A Tribute to the Living Legend of Violin, Sri Lalgudi G Jayaraman On the Occasion of His 80th Birthday
‘Music is a way; one has to travel in it. A whole life won’t be enough for the travel’
It has been almost seven decades since the boy wonder from Lalgudi started making waves in the arena of Carnatic Music. The boy, a tender 12 year old, was accompanying violinist to none other than stalwarts in the field, the Alathur Brothers. According to his own recollection of the event he didn’t have the slightest affright on the stage. He had done his home work perfectly. It is the sheer hard work coupled with extraordinary genius which the world later came to know as Sri Lalgudi G Jayaraman, the violin virtuoso nonpareil.
The violin, essentially a western musical instrument has gained prominence in the field of Carnatic Music and many believe that Lalgudi G Jayaraman’s bonding with the instrument has played a major role behind this crowning glory of the instrument. The master and his violin have journeyed through decades of mesmerising music and along the way have enthralled multitudes of music fans with serene music.
Young lalgudi had been in great demand for accompanying vocalists, and he had accompanied such great vocal masters as Ariyakkudi Sri Ramanuja Iyengar, Semmangudi Sri Srinivasa Iyer, Sri G. N. Balasubramaniam, Alathur Brothers, Karaikkudi Sambasiva Iyer. As music critics would point out, Lalgudi’s violin wasn’t just accompanying, it was playing an individual concert in its own right. Thus Lalgudi rewrote the definition of an accompanist, as one critic put it; he made his violin sing.
The legend recollects memories of his early days as a musician.
“I used to listening to concerts. There weren’t any concerts in Lalgudi at that time. We only listened to concerts on radio. Only the rich had radios in those days. A journal used to come to those people who possessed radios. There were detailed schedules of concerts broadcast on radio. When musicians like Semmangudi, Alathur Brothers were going to give concerts, with date and exact time, the schedules will be given in that journal. I would take notes of the schedule and inform the radio-owner in advance about the concerts I was going to listen to. Usually these concerts were broadcast on Friday evenings between 7 and 9.30. I will listen to them keenly and back home I will play them exactly the way they were. I will travel to Tiruchi and Tanjore in train, paying three quarters of a rupee for the ticket, to listen to concerts. Again back home in Lalgudi I will play the songs from my memory. I took the concerts sportively. I didn’t feel frightened at anyone’s concert then. Once an awed Mani Iyer asked me how come that I played all the songs so finely. I used to listen to your songs many times on radio, I said. He was so happy to hear that. Before a concert, I had the habit of practicing the songs that particular musician would sing in the concert. So there wasn’t the question of being frightened at all. I played with enjoyment, for me there wasn’t any difficulties in doing concerts either.”
Whenever there is a talk about this man why hyperboles galore, and what does his music have indeed?
"The ingredients of his music are a fascinating tonal allure, a scintillating and polished delivery, a flawless fluency, a preternatural grasp of the ins-and-outs of Laya, an unflagging zeal, splendid resourcefulness, an unruffled self possession, an effortless virtuosity, a fine sense of proportion, a tautness of texture, an impeccable musical idiom and total creative brilliance. In short, it is a sweet ensemble of the choicest artistic virtues" These are Prof. Ramanathan’s words on Lalgudi G Jayaraman’s music. This is not just Prof. Ramanathan’s eulogy on the maestro. But a spontaneously abounding praise for the music genius found in the depth of every music lover’s heart, still waiting for the right combination of words to get expressed.
From being an accompanist he started creating his own music too. His compositions are widely appreciated and his unique pattern of music has become a trend and is called as ‘Lalgudi Bani’.
One chronicler says “He revolutionised the style of violin playing by inventing a whole new technique that is designed to best suit the needs of Indian Classical Music and establishing a unique style that came to be known as 'Lalgudi Bani'. His flawless and fascinating style, graceful and original, yet not divorced from traditional roots gained him numerous fans. This multi dimensional personality have to his credit composed several 'kritis', 'tillanas' and 'varnams' and dance compositions, which are a scintillating blend of raga, bhava, rhythm and lyrical beauty. The unique feature about Lalgudi is that his music is very expressive. Lalgudi's instrumental genius comes to the fore in the form of lyrical excellence. He brought the most-sought-after vocal style into violin, and his renditions exhibit knowledge of lyrical content of the compositions.”
Sri Lalgudi passionately remembers his father Sri Goapala Iyer, who was not only his father but also his Guru, an ardent fan, a fervent critic and all.“….. There was a force within me which created all that was from within me. That force kept on composing music anew inside me… in the morning, in the evening, at midnight… all the time. I will play them to my father. He was my Guru, an ardent fan, a fervent critic and all to me.”
Violin can be attributed to be his third hand. What does the maestro have to say about his beloved companion?
“Americans say that the violin is an unmatched musical instrument. I am not sure about next birth, but if there would be one I would like to born as a violinist again. There is no musical instrument like the violin. In a Thirukkural, Valluvar says ‘Only people who hadn’t listened to the prattle of young children would claim that the most mellifluous music is that of the flute and the harp’. But had Valluavar got the chance to listen to the violin he would have said otherwise. Even without any mythological background (unlike the veena and the flute) the violin has carved a place for itself in classical music.”
Concerts and Accolades Abroad
He has given concerts extensively in India as well as abroad. The Government of India sent him to Russia as a member of the Indian Cultural Delegation. At the Edinburgh festival in 1965, Yehudi Menuhin, the renowned violinist, impressed by Lalgudi's technique, presented him with his Italian violin. He has also performed in Singapore, Malaysia, Manila and East European countries. His recordings submitted to the International Music Council, Baghdad, Asian Pacific Music Rostrum and Iraq Broadcasting Agency by AIR New Delhi have been adjudged as the best and accorded the first position out of 77 entries received from the various countries during 1979.
He was invited to give concerts at Cologne, Belgium and France. The Government of India chose him to represent India at the Festival of India in USA and in London and he gave solo and 'Jugalbandi' concerts in London and also in Germany and Italy that received rave reviews. Sri Lalgudi went on a tour in the year 1984 to Oman, UAE, Qatar and Bahrain that was highly successful. He composed the lyrics and music for the operatic ballet 'Jaya Jaya Devi' which premiered in 1994 at Cleveland, U.S. and was staged in many other cities in United States. In October 1999, Lalgudi performed in UK under the auspices of Shruthi Laya Seva Sangham. The concert was a roaring success. After the concert a Dance Drama 'Pancheswaram', composed by Lalgudi was
Chief popular music critic in the arts section of the New York Times, John Pareles wrote, "Like other Indian violinists, Lalgudi Jayaraman holds his instrument downward, between the chest and ankle. He has a warm tone and a style that used long liquid slides between notes and the contrast between full-toned playing and clear, is quiet melodious. The style is essentially vocalistic, although there were a few points at which he varied the single lines of melody by playing a double stop or a plucked note”
In abroad people used to remark that he produced unfamiliar music from a familiar musical instrument.When asked which is the place that he enjoyed most presenting a concert? Unhesitatingly comes the reply,
“None. I was always concerned about making my fans happy with my music. I hardly cared about places”.
The genius has earned several titles like 'Nada Vidya Tilaka' by Music Lovers’ Association of Lalgudi in 1963, 'Padma Shri' by the Government of India in 1972, 'Nada Vidya Rathnakara' by East West Exchange in New York, 'Vadya Sangeetha Kalaratna' by Bharathi Society, New York; 'Sangeetha Choodamani' by Federation of Music Sabhas, Madras in 1971 and in 1972; State Vidwan of Tamil Nadu by the Government of Tamil Nadu and Sangeetha Natak Academy award in 1979 etc. The First Chowdaiah Memorial National-Level award was given to Sri Jayaraman by the Chief Minister of Karnataka. He has also received honorary citizenship of Maryland, U.S. in 1994and the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 2001. He has won The National Film Award for Best Music Direction for the film ‘Sringaram’ in 2006.
The divinity of Lalgudi’s music
It is a state of absolute bliss and one gets immersed in serene music when Lalgudi performs. He conjures all the emotions of the lyrics in the instrumental version. “Sweet sounds, Oh, beautiful music, do not cease! Reject me not into the world again.” These lines of Edna St. Vincent Millay is spoken out while she listens to Beethoven and the same is longingly mussitated by the fans of Sri Lalgudi as they get themselves engrossed in his music.
There was this music loving tailor who was also a devoted fan of Sri Lalgudi. Once he was invited for a concert by Lalgudi. He was overwhelmed with joy and at the same time very anxious and couldn’t help waiting till the evening to attend the concert. In apparent state of fervour he began to pray, “Dear god, do keep me alive till this evening”. A number of such incidents stand testimony to Sri Lalgudi’s spellbinding, divine and incomparable euphony.
It seems that we cannot attribute the most humble, conventional saying that is used to sum up the lives of unparalleled legends- ‘There is very little that he/she hasn’t achieved’. Sri Lalgudi has in fact left no stones unturned in his illustrious career as a musician. By any yardstick he measures to the full, sometimes even more than that. On his 80th birthday we bow our heads in loving reverence before Sri Lalgudi and wish him many many more happy returns of the day.
What would be the atmosphere at home as you ready yourself for a concert?
“I practice thoroughly in a calm atmosphere. I take gruel or something else for breakfast and continue the practice. All in the house take care that I am not disturbed. Then only I am able to get the calmness I desire.”
Most famous for his Thillanas and Varnams, Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman is a considered one of the most prolific composers of modern times.His compositions span four languages ( Tamil, Telugu , Kannada and Sanskrit) as well as a whole range of ragas not conventionally used for Varnams or Thillanas. Characteristic of his style, the melody of his compositions carefully camouflages subtle rhythmic intricacies. His compositions are very popular with Bharathanatyam dancers, even as they have become a standard highlight of every leading Carnatic Musician's repertoire.
How does the legend spend his leisure time?
“I like being a ‘rasika’. I awe at nature. I awe at the million and million years of unfailing routine of the sun and at God who created it. ‘To be able to adore nature is a gift from God’. Rain, plants, the wonder of flowers blossoming, I cherish and savour all this. When we talk about nature there inevitably come God. Because God is the creator of all nature. (Nature means beauty and beauty is nothing but God).
I am interested in games. I am more drawn towards puzzles and riddles. I like cracking jokes, a lot of them. In places like Muscat and in the USA, after I finish my concerts people would ask me tell jokes and I will oblige them. They will enjoy the jokes and some will even record them.
I play the Keyboard, the flute and the harmonium in leisure times. Lord Muruga is my favourite deity. God is an energy, power. We can call it by masculine names, femeinine names like Devi, and whatever name we like to.”
On Actors, Films and Other Musicians
“I like Sivaji Ganesan and I like watching James Bond and Hitchcock movies, I like watching cartoons too (I like eating popcorn). When I travel abroad I watch movies of those countries to know how they differ from ours. In playback singing Lata Mangeshkar, Mehdi Hassan, Mohammad Rafiq, T.M. Soudararajan, P. Suseela, S. Janaki and S.P. Balasubramaniam are my favourites. In Carnatic Music I love listening to great masters like G.N.B, Madurai Mani, Alathur Brothers, Semmangudi, Palakkad Mani Iyer, Pazhani- (Mrudangam).”
An Ideal Student
What makes an ideal musical student?
“A music student’s state of mind should be light and clean and the desire to learn should be undiminished. There has to be discipline, readiness to work hard and obedience. The student has to earnestly absorb whatever the Guru teaches and develop those little openings into big paths by his own efforts. One who aspires to become a musician should have in his mind the sentence ‘I have to learn’. He should listen to good musician and appreciate them and to take them as his role models. He has to work on to become one like them.”
What should be the ideal state of mind for an upcoming artist?
“Music is really an enormous thing. I have to better my learning; I have to better my performance. This kind of mind set is to be there. The student has to look for certain nuances from big musicians. He has to absorb them and modify them to be called as his own. I still feel like a student, a senior student in that case. Music is not a thing it is a way. Travel how far you can and make the most of it. An artist should never think that he has learnt everything. The desire to learn should be endless. Art is like an exploration. If you stop exploring there stops the art too. A musician should know the nuances of enjoying the music while he creates it. As he performs he should have he ability to be his own listener thus evaluating and improving his music in the process.”
His son G. J. R. Krishnan and his daughter Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi follow the footsteps of their great father and are famous in their own rights.
We are so happy to be a part of his 80th birthday celebrations of the maestro. We bow our heads in loving reverence before Sri Lalgudi and wish him many more happy returns of the day.
To conclude this article here we quote Mr. Srikantiah, his long time friend, "...I tell you Lalgudi’s violin is really something else…the melody that he produces is simply out of this world…he will take that raaga’s Jiva and squeeze it completely of it’s rasa…” There is 500 to 600 hours of recorded music from this incomparable genius which is really a treasure trove for his fans all over the world.
We are so happy to be a part of Sri Lalgudi’s 80th birthday celebrations. We bow our heads in loving reverence before Sri Lalgudi and wish him many more happy returns of the day.
This article was written by me on the occasion of Lalgudi Jayaraman's 80th birthday in 2010. I wrote this with inputs from various sources. My sincere thanks to Abra Media and Mr. Sreeraman on whose request I wrote this.