Singing from the heart

Musical notes

Singing from the heart

Her poise and dignity on stage are often as remarked upon as her musical calibre. For connoisseurs, the appeal of Dr Pantula Rama’s kutcheries is that the  music is of a very high order and also that she eschews flashiness and flamboyance and never plays to the gallery.

Pantula Rama is today widely recognised as an outstanding vocalist of Carnatic music, one whose performances are characterised by chaste classicism, technical perfection, serenity, and a sobriety in presentation. She is a trained violinist too who also plays the viola!

This virtuoso’s music has often been described as mesmerising by listeners. Rama’s very melodious voice, effortless elucidation of ragas, her bhava-soaked rendition, technical skills, and immensely creative manodharma, taken along with a wide repertoire, endear her to rasikas. Tell her that and she will modestly attribute it all to the “grooming by her gurus and the grace of God. And sheer hard work and persistence. There is no substitute for relentless saadhana,” she says.

Well, she herself has been pursuing her art assiduously since she was a child. Rama was lucky to have been born into a music-soaked home. Her father Pantula Gopala Rao is a trained violinist, and mother Padmavathi is trained in the veena, and both are music teachers. Naturally, her father was her first music guru. She received advanced training from Sangeeta Kalasagara Ivaturi Vijayeswara Rao of the famous Dwaram baani.

 Besides vocal music, violin and viola-play were all part of her training. And she gave her first performance at age eight — a full-fledged three-hour concert! A few years later, she won the first prize in a pallavi-singing competition of the Madras Music Academy.

Musical wisdom

The musical wisdom for which Rama is noted came from these parents, guru and then, academics. After her schooling, she earned a seat in MBBS. “But I gave it up, because by then I had decided to become a professional musician.” It was a surprising decision for people around her, considering how coveted a medical seat is. “But my parents and guru understood and supported me," she says.

Rama’s decision was vindicated when she won gold medals in both BA and MA in music from Andhra University, and acquired a PhD from the same university with her doctoral thesis titled, ‘A study of the shaping of an ideal musician through saadhana’, now a book from Gyan Publishers.

The soft-spoken and low-profile singer has won a string of awards — Outstanding Lady Vocalist, Best RTP of the December Season, and Senior Outstanding Vocalist, all from the Madras Music Academy. Described by some as Andhra’s nightingale, she has also won the Best Musician Award from the AP state government.

Was it only music — at home, school and college — or did she have any other interest while growing up? “I was also into sports and was a member of the Scouts and Guides,” she reveals. With marriage came yet another link to music — her husband MSN Murthy is a noted violinist, vocalist and viola-player. He frequently accompanies her on the violin for concerts. And when he sings or plays the violin as a lead artiste, Rama accompanies him on the violin. “However, we never practise together before concerts,” she points out, “as we want the spontaneity to remain unaffected.” Rama occasionally accompanies other artistes too.

Switching roles

How does it feel to switch from the role of lead performer to accompanist? “Well, there is not much of a difference as I grew up doing both. I was performing solo and also accompanying my guru for years. Anyway, for a true artiste, what matters is to make good music, whether in the lead role or as an accompanist.”

In whichever role, Rama’s performances are noted for effortlessness and ease of performance. To which remark, she says, “The sweat and strain is a part of the saadhana of the artiste and his personal experience. It need not be conveyed to the audience. If the artiste is completely immersed in his music and enjoying it, it is a pleasurable experience for the audience and performer alike.”

Rama often takes on and successfully executes musical challenges — difficult prayogas, tough sangatis, rare ragas, and so on. An elaborate alapana of Kuntalavarali, and a Graha Bhedam Ragam Thanam Pallavi in Mohana-Hindola-Brindavana Saranga for the Madras Music Academy are among such feats. She is currently presenting a TV series called ‘Raga Ravali’ on SVBC, on the 72 melakarthas, focusing on one raga per week.“Actually, the point is not so much whether the raga is Shankarabharanam or a rare one — what matters is that we deliver enriched and creative music which gives soukhyam to the audience,” she says.

She is also a teacher, though she does not find as much time nowadays, thanks to a packed performance schedule. But she stresses, “Learning is not only about sheer physical practice. As I pointed out in my thesis, an ideal musician is shaped by more than actual saadhana. Many other factors like listening, unconscious imbibing, family atmosphere and socio-economic factors play a part. But one needs to have inherent talent, and given that, there is no substitute for determination, focus and dedication.”

Rama is always elegantly turned out at her concerts. She even has a diploma in fashion design. She laughs it off saying, “It is just an indulgence, the result of a vocational diploma course I did when newly married. I sometimes design for myself or family members, nothing more.” She also drives a motorcycle, a Bullet. Interestingly, Rama and her husband, who often volunteer to perform for charity and social causes, have interestingly given up wearing silk because of humanitarian reasons.

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