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Sanjay, the influencing factor on Sandeep Narayan
CHENNAI, July 14: The Alliance Française of Madras is hosting a Carnatic music concert here on July 16. The concert will be given by Sandeep Narayan. He will be accompanied by Srimushnam Raja Rao on the mridangam and S.Varadarajan on the violin. The concert will begin at 6.30 p.m. It will be held at Naada Inbam Ragasudha Hall at Luz Avenue here in Mylapore.

Excerpts of an interview of Sandeep Narayan done by Sudha Jagannathan sometime in August 2004.

When did you start learning carnatic music?
I started learning when I was four to five years old from my mother Shuba Narayan. I was learning from her till I was 11. I was giving small house concerts. Then I came to India for one year. I took off from school. I was learning from Kolkata K.S. Krishnamurthy. Then I went back to the U.S. I came back to India next summer also and learnt from KSK. I was proposing to come back again next year. Just before I could come, he passed away. That was when I started learning from Sanjay Subramanium. That was five or six years ago.

What is your background?
I just finished my second year college. I am doing bachelors in law. My parents are based in Los Angles for nearly 25-30 years. I go to a college in Santa Barbara. I was born there. I have two brothers. Eldest one - Nikhil - plays flute. He was born in India. He had learnt from Ramani. My other brother plays mridangam and had learnt it from Umayalpuram Sivaraman. He was also born in the U.S.

What made you to get into music?
Both my parents are interested in music. My dad is from Thiruvaiyaru. He plays veena. He used to go to the Thyagaraja Ustva every year when he was a child.

Where are you now as a musician?
Well, I can perform pretty regularly now. If you ask me to give a concert tomorrow, well, I can give. Still, I have a lot of things to work on. I need to polish my ragaams and swarams. When I go for classes, Sanjay sort of fixes up the rough corners and edges. Overall, I guess I have a good foundation. Sort of working along with that at the moment. I still have to learn a lot more songs. I have to mainly work on learning more kritis.

Your teacher is removed by distance? What kind of constraints do you have in learning from your master?
When I go back to the U.S., I learn from tapes. I listen to a lot of music all through the day. I learn at least couple of songs a week. I try to learn whenever I have time. I learn songs from tapes. I think I have got into a level where I can do that. If you are a beginner, it is hard to learn from tapes. Now I have come to a stage where even Sanjay trusts that learning from tapes is okay for me. When I have some doubts, I keep all of them jotted down and get cleared from Sanjay when I visit India.

What kind of a handicap do you see in this kind of learning?
Well, by listening to tapes you get the structure of a song. But you don’t get everything. That is why I come and sing in front of Sanjay and sort of fix them. I usually tend to learn songs, which I have heard him sing somewhere – I have heard a lot of his. I tend to learn from his and other peoples’ recordings. Even if I learn it from the tapes of T.N.Seshagopalan or Hyderabad Brothers, I don’t sing exactly as they sing. I use sanghathis, which Sanjaya had put. I adopt his style.

When I come to India I sing them before him to get them properly fixed. Overall, I may not get exactly what I would have gotten if he were to teach me but I try to get as close as possible overtime (just by singing it over and again. Over time, it becomes in tune with the way he would have taught me).

You have seen three gurus – your mother, Mr. Krishnamurthy and now Sanjay Subramanium. Who has larger influence?
Undoubtedly Sanjay. Even before learning from him I use to sing like him. When I was learning from Krishnamurthy uncle, he used to say this. I even follow his style, brigas and like that. I am not quite sure if I do it consciously or subconsciously. KSK used to say that Sanjay is a good person to follow. Even Sanjay was learning from him then.

You are born in the U.S. You are conversant with English. But Carnatic music is multi-lingual. How difficult is it for you to first learn these languages, let alone get the right pronunciations?
I have no difficulty in saying the word. I only need to be taught properly as to the correct word. When I am taught the words, I read them in English. I know Tamil script. I can read and write Tamil script. I learnt it when I was here. I seek my dad’s help to fix problems in Tamil. I don’t know the meaning. People keep asking me about that. My argument is how many people even in Chennai understand the meaning of a song?

Do you try to understand the meaning?
I don’t try to understand the meaning. But I do try to get the words right. I try to get the proper pronunciation. I don’t think it is okay to say anything just because the ragam is there. For me, it is difficult to know the meaning since there are lots of songs. If I am going to learn a song a day, it is too hard for me to learn the meaning also alongside. But I do try to ensure that I get the words right and deliver them right.

Do you think that you should learn `as it is taught basis’ rather than getting into improvisation mode?
I have to learn the song first. I learn the actual sangathis that have been taught to me. The structure of the song should set in mind before I start experimenting.

Are you learning other kinds of music?
I do listen to some western music. Last couple of years, carnatic music has totally taken over. All MP3s in my computer have gotten shifted from American MP3s to Carnatic. I used to have 3-4 gigabytes of American music. Now I have 15-16 gigabytes of Carnatic music.

Are you just taken in by Sanjay? Is it right for a learner to get fixed on one artiste?
That was how it was. Up until a year or two ago, I was completely focused on Sanjay’s music. I was not purposely doing it. Since I was learning from him and going to all his concerts, naturally my singing was like him. When people said that I should diversify a lot more, I have begun to listen to lot more music of other artistes. I really like the singing styles of Sanjay, T.N.Seshagopalan and Hyderabad brothers. I listen to TVS. I listen to lot of old songs of Semmangudi, GNB, Madurai Mani and others.

Do you believe in singing the traditional way or doing some experiment?
There should be some margin of freedom to experiment with and incorporate newer ideas. If you keep it the same, it never evolves. It should evolve. Even in earlier days, it had changed so much. I definitely think there is no way to master Carnatic music in one’s lifetime. I don’t even know if somebody should even try to do that. I guess there must be a blend. The audience should also evolve.

Given an option between a lawyer and musician, what will you prefer?
Right now my focus is on Carnatic music. It requires devotion of lot of time and energy. I am willing to do that. I am not quite sure in the end one can really make it to the top. I have to see how it goes. At this point in time, I am not able to say if I will go for 100 per cent Carnatic music or law. I really don’t know my mind at this juncture.
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