November 24, 2016 12:00:58 am
AS a young girl, I would accompany my parents to Balamuraliji’s concerts where I got a glimpse of what a great musician could do. When you heard this man, you got into a space where you only saw beauty of the sound that was grand and yet soft and mellifluous. You forgot all the details. You went beyond the physicality of the music. That is the grand edifice that an artiste like him could put up. What he created came from a knowledge that was at a different level. A thorough scholar, he knew all the rules of how to be a great musician but he went beyond that. For him, music could not be confined to Carnatic music or even to Carnatic music which is avant-garde. You cannot put Balamuraliji into any frame.
There are two ways of breaking tradition. There is one where you don’t go deep into the music at all, but you are still a great musician and a creator who can create something new. That is one way of establishing a new horizon. Balamuraliji was a musician who completely understood the tradition, was trained in it, rose from it and rose above it. He knew everything there was to know and then he also had the depth and bandwidth to go beyond and break all those rules. The grandeur of that was something else. To be a maverick is one thing but to be in the tradition and then break it is another ballgame and requires a lot of knowledge and courage.
Then there was the quality of his voice. In classical music, the brilliance of a voice lies in the concept that it should be able to traverse all three octaves. Balamuraliji had that golden voice. He was also an intellectual composer. His knowledge of sahitya was deep and merged beautifully with the knowledge of the ragas. It also led to the creation of new ragas as he knew the whole shastra of voice. It was that innocent smile which made it all look like a child’s play. But he was a gyani and gave his life in acquiring his music.
It was much later in his life, that Balamuraliji shunned the ‘sabha system’. He did go through the system initially because it is something that catapults an artist to a higher level, but later he felt he couldn’t be confined to the system. When he grew in stature, he wanted to be a free spirit. Much later when I had become a musician, I remember going to his Chennai house and spending time with him, talking of various things. He spent five minutes just describing the secrets of rendering a raga. And I can say it, without any qualms, that it changed my life forever. A legend par excellence, he will be missed.
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