Sunday, 07 August 2005

The Name Game - V Sriram

For long, it was a tradition in Carnatic music to refer to musicians by the villages of their origin. Thus you keep hearing of names such as Semmangudi, Ariyakkudi, Musiri and Alathoor, and a novice to the art form would be surprised to know that the terms referred to individuals. This did pose a problem for Rama Bhagavatar, who hailed from village Mundayi in Palghat district. The word “Mundayi” is not a complimentary term in Tamil, and he wisely changed his prefix to Palghat.

It was also common to refer to musicians by their initials. Thus citizens of Madras in the early 20th century spoke of K N R and B N R, thereby distinguishing between Kolar Nagarathnammal and Bangalore Nagarathnammal. Perhaps the most famous initials were G N B, M S and M L V. When a correspondent once asked G N B if there was anything his family owned in Gudalur (his native place), G N B replied that the only thing they retained was the “G”. Similarly Musiri Subramania Iyer had no connection with Musiri. His native place was Bommalapalayam, but because he had his debut at Musiri, the name was prefixed to his.

But there were nicknames too, and there were many that became famous, often outshining the real name. Syama Sastry is a name referred to with awe in Carnatic music, for he is one of the hallowed Trinity. His real name, however, was Venkatasubramaniam. The great composer and singer Tiruvayyaru Subramania Iyer is today referred to as Patnam Subramania Iyer. He acquired the prefix Patnam owing to his prolonged stay in Madras in the late 19th century.

The early-20th-century singer Coimbatore Palanikunjaram was always referred to by her nickname of Thayi. Two of Patnam's famed disciples were also referred to by their rather zoological nicknames. The first was Ramanathapuram Srinivasa Iyengar, a well known composer and singer whose name had the prefix Poochi (insect). Several reasons are given out today for this name. Another disciple was “Tiger” Varadachariar. He was given the title by a Maharajah of Mysore, who felt the singer was truly a tiger in music. Unfortunately, today many say that he was given the name because he growled like a tiger while he sang.

T N Rajarathinam Pillai was christened Balasubramaniam at birth, but when his maternal uncle adopted him, he gave him the name Rajarathinam. How many today would know that Palghat Mani Iyer's real name was Ramaswami? Or that Naina Pillai's real name was Subramaniam? His aunt Kanchipuram Dhanakoti Ammal affectionately referred to him as Naina and that became his name. Alamelumanga Thayar was the name given to Harikatha exponent Bani Bai at birth. But seeing her fair complexion, the Marwaris of George Town said that she looked like one of their own Baniya community. So she was nicknamed Baniya Bai which in turn became Banni Bai. This when written in Tamil made for odd reading and so her name was later changed to Bani Bai.

Some artistes had nicknames in private, which only the inner circle could employ while talking about them. It was the rage among the Mylapore elite to speak of M S as Kunjamma or Kunjakka in order to demonstrate their closeness to her. Maharajapuram Santhanam was always called Chinna Kondu by his father Viswanatha Iyer, even while on stage. But nobody else ever dared call him that. Vellore Ramabhadran is referred to as Harihi among his friends and T V Sankaranarayanan is Raman to family members. Veteran mridangist TK Murthy is called Chittu.

There is an instance of a musician changing his caste as well. One of Naina Pillai's students was Chittoor Subramania Naidu. But his caste name was changed to Pillai so that everyone would associate him with Naina!

Some musicians were referred to by titles. Thus Sangita Bhoopati always meant Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer, Ganakaladhara meant Madurai Mani Iyer and Gayana Gandharva meant Chembai. The women too had their favourites. Bangalore Nagarathnammal invariably had her name prefixed with Vidya Sundari. Similarly C Saraswathi Bai was referred to as Gayanapatu Keertanapatu.

But the man with the oddest title must have been Kunrakkudi Krishna Iyer, a great singer in the late 19th century. He was referred to as “Murukku Meesai Jigi Bigi Ghana Naya Desya Rettai Pallavi Krishna Iyer.” It takes all types...

The author is editor of sangeetham.com

Note: This article appeared in the Arts section of the Sunday Express (Sunday's Indian Express) Bangalore Edition on Sunday 7th August 2005 in the supplement.

URL: http://www.newindpress.com/sunday/sundayitems.asp?id=SEA20050804111919

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Saturday, 06 August 2005

Carnatic Music Concert

Odakathur Math, Ulsoor

Sri Kadri Gopalnath - Saxophone
Kum A Kanyakumari - Violin
Sri Haridwaramangalam A K Palanivel - Thavil
Smt Sukanya Ramgopal - Ghatam
Sri B Rajasekhar - Morsing

1. Vathapi Ganapathim - Hamsadhwani - Adi - Muthuswamy Dikshitar
   (Alapana ~1m, Kriti ~15m, Neraval Karambuja... ~4m)
2. Ksheera Sagara Shayana - Devagandhari - Adi - Thyagaraja
   (~7m)
3. Marukelara - Jayanthashree - Deshadi - Thyagaraja
   (Alapana ~5m, Violin Alapana ~2m, Kriti ~18m)
4. Paavanaguru - Hamsaanandi - Rupakam - Lalitha Dasar
   (Alapana ~1m, Kriti ~8m)
5. Vaanchathonu (?) - Karnaranjani - Adi (Tishra Gati) - Muthiah Bhagavatar
   (Alapana ~10m, Violin alapana ~6m, Kriti ~20m,
    Ragamalika - Karnataka Shuddha Saveri ~10m,
    Taniavartanam ~40m)
6. Theerada Vilayatu Pillai - Ragamalika (Sindhu Bhairavi, Khamas,
   Shanmukhapriya, Maand) - Adi - Bharatiyar
   (~8m)
7. Kurai Onrum Illai - Ragamalika (Shivaranjani, Kaapi, Sindhu Bhairavi)
   Adi - Rajaji
   (~4m)
8. Bhagyada Lakshmi Baaramma - Madhyamavathi - Adi - Purandara Dasa
   (~3 Minutes)

Notes:

At the start, I was a little miffed that it was Vathapi Ganapathim. Not that I don't like Hamsadhwani, but that it's so oft repeated (esp. by instrumentalists). In any case it was a good rendition so nothing bad with it overall (and as usual, between Kadri and Kanyakumari, there's always excellent rapport to make even a normal piece pleasant or even exciting to listen to).

The Devagandhari was really sublime and I thoroughly enjoyed it - a welcome change from the mundane IMHO. Then it very quickly slipped back into the grey zone with Jayanthashree and Hamsaanandi (which was very characteristically good). The alapana for Jayanthashree was quite unique with both Kadri and Kanyakumari doing a fabulous job of a "blended" jugalbandhi with Kanyakumari improvising all along - very nice to listen to (and unusual!).

The Karnaranjani sounded (in the beginning ominously like Kalyanavasantham (Naadhaloludai), which I don't enjoy too much. It was subsequently announced to be Karnaranjani (I'm not sure on the piece but a hunch (and a search) seems to indicate that it could very well be Vaanchathonu). It did sound quite a bit like Kalyanavasantham - and here's where my conjecturing comes (the ragas don't seem to be too similar note wise, but could share a common characteristic phrase) - Kadri didn't bring it out really well. Usually the crowd at Odakathur is savvy enough to recognize most of the ragas (except for the die-hard rare ones like Andolika). The Ragamalika was developed really well and was again announced as Karnataka Shuddha Saveri. It sounded very much like Revati to me (and subsequent analysis confirmed that I was on the right track - Revati and Shuddha Saveri differ only in the N2(Revati) vs D2(S. Saveri)). It was quite a pleasant rendition overall.

The Karnaranjani, being the main piece, also bore opportunity for the Taniavartanam. There was a brief discussion by Palanivel about the Tisra Nadai aspect of the tala and it was followed by one of the finest Tani's (overall) in a LONG time. The Three percussion instruments also made it worth listening (musically as well as academically). There was an excellent understanding and laya throughout the Taniavartanam.

Overall, a good start to the next concert season (and what looks like a promising one - especially if I can manage to negotiate the traffic throughout).

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When Old and New World Met in a Camera Flash

Today's NYT has an article about Immigration and Photography. The author, Kathyrn Shattuck, writes about Peter Mesenhöller and his discovery of Augustus Frederick Sherman's photographs at Ellis Island Museum ("Augustus Frederick Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920."). Augustus Frederick Sherman was a registry clerk in Ellis Island's immigration division in the early part of the 20th century. Sherman, as part of his official duties, took photographs (yes black and whites from those days) of immigrants as they arrived at Ellis Island (and many of whom were "quarantined" for further scrutiny to decide if they were to be allowed or not).

The 10 or so photographs featured are very rich indeed and have a very capturing effect when you look at them. It's all in their eyes it seems - somehow there's something about the eyes that just sort of jumps out at you. They are small (on the web feature) - and so not very amenable to a detailed study. What is truly fascinating about them though is the excellent image quality. One of them features Augustus Frederick Sherman (shot approximately 1905) with a book and candles (unless I'm mistaking some candle-like bulbs that may have been in vogue those days) in the background. The fact that the shot actually managed to bring out the candle light as well as good detail on the man (and his clothes) certainly highlights the quality of the photographers back then (at least quality enough to take pictures that captured the spirit of the subjects).

A fascinating insight into the immigrants of that era (and I'm sure the museum has a much wider collection that is worth looking into). One quote from the article (which in turns is excerpted from a book titled "Augustus Frederick Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920.", published by the Aperture Foundation, a nonprofit photography organization) is worth mentioning: historians view these images as one of the most substantial photographic records of that period of mass immigration.. I really haven't come across any other documentation (with photographs that is) of immigration (or the movement of human capital) of this scale.

URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/06/arts/design/06elli.html
Slide Show: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2005/08/05/arts/20050806_ELLI_SLIDESHOW_1.html

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Friday, 05 August 2005

Pooja - Bhagavathy Seva

Today, we had a Bhagavathy Seva, a pooja that we hold a few times a year at home. It is a traditional pooja that is essentially an offering to Devi (Bhagavathy, Durga, Gowri, Lakshmi and the numerous other names that she goes by). It is an archana (chanting of the various names, qualities, and characteristics that are manifest in Devi, or those that she represents) of flowers and Kumkuma (Vermillon). It is a highly spiritual and divine pooja, that is conducted with great emphasis on purity (Shuddham). The offerings are made with a lot of emphasis on the cleanliness throughout the process (right from preparing the ingredients, to lighting the stove, to cooking it as well as the final offering stage). The main area where the pooja is done, is first setup with Rangoli (powdered rice decorations - the dry variety) - a Sri Chakram is drawn and it is on this "Sri Chakram chariot" that the lamp is placed and all further archana and offerings are made.

This time, I decided to chronicle part of it photographically. Only a part of it is chronicled just to highlight the pooja and it's visual form. The chanting and experience are very much an integral part of it and this should be treated merely as a visual "eye-teaser". Yes, it is also a record for the archives.

The
beginning of the Pooja - Gopala Vadhyar chanting
The beginning of the Pooja. Gopala Vadhyar is chanting the invocations. The lamp hasn't yet been lit. The Padmam (Kolam, Rangoli) can be seen partially from this angle. The flowers that will constitute the main offering for the poojas can be seen to the right of Vadhyar.

Aperture: f/2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/125s Focal Length: 7.8125mm (~38mm)
ISO: Auto
Shot Time: 2005-08-05 18:15:50 EDT (12:45:50 UTC)
Evaluative Metering

Another View of the Pooja Scene
Another view of the Pooja at the beginning - the flowers are visible in the foreground.

Aperture: f/2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/60s Focal Length: 7.8125mm (~38mm)
ISO: Auto Flash: Auto
Shot Time: 2005-08-05 18:14:28 IST (12:44:28 UTC)
Evaluative Metering

Another View of the Pooja Scene
Another view of the Pooja at the beginning.

Aperture: f/2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/60s Focal Length: 7.8125mm (~38mm)
ISO: Auto Flash: Auto
Shot Time: 2005-08-05 18:15:06 IST (12:45:06 UTC)
Evaluative Metering

After the flowers have been offered (Archana completed)
Once the flowers were offered (i.e. the Archana was complete), this was how things looked. This is prior to the Arathi (Mangalarathi, or offering of fire).

Aperture: f/2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/8s Focal Length: 7.8125mm (~38mm)
ISO: Auto
Shot Time: 2005-08-05 20:13:02 IST (14:43:02 UTC)
Evaluative Metering

The Final Mangalarathi offering
The final Mangalarathi offering is made - the scene looks really nice with the wonderful glow of the camphor lit lamps.

Aperture: f/2.8 Shutter Speed: 1/8s Focal Length: 7.8125mm (~38mm)
ISO: Auto
Shot Time: 2005-08-05 20:17:01 IST (14:47:01 UTC)
Evaluative Metering

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Thursday, 04 August 2005

The Great Summit - The Master Takes - Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington

Paul Desmond - Cool Imagination

One more Bluebird's Best Jazz CD to my collection. This series is usually a very good collection (and is worth acquiring) - they feature excellent tracks from the Artists collections and package it very well with really good liner notes (and on quality paper!). There's a little bit of good history in the notes as well as some details on Desmond's style of playing. The liner notes are by JamesGavin (who is the author of Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker published by Knopf). The recordings are masterd by Michael O. Drexler at Sterling Sound, New York, NY. Design is by Sheryl Lutz-Brown, SPENT. The photo is courtesy of BMG Archives.

Personnel

Paul Desmond - Alto Sax
Various Others (Track specific)

CDDB Snippet:

Disc ID - be10a30d
Title - Paul Desmond / Cool Imagination

Track Listing:
 1. Imagination [4:06]
    (Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Tony Miranda - French Horn, 
    Romeo Penque, Phil Bodner - Woodwinds, Gloria Agostini - Harp,
    Milt Hinton - Bass, Osie Johnson - Drums
    Strings arranged and conducted by Bob Prince.
    Recorded in New York City, March 15, 1962
 2. A Ship Without a Sail [6:20]
    (Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Jim Hall - Guitar, Eugene Wright- Bass,
    Connie Kay - Drums
    Recorded in New York City, July 29, 1964
 3. Desmond Blue [3:39]
    (Paul Desmond)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Jim Hall - Guitar, 
    Albert Richman - French Horn, Stan Webb, Romeo Penque - Woodwinds,
    Gloria Agostini - Harp, Milt Hinton - Bass, Robert Thomas - Drums
    Recorded in New York City, October 2, 1961
 4. Glad to be Unhappy [5:44]
    (Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Jim Hall - Guitar, Eugene Wright- Bass,
    Connie Kay - Drums
    Recorded in New York City, September 8, 1964
 5. That Old Feeling [5:46]
    (Lew Brown-Sammy Fain)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Jim Hall - Guitar, Eugene Wright- Bass,
    Connie Kay - Drums
    Recorded in New York City, June 25, 1964
 6. Out of Nowhere
    (Edward Heyman-John W. Green)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Gerry Mulligan - Baritone Saxophone.
    Joe Benjamin - Bass, Mel Lewis - Drums
    Recorded in New York City, August 13, 1962
 7. Samba Cantina [5:39]
    (Paul Desmond)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Jim Hall - Guitar, Eugene Wright- Bass,
    Connie Kay - Drums
    Recorded in New York City, July 28, 1964
 8. Here's That Rainy Day [5:41]
    (Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Jim Hall - Guitar, Percy Heath - Bass,
    Connie Kay - Drums
    Recorded in New York City, June 1, 1965
 9. Alone Together [6:51]
    (Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Jim Hall - Guitar, Gene Cherico - Bass,
    Connie Kay - Drums
    Recorded in New York City, June 12, 1963
10. Bewitched [6:25]
    (Lorenz Hart-Richard Rodgers)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Jim Hall - Guitar, Percy Heath - Bass,
    Connie Kay - Drums
    Recorded in New York City, June 1, 1965
11. Autumn Leaves [5:46]
    (Johnny Mercer-Jacques Prevert-Joseph Kozma)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Tony Miranda - French Horn,
    Romeo Penque, Phil Bodner - Woodwinds, Gloria Agostini - Harp,
    Milt Hinton - Bass, Osie Johnson - Drums
    Strings arranged and conducted by Bob Prince.
    Recorded in New York City, March 15, 1962
12. My Funny Valentine [3:51]
    (Richard Rodgers-Lorenz Hart)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Jim Hall - Guitar, 
    Albert Richman - French Horn, 
    George Marge, Robert Doty - Woodwinds, Gene Bianco - Harp,
    Gene Cherico - Bass, Connie Kay - Drums
    Strings arranged and conducted by Bob Prince.
    Recorded in New York City, September 14, 1961
13. Samba de Orfeu [4:27]
    (Luis Bonfa)
    Paul Desmond - Alto Saxophone, Jim Hall - Guitar, Gene Cherico - Bass,
    Connie Kay - Drums
    Recorded in New York City, June 10, 1963

© 2002 BMG (RCA Victor).
Label: Bluebird Jazz (Bluebird's Best)
Catalog: #09026-63995-2

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