06 March 2007

The legend of mrudangam

I had the priviledge of hosting Sri Umayalpuram Sivaraman for a few days last week while he was in Sydney for a couple of concerts. Sri Sivaraman is truly a living legend of Carnatic music and perhaps the last true link between the current generation of musicians and those of yesteryear. He still accompanies and encourages a number of young artistes and if you heard and saw him play you would never guess he is 71. Sri Sivaraman mentioned he has played for four generations of artistes and as an example he mentioned he played for Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer, his son, Mahajapuram Santhanam, his sons Ramachandran and Srinivasan as well as their sons!

However, longevity is not a true measure of success. What is amazing is the way Sri Sivaraman plays. He makes the mrudangam literally sing. The nadham he is able to bring out from his instrument is so wonderful, the sound of his araichapu so crisp and the ruble of his gumiki so sweet. The energy he plays with lifts all around him.

There was one place in TM Krishna's concert where Krishna and Mysore Nagaraj were doing neraval. Sri Sivaraman also had a round and it was like there was another voice there. There were so many points in the concert where the incredible beats made the audience turn away from the vocalist and violinist and focus on the mrudangam artiste. In many concerts people walk out from the auditorium during the mrudangam solo, when Sivaraman plays they walk in!

His anticipation is phenomenal. We think of vocalists having large repertoires but it seems Sri Sivaraman knows every song in the book. As the song moves from the pallavi to the anupallavi or the anupallavi to the charanam, Sivaraman gives the perfect interlude to join the two sections.

Away from the concert stage, you must see how meticulous he is with his preparations. Every day he checks his mrudangams, applies the ravai and tunes them. Before a concert he takes even gives them even greater attention. When travelling he covers the instruments in bubble rap and foam and stores them in hard plastic containers to ensure their safe travel. All this preparation shows his immense dedication to the art.

As a person he is a kind gentleman, always enquiring about the wellbeing of everyone. He has a great sense of humour and wit and often speaks in puns! If you get chance to hear him play don't miss it!!

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