On the eve of his start anniversary, a have a look at what made Semmangudi and his music so standard
One of the travails that current Carnatic musicians face is the robust competitors from musicians who’ve handed a very long time in the past. Blame it on the recordings or the proliferation of YouTube releases, however the artistes of yesteryear proceed to stay in our minds, typically way more than present performers. Semmangudi is unquestionably one such artiste. Like different top-ranking performers who remained in the limelight for a lot of their lives, he understood the want for audiences and the necessity to stay related.
How a lot this mattered to him I realised when, in the remaining years of his life, I occurred to name on him in the firm of my guru, V. Subrahmaniam. The Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer Golden Jubilee Trust had been arrange by the maestro’s disciples when he accomplished 50 years as a performing artiste. My guru being one among Semmangudi’s prime disciples was at the forefront of celebrating his birthday annually and we visited him to formally invite him to the occasion. “Will there be an audience,” was his first and solely query. Not for Semmangudi the pretence that he didn’t want audiences and sang just for his internal satisfaction. On the day of the occasion, Semmangudi arrived at the venue effectively earlier than time. He had had a cataract surgical procedure and was carrying darkish glasses. After coming in, he peered by these glasses and was visibly upset to see many empty rows. “Kootame illiye (there is no crowd),” he stated. VS sir assured him that it was not but time and extra individuals would are available in quickly.
And certain sufficient they did, filling all the seats by the time Semmangudi took to the stage. He was delighted. And he spoke for 20 minutes, giving the viewers lots to ponder over and chortle at. “Carnatic music is not something tangible like a soap,” he stated. “Audiences come, sacrificing other avenues of entertainment, and when they leave, all they have with them is a sense of happiness. It is the duty of the artiste to ensure they get that.” This was a press release he usually made and he repeated it on this event too. Coming from him it was a homily. Many administration books have been written on this dictum, however with far much less impact.
To me, he was the final skilled, who would have succeeded in any area. It was music that he selected and in it he shone. The story of Semmangudi is one among grit and willpower. True, he got here from a hallowed household — his uncle and cousin have been famed violinists — however that didn’t in any approach make it simple for him. Indeed, his broken vocal cords have been extra a deterrent than an asset and the legendary Pudukottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai is claimed to have remarked that the boy could also be higher off coaching as a violinist. But nothing would cease Semmangudi. He had the expertise and he was going to specific it vocally, come what might. And he did succeed, to the extent that to many diehard followers that nasal twang, the excessive decibel rendition of ‘Amba!’, and people rasping breaths have been as a lot part of the music as the sonorous alapanas, the cascade of swaras, the beautiful shlokas, and the delectable ragam tanam pallavis.
Networking is right now a trendy time period, particularly in the case of skilled success, however Semmangudi was a previous grasp at it. He had his pockets of affect — cupboard ministers, royalty, well-heeled patrons in Shencotta, Kallidaikurichi and Madras. He had senior musicians too on this choose coterie — Musiri Subramania Iyer in all probability being the most well-known of them. Having M.S. Subbulakshmi as a pupil mattered as effectively. It is simply that each one of the networking was executed from a place of energy. This was no whingeing supplicant. It was thought-about an honour to have the ability to help Semmangudi. His associates knew his price as a musician and have been completely satisfied to do their bit to ahead his profession and pursuits. And he didn’t hesitate to ask when it mattered. It should even be identified right here that he was not a grabber of any alternative that got here alongside. It needed to be consistent with his stature and his rules. Thus, he by no means accepted an abroad invite, as a result of he didn’t consider in crossing the black waters.
Today, any dialog on Semmangudi sadly tends to float to his involvement in controversies with Balamuralikrishna and Balachander and his affect at the Music Academy. But what’s forgotten is that these occurred at the fag finish of a profession replete with the better of music regardless of the most recalcitrant voice. While they did reduce the halo, they might not take away something from his contribution to the artwork. His bani continues to be one among the hottest, handed on to youthful generations by the a number of disciples he educated. His on- and off-stage witticisms nonetheless do the rounds, and his renditions stay reference factors for any side of the artwork. That is probably his best contribution.
What then of appellations akin to the Chanakya and the Cunningham of Carnatic Music? We usually are inclined to neglect that these are the very traits which are thought-about praiseworthy in different professions. Why then ought to classical music alone differ? Should the rules that Tyagaraja thought-about perfect be the requirements by which each and every performing musician is judged?
Semmangudi would have disagreed. In a life spanning a century, he had seen Carnatic music change in every little thing, from presentation to patronage to know-how. He survived all of it. After all, we maintain saying that adaptability is one among the chief traits for achievement. Surely it applies to Carnatic music as effectively.
The Chennai-based historian writes on music and tradition.