Thursday, February 25, 2016

August 20,2015: Musical Madras - Sanjay Subramaniam in conversation with V. Sriram

One of the programs for Madras Week 2015 was the interview of the Music Academy’s Sangeetha Kalanidi designate Sanjay Subramaniam by his friend and advisor, Sriram Venkatakrishnan, one of the organizers of Madras Week. This was held at the Park Hyatt hotel in Guindy. Here are some quotes from Sanjay.

“I was a Lalgudi concert and I wanted to play the violin and my mother put me in a class. I was bunking classes because I did not like practice. People would ask me if it was a Veena.

Flute Ramani was on a train and a passenger asked if he was the Lalgudi who played the Veena. 

An accident - playing football in a basketball court with a tennis ball - resulted in a broken bone. I fell in a steeplechase pit and broke my other hand.

At this point it was only learning. Music was not an option as a career. It was other people's suggestion. I started singing at fourteen and the voice broke within six months. In a competition with 120 girls and 4 boys I got a consolation prize.”

Sriram asked, “I have seen a photo with a violin in your hand?”

Sanjay retorted, “Even today you can take such a photo retorts Sanjay. I can't play with my bent hand.”

He continued: “YACM brought youth to stage. No parallel to stage experience. ‘Music is an ocean’, old people say, to prove their superior knowledge. Several forthcoming helpful experts in 1970s.
(Every Kalanidhi says this ocean line says Sriram).

My family said no singing at 18. Vijay Siva invited me to sing at Varasidhdhi Vinayakar temple. My mother invited everyone she met including future mother in law. I couldn't even tune the tambura then.

I was trained to be a rasika not a singer. I would misbehave in dramas, but behave in concerts”

Sanjay had been speaking in English until this point, but not he switched to a mostly Tamil narration. What follows are my translations in English of what he said in Tamil.

“Each family member would feel I sang a different song badly. My brother would never attend because he said he had already listened to my practice at home, what was going to be new at the hall.

Sometimes, I would pass myself off as some random VIPs nephew. Often got in free in Sabhas by impersonation. (Shades of PG Wodehouse.)

Venus Colony Rama Navami and Ayodhya Mandapam were regular venues for listening to music . Lakshmipuram Young men's Association in Royapettah had a few events. Some bhajanais too. Mylapore Kabali temple did not have concerts when I was growing up.

Sometimes, during Sivarathri, there were 24 hours non stop akhandam of Thyagaraja kritis, in several places across Madras. I would attend them. TK Govinda Rao would ask if a particular song had been sung. Nobody would even know that song!

Rukmani Rajagopalan, my grand aunt, who attended every concert at Music Academy, learnt from GN Balasubramaniam, Alathur, Papanasam Sivan, etc. KS Krishnaswamy - composed eight tunes for the Muruga Muruga song. Set several Bharati and Bharati Dasan songs to multiple tunes. Rukmani would ask me to sing a DK Jayaraman song and learn from me and teach her students!”

Someone prompts, “Can you talk about cricket?”

Sanjay quips, “If you can't sing, talk about music. If you can't play cricket, write about it.

Some fans would attend only thukkadas. I was singing a concert when India won T20 world Cup and a fan announced the score in the auditorium. So I sang Jayati Jayati Bharata Mata.

While recording at AVM studio, editor Lenin walked in, and he edited so the scene would change with each avartanam. ‘Cinema folk wouldn't understand but you will’, Lenin quipped. Mohan Raman (actor, also present) will get it, I know.

No headache like listening to your own voice on headphones while recording. After some edits, you would not recognize your own songs. Cutting and pasting phrases from different songs. Swapping swarams from anupallavi to pallavi. One song was edited at a pace I never could sing and one of my students struggled to sing it.

Sriram V interviewing Sanjay Subramaniam

Our level of celebrity is only in this hall. One of my CA friends tried to brag about me but I am unknown to most people. I may be Sangeeta Kalanidhi but I need a loan to buy a car I quit my CA job only when the income from music began to exceed that CA income. And when people questioned that choice I had to convince them that I wasn't exactly raking it in as a CA!”

He had the audience peeling in laughter at several of these incidents.

Among the best was the interview with the bank loan official when Sanjay wanted to get a loan for buying a car. “Do you have a job? Do you have a band? Do you teach classes? Do you appear on TV? Super singer? Big names appear on that show you know?” fired the bank official. “Yes, only big people,” acknowledged Sanjay, humbly.

At the interview for a US visa, he was asked “Can you sing?” He launched into a brief aalapana. “Something with words?” added the puzzled official.

Sanjay on the December music season : “Worst insult to Madrasi is for a Bangalore person to complain about madras traffic. December season starts in October and ends in March. Only in December is the weather a potential topic.

Even canteens do well. But sarkarai Pongal tastes better in temples.

Perhaps we are the last generation who can tune tambura.

Some Sabhas won't give us even parking slots. I'm gonna strike a deal with Uber.”

“Do some venues exert a greater effect on you?” asked a rasika. He replied, “I was a Mylapore snob. Some musicians believe T Nagar had poorer knowledge and would not appreciate finer ragas. Gokhale Hall, Old Hall of Parthasarathi Swami Sabha, Academy are some of my favorites. Any place that hosts for a longtime, even Park Hyatt can be beloved if they host regular concerts!”

Sanjay talking to fans, actor Mohan Raman in foreground

There were comments on the Politics of time slots, Ticketed concerts, which was quite fun for the audience too. Very like cricket politics

Some standard narratives that went well - The veshti undresser of Sastri hall. The avartanam walk outs. Fans with special preference for certain accompanists.

"I once got a thirty rupee contract which amused my dad. Then I had to spell my signature to match their misspelling.

Do cricket players enjoy carnatic music? The pinnacle would be if Sachin Tendulkar comes to one of my concerts. But I had BS Chandrasekhar attend once. Alwarpet Cricket Club had my album because they believed that they would play cricket better with it

The NRI invasion. They bring the money and as long as the dollar is as sixty rupees, let them keep coming.”

Mr Mohan Raman adds “One important point was how many a senior musician would land up and listen to the youngsters and be ready to offer advice or teach...... well most of them”

I typed this live on Facebook as per the special request of Sanjay Bhakta jana sabha’s usual facebook stenographer, Rajagopalan Venkatraman, who was otherwise occupied preparing for a stage show on Bharathi called Chennaiyil Gnanaratham. This blog is a summary of those notes.

Related Link 
  தமிழ் இசை - A rasika's experience of a Sanjay Subramaniam concert (in Tamil)

Sanjay and your blogger, R Gopu

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