Margazhi regulars reveal the stories behind their favourite instruments and how they come up with new sounds
As the Margazhi season draws to a close, we look behind the scenes and find out how our favourite musicians are creating sounds that are uniquely theirs. With tips and tricks up their sleeve, seven of them, some of them fresh from their latest Margazhi stint, tell us about the intricacies that go into making the perfect sound while dealing with crucial factors like weather, accidents, travel nightmares and so on.
Music is the key
Better known by his stage name, Keyboard Sathya, Sathyanarayanan Krishnababu is widely known for his prowess at playing the keyboard for classical music. Ushering in an electronic era into the rather puritanical world of Carnatic music, this Margazhi season, the 21-year-old has been creating instrumental versions of hymns on his two-octave Korg Nano Pad and Roli Seaboard with rubber-based keys. “The future of classical music is its global appeal and instruments that were once considered foreign are a large part of it,” he says.
Jayanthi Kumaresh, who will perform alongside Zakir Hussain and Kumaresh today at Sir Mutha Hall, devised an effective way to tackle the fluctuations in the karungali wood on the tuning pegs of her veenas due to changes in the weather. “I started using guitar tuning pegs, while retaining the wooden ones for showcase,” she says, adding that she also removes detachable components like the secondary resonator while travelling. As for the 20-odd veenas in her kitty (one over 100 years old), she ensures that she refrets them frequently using honeybee wax. And when not in action, a veena should be properly covered, she advises.
All strings attached
After playing the Chitraveena for more than a decade at Margazhi concerts, Carnatic instrumentalist Bhavani Prasad has now found his calling in the Mohan Veena. Practising for just over a year, this musician plays the original version of the Mohan Veena (21 strings) and is looking forward to customising his own veena to suit Carnatic music performances. Revealing a couple of tricks on maintenance he says, “The best way to keep your string rust-free is to clean them with coconut oil.”
Lalgudi GJR Krishnan, the Carnatic
violinist, still plays with the 55-year-old violin of his father, which he has carefully preserved despite the various niggles it has suffered due to factors like weather. “It is tough to modify a violin beyond what it is now, and I am talking about the acoustic violin found in India that is made out of maple wood. But, when it comes to repairs, Fevicol is a big no-no. Use animal glue instead,” he advises, adding that he just finished his annual violin restoration workshop last December, along with Santa Barbara-based violin maker James Wimmer, as a part of his pet project, Violin Wise.
This Hyderabadi Hindustani instrumental musician has tried his hand at recreating Carnatic ragas like hamsadhwani, annamacharya keertana among others on his 21-string guitar. An altered version of the acoustic Hawaiian guitar, the Jaywant guitar has an additional fret board that houses 13 strings and acts as a bridge. The guitar is customised to have three pairs of main strings, twelve s-ympathetic strings, and three Taraf strings. “My guitar is tuned to a very high pitch, so I ensure that I detune it every time I am done with a concert to ensure the wood does not warp.”
Mad for mandolin
The brother of mandolin maestro Mandolin Srinivas, U Rajesh still chooses to play the five-string mandolin originally modified by Srinivas. Rajesh has his own set of custom-made hybrid instruments—a seven-string mandolin and a double-neck mandolin. “The mandolin allows for a lower range of five octaves, while the double-neck is similar to jazz musician John McLaughlin’s guitar,” he says.
The poly project
Student of renowned Grammy-winning Hindustani music instrumentalist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Poly Varghese has
dedicated the last 15 years to perfecting his hand at the Mohan Veena. In his experiments with music, Poly modified the existing 20-stringed Mohan Veena, making it a 22-stringed instrument and created a three-necked guitar (poly string guitar) with 40 strings. “The hybrid of the Mohan Veena has one extra chikari string that is tuned one octave higher, and a bass string. This allows for a longer sustain and gamaka that is pivotal to Indian classical music.”
By Rebecca Vargese and Karan Pillai