Like a number of Indian classical instruments, mridangam, has also witnessed a decline. Stereotypically the percussion instrument is limited to Carnatic music but it is largely believed that its Hindustani counterpart, the tabla, was made after splitting it into two.
Despite waning popularity, mridangam is still played by Carnatic music exponents. Amongst them is a young man who at the age of seven started providing mridangam accompaniment for concerts.
B. Natesan or Vijay, as he is widely known, was propelled into music by his musician parents at a very young age. They would take him along for bhajan concerts and Carnatic music events where he would listen to an array of top class South Indian classical musicians. His father, a mridangam player himself, put him as Guru. TS. Nandakumar’s understudy.
“Under his guidance and rigorous training, I got several opportunities to perform in and around sabhas in Mumbai,” says Vijay.
After shifting to Chennai, Vijay have been undergoing advanced training under the legendary Padmabhushan Dr. T.V Gopalakrishnan. As a student, Vijay participated in most competitions and also got a scholarship from the Central Government under the CCRT scheme.
“I won the First prize in the All India Radio music competition held in the year 1997. This was the starting point of my actual performing career as people started sitting up and noticing my performances,” gleams Vijay.
This would be a memory for any aspiring artiste to savour for a lifetime. But that is not the case with Vijay. His most cherished moment goes way back to 1997 when he had the opportunity to tour with Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj to the US.
“I played a mridangam solo and at the end of the concert, I got a standing ovation from the audience. That event is still fresh and vivid in my memory,” says Vijay with an ear to ear smile.
Though playing from a very young age, he still feels that music has not changed much but life in general has become fast paced.
“The time duration of concerts are reducing as people are welcoming and preferring instant gratification and thrill. This has led to changes in the concert formats,” opines Vijay.
Though he is right about fast paced lifestyle nowadays, this change has also been beneficial. There are more opportunities opening up for aspiring musicians to learn and perform. This doesn’t seem to find much favour with Vijay.
“When it comes to carnatic music, today certainly there are avenues where there is good money but at the same time the number of artists are also much more in number compared to the past. Supply is more than demand for percussionists thereby putting pressure on payments in general,” says Vijay.
Not completely satisfied with his point of view, I quip, that the current lifestyle, with the use of technology, has enabled a musician reach to grow beyond traditional horizons. It has performed a key role in transcending classical music to a wider audience. But there are two sides to a coin, as Vijay noted.
“The younger generation is getting attracted by the single tracks and short videos that musicians share on YouTube. Having said that, I am not very sure about this translating into more footfalls for a live concert,” he said.
Technological growth has definitely attracted the younger lot of musicians towards western music and this has had a great influence on their musical mind set. The one positive out of this would be the enormous leap in the number of collaborations between Indian and world artistes. Is this affecting the classical music today, I asked Vijay.
“As long as it is music, any music influence is good. I believe one should not worry too much about pulling youngsters to our music or any other music. If there is truth and conviction in our music, people will automatically get attracted to it,” smiles the man.
Vijay comes from a traditional school of thought. His use of gadgets is still limited to the microphone and he shuns using the processors or even pick-up microphones. But he is in favour of social media as it has played a crucial role in kindling curiosity and imparting education about classical music and overall creating more awareness.
Organisations like SPIC MACAY, are doing a marvellous job by creating platforms for musicians to perform at schools and colleges across the country. Vijay also has been a part of this experience but strongly feels that senior musicians have to take it upon themselves to reaching out to the youngsters.
He stresses that, “Musicians should educate youngsters about classical music and make them believe that a listener can appreciate the nuances of music and performance only through live concert experience.”