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Music > Face-To-Face
Isai Peroli Saketharaman - work-life balance and passion
18 December, 2014

As he talked to Sabhash, one was amazed at his stunning clarity….. Read on……...

It would be most appropriate if we start by mentioning the name of Lalgudi Jayaraman as he fuelled the passion in you. What do you say?

Yes.  Lalgudi Sir is a musician of a lifetime. He cannot be just viewed in the capacity of a violinist alone. He was ahead of his times. The refinement, aesthetics and ability to visualize every micro note are unmatched till date. He took special interest in me, my growth as a musician and even in my personal life. Each one of his classes spanned for 4 to 5 hours and opened up a new dimension for me and rest of his students. I started looking at music beyond concerts only because of him. He breathed music every second and that is what I would like to imbibe as well

Did you have an earlier guru…..

Srirangam Krishnamurthy Rao was my first guru. My sister Vishaka Hari used to learn from him. He used to come to our house and teach. I used to be playing but subconsciously was immersed into music. Once, he just saw that I reproduced a Reethigoulai phrase with the right anuswaram, when I was about 6 without any formal learning and he was mightily impressed and wanted to take me as a student. I learnt for couple of years from him and that helped as the foundation for me to learn from the legendary Lalgudi Sir

You have software as a profession and music as a passion…am I right?

Yes. That is true. Recent researches have proved that people are successful when they focus not only on just work but opt for a work-life balance. There is a third dimension, which is passion. When you are passionate about something, you make time regardless of the challenges. Additionally, music runs in my subconscious mind all the time - be at work or sleep, thanks to the intense training from Lalgudi Sir and the interest he created in me. I am grateful to God and thankful to my family - parents, wife and in-laws who are very understanding of my pursuits and extremely supportive of me. At the work place, senior managers look at impact and not the time spent at work. In that sense, I am quite fortunate to have a flexible ecosystem at the workplace. That said, it is not easy. It is a lot of hard work. Every second counts - there have been times when I had to fly to New York officially after a concert in Mumbai or landed in the concert place in Bangalore directly from London. But the key is to ensure quality does not suffer as rasikas are not going to demand less because I work in an investment bank or my stakeholders at work are not going to demand less because I am a musician.

Your concert experience in foreign countries and here at Chennai….

The adrenaline rush is high when you have concert tours, abroad. There is excitement as well as apprehension as to how people will receive you and your music. When I performed in Sydney Music Festival, there was a huge standing ovation from the 800 plus people after a Multi raga Pallavi or in Theatre De Ville in Paris where the audience mostly comprised of French, there were whistles blown after a sedate Nilambari. It just goes to show the power and reach of our rich carnatic music paddhati, more than individual excellence. Performing in Chennai and impressing the Mylaporeans and Mambala-vasis is the biggest challenge every musician looks forward to. Being a Mylaporean myself, I know the high standards and expectations here. December is all the more special as you have rasikas flocking to Chennai from all quarters. It is extremely challenging to impress because of the heterogeneous population and their tastes. Some rasikas expect weighty Dikshithar songs like Sri Subramanyaya Namasthe while some expect to hear more Tamil songs like Kaanakankodi. The balance is the most challenging part for musicians - how we offer something for everyone - the connoisseur to the laymen, the local folk to the foreigners to the NRIs, aspiring music students, etc. I believe that a concert needs to have 3 E's - Entertainment, Education and Elevation. Entertainment is important because there are laymen whose exposure to carnatic music is limited. Education for students - so a new raga or Pallavi or tala or kirthana or exploring a new dimension in a well known raga is essential. Elevation - Music is about reaching the soul of people, so we need to uplift the audience and take them in our journey to a different world where they will just be absorbed into the depth of music.

Support from home…..

My parents Shri Santhanam and Smt Vijaya Santhanam have sacrificed a lot in the upbringing of my sister and myself. My father relocated from Africa to Chennai after working for a decade to ensure he exposes us to Indian culture. My mother stayed with me in Bangalore for 7 years before my marriage to ensure I can carry my musical pursuit and support me with home cooked food. My sister Vishakha Hari is a phenomenon. She has revived the Sangeetha Upanyasa art which was dying a decade back. It is gratifying to see so many youngsters take to Katha and she has been a huge inspiration for all of them. Singing with her is a pleasure and a challenge - there are lots of diverse ideas coming in, which is essential for innovation and growth. Some of the pallavis that have become a huge hit in my concerts have been an amalgamation of our ideas - where I have tuned and she has set the lyrics or she germinated an idea and I took it forward. The challenge is that of Sruthi – it is easier when a male duo or a female duo sing.  We dont sing in a 6.5 kattai where it sounds very jarring and music takes a backseat. We usually have a sruthi of 4 which is much more musical.

About the awards you have won…………..

Isai Peroli from Karthik Fine Arts, Sangeetha Shiromani from Shanmukhanandha Sabha, Mumbai, Vani Kala Nipuna from Vani Mahal, Kalki Krishnamurthy Award, Ramabadran award from TAG, First recipient of Yagnaraman award of excellence from Krishna Gana Sabha, Best musician from Music Academy for 3 years, Washington Sivakumar award from Brahma Gana Sabha, Best Vocalist from Indian Fine Arts and Parthasarathy Sabha, Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer award, Yuva Kala Bharathi from Bharat Kalachar, Dharmathma Award, Rotary award of excellence to name a few. It is tough to pick anyone in particular but the biggest award is always when I hear rasikas come and say - you transported us to a different world or your music was very moving.

You and your special pallavis………….

My guru Lalgudi Sir was known for his excellence in Layam - his ability to reproduce any complex Pallavi spontaneously - Simhanandana or Sankeerna Nadai. He had also introduced many Multi-raga Pallavis which became instant hits with rasikas. What amazed me the most was that the melody reigned supreme even when executing the most complex Laya aspect. He has been a huge inspiration for me in the Pallavi segment as well. That was when I started composing Pallavis. By his grace, rasikas and vidwans have taken a huge liking for my creations. This season as well, I have composed 3 multi raga pallavis in unusual talas and I am hoping they will be received well. There is a lot of scope for intellectual aspects to be explored and Pallavis act as the right medium to channelize those ideas

Do you do anything about voice culture….

Over the years, I have been working on my voice. I recently read a review of mine where a reviewer mentioned about my voice gaining weight and volume. I am glad that the efforts are getting the right results. I would say this is only work in progress - so I am confident that I will get even better over time. Suryanamaskara, pranayama, sustaining notes, open throated singing and religious practice are key ingredients to culture one's voice. That said, December  is the most challenging month for voice !!!

Leaving the present…Who then are your favourite “past-masters”?

My favorites in the past masters category are - GNB, Semmangudi, Madurai Mani Iyer, DKJ, KVN, MLV,MS and Kalyanaraman. GNB was a visionary, Semmangudi mama had ability to kalakuttify any concert in no time, Madura Mani Iyer's Kalpana Swaras stood out, DKJ's Padantharam, KVN's Bhava laden singing, Kalyanaraman's ability in exploring unchartered territories, MLV Amma's natural flow, MS Amma's Bhakthi to name a few. Each of them have inspired, influenced and impacted me in one way or the other. I have believed in absorbing the essence but really don’t make an attempt to sing like any musician.

If you can (but you must)…. some advice to aspiring musicians of today…..

 I don't have enough experience or expertise to offer advice to today's upcoming artistes but since you insist, I will ramble a couple of them - It is important not to copy anybody as God has made every one of us unique and while it is perfectly fine to internalize past and present masters, please don’t lose your identity. Any style has its own pros and cons and the musician creates his or her style with his/her strengths and limitations. We might have other strengths and it is important to channelize those. Another aspect is that garnering a wide audience base is important - but please don’t stoop down and give way to temptations such as diluting the art, taking liberty over raga or tala and please bear in mind innovations always stand the test of time only when they are within the framework. In the short term, these might seem lucrative options but over time, they will lose charm. Explore yourself and you will be surprised with what you can offer!!!

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