A support for SUPPORT

I thought of writing this yesterday, when I was in discussion with one of my colleagues. We were discussing the challenges of being a classical musician on a stage.

We have seen how original a main performer (be it vocal or instrumental) can be in his/her concert. Since they are the directors of the concert, they choose the raagaas, the kritis, and they can choose the pace and decide its duration. To put it short, the main artiste has the maximum freedom on a stage.

The situation is not very different for the main percussion support (E.g., Mridanga). They can stick to their own style of play and manage a kriti (composition) even if they do not know it, by just following the TaaLa.

The same cannot be said of a violin or a upa pakkavaadya (supporting percussion). A violinist is expected to follow the main artiste in all of his/her endeavors on the stage. Here, following will be from swara to swara (note to note). They are expected to be the shadow of the main artiste; not to dominate the main artiste; repeat whatever the main artiste does promptly and many other things. In the process, they face the challenge of “not crossing the line”. They cannot be themselves. (Although, following the main artiste promptly is an identity within itself, it also curbs the spontaneity of a violinist). If they do not know a kriti, then the situation becomes much tougher. Good performers somehow manage a good show.

It is a rarity that a Mridangam player would not know a common TaaLa. They have the freedom to play what they want during a Thani Aavarthana. They can always ask questions (through their play) to a Khanjira/Ghata/Morsing player (supporting percussionists). They decide what route the solo performance would take. The supporting percussionists always need to be alert and should be able to pick up what a Mridangist plays within no time. The situation becomes much harder when the styles of play (lesson structures) are drastically different. Again, good performers manage a tough situation by taking a minimalist approach or by keeping it brief. Some of the best supporting performers not only answer the questions asked by the Mridangist but also (very politely) question back.

Many a times the challenges of being a supporting artiste are underestimated by both experts as well as public. In many ways, being a main artiste is easier than being an artiste who adds value by a supporting (meaningful, tactful, uncompromising and respectful) participation in a classical concert. The main performer and the main percussionist have the challenge of doing justice to the freedom they enjoy. The supporting artistes have the freedom to add value and to do justice to their challenge. Do you see any difference between the two?

5 thoughts on “A support for SUPPORT”

  1. Accompaniments in karnatak music have their roles well defined. They are not merely shadows of the main artist. But they have a supporting role by which they can elevate the Kacheri to dizzy heights.Mysore Chowdiah, Lalgudi, Parur, Palghat Mani Iyer and a host of succeeding generation of percussionistss have made performances immensely captivating without sacrificing their own distinct identity.

    1. @ Mr Murthy

      Sir, I have already said that following the main artiste is an identity within itself and the greats you have mentioned could go beyond just creating a supporting identity. They could inspire the main artiste to perform better. When I talk of FEEDOM, I mean the freedom of choice. The carnatic kaCHeri structure has its own limitations. I agree that the word “SHADOW” does not reflect the actual situation. However, a learned listenter will not like a violinist who tries to establish his/her authority by doing what the main artiste did not (could not) do. I think it takes a great talent to recognize what not to play after a main artiste has finished his/her part.

      A sensible Mridangist will not only play to the potential of the main artiste but also gives the supporting percussionists enough chances during the concert to show their worth. I am sure you would have seen how many Mridangists start to follow a violinist when he/she does a neraval/kalpana swara. They should resist that temptation. The same applies to a supporting percussionist.

  2. Hi friends
    The difference is MAIN ARTISTE 100,000/-
    first ACCOMPANIST – 10000/- if lucky
    second ACCOMPANIST – 5000/- if very lucky
    shruthi accompaniment – auto charge if lucky

    At this point of time i would like to say that our society is hero centric we have had epics and epic heros and probabaly because of this culture the vocalist is everything .Why cant we change this format itself .Why does a vocalist want violin accompaniment at all lets see how they can pull of concerts without any voilin accompaniment .That will be the real test of their potential and ability . And no one to blame except the mridangam off course .

  3. I do agree that the supporting artists have more of a challenge in that they have to “react” to the spontaneity of the main artist; not an easy thing to do without compromising the quality of the recital.
    On a different note, when I was a classical dancer, my coordination would be maximum with the mridangist. Even if the singer went into an unrehearsed alaapana, I could always get back to track by following the mridanga.
    Came here from Padma’s blog.

    1. Yes Soumya, your comment is relevant. Dancing has a different structure. It is hard to identify the lead artiste in a dance performance. The dancer does depend on the singer, however the singer will not be under the spotlight. It is unique.
      It makes a lot of sense that as a dancer you tried to follow the percussion.

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