On September 10th 2002, the international music community lost one of its most acclaimed Flutist/Vocalist Sangeetha Kalanidhi T. Viswanathan. Having turned 75 this past August my uncle “Viswappa”, known as “Viswa” to others was going strong giving concerts, presiding and attending music/dance events in addition to holding a full-time faculty position as Adjunct Professor of Music at Wesleyan University. Viswappa was actually gearing up both as a performer and a organizer/host for the upcoming Navaratri celebration, an annual event that he initiated at Wesleyan in 1976. But fate took its course. His sudden demise due to heart failure has certainly left family, friends, colleagues and disciples in deep shock and grief.
Viswappa was born in an illustrious family of musicians and dancers. Indeed, for over two hundred years and several generations, the family has been a repository of the Carnatic tradition in its pristine glory. His grandmother was the legendary Veena Dhanammal who bore four daughters Rajalakshmi, Lakshmiratnam, Jaymammal and Kamakshi all of whom were expert musicians and respected teachers. Of the offsprings generated by the four sisters, the dancer Balasaraswati, Ranganathan (mridanga vidwan) and Viswappa(flute/vocal) from Jayammal’s family and Brinda(vocal), Muktha(vocal) and Abhiramasundari(violin) from Kamakshi Ammal’s family blossomed into excellent well-famed artists. With the passing of Viswappa, there is only surviving member of that generation, namely, Mukthamma, 89 years old. Muktha amma was conferred an honor this past spring at the Thiagaraja festival in Cleveland, Ohio at which time she gave a nonstop two hour vocal performance rendering kritis, padams and javalis in the family style and enchanting the audience.
Viswappa learnt flute from Tiruppambaram Swaminatha Pillai and his mother would polish the compositions imbibing the Dhanammal syle into it. Viswappa started accompanying his guru in concerts when he was just 11 years old and his solo performance career began in the early 1940’s. Stalwarts such as Papa Venkatarama Iyer and Palani Subramania Pillai would be his accompaniment on other instruments. Later on, his brother Ranga provided mridangam acompaniment for the most part. Together, the brothers accompanied their sister Balasaraswati and later Lakshmi Bala’s daughter at Bharat Natyam performances in India and all over the world.
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T. Vishwanathan, Jody, Lakshmi Knight
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