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Music loses a maestro

For several years, for hundreds of music lovers the New Year used to begin with the mellifluous music of violin wizard Lalgudi Jayaraman at the Mylapore Fine Arts Club, Chennai.

IT WAS A delight to watch him mentor his two gifted children – Vijayalakshmi and Krishnan – to delineate ragas on their own and also embellish the notes. The elaborate rendering of Kambodi or Madhyamavathi at such concerts is still ringing into my ears.

In the January issue of IE, in tune with the all-pervasive music season of Chennai, I mused on the Musical Madras and recounted some of my experiences in listening to music over the last six decades. One particular piece on Lalgudi was unique. I reproduce it:

Lalgudi turned a hata yogi:

At the Panduranga Bajanai Mandali, Triplicane, Lalgudi Jayaraman was elaborating a raga in a Mani Iyer concert. Perhaps struck by the shrill note, a tubelight fell on his head. In those days Lalgudi had a thick tuft. I remember his doing a feat, which perhaps can be done only by seasoned acrobats or hata yogis. Instinctively, he jumped with his whole body and re-positioned himself in no time. No damage was done and the kutcheri continued.

Lalgudi enjoyed this piece and sent a special word of appreciation through his son Krishnan.

The Lalgudi baani was the result of years of extremely arduous saadhana and total dedication. In the late 1950s, I visited his modest rented house in Jones Street, Saidapet. His father and guru Gopala Iyer was teaching Lalgudi and his two sisters. For 30 minutes I sat in the thinnai and listened to soulful music.

For close to seven decades, Lalgudi stood tall like a colossus in the music world. He had accompanied all the great maestros of this era. All through he had maintained the décorum and decency of an accompanist. But his brilliance had its contagious effect on the renderings of the vocalists as well.

Lalgudi was among the earliest musicians of South India who took the glory of Carnatic music to the west. At the Edinburgh Music Festival he performed with another maestro, Yehudi Menuhin, who presented him with a violin. He had a great following in the US. Numerous awards, including Padma Bhushan, were presented to him. N Murali, President of Music Academy, understood the hurt feeling of Lalgudi in not being conferred the Sangita Kalanidhi title in time and made amends by presenting him a special Life Time Achievement Award.

A great teacher...

Lalgudi has been a great teacher. He taught not just budding violinists, but senior vocalists as well. A composer of great merit, he could teach scores of young musicians almost in the gurukula style  with the strict discipline he imbibed from his father.

Lalgudi focused on composing varnams and thillanas, which had widespread appeal not just to musicians, but also to famous danseuses. The excellent combination of sruti and laya and the measured tempo, fit wonderfully well with the dance form.

The violin maestro also experimented with various styles. He gave jugalbandhi performances with several leading musicians of the Hindustani gharanas.  Early in the 1960s, he introduced the three instrument ensemble of veena, venu (flute) and violin which proved to be popular.

Mild mannered and soft-spoken, Lalgudi practised violin as yoga. His style of rendering the charanam with a bass note has been unique. Rasikas like Shriram group’s founder - chairman R Thyagarajan (“I listen only to Lalgudi’ he avers), R Sridhar and sabha secretaries like Y Prabhu, among others, work on collecting the best recordings of Lalgudi. It should not be easy though; for over five decades, this maestro has rendered so many ‘best performances.’
 
I was sad over the poor coverage of the colossal contribution of this maestro in the national television medium. The coverage, or the lack of it, was in sharp contrast to the overdose of tributes repeatedly paid to artistes from the Hindustani music film musicians especially from Bengal.  For hours and days, the national media used to focus on such musicians. I could not help feeling let down in their giving Lalgudi a miss. Of course, Tamil media is more concerned with politics and films and had been niggardly in its coverage of such great persons.

His children GJR Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi have been imbibed with the best of Lalgudi. IE sends its condolences to them, their mother and thousands of Lalgudi fans.   

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