75 does not slow her down
CHENNAI: She belongs to a rare class of gurus who believes that teaching is a vocation, and not a method to earn a living. Looking back at the musical journey which began when she was six, Nirmala Sundararajan, an ‘A’ grade artiste of All India Radio, says she’s still a student! The
senior vocalist will be honoured with the TTK Award of the Music Academy on January 1, 2017. “Music is an evolving art. A lifetime isn’t enough to learn it,” she begins. “Awards bring more responsibility, especially, when it comes from the Music Academy. It’s special and I’m honoured to be a recipient along with geniuses like violent exponent Kanyakumari.”
The vocalist thanks the Guru-Sishya parampara and credits all her success to her teachers. “The relationship between a guru and student goes far beyond those typical music classes,” she opines. And you’re hard-pressed to agree as she learnt music from some of the stalwarts like T Mukta, Ramnad Krishnan, P N Raghava Rao and T M Thyagarajan. “You need a guru to guide you at every stage though learning through radio and CDs are also possible,” she adds.
Marriage, motherhood, and other family responsibilities didn’t prevent her from learning, teaching and performing. A traditionalist at heart, Nirmala says in the olden days, she had to prove herself constantly displaying her individualistic traits. “Though each one has his or her style, I can never compromise traditions or values. Concerts those days were not merely entertainment. Musicians of our era were fortunate to be able to spend a great deal of time, learning, discussing and thinking music,” she recalls.
Nirmala believes that classical music has its own intellectual aura and exclusivity that will live on. “But the challenge lies in sustaining the interest and continuing to learn and evolve,” she avers. “I’m happy to see many young musicians coming into the fore. In 2004, I was teaching music in Pittsburg. By God’s grace, I am able to do it even at 75. Without the support of my family, nothing would have been possible.”
Staying in Kanchipuram, Nirmala visits Chennai every week during weekends to teach music at Vani Mahal. Training nearly 15 students she shares, “It’s good to see how some are evolving into singers of great maturity. I insist that they develop their own style without imitating others.”
Ask her who’s her favourite musician in the current generation, she says, “I am seeing them experimenting a lot. I can’t name any in particular because it wouldn’t be fair,” she states, and also adds, “There are many singers who perform, but hardly a few stay in my mind. It’s like these actors who come and go. We can barely recognise their faces.”