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A Heritage Preserved

S.Y. Krishnaswami, Sruti, 1977

This article was written by Sri S. Y. Krishnaswami, Retd. ICS, as the Forward to Sri RR's book 'Musings of a Musician', published in 1977.

Of the three aspects of music, composition, exposition and teaching, each has a relevant place. It is futile to assign comparative values amongst them. In Western Music the composer has a unique place and the function of the artists is to interpret him as best as they can. Indeed, the eminence of the singer or player is judged by this yardstick. In Indian Music the composer takes a back seat and the artiste steals the limelight. Homage is paid to the great composers who are dead and gone, but living composers have only a plebian position in relation to living performers. This is partly because the music of India is based on raga which affords scope for exhibition of individual talent. It is also due to the inherent conservatism of the culture which reserves its respect for what has been tested in the crucible of time. The teacher, however, is treated as an adventitious figure in this scale of eminence. Teaching of music has for long been in the hands of either inferior musicians who could not rise to the level of performing artistes and taught who aspiring amateurs and marriageable girls, while those who aspired to become professional musicians went to well-known artistes and thus carried on a 'Parampara' in accordance with tradition.

But times have changed. The guru-sishya tradition is dead. Let us not waste tears on what cannot be revived. It may be a pity but facts have to be faced and the great treasures of our music preserved and not lost in the new conditions that prevail. To brood over the past is to indulge in grief that has no remedy. It has also the defect of belittling whatever good exists and an unconscious tendency to luxuriate in recollection. When I was young I saw elders shaking their heads in despair and saying that after the passing away of Maha Vaidyanatha lyer, Tirukodikaval Krishnier and Narayanaswami Appa, music had died and that it had no future. Today those who were considered insignificant in comparison with their predecessors are held up as equally great. The strength of art is such that some one will be born who will hearken back to the tradition. In order that such a genius finds the knowledge accumulated over centuries handy the essentials of tradition should be preserved.

There are many ways to ensure this continuity. The old guru-sishya pattern cannot be recreated. Promising artistes are tacked on to leading musicians through Government scholarships. Music colleges training young musicians are generally staffed by leading artistes. From colleges the better students can be picked up for intensive training. Recording good music on tapes preserves the music of eminent artistes for posterity. Above all, books written by great teachers constitute a body of musical knowledge available for all time.

It is in the field of preserving what is traditional in our music that R. R. (as he is known to his friends) occupies a place of distinction. His four volumes entitled 'Kritimanimalai' contain all the extant songs of Tyagaraja, Muthuswamy Dikshitar, Shyama Sastri, besides those of many other composers and also padams and javalis. It is the most comprehensive publication in Carnatic MusIc and the notation takes care of the most minute details. It is a monumental work of enduring value. It is amazing that one person has done it unaided, all by himself, alongside of his bread-earning profession as a schoolmaster and music tutor. The books have not received the attention and recognition they deserve. Time is a great selector and I have no doubt that their worth and utility will be realised more and more and more as time passes. He has also published a book of Pallavis and one in English on the History of South Indian (Carnatic) Music. The last is a product of half a century of study and research.

I had evidence of his amazing versatility last year when he introduced to a Madras audience two girls from the United States trained in the difficult art of 'Konakkol' vocal recital of the 'sollukattus', of the Mridangam. The girls gave a first class performance which was tribute to their knowledge and the way RR had trained them. I do not know of anyone else who has such a vast repertoire. Some of the songs which he has learnt from Veena Dhanam represent a style which is the essence of purity. In this connection songs like Tyagaraja's 'Nati Mata Marachitivo' come to my mind.

Some times he is sad and even a bit angry that such a great heritage is being lost, caricatured, as it were, and generally mishandled. His is not a personal anger, but a musical one, and one can well understand the frustration. But one has to look to the future. All is not lost. I myself know many young artistes who have a genuine flair for what is authentic. What was once the privilege of few has become the pastime of the many, and in this process of expansion a certain amount of dilution cannot be avoided. But the fact that the learning and listening field are both larger than ever before has its advantages and it has to be capitalised in the most effective manner.

Musings of a Musician tells, with brevity and candour, the story of dedicated life pursuing its chosen goal undaunted by disappointments and frustrations, with faith in God and in one's own destiny. A sensitive mind aware of life's value will find plenty of food for thought in the poignant narrative dotted with pathos and grim humour. As a by-product it reveals facets of human nature one has to reckon with.