A house for music :

Posted by-Kalki Team

Priya R. Pai face lights up at a memory. She was in Class VIII, she had sung a kriti, improvising according to her manodharma and impressing her guru. Until then music lessons were learning and reproducing what one heard. “I remember being woken up at 6 a.m., weekly once or twice, and readied for music lessons, as a three or four-year-old. For many years I resented my parents insistence on the lessons, but in retrospect I am grateful that they insisted. Watching Dangal struck a chord,” she says.

She had listened to a kutcheri, on Doordarshan where Trichur Ramachandran, his wife Charumathi and daughter Subhasree had performed. “It was spontaneous - the recital - each singer matching the other note for note. Subhasree, who would have been my age, to my young ears, outdid them. That was my first exposure to spontaneous interpretation of a kriti - it was a Purandaradasa kriti in khandachaapa talam, naata raagam. That opened up a new, exciting aspect of Carnatic music to me.”

We are at her new, a-few-months-old house, Amritavarshini, in Thevakkal, at present her weekend getaway and soon-to-be-home. Edappally has been home and karmabhoomi for a long time, “There is no going away from there.” Edappally is special to me, my first fusion album was released at Changampuzha Park. But this, here, will be our home. We have built this house for music.” Naturally well lit, and amply ventilated, this space is the perfect refuge from the din of the city. A small balcony, on the first floor, is the nook for Priya and her daughters, Shradha and Shreya, to practice.

The surrounding stillness is perfect for Priya. “Even in the other places, in the city, that I have lived, practising wasnt a problem but I never felt the freedom that I feel here. Here I can SING...without worrying about disturbing someone. In the city, you may close the windows and doors and sing, but you still sense all that is going on outside. This place is different.” Saadhakam or practice for her is not only about singing, it is also about listening - “I get on to Youtube and listen to certain singers or kritis. It is invigorating.”

A two-time winner, second place, at State level Youth Festivals, Priya has made a name for herself not only as a vocalist but also a composer, playback singer, teacher, and television host. Some of her albums are Thillana, Bhavatarang, Oothukkaadu songs, Raagasudharasa, Mahaadeva Siva Sambho, Krishna Nee Begane Baaro and Harshamo Dukhamo (composed by Benoy Viswam). She has also composed two albums, Lalitha Sahasranamam and Vishnu Sahasranamam, set in 15 and eight ragas respectively.

Starting young, she remembers performing for All India Radio (AIR) as part of Akashvani Sangeeth Sammelan while still in school in Thiruvananthapuram.

“We would practise under stalwarts such as M.G. Radhakrishnan sir, Perumbavur Ravindranath sir and even Raghavan Master. I still cherish the experience.” A graduate in Mathematics, she is also a graduate and post-graduate in Music.

The flashback takes us to the learning and teaching of Carnatic music. Teaching is a big part of her music. “The basics have to be right, only then is the foundation strong. I am grateful to my gurus, each one for their lessons. If a musicians foundation is solid, then as a singer you gain confidence. My foundation helps me improvise and try new things. As a teacher I try to impart what my gurus have given me.” A sparse hall is her space as teacher.

She points to the only elevated place in the room, a faux antique two-seater. “If I dont sit slightly higher, I cant see all my students. I have to know what each is up to.”

A stickler for punctuality and regular attendance, she says “When a class is only once a week, you cant play truant. A student has to be here, if he or she is serious about learning.” She also conducts classes in Bengaluru.

Teacher or musícian? “That is a very difficult choice, both are equally important aspects of the same thing - music. The satisfaction I derive from each is different, but both roles are immensely satisfying and at the same time enriching.”

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