There is no short-cut to learn music, says Bombay T. R. Balamani

By Sudha Jagannathan
Chennai: 16-06-2021 9:38PM
Last Updated: 16-06-2021 9:38PM

(This was originally published in 2014)

She has a deceptive frame. A few minutes of conversation with her, however, are enough to understand the resolute personality behind the frame. She grew up under the tutelage of illustrious musicians such as Musiri Subramania Iyer, T. Brinda, Tirupambaram Swaminatha Pillai, M.A. Kalyanakrishna Bhagavathar and Devakottai Narayana Iyengar. If the scholarship under the watchful eyes of Musiri Subramania Iyer revealed the class in her, the studentship at the Central College of Carnatic Music prepared her for an assignment that had no fixed tenure. She was bold, spirited and determined. So much so, she was showered with affection by all her teachers. Swaminathan Pillai taught her Pallavi. She learnt the art of neraval singing under a caring Musiri Subramania Iyer. A teacher’s pet student, she is now a teacher par excellence! Meet Smt T.R. Balamani, a Carnatic music teacher for over seven decades, having started teaching music from the age of 22. Excerpts of her conversation with Sudha Jagannathan:
How did you choose teaching?
When I moved to Mumbai after marriage, I taught music at Bharathia Sangeetha Fine Arts Society at Matunga for a few years. Devakottai Narayana Iyengar was the Principal then. He was the one who encouraged me to teach. Later on, I started taking classes at my house. I guess teaching came to me naturally. Many vidwans such as Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Nedunuri Krishnamurthy, Pinakapani, T.K. Govinda Rao, among others, visited my house when they came to Bombay for concerts..These vidwans also encouraged me to teach. My students inspired me. I was a house wife. But music was my passion. My students were all precious pearls, I must say. Nobody disappointed me. I dedicate my music to all of them.
How is that you have created top-class students?
It is not about my teaching only. It is as much a student’s effort to become a performer. It is about their appetite for learning. Hard work and consistency by the students are the foundation for success. I emphasize a lot on learning of varnams. You have to practice varnams very hard in multiple kalams and nadais. They contain all the exercises required to sing a good Carnatic music. Only thenm can one become a master in singing raga swaras etc. I have taught many who have gone on to become good singers. All students are equal for me. All my students may not have become performer. But they have become good teachers, and are spreading Carnatic music. Bombay Jayashri, her brother Sabesh, Shankar Mahadevan, his brother Mani Mahadevan, Raji Gopalakrishnan, Vasumathi Badrinath, Lakshmi Rajagopalan, Hema (flute), Sattva (flute), Prasanna Venkatraman, Uma Maheshwaran, to name a few, have been my students. Reewa, daughter of playback singer and composer Roop Kumar Rathod and Sonali Rathod, learnt Carnatic music from me. Sanjeev Chimmalgi, a disciple of C.R. Vyas, also learnt music from me.
What are the qualities of a good teacher and good student?
Students should have bhakthi for their teacher. They should follow what their teacher teaches them. There are so many of them who can learn well. It is the responsibility of a teacher to teach students according to their ability and help them in understanding the nuances of Carnatic music. Sangeetham should have Sukham and Sowkhyam. There should be Azutham (depth) in sangeetham. I always like Pattamal’ssangeetham very much. There was depth in her music. I was moved into tears once while she sang in Ernakulam.
What is your view on teaching via the Internet?
I am from the old school of thought. I want the students to learn directly from the teachers. I discourage tapes. I believe in creating a strong musical foundation and encouraging manodharma singing. I have always stressed the need to have notations for all songs to understand the grammar in music.
Is there a requirement to know kritis for an instrumental musician?
It is important for all musicians to know the krithis. Students of flute and violin have come to me to learn krithis. I have myself learnt the Veena.
Who encouraged you to learn music?
Actually, music runs in my family. I was a very good student and especially good at maths. But when I wanted to study further, I had a choice between music and maths. I chose music. My father encouraged me through out and honed my musical skills. We were allowed to listen to only Carnatic music on the Radio. I spent my time on music, and nothing else. We were four girls and two boys in our family. We were in Cochin in my younger days. My father took us to Carnatic music concerts. With my sister Sarasa, we gave concerts under the name of Tathamangalam sisters.
What is your take on children being rushed into concert-stage very early?
In my opinion, it is neither advisable nor proper for the parents to hurry the children to be on stage. My students who went on to perform have trained for several years before giving a full-fledged stage performance. There is no short cut to learn music. Understanding music is very important and this takes time. My students are good performers and teachers as well.
What is your view on Jugalbandis?
I have nothing to comment about it. If the musicians are comfortable, then it is ok. I have great liking for Hindustani music, too.
What type of music do you appreciate?
I appreciate all forms of music. All of them have their strengths. Many of my students such as Shankar Mahadevan have taken up light classical music. Bombay Jayashri had sung many jingles. My granddaughter likes Shreya Ghoshal very much. Music has no barriers!