The story of the induction of the Saxophone to
Carnatic music concert platform will necessarily run parallel to my story on
joining the Carnatic music fraternity as a professional musician. Because I
claim, humbly and justifiably, that the effort to place Saxophone on the
concert platform has originated from and been spearheaded by me. My success is due to
God's grace, the blessings of my father, that of my mentor, Vidwan T V Gopalakrishnan, who took particular interest in my Saxophone playing, and the
other vidwans who taught me music.
The First Experiments:
- I had learnt the Nadaswaram for 5 years under
my father Sri Taniappan. Our family was residing then in the borderland between
Karnataka and Kerala.
- I came across the Saxophone in 1965 when I
was fifteen and took a fancy to it. Though my father did not think it was an
apt instrument for chaste Carnatic music, he did not suppress my urge. In fact,
he bought me my first Saxophone from a member of the Police Band for Rs. 800,
which was a tidy sum those days! It is still my favourite piece.
The Saxophone was not unknown
at that time. I myself knew the Saxophone artiste Sri Lakshminarasimhaiah
of the then Mysore Palace Band, now playing in Brindavan Gardens. The Wodeyar royal family are
reputed as ardent lovers of music for generations. Maharaja Krishnarajendra Wodeyar,
a vidwan of Carnaticmusic, was also interested in western musical
instruments. (Some say
he composed the kriti "Pranamamyaham" in raga Gowla, as opposed to
some who believe that it is Mysore Vasudevachar's). The palace Band, called
Nadamuni Band and familiar to old-timers, used to play select Carnatic kritis. This Band also had a Saxophone player.
- While I experimented with the
instrument, I developed my music for 10 years under Sri. Gopalakrishna Iyer
(brother-in-law of vidwan T V Gopalakrishnan), followed by Nadaswaram vidwan
Gopalakrishna Pillai (of Kumbakonam). I came under the benevolent
eye of vidwan T V Gopalakrishnan in 1973. He enthused and guided me in my
efforts to master the instrument.
Saxophone on the Concert platform:
- My first concert was in
1977 in the Chembai Memorial Music Centre for an audience, which included vidwan
Dr. M Balamuralikrishna.
- The AIR (Mangalore) auditioned me for
Saxophone in 1978 and cleared me at B high. I attained the A level in 1980 and
A-Top in 1982.
- It was in 1980 that I received
my first chance to perform at the Music Academy in Madras where I have been
performing regularly since 1995.
- My performances abroad include
those in Czechoslovakia and Switzerland (1982), UK (1986) and the US (1987 &
Adaptations to the instrument:
The Saxophone as it
is used in Western music has a range of 3 1/2 octaves. It basically produces
staccato notes as required in Western music. Construction-wise,
the instrument has almost been perfected, due to the high quality
reeds used in the mouth-piece and general workmanship. The holes in the Saxophone
are operated through metallic rods, which are manipulated by the fingers. Leather pads
give an airtight coverage over the holes. But the operation of the keys which
lift or bring down the pads produces distinct staccato notes. In addition, there
is provision (by the operation of other levers) to open/close some holes. This
enables one to traverse 3 1/2 octaves on this instrument. A good quality Saxophone (imported) will costs
Rs. 2 lakhs.
Modifications to suit Carnatic music:
experimentation, I realized that for the gamaka-oriented Carnatic music, the
western construction will not do. Further, in our music the range is seldom more
than 2 octaves. Some modifications were called for in order to produce gamaka-s and remove the superfluous attachments for enhanced range. Accordingly, I have made the following
modifications to my Saxophone:
- Some openings which facilitate attaining base
notes (mandra/anumandra) have been blocked because the levers operating them
were interfering with my fingering and in any case, those notes are not needed.
- The rigid metallic connecting-rods which
operate the keys have been replaced by tough, elastic rubber strings.
- The leather pads at the bottom of the keys
which open/close the holes have been replaced by felt pads with a convex
Despite the substantial success achieved, I must put on record that
some difficulties persist. For instance, there is a problem while playing Prati
Madhyama and Sadharana Gandhara. Further, I have knowingly accepted a range
reduction effectively, which I find is good enough for almost
all kritis. Another feature is that I play generally on B-flat which is a
convenient key on the Saxophone. All the salient features of the Saxophone
as well as the modifications made by me will be demonstrated during the
conference to show how the gamaka-s and other nuances peculiar to Carnatic music
can be effectively produced.