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Straight from the heart

Guest : Dr V.V.Srivatsa.

Dr.V.V.Srivatsa shares his views on different issues on music with our advisor Dr.Radha Venkatachalam

Radha Venkatachalam : Namaskaram, words from Scholars of Oceanic knowledge like you are sure to stimulate thoughts in every student and lover of music. Collecting your view and disseminating the same among people will amount to a solid social work in the cause of music. Please therefore enlighten us with your views on important musical issues that should indeed be education to everyone in the music fraternity.
How did you acquire profound depth of knowledge in a multiplicity of subjects and how did you achieve this unique distinction?

V.V.Srivatsa :When I studied for my doctoral degree at the university of Aachen, West Germany, the first thing that I was taught was to be a fundamentalist- Learn everything from the basics. This advice given by my Professors had a profound impact and stood me in good stead.

Radha Venkatachalam : What was the subject of your thesis in music for your doctoral dissertation.

V.V.Srivatsa : A comparitive analysis of the compositions of Annamacharya, Purandara Dasa and Tyagaraja.

Radha Venkatachalam : We find you as one with unfathomable oceanic knowledge in music also. We are particularly interested in knowing your methodology by which you attained this monumental achievement.

V.V.Srivatsa : Thank you for the compliment; but I am still a student, I am a voracious reader and a keen listener. Whenever I am asked to speak or write on a subject, I do my homework. A tonne of theorisation is not worth an ounce of practice. In my formative years, my mother guided me to a retentive memory. Work, in tandem with a satisfactory memory is the methodology I follow adopted also by many eminent persons.
I ponder deeply about the coherence and sequence of presentation - be it spoken or written, I am concerned also with the element of continuity. I have to also limit details so that the audience is not overburdened. The theory of reduction-ad-absurd infinitum has stood me well. I put myself in the place of prospective inquisitors and evolve satisfactory answers to questions that could be raised by them. This is a fundamentalistic approach covering all pros and cons of a subject.

Radha Venkatachalam : Is there not a dearth of written / printed materials for many musical subjects?

V.V.Srivatsa : There is a reasonable amount of material, which is not easily available. I have had the fortune of interacting with stalwarts, on several subjects where there is no or inadequate written material. In any subject, I have an open mind. While there should be no dogmatism, courage of conviction is required.
For instance, at the proceedings of the Expert's Committee of the Music Academy, the issue of limiting the Dhaivata swara in Raga Abheri was considered. I was of the view that Abheri employed only the Shuddha Daivata swara and substantiated it with examples of compositions of Shyama Shastri, Dikshitar and Papanasam Shivan. Dual Dhaivata swaras are found only in Tyagaraja's "Nagumomu".
The test in such an event was to identify the domiannt Dhaivata swara and to classify the song in the right Raga. As Chatushruti Daivata was prominent in "Nagumomu" be Abheri, the use of Chatushruti Daivata is to be eschewed. One cannot call the Raga as Abheri and use Chatushruti Dhaivata, was my submission. A contemporary senior musician swore by the dual version, stating that even if Tyagarajaswami suggested deletion of Chatushruti Rishabha in Raga Abheri, he would continue to render it. I had to retort such dogmatism.

Radha Venkatachalam : You are justly hailed as a beacon light in the Sangita Saamrajya of Muttuswami Dikshitar. What made you choose that line of pursuance?

V.V.Srivatsa : The credit goes singularly to the critic, Shri. Subbudu. He wrote a very nasty article on Dikshitar in the Statesman (somewhere way back in 1984) where Shri. Subbudu adjudged that muttuswami Dikshitar was unfit to be a member of the Karnatic Music Trinity. That article was biased, partisan and skewed. Not withstanding the possibility of the understated comments being conveyed to him, I dare to state that Shri. subbudu is not qulified to adjudge the virtuosity of Dikshitar. That article hurt my latent sensitivity and turned out to be a milestone or landmark of my life - converting me into a total devotee of Dikshitar. I owe Shri Subbudu, gratitude, in this regard.

Radha Venkatachalam : You have been a keen observer of the field of music for some decades. Please identify areas of Karnatic Music where there has been progress; as well as areas where there has not been progress.

V.V.Srivatsa : Areas where progress is noticeable are :-
1. MANODHARAMA has increased, rightly or wrongly.
2. LAKSHNA CONSCIOUSNESS has increased, amongst musicians, as well as with the audience.
3. PERCUSSION QUALITY has improved and become broad-based.
4. There is a concerted attempt nowadays, to convey the essence of music.
5. The balance amongst the musical facets- Alapana, Neraval, Swara Pasthara etc. is more fine-tuned and even.
6. The repertoire presented nowadays has increased in quantity and quality, duly encompassing rare compositions and those of contemporary composes. I still remember comments of Shri. N.M.Narayanan's comments about a Kutcheri by a stalwart that audience interest was sustained by guessing the sequence of presentation, as the repertoire was a foregone conclusion.
Areas of stagnation and retrogression are :-
1. The present trend to avoid Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi. This area of Manodharma is one where Maha Vidwans excelled, in the past. Compression of concert duration has led to this undesirable development; yet, compressed versions of RTP can be rendered.
2. The violinists tend to assert their individuality beyond permissible limits and seem to forget their role as an accompanist. The element of "Anusarana" has been devalued.
3. There is a marked trend to conclude compositions with a cacophonic climax. Crisp and innovative presentations conclude at undesirable decibels. This is unwelcome.
4. Artists tend to avoid varna-rendition.
5. Padam rendition is an art by itself. Padams and javalis are seldom rendered. Tiruppugazh - rendition has vanished. The venerable Vidwan Naina Pillai used to set aside a part of the Kutcheri exclusively for Tiruppugazh renditon. The so-called light pieces nowadays at the conclusion are a poor substitute.

Radha Venkatachalam : Have you heard Naina Pillai in person?

V.V.Srivatsa : I was too young for that. My acquitance with Naina Pillai's music is through my Guru. SMT. D.K. Pattammal, who learnt from him and his disciple - so it is knowledge by proxy.

Radha Venkatachalam : What are your suggestions for improving Manodharma?

V.V.Srivatsa : The shad-anga of Alapana should not be overlooked. Aakshipitka should kindle auidence- interest and Sthaayi should exhibit vocal virtuosity. Just imagine an Alapana of Raga Begada for eight hours! How many phrases would have been repetitive. The trend is to limit quantity and to improve the quality, to the extent possible.

Radha Venkatachalam : What are your views on "Paataanthara". Is it a hallmark of greatness in music?

V.V.Srivatsa : Paataanthara is one of the hallmarks, not a singular hallmark of great music. Paataantharas are not infallible and are beset with blatant errors- like the use of Kaishiki Nishada in Gowlipantu. Paataanthara should be accepted if good, without violation of aesthetic norms.

Radha Venkatachalam : What was your motivation for the study of Kannada language?

V.V.Srivatsa : Circumstantial occurrence. A retired official stayed with his son, who lived across the read from my residence. He was Lingsugar Sudhanvachar and hailed from a family of Haridasas. We were introduced and he invited me to learn Padas of Dasas. Three if us started learning concurrently. After a few months, I was a sole survivor. I was fortunate to learn Ca. 300 compositions from him. I owe my accent-clarity to him. This is what attracted me to Kannada.

Radha Venkatachalam : What would be your guidelines for a Ph.D. thesis without tears, as you have been an evaluator many times.

V.V.Srivatsa : There are three guidelines
1. Atleast 25% of the contribution should be original in concept and thought. Adoption or translation of what has already been said in a different language should be eschewed.
2. Whenever there is a controversy, the writer/student should give both views and also state his/her views as well. Such views may be acceptable or unacceptable to some. Any view expressed has to be backed by logic and textual support.
3. A thesis must be a judicious blend of subject matter and value. If a candidate tends to be too concise/ precise, the impression conveyed is that he/she is not interested in in-depth analysis. Overburdening with data brings down the value. A judicious blend will impress an examiner.

Radha Venkatachalam : There are diverse opinions on the genuine purposefulness for music festivities of December, in Chennai. Is it a boon or a bane?

V.V.Srivatsa : This is a problem to ponder about. We can only hope that some day, the December season will not mean concerts by all Sabhas at the same times. This problem has to be thrashed out and concerts should be phased out. Abstaining from calling it a boon or a bane. I find it unwelcome though.
Organisations should pay attention to the fact more concerts leads to low quality. Only 25-30% of the audience comes with the purpose of only listening to concerts. The majority are those who work and wish to come to concerts after office hours. Two concerts per evening is quite a strain. One could think of one concert per evening of slightly longer duration with a convenient commencement-time.
A certain collaborative effort amongst Sabhas is needed. One Sabha can feature some artists one year and others abstain. Next year the list can be rotated. Every artist should get a change in a season. It is incorrect to feature every artist in every Sabha, every season. Qualitative deterioration, apart, there have been unexpected casualties and cancellations attributable to vocal problems.
Also academic sessions should be conducted with sincerity and faith. Academic sessions should not be consolation prizes for those who cannot perform in prime-time slots.

Radha Venkatachalam : The current scene in Karnatic music is said to be marred by over-commercialisation. What is your view and how to mend it?

V.V.Srivatsa : My humble view is that it is marred by commercialization, not over-commercialization. Let us be honest. In the past, artists received pittance as remuneration, totally disproportionate to merit, status or effort. The pendulum later sprung to the other extreme, when "demands" were made. A compromise has to be found.
Look at Hindustani artists- who restrict the number of concerts but raise the fee. If the payment is below expectation, the presentation turns pedestrian. A better fee warrants quality in performance.

Radha Venkatachalam : The attitude of the performers and the listeners nowadays, is totally different from earlier days. What is your opinion and advice to maintain it at a healthy level?

V.V.Srivatsa : I am happy to note that performers cognize requests from listeners. However, such requests have to be :
a) Made before the commencement of the performance.
b) Legitimate to the performer and not a show-off by the listener.
In a concert by popular instrumentalists, a request was made to render. Tyagaraja's "Chalamelara" after half the concert was over. That was verily, an insult to the artist.
The situation calls for stricter audience - discipline.

Radha Venkatachalam : "Puranam Ityeva na saadhu sarvam" - so said kalidasa. Is it relevant today in the field of music?

V.V.Srivatsa : I would say, 110% relevant. Unless there is a convincing explanation or background, there should be no blind acceptance of "Tradition".

Radha Venkatachalam : Can you elaborate?

V.V.Srivatsa : The composer of the Kriti "Gnana mosagaraada" is in a poignant mood and surprisingly discovers the repetition of the Lord's name cleansed his mind. The tune should be a combination of surprise and mirth. Once upon a time, this Kriti used to be rendered in Raga Shad-vidha-margin, which suited the lyrics. However, for vocal convenience, the tune was changed to Poorvikalyani. All that results is an aberration if a Tyagaraja Kriti.
The fact that all musicians render this song in Poorvikalyani, does not justify change of tune. If you cannot sing it in Shadvidhamargini, avoid the song.

Radha Venkatachalam : Veterans opine that music has widened but not deepened. Do you subscribe to this view?

V.V.Srivatsa : The concept is relative. There is no denial that music has widened. What is depth? Depth is purely qualitative. At present, we have two types of artists. One group has depth and can give a good presentation. Another group can give an audio-satisfactory performance, based on "package deal" concept, which is parrot-like repetition of phrases and modes learnt earlier. Such rendition will lack depth.
There is no denying that music should be emotive. We have artists who cannot kindle emotions through their renditions. So, this lament or regret is atlast, partially valid.

Radha Venkatachalam : Do you think that the pen is mightier than the sword, even in the field of music?

V.V.Srivatsa : The field of music has no pen, as the nib broke with Subbarama Dikshitar, a century back. For hundred years, there has been no output comparable with the Pradarshini.
If you are referring to newspaper reviews. I am of the view that contemporary reviewers are inadequate or utterly biased. Criticism is always destructive and not constructive. Some favourites can do no wrong! Some reviewers get reviews by proxy, without attending concerts. This is dishonesty. Reviews are of three types. Some artists are praised to the skies; some are condemned to hell; some are expression of mellifluous English bereft of musical appreciation. Combining all varieties, what reviewers dish out is water- tasteless, colourless and odourless.
The pen is caught in a whirlpool and is not moving. The reviewers' credibility is at stake. Imagine the misguidance imparted to an overseas reader, through an erroneous review. Current-day reviews are devalued and disregarded.

Radha Venkatachalam : What is your advice to the growing generation of musicians not to music organizers of the day?

V.V.Srivatsa : The only advice to growing musicians is to stop thinking that the know everything worth knowing and to take the audience for granted. Variety is the spice of life and no artist should become stereo typed. Years back, stereotyping was equated with greatness, which is not the case now.
An organizer should have a hyper-basic level knowledge of music. If one does not know music, he is unfit to be an organizer. An organizer should not employ ghost-writers. An organizer should have no likes or dislikes. I am not on speaking terms with an artist, but did my mite to ensure that he got a gold medal for a well-deserved performance. Above all, an organizer's personal integrity should be above-question.

Radha Venkatachalam : Thank you Dr.Srivatsaji for sparing your very valuable time to give this most enlightening interview.

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