She takes music to jails, too

A conversation with Ramaprabha Yerramilli, who believes in the power of music to bring much comfort

Musical musings

Carnatic musician Ramaprabha Yerramilli dons many roles in the world of classical music. She is a teacher, researcher, administrator, performer and guide. The well-known vocalist is currently the principal of Durgabai Deshmukh Mahila Sabha College of Fine Arts and Media Education (once known as Andhra Mahila Sabha), Osmania University, Hyderabad.

She details her journey in the world of Carnatic music thus: “My mother was my first teacher. She introduced me to bhajans and classical music. She would make me enter music competitions and I generally won prizes, and this was a big incentive to me as a child! My interest grew. Formal training followed under gurus like Kakaraparthi Veera Bhadrarao, Nethi Srirama Sharma  and D Seshachari (one of the famous musician duo of Hyderabad Brothers).”

However, she felt academic qualifications in music were necessary. “I wanted to be a music teacher. And I realised that many teachers were not conversant in musicology, mostly for the reason of lack of time. Carnatic music is a blend of lakshya and lakshanam (music and musicology), and knowledge of both is essential to be a good teacher.”

She acquired a diploma in vocal music from Andhra University. After an MA (Music, Carnatic Vocal) from Potti Sriramulu Telugu University, she pursued a doctoral research in the topic of ‘Melodic Structures in Mutthuswamy Dikshitar Compositions with reference to Different Talas’ at Padmavathi Mahila University, Tirupati. Today, she has about 25 years of teaching experience with students ranging 
from the beginner’s level to the PhD.

As a performer, Ramaprabha has hundreds of critically appreciated performances to her credit, across India and in the UK, Canada, UAE etc. She can sing in seven languages! She explains: “Though Telugu is the main language of Carnatic music, there are beautiful lyrics in other languages, too. So, I have learnt to render songs in multiple languages.”

An AIR artiste, she has also conceptualised and presented several programmes for Doordarshan, private TV channels and live programmes, generally woven around a particular composer. Besides, she regularly organises thematic concerts for rendition for her college students. “These programmes give them opportunities and experience,” she says. This musician constantly explores new facets in her profession. “My music practice is my worship, and the Trinity and other composers are divine incarnations in my eyes,” she says. She has composed music for the creations of the famous saint-composers Annamacharya and Yogi Narayana, researched the works of lesser-known composers, and composed tunes for the lyrics of Tumu Narasimha Dasu and Rakamacharla Venkatadasu. She has also composed tunes for the 30 pasurams of Thiruppavai Rasadhuni.

A highlight is this first-of-its-kind work. She has composed and rendered, in a ragamalika, a Sanskrit piece of composer Bhadrachala Ramadasu’s churnika in 24 keshavanamas, summarising the Ramayana. It is an 18-minute rendition.

Ramaprabha has earned several honours. She is Asthana Vidushi, Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham and for which she has received the Sangeeta Sevamani title. Another title she has been given is Sangeetha Prabha. Among the albums to her credit are ‘Shirdi Sai Suprabhatam’, ‘Thyagaraja Samarpanam’ and ‘Lakshmi Narayana Hridayam’.

‘Sangeetham for Sanghahitham’ is her initiative in which music is used for social causes. As part of this, music programmes are conducted in jails, old-age homes and in front of psychologically disturbed groups. “We encourage the audience to sing along with us for better therapy,” she explains.

As a teacher, what is her advice to young students? She says: “Before, students would dedicate themselves to one baani and spend long years of dedicated practice under one guru. Nowadays, many students tend to flit from one teacher to another. This tendency to learn under many gurus is unhealthy, and they will not attain proficiency. Students should respect the yesteryear vidwans, imbibe their music, and have a single-minded dedication to the art."

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She takes music to jails, too

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