it. Thanjavur Muthuswamy Iyer who was proficient in Sangeetham as well as Samskritam was my great grandfather. My grandfather Ramaswamy Bhagavathar was a violin vidwan. My father T G Viswanatha Bhagavatar was a student of Palghat Anantarama Bhagavatar who was the student of Maha Vaidyanatha Iyer. My father’s maternal grandmother was from Coimbatore Raghava Iyer (Haripada) family. My ancestors, in those days never stepped out of their place. I learn Mridangam from my uncle Narayanaswamy Iyer and Palghat Subbaiyer. Of course, Palghat Mani Iyer and Palani Subramanya Pillai were my manaseeka gurus. They were the ones who got this place for mridangam in a concert. My father, who was my first guru and my gurunathar Chembai were different poles. My father used to concentrate only on ragam and niraval as against the all round importance given by the latter. 

At the age of 40, I joined the music college and learn the violin and got a degree.

How did you get interested in Hindustani Music?

Actually, we used to listen to all kinds of music as youngsters. My father knew Rabindra Sangeeth also besides harmonium and violin. Once, in a concert, I sang Nagaswaravali raga alapana combining the Hindustani style and the song that followed was Garudagamana.   After the concert, Veena Vidwan S Balachander scolded me saying, what did Nagaswarali do to you? Why should you mix Hindustani and sing? Justice Rangarajan, who was also present, did not like it either. He said if you want to sing in Hindustani style, learn it properly and perform a full length concert. I told them that since M S Gopalakrishnan, with whom I had very good rapport, was accompanying, it would be good to hear him play the alapana beautifully combining that style. Finally they said learn properly and give a full fledged Hindustani concert and, we will attend.

That made me looks for a Guru. I learn from Sri Krishnanand agreeing to all his conditions. When I thought it was going on smoothly, my Guru Chembai came to know about this and asked me why have I taken up this unnecessary challenge. Finally he said I will accompany you for a few classes and, if I am convinced about your capability, you can proceed. He used to sit in the verandah and listen. After three classes, he got convinced and blessed me to continue. 

What about your first Hindustani concert?

I invited both Justice Rangarajan and S Balachander for the concert. The former came with his wife. He not only praised me at the end of the concert, but also arranged for me, several concerts including one at Tansen festival. He also wrote a letter saying that this is total national integration. In Trivandrum, I gave a concert with Hindustani compositions of Maharaja Swathi Tirunal where I was given the Sangeetha Vidya Ratna title. 

I have performed lots of concerts along with Alla Rakka and also Krishna Maharaj. I have to mention here about Sitar maestro Ravishankar’s concert in Madison Gardens where, it was agreed upon that Alla Rakka and I would  play 10 avartans each. Somehow Alla Rakka took up more time and I was left without any time. After a minute of silence I just played a chapu, which reverberated in the hall and there was standing ovation from the 24000  odd audience in the Hall.

Can you tell recall any other memorable instances that you cherish?

Once my Gurunathar was giving a concert in Nellore Dt., arranged by S P Balasubramaniam’s father and I played the mridangam. It was an open air concert with a thatched roof for the artistes only. Suddenly there was a request to sing Evarani. My Guru said if I sing that song, the rain will come. They still insisted. He said, if it rains, I am protected, but you will all get wet and I cannot stop the concert in the middle and I will continue. When he started the caranam, it rained nonstop for 10 minutes and no one moved.

Same experience I encountered in Bangalore, when I sang at Rama Seva Mandali with MSG and Upendran. When there was a request for Amrithavarshini, Upendran said that if TVG sings that ragam, rain will come. It was April and rain did come. Similar incident happened after I sang Amrithavarshini in Besant Nagar Vinayakar temple also. These are all not in our hands. 

In Ettumanur temple concert, I was accompanied by VVS And Sivaraman. From the beginning till I sang Mangalam a rooster was sitting on the stage!!

Which role gives you the best satisfaction? Guru/Vocalist/Accompanist?  

When I used to perform, there was lot of involvement music as well as in technical perfection. From 1947 I have sung as a child artiste in AIR. From the time Aakashvani Cochin, was started in 1949, I have been singing every year. I have accompanied my Guru on Mridangam. My brother T V Vasan, and I had played double mridangam for his concert at Shanmukananda Sabha. In the last 15 years, the emotional appeal and aesthetics of our music draw me more towards it.  Every day when I do my sadakam at 4 AM in the morning, I experience it. When I get talented children, I just enjoy teaching them. As you saw when you came in, the dedication of the 8year old boy to learn the saxophone. (It was amazing how TVG Sir produced the saxophone sound in his voice to teach that boy Bhajanaseya in Kedaram) I enjoy every role. It gives me pride to include achievers like Kadri Gopalnath, Ilayaraja, Rahman, Rajkumar Bharathi,  Devi, Sankaran Namboodiri, Sivasakthi Sivanesan (England), some American students, and several others in my students list. 

Who were your favourites as a youngster, and which concerts you have enjoyed most?

I have listened to lots of concerts. I used to adore both my father and Chembai whose music used to be logical. As a youngster I used to walk from Saidapet to Perambur Sangeetha Sabha to listen to concerts. I liked Ariyakkudi for his intelligent performance, Alathur Brothers for their treatment of layam as Pavithram, Madurai mani for sheer enjoyment, like a baby. I used to listen to MS and DKP also. I used to enjoy Dwaram’s concerts, Rajarathnam Pillai and of course Palghat Mani Iyer and Palani Subramanya Pillai.

Which of the concerts did you enjoy most as an accompanist?

I used to play with happiness and joy for Dwaram, whereas it was challenging to accompany Veena S Balachander. To play for Madurai Somu a lot of stamina was required. All pervasive was for Dr Balamurali Krishna, which used to be full of surprises. On-stage enjoyment was exquisite here with sumukhsm, soulabhyam and with space for everyone.

Do you have anything to say to today’s youngsters?

They are all very intelligent. I make it a point to listen to Sanjay, T M Krishna etc. Abhishek has lot of potential, talent unlimited. The up and coming artistes should also give importance to the aesthetics of the lyrics. If that is not important, why not take up an instrument?

The audience also have a responsibility to elevate the level of music. Our music is a complete product and the focus should not be lost.

What is your take on Vivadhi ragam?

Actually, it shoud have been named Suvadhi instead of Vivadhi. It is difficult to catch Suddha swaram. If vivadhi is not to be sung why did Thyagarajar compose Ganamurthy starting with a vivadhi note? There is no sangeetham without vivadhi swaram. If you do shruthi bhedam to Rasikapriya you get Mayamalava Gaula. The way we look at it, makes all the difference. Mani Iyer used to call it Singapore ‘Aalu”!!!!

What is Chembai style or pani?

It is an all round performance. His style is performance oriented. It had dynamics, variety, thrill, sobriety, and relevancy. My Gurunathar was an all rounder. No mannerisms. He always used to include songs according to the region where he was performing. He had a good repertoire He has given more than 75 gramaphone records in those days. He was very popular, with maximum saleability.  

I owe everything to all my great ancestors and Gurus.

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