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Duet is not just singing in Tandem, say Ranjani & Gayatri
CHENNAI, January 14: Carnatic music has been there from the Vedic times. So many great Vidwans have handled it with vision in their own ways. The music is now available in a fine-tuned and distilled form to us. So much refinement has happened over the centuries. Our duty is to make it reach the people, sum up musician-sisters Ranjani and Gayatri.

Music, according to them, has to merge with the universal spirit and not with the personality. "Music reflects infinite emotions,” Ranjani says. The siblings sing. They also play violin. Occasionally, they end up singing and playing as well, as they did recently during their concert at Nanganallur.

"Oru vadyam, oru vaai pattu (one instrument and vocal singing," Gayathri quotes an old saying in a jocular vein to explain how they ended up learning violin and vocal. They had also accompanied many a musician. All these have added various dimensions and textures and opened up possibilities for newer things, explains Ranjani.

Vocal or violin!
What do they like most - violin or vocal? Ranjani feels it difficult to give an answer. "Both give us the pleasure,’’ she reasons. Given the option, however, they prefer vocal music. "What we do more, we tend to like that," she rationalizes. They are indeed giving more vocal concerts. "Carnatic music is deeply associated with vocal. The bani is different for instruments. Vocal music is the core of classical music," Ranjani explains. When uttered sans music, the name `Rama’ can still evoke deep and powerful feelings, Ranjani points out. "To be popular on instrumental music without lyrics is a bigger challenge. It means music is beyond the instrument," Gayatri avers. "It is not the medium. It is the experience that matters. We will have to go that extra mile to do it well," argue the sisters.

Not just singing in tandem
Duet music, according to them, is not just about singing in tandem. It is all about enhancing the music manifold with each other’s creativity. Each sister is an inspiration to the other, they assert. "A concert should, in a variety of ways, convey different emotions - pensive, thrilling, exciting et al. A concert should echo all these," they point out. "Any branch of knowledge will make a person richer," feels Gayatri. The sisters learnt Hindustani music only for a brief while. "Training is one thing. But to learn it by experience and listening is something else,” Ranjani points out. A white man was in tears after they sang a viruttham during a concert at San Jose in the U.S. "He hardly knew the meaning of it. He came to us and asked what did we do? That was the power of music," Ranjani explains.

Double action musicians
It was very refreshing to listen to these multi-talented siblings Ranjani and Gayatri, as they spoke nineteen to the dozen and shared their musical journey at the Rasam restaurant here on the morning of January 12. This musician-sisters played double action as they donned the role of violinists at their vocal concert! They had to double the role as the violinist enlisted for their vocal concert could not make it due to illness. A frantic eleventh hour search for a substitute violinist proved futile. The Divine Anjaneyar ordained that the sister-duo would also double as violinists for their vocal concert! Each one played violin for the other, as these sisters alternated alapana and creative swara rendering. Compositions, however, were rendered by them jointly sans violin! "It was very nice. It was the will of Lord Hanuman, I think”, exclaims Gayatri.

Attitude matters
Bombay girls Ranjani and Gayatri played their maiden concert during the Chennai December season way back in 1988. Initially, they were only giving violin concerts. As more opportunities came their way in Chennai, they quit Mumbai in 1993 to move lock, stock and barrel to Chennai. Since then, Chennai has been their lovely home city. "We have moved here for the good,’’ they announce happily. Their father was employed in Mumbai at UNICEF. A great music lover, he exposed them to assorted forms of education. Mumbai, they point out, gave them exposure to multiple languages. Also, they got training from great teachers. The city has some outstanding teachers in T.R. Balamani, Chellamani and R.S. Mani, among others. Even stalwarts such as Brinda and Muktha used to be invited to Mumbai and provided accommodation for many months for sharing their musical experience. Mumbai always had the best of the music and played host to lot of concerts. Even today, it continues to do that.

A lot of musicians from Mumbai occupy centre-stage in the Chennai music circuit. How is it happening? It all depends on the attitude of students, they feel. "At a higher level, music can't be taught but is only learnt," Gayatri says. The sisters assert that concert listening is an "intense experience in learning" for them during their formative days in Mumbai. "The post-kutcheri discussions used to be very animated and intense among the youngsters, they point out. Shankar Mahadevan, Sridhar Parthasarathy, Sriram Parasuram and others - all of them were there. "We used to engage in lively post-concert discussion," they add.