Music matters to violinist Hariraam

FROM Jay-Z and Microsoft’s co-founder Paul Allen to Google co-founder Larry Page and the former US Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan, music was part of their school years. These famous people are still musicians, and some like Jay-Z even made that their business. So, when someone wants to make music his career, like Hariraam Tingyuan Lam, you never know where that road will go.

Hariraam, who performed on June 10, 2018 in Malaysia, says: “Yes it is true that musicians and performing artistes have it tougher than the usual career choices, especially here in Malaysia.

“I hope that the new government will work towards recognising the importance of culture and the performing arts for the development of the nation, and give it its place among the other professions.

“Despite the challenges that I, and many other artistes face, music uplifts my life and gives it colour! It is like almost every moment or experience of mine has a song that would go along with it. So, music means a lot to me, and I have no regrets treading this path.”

The eldest child of dancer-choreographer Geetha Shankaran Lam and drama teacher-playwright Lam Ghooi Ket, Hari as he is popularly called, put on a show called Two Violins with Abbirami Balachandran.

“I was born and raised in the atmosphere of the Temple of Fine Arts (TFA), KL by my parents, and so naturally, I would follow them to work almost every day of the week, which also meant travelling abroad for shows and productions.

“Not the average Malaysian child’s lifestyle, and that too to have parents who are still passionately involved in the arts!”

Hari, 27, says most of his friends at TFa started learning music and dance at the age of 6, but he only agreed to learn bharathanatyam when aged 9 – after much persuasion from his parents.

“To appease me for doing that, they gave me the choice of picking up something in music.”

As Lam says: “I remember we were in the car, and we asked him what instrument he wanted to learn. I thought he would say the flute but he immediately said, the violin.

“That first class, I still remember clearly, his teacher Kanagamani Vijayendra put the violin in his hand, gave him the bow, and placed his fingers on the strings. When she asked him to draw the bow, out came the first three notes every beginner student learns — sa, pa, sa. “I was amazed as I expected some screeching sounds to assault my ears. Since then, Hari has become his teacher’s favourite.”

Says Hari: “Being in the creatively and artistically charged surroundings of the TFA did have an effect on me, unconsciously, or sub-consciously, especially where music was concerned.

“I grew up remembering the songs from my mother’s dance classes, or the songs from the many productions that TFA had staged.

“It was only in my mid-teens that I began to truly enjoy all that I was learning; adding in the vocal lessons, odissi, folk and contemporary dances, theatre, and the occasional government and corporate performances!”

After his SPM, Hari spent 2009 preparing for his bharathanatyam arangetram (solo debut performance) under the guidance of Vasuki Sivanesan and Shankar Kandasamy.

His teacher Kanagamani encouraged him to learn from her own guru’s son in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

“And so, my 2010 was spent undergoing a one-year violin course with the renowned Carnatic volin maestro, Padmabushan Shri Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, and his son, Shri Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan.”

It was clear to everyone that music more than dance was Hari’s cup of tea, and he went on to do his Carnatic violin arangetram with classmate Abbirami.

Hari, now armed with a music degree in Western Music studies at the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (Aswara),is a freelance musician and teaches at the TFA, KL and at Geethashankarandance, his mother’s school.

He says that the Two Violins performance was born from a simple initiative for him and the 25-year-old Abbirami, to perform together.

“It is for us to ‘keep in touch’ with our work and not just wait for someone to give us an opportunity,” says the enterprising Hari, fresh from giving a concert at the recent Chennai music festival with Abbirami.

Carnatic music in Malaysia, says Hari, is an acquired taste. “We want to try and make it as accessible and enjoyable to the general public.”

As such, Two Violins was set to a bright and appealing scale, presented through 6 Carnatic compositions, all of which are set in different tempos and dynamics.

“Instead of presenting a traditional classical concert, we have been working on different arrangements with 2 accompanying mrdangam players — Muthuraman Ganesan and Hariharan Ganesamoorthy.”

The compositions  include Jathiswaram, a pure dance composition that is popular in the bharathanatyam repertoire, in which the notes are arranged melodically and rhythmically, devoid of lyrics, to suit the dance choreography.

Composed by teacher Kanagamani, Hari says: “We will recreate the dance, but without the dancer, with the help of the mrdangists. This may spark the audience’s imagination of what the dance could be or look like, and perhaps for dancers present, they may be thinking of a choreography.”

Another composition is Varnam (Colour) which, from a technical point of view, gives the audience/listener an overall idea of the essence and structure of the ragam (scale).

The repertoire included Thaamadham Thagaadhaya, in praise of Lord Muruga, where the first stanza especially brings out the meaning of the words, Please oh Lord! Do not delay any longer in showering your humble devotee with Your compassion!, through the use of sangathis, which are melodic variations of the main line, intertwined with the message/tone of the composition.

In Ragam Thanam Pallavi, the musicians willpresent their skills and proficiency in all aspects of Carnatic music. It is an improvisational piece that consists of 3 sections — the raga alapana, which is a melodic improvisation that introduces and develops the desired raga without any fixed tempo; the thanam, which is a rhythmic version of the alapana, and was originally developed for the veena; and the pallavi, a one-line composition set to a thalam (rhythmic cycle).

The show ended with another bharathanatyam item, Thillana. “The unique feature of this piece is that composer Lalgudi G. Jayaraman had imagined a deer in the woods — sensitive the sounds and movement around it and responding with the turn of its head, jumping away dancing, pricking of its ears…”

With a yen to compose his own songs, and produce collaborative works, Hari offers that he still doesn’t know why he chose the violin all those years ago. “But I began to enjoy the sound of the violin and how much of emotion it could produce, when played well. Now, my violin has become part of me and I can’t imagine anything else without it.”

For Hari, Indian classical music is something dear to him, and he wants to share its beauty with audiences.


** This article appeared in a similar format in the New Straits Times.

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