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Honour for the serene music man

N V Gopinath is a fine sitarist and a rare teacher, unspoilt by commercialism. He was honoured by a Bangalore music society recently

He is gentle and shy. N V Gopinath speaks little, but communicates exuberantly through his sitar. And few can match his sincerity as a teacher.

Sangeeta Kripa Kuteera, a little organisation that has distinguished itself with its steadfast commitment to music, recently honoured NVG with the title of Sangeetakalaravinda. This is an addition to his earlier titles -- Nadasri from Hindustani Sangeeta Kalakara Mandali of Bangalore, and Tansen Sangeeta Kalanidhi from Tansen Sursangam of Thiruvananthapuram.

"Never memorise taan patterns," NVG once told me. "They must come naturally and spontaneously". And he used a temple anology to explain how taans work. "You can start your pradakshine from anywhere but you can come face to face with god only at door of the shrine. Similarly, you can start your improvisation patterns anywhere on a tala, but you must end them at the same point, the sam."

NVG's long tutelage under tabla maestro D S Garud gives him an acute sense of laya and enables him to handle extremely complicated rhythm cycles. "He is an artiste of high calibre. He has always resisted the temptations of gross commercialism," says Pandit Garud.

NVG's mother initiated him into veena player when he was very young. Work at a ceramic factory took him to Jabalpur, where he began learning the sitar from Govindarao G Kulkarni. NVG's guru was a disciple of Ustad Allauddin Khan, the colossus from Maihar who groomed Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar.

NVG had a brush with Mumbai cinema when he assisted his brother, a photographer, in printing giant stills. He returned from that city to Bangalore in 1969 and made music his fulltime vocation. He played his first major concert in 1972. For all his erudition, he isn't happy unless he visits Pandit Garud once a week and learns more. NVG's house in Hanumanthanagar is where students learn not just the sitar but also humility and earnestness.

Listening to NVG is a serene experience. His rendering is always tranquil and faultless. Even today, his Shyam Kalyan, Malkauns and Rageshree at a 1994 concert are talked about. Last year, he conceived a concert that was a confluence of the sitar and the human voice. Some say the human voice is the ultimate in music, while others argue that the abstract experience offered by instrumental music is unmatched by vocal expression. NVG attempted to explore these issues with an open mind.

NVG turned 60 last year. His caring wife, his tabla-player son Gurunandan, and his students constitute his world. As a student, I can only quote Whitman to express how I feel about NVG. "Ah, this indeed is music, this suits me". (Song of Myself)

C S Sarvamangala

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