Ganesh - Kumaresh

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Virtuosity, perfect layam and novel innovations soaked in the grammar of Carnatic music on the violin bring to mind the duo Ganesh and Kumaresh, who have been riding high on the concert podium from a very early age. Ganesh and Kumaresh spend much of their time in musical activities performing, teaching, and collaborating with artistes on new productions. Ganesh, the elder brother, has composed music for an English movie "Dance Like A Man" to be released at the end of the year. The brothers talked to Carnatica's V. Padmasini on their exciting musical journey and expressed their forthright views on the current Carnatic music scene.

You have not had any training under a 'formal' guru?

Of course, our father was and is more than any 'formal' guru, and what he gave us in the form of music is a treasure which has helped us in exploring the dimensions of our musical creativity. We are of the opinion that the Gurukula kind of training is very essential if one aspires to be a musician. What one learns from living with his Guru is more than what he learns just by going to classes. And what better Gurukulam can there be than learning from one's own parents.

Can you tell me about your early training?

Though our father was working in the LIC, music was more than a hobby for him. He was a taskmaster and used to train us after coming back from office everyday. He was a leading violinist in Delhi and had many students to his credit. He would wake us at 4 in the morning for practise. While I (Ganesh) started playing from the age of 3, it is really interesting to recollect how Kumaresh got around to playing the violin. My father was teaching the Mayamalavagowla Varnam to students and I was there. He played the phrase pa da ni da ni sa ri sa sa ri ga ri sa ni da ni... which the students could not grasp. Kumaresh was so observant that he took the violin when he was barely three-and-a-half and played the phrase correctly! Only then my father came to know that he was so talented. He started teaching Kumaresh also who was so passionate about learning that he would wait till 8.30 in the evening for my father to return from office and practice.

Our father would make us play the Kalyani Ata thala Varnam in 5 speeds with perfection and ease. Each krithi would have to be repeated hundreds of times. He also taught us raga-based exercises, which made us play kalpanaswarams with remarkable ease. He would ask us to concentrate on 4 or 5 notes and keep phrasing them differently and expound all possible permutations and combinations in those notes. Our mother made sure that whatever was taught the previous day and in the morning was practiced well before my father came back from work. We would practice for a minimum of 2 hours in the evening too. We started giving concerts in 1972.

Did you not miss a childhood...?

No. In class we were like heroes and classmates would clap when we came and the teacher would give us special treatment. When we used to visit the Kapali temple, people would whisper, "Look... Ganesh and Kumaresh are going!" At that time it was thrilling. I (Kumaresh) used to cut music lessons and run away to play! If we put on a good practise session of 8 to 9 hours, our father would give us a treat by taking us out. So our child hood was very different but at the same time great fun.

No particular bANi in your playing?

Our bANi is something that we have evolved over playing and performing for the last 30 years. We came into the field at a time when legends like Shri. Lalgudi Jayaraman and Shri. MSG were in their peak. To make a name for ourselves was no mean task. Much as we were inspired by these legends, we had to create something original... a style, an approach and an untrodden path to carve a niche for ourselves in this vast and wide music world. The result of this is what we have evolved as our own style of playing. We are thankful to our Guru for not restricting our creativity and letting us innovate in every way possible to expand the horizons of our music. Today, we are imparting whatever we can to our disciples.

There is a tinge of western style in your playing...?

If perfection in style and technique is called western style, well, then yes, we have more than a tinge of it!

Your sense of layam is perfect!

Thank you. We are glad you didn't think that too was a western influence! Layam is necessary in thought, action and deed for a musician... more so when there are two of us. We need to think, feel and express in unison. Layam in thought, action and expression.

How many hours of practice do you put in?

As children, we used to practice about 8 hours a day. As we gained more and more experience as performers, the introspection into music became more and we did not require the quantity of practice as much as we did when we were kids. The practice was more qualitative.

You sing along while playing...

Ganesh: Yes, when we present a rare krithi, the audience enjoy it better if they know the sAhityam too. Moreover, I enjoy singing a lot and love to share my wonderful experience with our rasikas.

Any formal training in vocal?

Ganesh: Not really. But my father encouraged me to sing and many of my friends thought that I should sing more often. I am an "A" grade artiste in Vocal. I have given full fledged vocal concerts in many sabhas but haven't had the time to pursue it seriously. It surely is on my agenda when I find time.

Would you say that a deep knowledge of Carnatic music is necessary to appreciate it?

When we enjoy a Swiss chocolate, we munch every bit of it greedily and look for more. But we are unaware of all the ingredients that go into the making of the chocolate. So, just the taste matters to us. Similarly, when it comes to music, it should be the tremulations in the ether that appeal to the aesthetic sense in each individual. Each rasika should go home feeling good and should reach a stage while listening to a concert when art transcends science and goes beyond. He need not recognize even a single note...

Crowds for the concerts has reduced...

Yes and No. In sabhas where concerts are a regular feature, sometimes dwindling audiences is a serious problem. This could be caused by transport problems, overdose of concerts, too many sabhas, too many concerts at the same time or even TV serials! I guess the explosion of artistes and organizations has caused the crowds to scatter. But in concerts that happen in places other than sabhas, like international festivals or cultural meets or benefit shows, the halls are always packed.

Does this profession have a "status"?

Definitely. I think this profession has more status than most others, both socially and economically. It is like the Onida TV ad... "NEIGHBOUR'S ENVY, OWNER'S PRIDE" (Laughs)

You are not accompanists?

Ganesh: Yes, I had the enjoyable experience of accompanying Semmangudi mama, Shri. Balamurali and the like. But, I did not continue as an accompanist for long because the offers for our solo concerts increased by leaps and bounds.

How is the response abroad?

Exceptionally good. Instrumental music is both "de-religious" and "de-regional". A non-Indian audience need not worry about having to understand the language and the culture. The sound of the strings just pulls their heart strings! We enjoy playing abroad quite a lot because most of them do not have a pre-conceived notion as to how an artiste should sound or perform or what concert paddhati he should adopt.

In your early days did you have to beg for concerts?

The very sound of the question is unmusical to our ears. As we told you, we started performing even before we realized it and we had our guardian angel who held our hands and took us from one level to another even without us realizing it. Everything happened on its own. We didn't plan to take music as our profession, but God decided it for us. In 1975 we were practicing at home, and our father's friend Mr. Srinivasan hearing us practise said he was going to have our first concert in Chennai organized. Our father said, "They have a lot more to go", but was met with the answer "No, let them play". He was running a sabha, United Music and Arts and he requested the legendary Smt. D. K. Pattammal to be the chief guest for the concert and she kindly accepted to do so. She sat right through the concerts and blessed us. What we are today is because of elder's blessings, Guru's wishes and Acharya's grace.

Kumaresh, what is your advice to youngsters?

Youngsters should not practice with the aim of performing a kutcheri. There should be a minimum input of 5-6 years of hard work; put in 8 hours a day of practice and then see what happens... Just like you spend 18 years of your life for education, give 8 years of your life for music. Commit yourself, without any expectations. God will take care of the rest.

Does music depends on one's mood?

Definitely. Morning ragas, evening ragas, sad ragas all depend on the musician's feelings. If a musician plays Mukhari thinking he is happy, then it is a happy raga. It is in the hands of the musician to make it happy or sad.

Some critics feel that music should follow a set pattern...

We think not. Music is Music in any form. Carnatic music is music of the people. Music is not only for the intellect, but also for the soul. We are of the opinion that constant and systematic brainwashing of the audience about what is pure Carnatic music and what is not, by people who consider themselves torchbearers of the system, has done more harm than good to Carnatic music. The audience must be allowed to form their own opinion instead of being spoon-fed through various networks.

How do you change styles effortlessly?

It is possible for every competent artiste. For example, in Shastri Hall there is a seasoned crowd - mostly above 60 years of age and we know what they like. In a corporate show, there is a different kind of crowd, and there we play in a more flamboyant and flashy manner… it is like the difference between one day cricket and test cricket). It depends on how broad you want to make your boundary.

What else have you done, Ganesh?

I sing, I have modelled and acted, along with Kumaresh in a film "Oru veedu oru vaasal" and with NTR in the film "Brahmarishi Vishwamitra". I acted as Sri Krishna in the teleserial "Narakasuran". We have produced the TV serial "Sri Ragam". Apart from playing mainstream violin concerts, I have created music for films. Recently, I did the musical scores for the film "Dance like a man". I also play as feature artiste in some films for other music directors. I also teach whenever I find time.

We have come out with many world music productions like "Brahma", "Navarasa" and "Colours of India". I have played with John McLaughlin, Trilok Gurtu, Nadaka and many others. Both of us have done quite a lot of combined ventures with Zakir bhai, Vikku mama, George Brooks, Valangaiman Shanmughasundaram Pillai, Haridwaramanagalam Palanivel and the like. You could visit our website for more details at

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