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My guruji is the best example I can think of.
She is a learner. She is a performer. She is a teacher. She is an all-rounder. A disciple of violin maestro Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman, she has been given the D.K. Pattammal Award of Excellence for Young Talented Vocalist by Kartik Fine Arts. Sankari has had the privilege of performing in the prestigious Akashvani Sangeeth Sammelan at Kolkotta in the year 2000. That is Sankari Krishnan for you. In a candid talk with Sudha Jagannathan, the vocalist with a deceptive frame is spot on dot on very many issues.

Are you a professional singer? If so since when you are a professional?
Sankari Krishnan: Since childhood I always longed to sing. My parents also wished that. I am basically from Trichy. I first learnt music from Shri. K.S. Subramanian. Until I came to Madras, I was learning from him. From sixth standard, I started learning music. If I were to take music as my profession… if I take any other subject, I won’t have time for music. Hence, I chose BA (Music). During school days, there were a lot of competitions. I won lot of prizes. I studied at Seethalakshmi Ramaswamy College. It has a music department. They encouraged music. In 12th, I did only science. The teachers there said that any one could do science, but music could be done only by a few. So they asked me to consider joining BA music. I was a rank holder in BA at the University. But Madras is the place for music. One has opportunities to improve music in Madras. At Madras University, I did MA (Music) and M. Phil. I was a Gold medallist in MA. After studying from the Madras University, I had the big blessing of learning from Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman. I was just about to finish MA then. Since then, I am studying from him. Still I am continuing my learning under him. This was a big turning point in my life. He is a genius.

Did he identify you? How did you become his student?
Sankari Krishnan: I have an uncle in Bombay. His name is P.S. Subramanian. Knowing my interest in music, he introduced me to Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman. One day I went and met him. He asked me to sing. He said I was singing well and that he would teach me. That moment was very important in my life. I was just finishing my MA then. In MA, we had practical classes. After that I did my M.Phil. Prof. Karaikudi Subramanian was my guide. He is now the Director of Brhaddhavani, a research institute. I have been working there for the past 10 years. My M.Phil thesis was on the Sanskrit compositions of Vanamamalai brothers – Alagappa Iyengar and Srinivasa Iyegar. As soon as I joined M.Phil, I got a lecturer job from Mother Teresa Women’s University. I joined there. The university was in Kodaikanal. Within two months of my joining, it was shifted to Madras. I was working in Madras only. It was comfortable. However, the university was shifted to Kodaikanal again for various reasons. So I resigned my job and joined Brhaddhvani as a faculty.

What is the difference between learning from your first teacher and Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman?
Sankari Krishnan:I learned the basics from Mr.K.S Subramanian. I have also learnt lot of kritis and compositions from him. He was also a good teacher. And taught me encouragingly. When I was about to arrive at an advanced level, I came under Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman. I learnt the nuances of singing in a detailed way from Shri Jayaraman. Further, he taught me how to be a good performer in a concert. At Brhaddhvani, there is a lot of concentration on voice culture, yoga and teaching methodology. From tiny tots to big guys – they have developed a teaching system for all. Only if you learn that system, you can teach at Brhaddhvani. There is a lot of difference between kids learning music from Brhaddhvani and elsewhere.

How far your academic learning helped you in your concert performance?
Sankari Krishnan: Academic learning does help. It has both advantages and disadvantages. Within a particular time, targeted compositions and syllabus have to be completed. Unless you have a private background and training, you cannot cope up with it. By just doing a B.A. (music) alone, you cannot become a top performer. I don’t want to blame the system or teachers. They have their own compulsions. Within a stipulated time period, a specific number of varnams and syllabus have to be completed. Music is unlike others subjects. Grasping level may vary from one to another. It depends on the speed at which we learn. Learning process is directly proportional to the speed. Syllabus can be completed accordingly. Since I have a background, I could do it well. It added to my repertoire. I could learn more compositions in academic level too and within the time frame. It was quite an advantage and it benefited me a lot.

While giving a performance, what aspects do you focus on more?
Sankari Krishnan: My guruji used to say one important point. Be it a big concert or a small one… you must sing sincerely. When you are given a concert platform, you have to do full justification to it. Our school gives more importance to bhava. Every aspect is equally important. While rendering a kriti, the sahitya should be rendered without damaging the akshara and sung with bhava. My guruji always used to emphasize this. Not just the word, the way you split the words (pada) … we have to know the emotion with which the kriti had been composed. The meaning should not be ruptured. Sangatis should not be altered. In the way a kriti had been composed by our ancestors, we have to present it in the same manner and do maximum justice. I have been trying to do that to some extent. I feel I must do a lot. Whatever my guruji has taught me I have a longing to do it.

Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman is a violinist. Your first guru was a vocalist. How does Shri Lalguid Jayaraman spot his wards?
Sankari Krishnan: Yes, my previous guru was a vocalist. But do you know that Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman sings quite well. He sings and teaches us to sing. He is a great vidwan and a genius. He can identify students easily. When sangeetham is complete, it is only the extension - whether vocal or instrumental music. Some are going to display it with their voice and others with the instruments. The predominant factor, however, is sangeetham. Since he is a maestro, it is not a problem for him to spot the student and identify which is apt for a student. He can judge a student by the way he sings a song. Rendition of a single phrase is enough for him to judge how easily a student can pick up.

What drives you to give performance? What is the objective of your giving concerts?
Sankari Krishnan: Kutcheri means rasikas. Hence, the main objective is to satisfy the rasikas. It does not mean that since rasikas like it, you need to change your style. We have to provide perfectly whatever our guru has taught us in the manner it will reach the audience. This is the basic idea. Each composition has got a kalapramana or speed. If we struggle and present it to the audience, it does not mean they should understand this. Our sangeetham will penetrate beyond this. Technical aspects cannot be explained to rasikas of various vargas. Which Gandhara comes? From which madhyama is it derived? Is it a vakra or a bhasanga raga? Beyond all these, it will have to reach the audience. It should sound correct for a pandit. At the same time, it should reach a lay audience. That is the main thing about it.

Which do you enjoy most -giving concerts or teaching?
Sankari Krishnan: Both are equally superior. If we understand the voice quality, it will be easy. If we know our voice quality and strike a balance, then we can do it well. Even while teaching, we learn a great lesson. My guruji is the best example I can think of. We can’t see a performer like him. He has done enormous sadhaka. When I remember how sincerely and nicely he taught me the nuances, I also began to feel that I should learn well and teach others similarly. He is my inspiration. Performance is one area and teaching is another. Both can be done well by keeping a proper balance.

Do you go for daily lessons from Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman?
Sankari Krishnan: I need not go daily. Whenever he is free, I will go and learn from him
How essential is academic background for a performing musician in modern era?
Sankari Krishnan: It is really a must. We can learn theoretical aspects and practically also we can learn more. Even if we don’t do a degree, lots of books are available. We can know many things by reading them. Even for a performer, it is essential to know more and be well equipped. Most of the performers nowadays have equipped themselves quite well. We have to learn more and more every day in this field. We should be quite dynamic. You can learn more and gain more as you keep singing. It is not just learning compositions alone.

How do you manage everything? You sing as well as teach? How do you strike a balance?
Sankari Krishnan: I teach students in Brhaddhvani from the morning till 2.00 p.m in the afternoon. The rest of the time I spend for my practice and other jobs. In the evening, I take classes and train a few students. I go to outstation concerts mostly during the weekends. My husband has been very supportive. A great guru, a very supportive husband and an institution like Brhaddhvani – I can’t ask for anything more. All the three aspects have made me a successful artiste.

What is your ambition?
Sankari Krishnan: I am an A grade artiste in All-India Radio. I am doing it for the past ten years. I have many concerts coming these days. I have more responsibility. I come from a ranking school. I am a student of Shri Lalgudi Jayaraman. I am also a teacher at Brhaddhvani. I feel I have more responsibility cast on me. I feel that each of my performance has to be a class of its own. I want to do all my assignments perfectly.
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