At a time when the harmonium is heard less and less in Carnatic music, septuagenarian C Ramadass has recently earned mention in the Limca Book of Records for 590 performances as a harmonium exponent. Now, with 25 more performances to his credit, he talks to City Express about his experience.
You’ve won several awards for your contribution to the field of music. Is this one special to you? Why?
I’m really happy, of course. Who’d say no to being listed in these records?
A few friends advised me to write to the Limca Book of Records as giving full-length Carnatic music concerts on the harmonium was rare. But I had written to them last June, and they hadn’t responded for a really long time. So, I had just let it go. When I got the certificate in mid-April, it came as a surprise. This, and when I was awarded the tag as an ‘A’ grade artiste by All India Radio, top the list of my proudest moments.
Is this generation losing interest in music or is the harmonium becoming a less popular choice of instrument?
There are many youngsters these days who want to take up music, but they’re drawn more towards other instruments. There’s a keyboard craze on now, and even though many of them are students and have academic pressures to deal with, some manage to pursue it.
As for the harmonium disappearing, the era when music teachers would cycle from house to house with a harmonium and take classes is one that belongs to the past. As of now, the instrument is important in theatre and sugama sangeeta -- they were used extensively even in films earlier, and I don’t know if they still are. But it may pick up in the Carnatic music field once more, who can tell?
You also teach Carnatic music on the keyboard at Indiranagar Sangeet Sabha. Do you think that the notes are as rich on both instruments? If one learns how to play the keyboard, can he/she also play the harmonium?
Yes, I do teach there three times a week, and I’m satisfied that the kids want to learn music. One who masters the harmonium can easily play the keyboard, but the other way round isn’t necessarily true. If you’re playing the keyboard, you need only one hand (for Carnatic music), but when you play the harmonium, you need your right hand for the fingering and your left to pump the bellows. That requires stamina and skill -- you have to moderate the volume.
Also, you cannot use the keyboard to play gamakas (graces). The notes on it lack continuity, unlike on a harmonium.
As you said, there haven’t been many people who have played the harmonium as soloists. Do any of your students show promise?
The harmonium has had good exponents, like Arunachalappa, Palladam Venkatramana Rao, Bheema Rao and Raghuram, who also plays the violin. But there aren’t too many people who take to the harmonium now as most want fame and money within a year or two of getting into music. Among those who do, many take up sugama sangeeta and bhajane mane (bhajan centres) sessions.
Some have family pressures: unless parents encourage you, as my parents did, it’s hard to be dedicated.
You’ve been listed in the Limca Book of Records now. What next? Guinness Book?
(Guffaws) Well, everyone has dreams, and if that happens, I’ll be overjoyed that the art is being recognised. All the same, I don’t want to let my expectations run too high. I have to play at a wedding on May 1, and a concert is lined up for May 10 at Jayarama Seva Mandali. That’s how I want to continue -- give more performances. And, I’ll go on teaching whoever comes home to learn.
(Ramadass plays at Jayarama Seva Mandali, 8th Block, Jayanagar, on May 10)