Editor's note: The Chembur Fine Arts Society, one of the foremost cultural organisations in Mumbai, is going places with its innovative and pioneering efforts in promoting and propagating Indian music and dance. The recent thematic annual conferences on Carnatic music have certainly caught the imagination of the music-loving public. The last few years have witnessed detailed discussions and demonstrations on the Musical instruments of Carnatic music. The first conference, on String instruments, was held in February 1999. The conferences in 2000 and 2001 covered Wind instruments and Percussion instruments respectively. Each conference featured top-notch exponents of the respective instruments.

Carnatica already featured the papers from the String instruments conference (click to read those articles). Now, we move on to the papers presented in the Wind Instruments conference, held in 2001.





By A K C Natarajan

Clarinet - Past and the present:

It was during the reign of Sarabhoji Maharaja in Tanjavur that Clarinet became a part of the music orchestra in Bharatanatyam (then called Sadir) recitals. This continued till even 60 years ago. Only in the last 20 years or so the Clarinet is not seen with the Bharatanatyam music groups.

Similarly, music groups rendering Tevaram-s used to include the Clarinet, while almost every Radio station had a Clarinet vidwan. I served the AIR, Calicut (1949) and Delhi (1950-52) for sometime too. Clarinet has also always occupied an important place in cine orchestras.

In fact, 60 years ago, this was one of the primary reasons why I shifted from Nadaswaram to Clarinet. I learnt vocal music under Alathur Venkatesa Iyer and held a B-high grade in the AIR. I also have a pretty good command of the Nadaswaram. By dint of hard and sincere work, and with the blessings of God and my Gurus, I was able to gain recognition as a top-class exponent of the Clarinet.

In the world of music, no instrument is above or below any other instrument. Whatever may be the instrument, as long as it is handled to produce pure notes, with laya and sahitya suddha, raga and sahitya bhava, the practitioner can then be considered superior. It is only on this basis that 60 years ago, vidwans and the seers of many Mutts, and the public accepted the Clarinet and enabled me to bring it to the top.

Technical aspects:

Clarinet is based on the button-system. It has 13 keys, one key for each note. Gamakas and other nuances are difficult to produce; specially, traversing a note covered by the fingers of one hand to the other hand without a break will be possible only after strenuous practice.  

Nadaswaram, on the other hand, is natural to our music and all the gamakas etc can be produced on it. Still, Clarinet vidwans like Tanjavur Balakrishna Naidu, Trichy Chinnakrishna Naidu, Chennai Balaraman, Radhakrishna Naidu, Tanjavur P R Mani etc, were all well known and highly respected about 60 years ago. They were however mainly performing in temples and marriages.

It was only in my time that Clarinet really started getting featured as a solo instruments. In fact, on one very memorable but sad day, the Music Academy was faced with the sudden demise of Nadaswaram vidwan T N Rajaratnam Pillai. It was a tribute to Clarinet that they chose me to play in his place. On that day I played from 9 pm to 1:30 am. That marked my first performance in that august Academy.

Nowadays many talented people are adapting western instruments to Carnatic music with ease. I am very pleased with such efforts because before these people, I struggled through many obstacles, difficulties and heartburn. But my efforts have resulted in a smooth path for future vidwans. This is a fact acknowledged by everyone. Therefore the success of Mandolin, Saxophone etc on the Carnatic music stage gladdens me.

In conclusion, I would like to reaffirm that in the world of music, rasikas should appreciate and support all vidwans who produce chaste Carnatic music without looking at the instrument used. Such daring vidwans also deserve the encouragement of rasikas, more opportunities to perform in order to enrich Carnatic music. This is my earnest and humble plea.


Posted on September 14, 2002

Related links: More about Wind and other instruments
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