I had heard Sanjay Subrahmanyan being variously described as a traditionalist, an innovator, a purist, a maverick, and as temperamental,
and accommodating! From this confusing collage of images obtained from reviews, friends and rasikas, I wondered how I was going to make sense of an interview with him.
pleasant surprise, I found him one of the most articulate and lucid of interviewees, absolutely clear about his ideas, and also talking freely about everything else, from cricket to the concert format. Being a chartered accountant, he was keen on presenting a neat balance sheet of ideas!
To avoid subjective interpretation of his ideas, here he is in the good old Q and A form, with only some rearranging for logical sequence.
something about your training under Calcutta Krishnamurti. He is
known for a style of teaching different from what is generally
followed, isn't he?
Yes, the difference is he doesn't teach everyone the same way. He goes according to the strengths and weaknesses of the singer. I would describe him as an advanced reference point for singers, much like a guide is for a Ph D student. He always puts the onus on the disciple. His classes are more suggestive interaction and intellectual discussion. He kindles the imagination of the student, who then has to work on the song. At a later point, he may suggest, "You know, the other day you sang this kriti like this. Perhaps a slight variation at this particular point?."
What about your early training before you went to him?
Actually, my parents put me in music classes so that I could become a rasika of music. There was never any thought then that I would become a singer. In fact I started with the violin and shifted to vocal because I broke my arm. I don't come from a family of musicians. In fact my growing up was like any other boy's. My music classes ran concurrently with my studies and in fact I used to bunk some of my music lessons to play cricket. I was not abnormal or anything like that.
Why, do you think
it is abnormal to concentrate only on music in
Yes, something like that.
Who were your role models?
GNB, he is a favourite. Madurai Mani Iyer, Semmangudi, Brindamma, MLV.
How would you describe your style of
Creativity goes through a constant evolutionary process. You should be bold but not radical or revolutionary. For instance once in a concert I sang a tiruppugazh as a main item. And recently I sang raga Natakapriya in a slot which many people found strange. I think there has to be a balance in concerts, between the familiar and the unfamiliar. Between what the artiste wants to sing that day and what the audience wants.
Are you sensitive to the needs of the audience?
Yes, I am. I am also sensitive to things like noise, the mike system, what people say just before you start a music performance... Some people think we musicians are yogis or something like that. We are human beings who react like other human beings.
you react then to critics or music reviewers then?
No, never. And there is a reason for that. I feel the standard of music criticism is very average. The majority of them are reporters and do not have the critic's point of view. And for that, they should have stature. The review should express musical knowledge and not just be a listing of what the artist sang. You can as well put it in a tabular column.
Many artistes say they never read reviews...
No, they read every word of every review. The reviews are
not convincing enough for me. And unfortunately, those reviewers who do know music are biased.
Well, in starting a web site of your
own, you are now going to come to the position of a
Yes, but we never trash an artiste.
Anyway, reviews are only one component of www.sangeetham.com.
Our aim is to build up a lot of archival material and also highlight
issues of concern to musicians. See musicians do not have any body
or organisation representing them. Something was tried 10 years ago
and it failed. But now, thanks to organisations like YACM, in the
last 15 years, among the current crop of artistes, we are all very
good friends. Now we can get together and slowly take up issues like
payment to artistes. Money is flowing into the art form but it is
not benefiting the musicians.
How did you get interested in setting up a website?
I registered the domain name some years back. It really took off eight months ago when I met Sriram, who is the editor. It's really because I am a technology freak. I got into the web early. Things are going digital. I wanted Karnatak music to get the benefits of technology. And not be seen as something that does not grow with the times. I think it's a good development. Like, here you are, interviewing me for another music website, themusicmagazine.com
Where do you think you have to go now, what do you have to focus on?
I have to work on things like flexibility of voice and singing with more ease. Musically I need to get more tranquillity. There is restlessness and my composure needs to be improved. Sometimes the natural pauses are not there. I need to work more on all this.
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