Key notes of 'Piano Man'

classical player

Key notes of 'Piano Man'

Anil Srinivasan, more popular as the Piano Man or Madras Pianist, has golden fingers. He plays the piano with extreme finesse and ably spans the worlds of classical Western and Carnatic music with ease and mastery. His fingers create magic as they gently touch the keys and fly over the sharps and flats, going back and forth, their movement akin to a graceful dance.

Anil’s path-breaking work in the field of music is this: He has used the piano, which is widely associated with classical Western music, as an accompaniment to Indian classical music.

He has collaborated with several prominent singers and musicians like Sikkil Gurucharan, Sudha Raghunathan, Unnikrishnan, Jayanthi Kumaresh (Veena), Mandolin Srinivas and Rajesh (mandolin), Ravikiran (chitravina), Shashank (flute), Murad Ali (sarangi), Gaurav Mazumdar (sitar), and has played the piano as an accompaniment at concerts with these renowned artists.

His prowess lies in blending the mellifluous notes of the piano and the Indian ragas, and to find new meaning within the scales of the raga. This admirable feat has brought him acceptance from the music fraternity and popularity among his audiences.

In fact, he has won the first Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar in the Creative, Experimental music category, awarded by the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

The beginnings

Anil was born in Chennai into a family of music aficionados. His father organised concerts at home. His mother’s guru, Suguna Purushothaman, and his cousin’s guru, Bhagavathulu Seetharama Sharma, were familiar figures in his childhood home. Even though Anil did not learn classical vocals, he picked up a lot by observation and absorption while growing up in the musical environment. His cousins T M Krishna (Carnatic singer) and Malavika Sarukkai (Bharatanatyam dancer) — both legends in their own right — were a part of his early life, and perhaps led him to aspire for musical artistry.

When Anil was three years old, he apparently walked over to the piano in his nursery school and demanded to play it. Thus started his prodigious association with the instrument. He says, “I have been playing the piano ever since I can remember and there has never been a reality outside of it for me for too long.”

Anil first played Western classical music on the piano, learning from his gurus Anna Abraham and Meena Radhakrishna. He slowly shifted to playing Carnatic music on it. He is grateful to Mandolin Srinivas for helping him find his unique space. “Srinivas meant everything to me — he was a friend, mentor and role-model. He encouraged and guided me to chart a craft with an unusual Western instrument.”

The painist didn’t find the transition from playing Western music to Indian classical difficult. But several years of experimentation, observation and working with other noted musicians has brought him to his current understanding of music. He considers himself a student and that “the rasanubhava of the Carnatic form is very much a mystery to me other than what my body and mind respond to automatically.”

After studying Economics from Chennai, and after securing an MBA from the University of Southern California, Anil worked for a while in the field of consulting and marketing research. But his passion for music made him give up his career and he returned to Chennai to continue his experiments in music. He teamed up with renowned Carnatic vocalist, Sikkil Gurucharan (grandson of flautist Sikkil Kunjumani), and their collaboration was a success, setting the path for more such efforts with other musicians.

Scope for collaboration

In such concerts, Anil provides a subtle and non-intrusive musical platform on the piano while the collaborator builds up his performance. Having provided background score for a few film songs, he admits that “every experience is fascinating.”

Anil is not just a pianist, but a thinker, who is also attached to his Kindle! He gives motivational talks about life and music and works with underprivileged children. As part of his Phd, he has studied extensively and researched on the effect of music. “Music is like breathing — it is both natural and organic. It fosters empathy and a far more wakeful intelligence, and is crucial in the early development years of a child.”

His initiative, Rhapsody - Education through Music, which uses music as a tool to systematic learning, has now been implemented in many schools in Tamil Nadu.

Over the past three years, Anil has managed the annual ‘Festival of Parallels’ in Chennai. The programme facilitates like-minded musicians to dissect the perspectives and music-making styles of different paramparas for a better understanding of collaborations. “It helps to see what the convergences actually are, and what the differences/limitations to the ‘melding’ of collaborations may be.” 

His latest album,‘Touch’, is an effort to present on the piano varied musical styles from India. In his words, “I have tried to capture popular and classical styles on the piano with many collaborators, and this is my effort to foster an ‘Indian piano’ tradition.”

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