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The Rediff Interview/Trichy V Pradeep Kumar

'I learnt Carnatic music as just another subject'

December 22, 2008

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It is remarkable that 22-year-old 'Trichy' V Pradeep Kumar has made a mark for himself in the field of Carnatic music despite no great lineage to talk about. Born to a police inspector father and a music teacher mother, he grew up in Trichy. It was his mother's influence that made Pradeep choose music as his profession.

In this interview with Shobha Warrier, Pradeep talks about how tough it is to get a foothold in the Carnatic music scene without a name to back.

Video: Watch Pradeep Kumar sing!

Growing up in Trichy:

I grew up in Trichy in an atmosphere that was filled with Carnatic music. I learnt my first lessons from my mother, who is a music teacher in a government school. I remember her singing and taking music classes at home. I also remember singing along with her.

I became serious after I became a sishya of my Guru J Venkataraman, who is from the Aalathur School of music. He is very famous for his new laya techniques.

My parents arranged for me to learn from him because I used to win a lot of prizes in music competitions. My Guru is a very strict teacher and nobody has learnt from him for more than 2-3 years. He is used to teaching for more than three hours a day and expects the same kind of dedication from his students too. Initially, it was quite difficult for me to get adjusted to such a strict regimen. He used to take one month to teach one keerthanam.

He was so dedicated that he wrote the notations of the first 100 keerthanams he taught me. Whatever I am today, it is all because of my Guru.

Arangetram:

I never felt anything weird or special about learning classical music. I learnt music as another subject. Fortunately a lot of my friends used to be really interested in Carnatic music.

I became very serious about music after I turned 12. I never had a proper Arangetram. When I was 11, I won a competition in Anandathandavapuram, the birthplace of Gopalakrishna Bharatiyar. Next year, the organisers wanted me to perform there, and that too all the krithis of Gopalakrishna Bharatiyar. I was not actually prepared to do a proper kutcheri at that time.

But my Guru prepared me for a full concert. I was very excited and a little nervous too. What I remember about the kutcheri is, I forgot my first krithi. I started with the pallavi but forgot the anu pallavi. I sat there for five minutes without singing. Then, I recollected the lines and continued with my kutcheri. As I was a small boy, the audience was very patient with me.

The organisers called it my arangetram and it became my arangetram.

Break after the first kutcheri

After that, I started getting a lot of invitations for kutcheris but I took a break as I was inexperienced, small and not so good at mano dharmam.

After a year, I started singing at many places. My Guru was very particular about mano dharmam. He says it is very important for a creative musician who is willing to innovate. He tells me to understand the vibes one gets from the rasikas.

Joining an engineering college

I studied science, wrote the engineering entrance examination and even joined an engineering college in Thanjavur. After a week, I decided to opt out of college. As I had to have a safety net, I did a diploma course in audio engineering, which exposed me to the world of sound.

I came to Chennai to participate in a competition conducted by Carnatica. K Shashikiran of Carnatica heard me sing and made me stay back in Chennai. From 2003-05, I stayed in Chennai and my parents joined me later.

Being a musician in Chennai

It is important for a musician to be in Chennai. I feel a musician has to be in Chennai to be available, to listen to kutcheris and have contacts. Shashikiran helped me get contacts in the music field in Chennai. I met a lot of musicians and started performing at many places too. Many of them encouraged me a lot. Shashikiran has helped me specially, not only by letting me stay with him but also by introducing me to many sabhas. After that only I understood it is important to perform music. But it is really tough to get a foothold here. The competition is tough. It is the survival of the fittest. There is politics here.

Thanks to Shashikiran, I got to perform in a few major sabhas and got good reviews for my kutcheris.

Young rasikas

I see a lot of youngsters like me as rasikas at my kutcheris. It is no more an old crowd; the trend has changed. I see this change in the last 3 years. When young people like me sing, young rasikas also come to the Kutcheris, which is natural. But I feel we have to do something more to bring in more young people.

In my opinion, music is an expression of your feeling if you give your heart and soul to it.

I am like any other 22-year-old. I like movies and cricket like others of my age. The only difference may be that I am completely into music. It is not only Carnatic music that interests me but all kinds of music.

Youth association for classical music

The Youth Association of Classical Music (YACM) was formed 24 years ago, even before I was born. Every leading musician has been a part of this. Every two years, the office bearers change. Now, I am the Secretary of the association.

We conduct monthly concerts and are here basically to encourage young musicians. We go to schools and make presentations to promote Carnatic music. We conduct workshops regularly.

Music as a profession

It was a tough decision to take. One of my memorable concerts was my first one for Youth Association for Classical music. It was at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and there was a good crowd there. It was a kind of turning point for me. A lot of people who listened to me wanted me to perform elsewhere. That gave me a lot of confidence.

Trip to the US

Recently I was selected for a 40 day workshop and world music conference as a part of Fusion Arts Exchange Program on music composition.  20 musicians from all over the world in the age group of 18-22 were selected. It was organised by the Northeastern University, Boston.

It was an amazing experience. I had always been interested in western classical music. As I play Carnatic music on slide guitar, western Hawaiian guitar and Spanish guitar, I could gel with many musicians who were there. We were also taught not European music but American classical music and jazz. In the evening, we had ensemble practice. We used to be in separate groups and prepare pieces and perform.

The eye opener for me was the Blues and Jazz lessons I had. We were taken to a musical festival in Tanglewood which was the birth place of the great musician called Elliot Carter. He was a classical musician whose music comes the next stage of neo-classicism and discordal; it's atonal rhythmically complex music. We Indians may find it difficult to listen to that music.

The best experience I had was listening to the Boston symphony for three consecutive days. I became a changed person after those 40 days. I was very rigid about sticking to traditional music. I also was under the impression that what I believe in is right. But after meeting musicians from all over the world, I understood that music is all about expressing yourself. 

Video: Sreeram Selvaraj


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