We will miss MSG

September 25, 2015, Chennai

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We will miss MSGIt is with love that we refer to Padma Bhushan MS Gopalakrishnan by the acronym MSG.

It was in 1983 during my final year at IITM that I had the privilege of learning music from Padma Bhushan TV Gopalakrishnan - during that time I attended a concert of his on a rainy Sunday night at AG's office in Mount Road.

I arrived at the office well before the concert started and stood up as TVG entered the hall.

The first question that TVG asked was 'MSG vandaachaa'?

There was so much of love, respect and expectation in that expression.

Indeed, that was the closest that I had seen MSG although I had seen and heard him play on various other occasions particularly at CLT. This was almost 30 years ago. I remember a fairly elaborate hamsanandi
where I observed MSG' finger movement and enjoyed the rich tone of the accompaniment. I also remember the nod of approval from a  very discerning audience when TVG sang the well known slokam 'ambikam
bhagavatim vANi ramA sEvitAm' and switched to the raga kalyani at the mention of the word 'kalyanim' in the sloka.

Many of my friends at IITM and I would discuss his bowing and his playing in awe. Many of my violinist friends and I have gaped at his playing an entire varnam on one string.

What was the magic that he could bring to his tonal quality? How could one explain his uncanny ability to elicit a headshake and a 'wow' from anyone listening to the very first phrase of his raga delineation particularly in ragamalikas and viruttams?

How can one forget his accompaniment to GNB's pallavi in Nattakkurinji 'koniyaada taramaa' in a recording that was circulating amongst karnatic music aficionados in the 1980s? Probably the most memorable vagadisvari that I have heard is that of MSG accompanying TK Rangachari, again one that I had heard in a tape circulating in the US
in the 1980s. How could one forget his tarana in bhairavi that became a standard fare in his concerts?

Fast forward several years to 1997 just prior to his Sangita Kalanadhi award at the Music Academy. His lecture demonstration at the Main Hall at at the Academy was packed. He and his daughter Dr Narmadha concluded his lec/dem with a short taanam in the five ghana ragas of Nata, Gaula, Arabhi, Varali and Sri and left the audience mesmerized.

I saw him in full flow in Cleveland a couple of years ago as a near octogenarian when he received the Sangita Ratnakara award.

I have had the privilege of him being in the audience during one of my lec/dems. The last time I saw the maestro was at a lec/dem at the Music Academy where he and his daughter Narmadha illustrated various techniques of the Parur style to a packed hall.

When he left the hall, an audience member interrupted him with a question. His smiling answer was, 'From now on please pose your queries to Narmadha'!

MSG will be missed by every rasika; more so by every Karnatic musician who has ever touched a violin!

- Kanniks Kannikeswaran