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Avoid easy route to concert stage, violinist Embar Kannan tells youngsters
CHENNAI, January 3: He has come the hard way. He has, however, no regrets. A leading violinist, Embar Kannan is happy playing the accompanist’s role to perfection. He wants to be known as a `complete artiste’. In a candid interaction with the readers of Deccan Chronicle at the Rasam restaurant here on a Saturday morning (January 2), he did not duck and took all questions head on.

Kannan was happy that a lot of youngsters were taking up to Carnatic music and trying to be performing artistes. However, he felt that the youngsters these days were keen to get on to the stage very fast. Parents too were in a way responsible for their sense of urgency to get into limelight, he pointed out. Getting a stage to perform had become that easier these days, he said. Not surprisingly, he found very thin participation by youngsters in competitions conducted by famed institutions such as The Music Academy.

As a youngster, Kannan participated in the competition held by the Academy in 1989.

``The participation level that time was 20 times more that what you see now,’’ he said.

In former times, the music competitions were watched by the audience. Even vidwans used to attend these competitions, he pointed out. ``The winners used to be awarded prizes by the Academy in front of vidwans at the annual sadas, which took place on the January 1st every year,’’ he said. Moreover, the winners were given opportunity to perform on stage in the afternoon slots at the Music Academy. ``To get an Academy prize at the sadas was a great recognition,’’ Kannan said. Today, things had changed. These prizes were given at a separate function. Almost all leading artistes of today such as Sudha Ragunathan, Sowmya and others had come through this kind of an experience. Kannan said he had participated in competitions conducted by almost all sabhas in 1989 and won awards. Terming the period 1930-1970 as the `Golden Period’ of Carnatic music, Kannan said things had changed now. ``One has to go with the flow,’’ he felt.

The `accompanist’ or the `enhancement artiste’ played a big role in a concert, he said. ``To lead the show is one thing. To follow somebody, however, is always difficult,’’ he pointed out. Depending on the style of a main artiste, the accompanying artiste had to be flexible. ``He has to be comfortable for the main artiste and should not be a hindrance to him or her,’’ he said. Kannan said he would rather accompany as many artistes as possible in the first place before even contemplating to become a soloist. In this context, he pointed out the examples of Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, M.S.Gopalakrishan and T.N. Krishnan who had played for many artistes before they became successful soloists. Though they followed several styles, they were able to create their own unique styles now.

Kannan said he felt happy when main artistes showered praise on him for enhancing their creativity with his deft playing. ``Playing accompanist role to perfection is a mind game. You have to understand their frame of minds, you have to align to their wave length and you need a perfect chemistry. All these make a good accompanist,’’ he said.

Turing to teaching methodology, Kannan said that the subtle nuances could be learnt only in a face-to-face interaction with the guru. In the case of Net, this was not possible.

Curiously, he said, westerner’s didn’t seem to follow such teaching methods. ``Nevertheless we have to go with the flow due to lack of time,’’ he said.

Kannan said he had learnt western music much before he could start learning Carnatic music. This happened because he didn’t get a proper guru in Carnatic music.

Western instrument music is same in all places – be it London or Australia or Columbus. ``Learning is very structured and universal in western music. Whereas in India, they follow different styles of music,’’ he said. In violin, there were different styles - Parur, Lalgudi, T.N. Krishnan, Kanyakumari and others. ``Once you discontinue learning from a guru, then you have to start all over again. But they can’t be blamed. Each style is different,’’ he said. According to him, learning vocal music would certainly help an instrumentalist enhance the quality of playing.

His father Sangeetha Bhushanam Embar Sadagopan had initiated Kannan into violin since he was so impressed by Lalgudi family playing the violin. Sadagopan used to accompany Lalgudi G Jayaraman on the tambura. ``A Music Academy concert in 1953 stunned me. I was very much impressed and decided Kannan should take to violinist, the elder Embar said. Kannan could not be Lalgudi’s student since at that time Jayaraman was very busy. Hence, Kannan had learnt western classical music for some time. When he was barely 10, he joined music movie orchestras, tossing between recording studio and the school on his father’s bicycle pillion. He then moved on to become an important player in music director Ilayaraja’s team. In the meantime, Vittala Ramamurthy, a student of Lalgudi, taught him the violin to win a scholarship. Later, Kannan had joined his guru Kanyakumari by God’s will. Kannan had tuned many albums for artistes such as Sudha Ragunathan, Sowmya and Bombay Jayashri.

Kannan said he had to do adjustments while playing for female artiste. He had to adjust the violin so as not to sound squeaky while playing for female artistes. He said he wanted to be remembered as ``a complete musician.’’ He would be really happy when people come to a concert just because he was giving the violin support. People went to concerts just because a Lalgudi or a MSG was playing violin, he pointed out.

He said he had bought an electric violin from a shop in New Jersey during a concert trip to the U.S. with Sudha Ragunathan. ``Well, it is a silent violin because it needs an amplifier to play,’’ he said. Initially he thought that someone had left it there for repair, since much of the violin was missing. The shop assistant explained to him that it was an electrical amplified violin and even allowed him to play the violin. The host loaned him $700 to meet the bill and the violin was now an integral part of his fusion music.

Kannan said he had played violin for the Tamil film Parthiban Kanavu. He had also played violin for almost all films of Kartick Raja, he added.
Vaishnavi Natarajan -
A good, noteworthy article to understand the various aspects behind each artiste and instrument.

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