Singing to the divine in us
After gaining a reputation as a legendary artiste and one of the greatest living classical vocalists, you would think Nedunuri Krishnamurthy would be content to rest on these laurels...
But not this indefatigable musician who is on a mission to learn ceaselessly and then disseminate that knowledge to students and music-lovers. Besides concerts, private classes, and workshops which every musician engages in, Sangeeta Kalanidhi Nedunuri has also undertaken a series of innovative music projects to enrich and propagate the cause of Karnatik music.
Take his recent pioneering work on Thyagaraja. Nedunuri tuned and rendered several compositions and released them in a CD titled Rare Krithis of Thyagaraja with notation book. These songs were virtually unknown to the music-world thus far, never having figured in any past compilation of the composer’s work!
These are Thyagaraja rarest compositions which have survived in the format of a script alone––with raga and thala mentioned but sans notation. Nedunuri’s colleague discovered this treasure at Madurai Saurashtra Grandhalaya.
Nedunuri has not confined himself to the famous composers but given his time and attention even to lesser-known but talented lyricists like Yogi Nareyana of Kolar. He has painstakingly researched and tuned 18 of these little-known but very meaningful compositions, released in two CDs.
Nedunuri’s Annamacharya project executed under his own trust Nadasudha Tarangini is a significant work in progress. Annamacharya presents an unusual challenge.
Though he was 15th-century composer, his 12,000 lyrics (Telugu and Sanskrit) were discovered only in 1920s and that too with only the mention of a raga (often obsolete) but without thaalam or notation. “Complicating all this was the lack of a direct Annamacharya shishya-parampara,” Nedunuri reveals.
He initially tuned and rendered 108 keerthanas––some released as CDs with notation books. He has finished tuning another 54 as part of an ultimate target of 200 lyrics.
With their superb combination of perfect melody and rhythm and evoking right bhaava, these finished products have uncovered all the beauty of the original lyrics, and given them great appeal for audiences and other musicians.
By using pristine classical ragas for tuning, Nedunuri has given these lyrics acceptance among the classical-musician fraternity, and Annamayya’s compositions a respected place in the Karnatik music repertoire.
A fitting recognition therefore, is Nedunuri’s recent appointment as Asthan Vidwan of Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanam.
Today, Annamacharya lyrics tuned by him are widely rendered in India and abroad on concert platforms.
Actually, MS Subbulakshmi chose four Nedunuri-tuned compositions for her renditions. Of these, MS was especially fond of Nanati Bathuku tuned in raga Revathi and would say admiringly to him: “Nedunurigaru, for this Nanati tune alone, you deserve the Sangeetha Kalanidhi title.”
Interestingly, when Nedunuri was conferred the title in 1991, it was MS who seconded Semmangudi’s proposal.
Nedunuri’s latest achievement is Raga Ranjani, a DVD set directed by Dr Mala Mohan as part of Swathi Sanskriti series. Herein Nedunuri explains and demonstrates the intricacies of raga alapana.
The high standards Nedunuri has set as teacher and performer and his amazing track-record of performing continuously for over 50 years at Karnatik music’s most prestigious platform––Madras Music Academy––are reflected in this CD.
Raga Ranjani is also exceptional because it brings together three generations of outstanding musicians––Nedununuri’s guru Sripada Pinakapani, Nedunuri himself, and his disciples Malladi Brothers. The compilation traces conversations between the guru and students with Nedunuri asking and Pinakapani answering and illustrating his points with snatches of singing.
The rest is a lecture-demonstration by Nedunuri of nine ragas––Darbar, Dhanyasi, Kedaragowla, Yadukulakambhoji, Ranjani, Anandabhairavi, Husseni, Natakurunji and Suruti. All of it making for a fascinating film and highly educative experience.
For those who yearn to learn from this maestro but don’t have the opportunity, Nedunuri has begun a series of tutorials that are being televised.
He has also tuned over 15 Narayana Theertha tharangams and 54 Bhadrachala Ramadasa compositions creating a select group and christening them ‘Ramadasa Navarathanas’.
Going beyond teaching and performing to accomplish so many other things, requires tremendous effort, creativity, and time. How does he manage?
Answers the maestro, “I have lived with music all my life. I know little of the outside world…politics, other matters. And God has been kind enough to give me the strength and inspiration for all my projects.”
But he also concedes that this single-minded dedication to art, has sometimes caused problems.
“But divine grace has always intervened to save me in a crisis,” he adds. And he hopes that it is the same grace which will keep him going so “I can give away to the current generation all the knowledge accumulated over the past eight decades. That is all I look forward to now.”