On Developing A New Style

(A Sruti interview with Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman)

You say that you have evolved a unique and individual style of violin-playing. Can you explain this further?

These new techniques I introduced brought about a revolution in the art of playing the violin; or you may call it a renaissance. The main feature of this novel style is that the same response is evoked through the violin as through vocal music. The main feature of this novel style is that the same response is evoked through the violin as through vocal music. The changes in fingering and bowing techniques shifted the accent to bring out all the subtleties and intricacies of singing.

The second most important feature is that the art of accompanying the vocalist reached a new peak. Before my tome, most violinists had fixed a style of their own and followed it all times, with the result that their playing could complement only certain vocalists. For example Papa Venkataramiah was a perfect foil for Ariyakudi but not for GNB. But with my new style, I could play for anyone and everyone, I could support Madurai Mani's sarvalaghu sukham and discrete alapana, GNB's effortless briga-laden sparklers, or Alathur's laya fireworks. Listeners themselves began to notice the birth of a new tradition of violin accompaniment.

Can you tell us more about the re-styling of the bowing and fingering techniques?

In my style you cannot distinguish between deflected and straight movements in bowing. The same richness of tone, the same continuity is maintained in both. Also one will not realise that the bow is moving over the different strings in turn because of the evenness of the sound produced. Jumps and breaks are completely avoided. And changes in fingering are so imperceptible as to go unnoticed. I always followed the vocal method closely.

Who inspired you to create this new style?

My father, who had assimilated the good aspects of all the great vidwans he had heard, drew my attention to the special qualities of each, singing to illustrate better their nuances. I know of Malaikottai Govindaswamy Pillai and Tirukkodikaval Krishna Iyer only through him. My father had a research -oriented brain which didn't want to follow the beaten path. Therefore he would always warn against blind imitation or tasteless amalgamation. "Create something original," he would say, "a new technique without the flaws of other styles which retains only the best."

Did your father himself fashion these new techniques that you employ?

No. I did that myself through trial and error, through ceaseless effort. But he inspired me and showed me the right direction to take.

By terming your style unique, are you not denigrating the other who were on the scene much before you?

No mentioning my achievements or contributions does not amount to running down others. How can I decry their achievements when it is precisely those which form the basis of my growth? The laid the foundation and erected the ground floor. I built another floor upon that solid construction. Once a Singapore rasika asked me: "You play so well. What about your father?" I thought the question absurd. Each generation has to carry on, building on what has been constructed by the earlier one. Among past masters, I was stunned by Chowdiah and Dwaram. In regard to the future, I expect a greater development of the violin from the youngsters of today. To say the best belonged to the past is a sure road to degeneration.

What was the response of the senior violinists to your innovations?

Why, all of them were generous in their appreciation. Chowdiah remarked: "All of us must stop playing now that this boy has appeared." At my marriage he said: "He was born Raman; he took up the bow and became Kothandaraman; with his marriage he has become Kalyanaraman; since he triumphs everywhere we can call him Jayaraman." Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu said: "If I practise for two years continuously I too can start playing in the Jayaraman manner." Rajamanickam Pillai openly praised presence of mind in supportive play. As for Govindaraja Pillai, he would make it a point to give me a word of encouragement after every radio concert. Papa Venkataramiah appreciated the dignity with which I pursued my profession. Tiruvalangadu Sundaresa Iyer was ever my well-wisher. All this shows the generosity and magnanimity of my seniors in the field.

Did all this praise ever go to your head … and make you feel arrogant?

Arrogance has no place in my life. My father's training has seen to that.

Also, regardless of praise given, I am the sort o person who is not easily satisfied with my achievement. My eyes are set on a star not easily reached. Besides I am quite self critical. I see my flaws all the time. Even minor faults frustrate me, and when I was younger, they would even make me weep all night. Sometimes I have even asked myself: "Why was I ever born?" Worry and sleeplessness would induce fever. At such times my father used to encourage me. But after starting to give solo recitals I gained greater confidence and learnt to accept failures that arise out of taking risks. A certain amount of egoistic self-awareness is needed to present new creations. But even here I realise that what I present on stage is but 30 per cent of what I can realise fully at home in hours of practice. This knowledge is sufficient to check arrogance.

Source: Sruti (1990), Issue 72, p. 36.

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