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Veena Vidwan Karaikudi S. Subramanian Performs At Smith College

David Nelson

On March 1, 2004 veena vidwan, educator and ethnomusicologist Karaikudi S. Subramanian performed a veena recital of Karnatak music at Smith College in Northampton, MA. Subramanian's recital was held in the Earle Recital Hall, a small, wood-paneled room with excellent acoustics that provided a perfect setting for this delicate instrument.

Dr. Subramanian, who earned his Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University, learned the veena from one of its greatest masters, his grandfather Karaikudi Sambasiva Ayyar. His concert at Smith reflected his deep respect for his guru's style. This was evident both in his choice of repertoire and his approach to alapana and tanam, two of the most important forms of improvisation.

After a varnam composed by the contemporary master violinist Lalgudi G. Jayaraman in the raga bahudari, Subramanian continued his performance with several adi tala kritis associated with his grandfather's school. These included Sarasa Samadana, in the raga kapinarayani, and Padavini, in the raga salagabhairavi, both composed by Tyagaraja (1767-1847). The latter was preceded by a concise and elegant alapana and followed by svarakalpana, which showcased Subramanian's rhythmic imagination. Subramanian's playing was frequently doubled by his own singing during the compositions.

The main piece of the performance, Sankari Ninne, in the raga pantuvarali and misra capu tala, was composed by Mysore Vasudevacharya, who lived from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. This piece was introduced by an alapana in pantuvarali. The alapana was followed by an extended tanam that started in pantuvarali before exploring the five ghana ragas: natai, gaula, arabhi, varali, and sri. After the ghana ragas, Subramanian returned to the original raga to finish the tanam and begin the kriti.

Once again, the piece was followed by svarakalpana. This was in turn followed by a solo on the mridangam played by the Subramanian's accompanist, David Nelson. Nelson, who is Artist in Residence in Music at Wesleyan University, studied under T. Ranganathan, a disciple of the great mridangam master Palani M. Subramania Pillai.

The last piece of the evening was a Sanskrit chant in which Subramanian invited the audience to participate. He informed the listeners that he had played this piece at his first concert, or arangetram, as a child.

Dr. Subramanian has served as Professor of Indian Music at the University of Madras. He is also Director of Brhaddhvani Research and Training Centre for Musics of the World, which he established in Chennai, South India. He has released several CDs of his veena playing.

David Nelson, who also earned his Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University, accompanies many artists in New England and elsewhere. He has also written extensively on the subject of Karnatak drumming, including a major article in The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music.

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Nelson and Subramanian
(Photograph by Carol Reck)

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