SVK and the Coquettish Swing


Shri. SVK (S. V. Krishnamurthy) is a well known Carnatic music critic in Chennai who contributes regularly for the Hindu Newspaper’s Friday music reviews. Respected for his age and undoubted Carnatic music knowledge, at times he is spot on with his critique about a musician. However, most of the times he cloaks all his judgments inside muddle challenging his readers with a writing style presumed by himself and a few others (who are all dead for the past fifty years) to be in the league of Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and even Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

It is my humble prediction that his collected music reviews could someday replace the Voynich manuscript [1] for the teasing muddle and delectable incomprehension.

Here I choose an instant where my Shri.Man Shri. SVK reviews the concert [2] of Shri. Kasturi Rangan in (today’s) Hindu newspaper. Let me appreciate the music concert through the comprehension of Shri.Man, the music critic and pass it on to you in this re-review [3]. And never mind that tachometer if it reads more than 1500 rotations per minute. It was just removed from my head.

[review of Shri. SVK] S. Kasturi Rangan’s concert for Mudhra ensured the attractiveness of his performing skill through tone and accent. He maintained the kirtanas in jolly good shape.

[this means] Kasturi Rangan gave a good concert for Mudhra. Kirtanas eat a lot of Lays chips, Bhel puri, Frech fries and Baskin Robbins ice creams through the course of a concert and often go out of shape, if left unmaintained. Kasturi Rangan managed to maintain them in “jolly good shape”.

It pricked the brain but failed to touch the heart. It would do him much good if he realised that a simple, straight approach to exposition can be more eloquent than forced accentuation.

[this means] The singing is intelligent but I (Shri. SVK) need to crib anyway.

[ignorant re-reviewer's pedestrian thoughts:] Assuming the “It” at the start of the sentence denotes the concert and not the act of “maintaining kirtanas in jolly good shape” in the previous sentence, one wonders what that sentence means. How can sound (that is what you hear in a concert right?) ever “touch the heart”? It has already “pricked the brains” of Shri. SVK. If that figure of speech means the concert is appealing to the intelligence of him, then “failed to touch the heart” figuratively means what? Failed to bring out his right emotions? So why not say it like that? Because, if you say it that way, as “the concert pricked my brains but not my emotions” then the reader would inquire whether emotions arise from a body part other than the brain, which as accepted, is already pricked. That leaves the Shri. S. V. Kritics without a “reason” to crib about the concerts they review.

I am particularly harsh on such sentences because even when a musician (or any artist) does his job otherwise blemish free, he can be unfairly derided by so called objective critics with such subjective “not touching the heart” sentences. To paraphrase Shri. SVK from the next sentence in the above quote, it would do him (Shri. SVK) much good if he realised that a simple, straight approach to carnatic music review can be more eloquent (and useful) than forced accentuation (or untenable crap).

Deepest melody rests in his voice purveyed through subtle, flashy expressions.

[this means] His voice is good and he puts it to good use.

It was rather difficult to say which was a more satisfactory experience – the vocalist’s adventurous inclination or the felicitous way he brought the weight of his vidwat to his performance.

[this should mean] both “vocalist’s adventurous inclination” and “felicitous way he brought the weight of his vidwat to his performance” are satisfactory for Shri. SVK.

But I (re-reviewer) don’t understand how an inclination can be adventurous, a way can be felicitous and vidwat can be weighed.

One thing was evident. His music would reach great heights if, instead of allowing his well-endowed voice to lead him, he made musical sensitivity dictate to his voice.

[this means] But wait a minute. I am a Shri. S. V. Kritic. So I must pronounce he (Kasturi Rangan) is yet to reach his best or some such thing, for some one might cast an evil eye reading only good things about Kasturi Rangan. So I spread some balancing muddle with a follow-up sentence that is a la Rajiniji in movies: “don’t allow money to dictate terms to you, you dictate terms to money”

The cinema hall laughs after such profundity.

Enhanced by a splash of bravura passages in the alapanas of Panthuvarali and Kedaragowla, the kutcheri took on a breezy complexion. The vinyasa, as rendered by him, was spontaneous with plenitude of sancharas.

[this means] The kutchery picked up pace after a particularly good alapana in Panthuvarali and Kedaragowla. He is imaginative while doing the alapanai.

It carried a favourable factor in that his majestic voice imparted much refinement of tonal expression, but it was his exhibitionism that trivialised values.

Although most of the audience liked his good voice and what it did, I think he over did it. He thinks too much of his voice and kept showing what it can do. I think it is cheap trick. Irrespective of whether the singing is competent throughout, a singer should be modest and never exert in concerts. It would trivialize values stored in a cold dry secret place by critics like me.

Though sporting a coquettish swing, there was dignity of Carnatic music.

Like commercial break between programs, this means ROFL break for my (Shri. SVK) review.

Through his competent singing (as agreed by me in the earlier sentences) Kasturi Rangan made me see the feminine swing (of hips?) of Mademoiselle Carnatic music. After enjoying it for a while, I realized it is wrong on my part to do so in public, so I shift the blame squarely on to Mademoiselle Carnatic music for sporting such an ungainly feminine swing that almost robbed her of dignity.

Long karvais, loops, gorgeous sancharas formed the raga edifice. His creativity was well matured by intensity of feeling with a skilful control of form.

All because of this good, creative singer Kasturi Rangan. Shame on him.

His training under a towering vidwan helped him enormously in the rendering of kirtanas.

Aha! He is very good because he trained under TNS.

His interpretation of ‘Sri Ranganayakam’ (Nayaki) and ‘Saragunapalimpa’ (Kedaragowla) clearly brought out the radiance of the composition. The spiritual excellence of the Nayaki kirtana was unfolded stressing its specific beauties. The shades of the raga in the song were precisely and compellingly revealed.

The Kedaragowla kirtana with its structural cohesiveness and chittaswaram was presented with passionate gracefulness. One significant feature noticeable was full-steam articulation both in ragas and kirtanas. But there was lack of clarity in the enunciation of sahityas.

Nayaki and Kedaragowla ragas and the follow up kirtanas were brilliantly done. Nayaki and Kedaragowla are difficult ragas to handle. Their important phrases present in the respective kirtanas were skillfully brought out. The singing was lively but the sahitya words were not sung with clarity.

If he desires to proclaim his individual identity he has to move away from the shadow of Seshagopalan.

Let me (Shri. SVK) close with the critic patented hypocritical cliche. Kasturi Rangan should move away from the “shadow” of Seshagopalan to prove himself to me.

[ignorant re-reviewer's pedestrian thoughts:] Just two paragraphs earlier Shri SVK writes “His training under a towering vidwan helped him enormously in the rendering of kirtanas.” It is alright to learn and sing Nayaki from the Towering Master in a way the great music critic Shri. SVK in the audience liked it. It is correct that Kasturi Rangan’s “creativity was well matured by intensity of feeling with a skilful control of form” only because of his training under a Towering Master. It is admirable that due to his training under a Towering Master, the “significant feature noticeable (in Kasturi Rangan’s singing) was full-steam articulation both in ragas and kirtanas”. And so on. In spite of all this Kasturi Rangan must remember that he has to move away from the shadow of Seshagopalan, if “he desires to proclaim his individual identity”.

In what senility scale is this sensible advice from a knowledgeable critic?

Wasn’t this the same crib every music critic had on Shri. TVS when he came into limelight some decades back? That he needs to “move away from the shadows of Madurai Mani”. In every generation, isn’t this the same subjective crib that these objective critics have thrown at talented musicians who had the misfortune of training under Towering Masters?

In the logic of Shri. SVK, the disciples of Towering Masters even though trained in that for enough years, must not follow the bhani of the Towering Master, while the Towering Master is still singing in concerts. We don’t tolerate the Towering Master and his Creative Shadower in the same times.

The only way out is for the Towering Master to give up singing before any one of his disciples dare to sing in concerts. And, when it does happen this way, the shameless we inclusive of objective critics, will praise the disciple exactly for what we are blaming him now for. That he sings likes his Towering Master.

The violin accompanist Shertalai Sivakumar had enough competence to follow the vocalist’s lies, but aesthetic-wise not convincing.

[this means] The violinist is good but jarring in his bowing.

The percussionists M. S. Varadan and particularly the morsing player N. Sundar, helped generously by over-amplification for them, almost drowned Kasturi Rangan’s recital.

The percussionists were loud.

The thani was over-stretched.

The thani was stretched.

There ends my re-review. Contemplate on the following phrases until the next re-review. These phrases are picked from the Shri. SVK review above [2]. Try translating them into your mother tongue – if it is not English – and see if you would like to use that meaning in your speech or writings.

1) forced accentuation 2) adventurous inclination 3) breezy complexion (of a music concert) 4) dignity of Carnatic music 5) compellingly revealed 6) structural cohesiveness 7) passionate gracefulness 8) individual identity 9) over-amplification 10) over-stretched

References and Notes

  3. This is the fifth in a series of re-reviews that I wrote to corroborate my conjecture. See my Writings page for more re-reviews, before deciding to judge my opinons.


Original version written on Feb 15, 2008