02 June 2012

Any better time to revive this ?

Illayaraja's birthday - Can there be any other auspicious time to revive this blog ?
As long as people keep learning carnatic music, Illayaraja and his songs will never fade out from public memory.

Here is an instance.

It was the year 2002 in Bangalore. I was bit by the music learning bug, and decided to learn carnatic music. As is my wont, I wanted to try out something off beat, and having seen Prasanna strum out some nice carnatic notes on the guitar, I wanted to try out the same.

Off I went in search of a teacher in and around Domlur/Koramangala area and after many futile attempts where I was told to learn western classical, I finally zeroed in on one teacher.

This was a rather old man, who did not know any language except Kannada. My Kannada was/is rather passable, but I can always pick out phonetics from any new language, and add my interpretations depending on the context, to understand the meaning of a casual conversation.

The classes started in right earnest and call it a stroke of luck or whatsoever, the teacher was fairly happy with the way I was playing the notes. It is a different matter that when he was pushing me towards my first stage performance, I was forced to travel on business and when I returned, he was nowhere to be found, and that ended my brief stint at learning music.

Well, that was a digression and let us come to the point now. On one of those days when I was playing out some notes, he started a conversation with me. I replied in my smattering Kannada that I was from Chennai. His rather angry outburst - "Why are you wasting time in my class ?" He then asked to me to come along with him to his house. Since I thought this was something important, I take along with me another student, who can understand Kannada.

In his house, I see a room full of audio tapes, LP records and cd's of just two people. Steely Dan and Illayaraja. He then proceeds to play some of Steely Dan's records and tells me the equivalent western classical note.

He then takes a deep breath and pauses. He then gives out a stream of ascending and descending notes. He takes out his flute (he was a flautist), and plays those notes over and over again. He then tells me that in all the years that he has been teaching music, he is yet to see the ragam Vachaspathi used in a commercial format in the way he has heard till now, and yet to the purist, it was Vachaspathi in all its unadulterated glory.

In fact, I would have spent a few more years trying to track down the usage of this ragam in film music, and yet I have drawn nothing else except a blank.

That is the magic of Illayaraja. Someone who has no idea of the language could easily listen to this song and understand the nuances involved in it from a purist's point of view, and yet I can recollect this song being played in every nook and corner of TamilNadu when this movie was released.

Happy birthday. And thank you for those wonderful songs that bring back memories.


Posted by Shyam Krishnaswamy at 12:37 PM


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