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Understand the science of music to make it a beautiful art: Sowmya
CHENNAI, January 8: For the sake of music, she has to quit half-way through her quest for a PhD in organic chemistry. Music has now become a part and parcel of her life. Music should be viewed as whole and, hence, it is important to understand the science of it to bring out the art in it. This integrated approach has led this performing artiste to do a doctoral work on mridangam. Amidst this, she teaches music too. Even as she is engaged in assorted aspects of music, S. Sowmya wants to be known as a musician and not just a singer or a vocalist.

In a no-nonsense chat with the readers of Deccan Chronicle on a warm Tuesday morning (January 5) at Rasam Restaurant, Sowmya spoke her mind on many a thorny subject. There was warmth in her speech. There was also a sense of logic in her views. And, there was clarity of thought in this researcher-cum-musician.

Why did she pick mridangam for research? "It is a beautiful instrument with different pitches and complicated layers. Yet, it produces harmonious sound,’’ she said. Also, she was also keen to understand organic molecules. In her case, one leads to another. Her research work has led her to show interest in literature. From Tamil work Tolkapiyum to Sanskrit work Ramayana and Rig Veda – Sowmya has dipped deep into `classical works’ to find out if wood and leather were seasoned in former times. " Environmental conditions and temperature affect the mridangam,’’ she said. The objective of her research was to find out a treatment by which mridangam could be modified without changing its basic structure to make it resistant to shruthi variation. She said she was hoping to submit the thesis to Madras University this year.

Sowmya began singing while she was in school. Her maiden performance was at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha during the annual `Gokulakshtami festival’ when she was in the ninth standard. Sowmya said she believed in the totality of music. "Musicology or theory is not distinct from practice.’’ While singing Reetigaula or Saveri, the `Ri’ or the Rishabam should be sung in a particular way. "When you understand the `how of it’, you can also enjoy the singing,’’ she said. "Music is a science. If you understand the science of music, you can make it a beautiful art,’’ she added. Practicing musicians should know what they were doing, she pointed out.

Is the research work a hindrance to her as a performer? "No’’, said Sowmya firmly.

Television watching and chatting on the Net were a big `no’ for her. "Somehow I don’t like to sit in front of box-like gadgets,’’ she said. "But I spend a lot of time in reading fiction books, literature such as Tolkapiyam, Sanskrit and philosophy,’’ she said.

Music, she said, had taught her to take things in an optimistic way. She had learnt a lot from her guru late Ramanathan, who himself was a research scholar. She said she had also learnt Devarams from Othuvar’s and Padams and Javalis from Muktha Amma with the help of her guru. She said she had learnt the art of creative singing from her guru Ramanathan. Well, Sowmya had spent enormous time in gurukula vasam in early days. While studying in Kerala, she would invariably land in Madras during week-ends to spend time in her guru’s house to learn music. Sometimes her guru would teach her eight hours; on occasions he would teach the basic lessons such as sarali varisai; and at other times he would teach compositions. Music, according to her, could have a calming effect on the mind. The resonating sound of the tambura especially could bring tranquility to the mind, she said. "Music calms you more at a psychological level than at a physical level,’’ she added.

While conceding that the acceptance of Carnatic music had gone up across the canvass, Sowmya felt that efforts must be made to ensure that concert standards were not compromised. She suggested a twin strategy to maintain the standards. For one, she felt the sabhas could pare the concert slots to two or three in a day during the season. Also, they should fix norms for participants in each slot. During her formative days, there used to be only two concert slots in sabhas such as Mylapore Fine Arts.

For another, she suggested sabhas to screen applications through a thorough process before giving artistes to perform in their sabhas. "Now it has become a trend to take more performers. Even sponsors are coming up to sponsor more concerts,’’ she said. Sabhas could have an independent expert committee to select artistes. The Music Academy, she said, gave concert opportunity only after screening by vidwans. Sowmya felt that there could be two music seasons in a year. Why should concert opportunity seeking artistes among the non-resident Indian eye only the December season and make a hash in the limited time slot offered to them? Sowmya felt that Sabhas could think of a music season sometime in the middle of the year to accommodate the NRI artistes.

According to her, a good musician "`is the one who is well equipped and enjoys what he or she does.’’ A good fan, she said, "must go to concerts with an unquestioning mind.’’ A good music critic, she felt, "should offer constructive opinion.’’

Why does she sing? "I see God in music. Music is the easiest way to see God. Music is meditation. There is no need to go to a forest and do penance,’’ Sowmya said. Sowmya had sung in the film "Achamundu Achamundu’’ for which Embar Kannan had played violin. Will she get into film music? "Why should I?’’, she counter-quizzed. "I don’t sing for money and fame. I sing because I enjoy it,’’ she said. If fans came for music and sabhas existed for music, Sowmya said she sang only for the music and the inner satisfaction and spiritual elevation.