CHENNAI: Ask anybody who knows M S Viswanathan where his music came from and they won’t tell you that it was from his genius, his soul or his heart. They’ll tell you that it was from his treasured harmonium, a veritable identity for the legendary composer, who passed away aged 87 on Tuesday.
Among the millions who mourn his passing and remember his legacy of melody, are the men who crafted and tuned the harmoniums that brought the sruthi out of MSV. “Our father Kannappa Mudaliar was among the first people who crafted a professional harmonium for MSV sir when the shop opened in 1952,” recalls
K Elangovan, who has kept Kannan Harmonium Works running with his brother K Anand, after the passing of their father. Elangovan was on holiday in Kashmir when Express reached out to him and told him about the Mellisai Mannar’s (King of Melody — the epithet that most people knew MSV by) demise.
“It’s very shocking for us because of all the people who we have supplied harmoniums to and serviced and tuned over the years, no one was as synonymous to the instrument as he was,” Elangovan adds softly.
Finding the shop that the late Kannappa Mudaliar, whom most musicians called Kannan, set up on Mint Street is quite a task. It’s not just easy to miss. It could indeed be the smallest of shops on an otherwise congested lane in north Chennai. If it weren’t for the half-finished harmoniums drying outside and strong smell of varnish, it could escape detection altogether. Once inside the shop, it’s almost like being transported to the pre-synth era when harmoniums were hotter than Macs. “This is where our father made the petti (harmonium) that the Don Bosco school presented to MSV with their emblem,” says Anand.
“After receiving it, MSV was so happy that he rang our father up and thanked him profusely for it,” reminisces Anand. “He’s one of the few musicians who would never compose music without the harmonium.”
Fashioned from pure teak and set with imported ivory and metal picks and wire inside, the instruments are still manufactured in the back — which is a sawdust-filled 10X6 room.
Where normal mortals opted for double-reed harmoniums, MSV was particular about the four-key (reed) one — because of its larger range and superior sound. “It needed a lot more servicing and there were times when our father had to rush to the studios in Vadapalani and Kodambakkam to tune it, but that was part of our relationship. Most of the times when it came for service, it would be brought in and left in our care until it was ready for him,” explains Elangovan.
Much like MSV’s era, the demand for harmoniums has gradually passed, but the thing that keeps the shop going is the passion that people like T M Soundararajan, MSV have inspired in them.