Conversations with an International Indian Classical Singer, Prof. S. Venkateswaran
A late night return road trip from Seremban to Pandan Indah in Kuala Lumpur together with Prof. S. Venkateswaran turned into an interesting fact finding occasion for me to delve into the nuances of Indian Classical Music.
The indepth wisdom and knowledge of this most humble 62-year-old Indian classical music practitioner is befitting his wide ranging experience and exposure as a globe-trotting professor of management and touring concert singer.
The professor had accepted an invitation from young mrindangam player Kumaresan, to perform together at a festival event at the Sri Balathandayuthapani Temple in Seremban.
Indian classical music is in the blood of Prof Venkateswaran, his mother Sulochana Somasundaram, an accomplished singer herself, having trained him from a young age – for seven years – giving him a good grasp of the nuances of Indian classical music.
While pursuing his tertiary education in India, the professor had received advanced music training under Sangita Kalanidhi Alathur Srinivasa Iyer, Sangita Kalanidhi Prof. Dr. S. Ramanathan and Violin Vidwan Thinniam S. Krishnamurthy (a disciple of Violin Vidwan Varagur Muthuswamy Iyer and Vidwan Lalgudi Gopala Iyer).
As we hit the road from Seremban, our conversation dwelled on the violin with the professor who himself is a trained violinist, glorifying the instrument as the best accompaniment for an Indian classical vocalist.
To my question, was not the veena regarded as the queen of Indian classical instruments a better accompaniment for singers compared to the violin, the professor affirmed that this was not so.
“The veena being a plucking instrument cannot effectively follow the raga alapanas and melodies sung by the vocalist as well as the violin.
“The violin can follow a raga alapana with perfect continuity in doubling the singer’s line unlike the veena where the swaras have to be broken up into sequences to go with the string plucking.”
He said previously the veena regarded as the queen of Indian classical musical instruments served as regular accompaniment for concert vocalists. But the instrument’s bulkiness and fragility made it impractical for transportation to far away concerts especially at overseas destinations involving air travel. “More often than not, the veena will suffer some damage during transportation in the plane’s cargo hold.”
The professor added, “The modern violin is not alien to Indian classical music as contrary to popular belief it is not imported from the West.
“The violin’s origin can indeed be traced back to India in the form of a stringed instrument called Ravana hasta veena created by the Asura king, Ravana, the villain in the Ramayana epic.”
As an international academic and traditional Indian classical musician, the professor should know and he substantiates his claim saying that the modern violin was developed from the Ravana hasta veena after it was taken to Europe by foreign traders.
The Ravana hasta veena is made up of a bowl-shaped resonator fashioned from a cut coconut shell that is covered with goat hide. A long bamboo body, the Dandi, is attached to the bowl. The principal strings are made of steel and horsehair. A hair stringed bow just like the violin bow is used to resonate the instrument.
The modern violin with its origins in Europe was adopted into the Indian classical music tradition around 1790 by Muthuswami Dikshitar (1775 – 1835), one of the Trinity of South Indian saint composers. (The other two saints are Swami Tyagaraja and Syama Sastri.} It was mastered and popularised by the saint’s brother Baluswami Dikshitar (1786-1859) and disciple Vadivelu of the Thanjavur Quartet.
In keeping with the styles of his many revered gurus, Prof Venkateswaran’s musical approach lays great emphasis on bhava sangeetha to reach out to a wider audience and effectively bring out the divine element of the carefully selected compositions he renders.
He has performed vocal concerts with his mother in temple functions and other special occasions for many years on end and presently travels all over the world holding concerts, emulating his mother’s love for singing.
He is also a regular performer in the December Music Season in Bangalore, Chennai, Mysore, Thiruchi and Pondicherry, India. He is president of the organising committee of the Maris Music Mela, a musical outfit that holds concerts every year during the December Music Season in collaboration with Hotel Maris of Chennai.
Prof Venkateswaran’s performance at this year’s music festival are as follows:
SUNDAY, 11 DECEMBER 2016 (6.30pm) at the Amphitheatre, ETA Gardens, No. 9, Magadi Road Old Binny Mills Compound Bangalore 560 023.
Vocal concert accompanied by Jyothsna Manjunath (Violin), G.S. Nagaraj (Mridangam) and B.S. Raghunandan (Ghatam).
Sponsors: Carnatic Song Lovers and Sangeetha Saparya Carnatic Classical
SUNDAY, 18 DECEMBER 2016 (5.15pm) at TAG Auditorium, Ramakrishna Mission Higher Secondary School 54 Burkit Road, T. Nagar Chennai (Madras) 600 017.
Lead vocal for Bharatanatyam performance by the professor’s nephew’s wife, Archana Shyam accompanied by Mala Raja (Guru and Nattuvangam), Abishek Raaja (Mridangam) and Harini Prabu (Veena)
Sponsors: Gana Mukundhapriya
TUESDAY, 20 DECEMBER 2016 (1.30pm) at Srinivasa Sastri Hall, Luz Church Road, Mylapore, Chennai.
Vocal performance accompanied by Kalyani Shankar (Violin), Madippakkam Suresh (Mridangam), Madippakkam Muralli (Ghatam) and Madippakkam Gopalakrishnan (Kanjira).
Sponsors: Maarga Music Festival (International)
WEDNESDAY, 28 DECEMBER 2016 (10am) at Srinivasa Sastri Hall, Luz Church Road, Mylapore, Chennai 600 004.
Thematic Concert entitled “Musical Tribute to Nellai Sisters” accompanied by M. Vijayaganesh (Violin), V. Rajasekar (Mridangam), Madippakkam Murali (Ghatam) and Vellore Dr. A.R. Srinivasan (Morsing/Kanjira).
Sponsors: Gana Mukundhapriya
FRIDAY, 30 DECEMBER 2016 (6.30 pm) at Sri Baktha Anjaneyaswamy Temple, Nanganallur, Chennai (Madras) 600 061.
Sri Hanumath Jayanthi Concert Series accompanied by Kalyani Shankar (Violin), V. Rajasekar (Mridangam), Madippakkam Murali (Ghatam)
Sponsors: Sri Hanumath Jayanthi Festival Organising Committee
Contact Prof. Venkateswaran on his Indian Mobile +91-9843-858-294 after 9 December 2016 for further information on these concerts or e-mail to email@example.com
Venkateswaran is a Professor of Management teaching Global Management Policy Development with a focus on Human Resources Management.
On completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Science with Honours in Biology, he pursued two Master’s Degrees, in English and Applied Linguistics, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Applied Linguistics specialising in Teaching of English as a Second Language (TESL).
He obtained a Postgraduate Certificate in Labour Policy Development from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland in 1995. He has served the ILO in various capacities as resource person, researcher, project coordinator and as special projects consultant.
He is a Certified Registered Building Manager (Reg.B.Mgr) and is the Founder Secretary General (currently serving as Treasurer) of the Building Management Association of Malaysia (BMAM), a multi-stakeholder organisation representing the collective interests of all parties in the Malaysian building industry.
He is a Visiting Professor of Management in several universities and higher learning institutions in Malaysia, Mauritius, India, South Africa, Belgium and the Netherlands. He also serves on the advisory councils of several non-governmental organisations in the building and facilities management industry in Malaysia and ASEAN.
Further reading on violin history: http://www.carnatictradition.com/single-post/2016/02/21/The-Indian-Violin-Story
4 thoughts on “Conversations with an International Indian Classical Singer, Prof. S. Venkateswaran”
Sittam Param a well written article on Professor. S. Venkateswaran for his outstanding talent as an awesome carnatic singer.As a former schoolmate at St Pauls Instuition,Seremban, i was invited for the Seremban performance at our Murugan temple. Infact since 1972 i have not met Prof venkat for over 40 years.I was mesmerized by his polished carnatic singing which many among the audience got carried away.Prof Venkat deserves all the accolades for his passion,discipline,perseverance in education and carnatic song has made him a recognized figure not only in India & Malaysia but also in many countries as a scholar too.His humility and his strong spiritual values makes him stand tall as a blessed person from the almighty in serving people in education and appreciating carnatic songs.Thanks to his mother and his Guruji’s.
Thank you very much, Sathasivam, for your wonderful comments. We have grown up together in Seremban as school-mates in St. Paul’s Institution, Seremban, in the sixties and early seventies.
I am glad you like my music, and it was really a great occasion for me to have met up with you and other long-term family friends in Seremban when I performed in the Bala Dhandayuthapani Temple on the occasion of Navarathri last year. The credit goes to my beloved mother (my first music guru) and to my revered gurujis who made all these possible in my life.
May God bless you and your family with good health, happiness and joy.
Great post..as a casual conversation.dwelling into depths of carnatic music and violin tracing the professional and carnatic music background and gradual development of prof dr soma..i fully concur with your statement classical music runs in his blood.a very devout rasika of Indian carnatic music. I have always enjoyed times spent with him talking of classical music whenever we meet
Very nicely written article and clear observations and coments by Dr. Skantha Rajah, a close family friend of ours. With the grace of Lord Muruga and the blessings of my revered gurujis, all these have become possible in my life. Shri Gurubhyo Namaha.