Thank you, Vivek for this wonderful opportunity to get immersed in the resounding music of my Guru Semmangudi Mama and reminisce the most fortunate and valuable interaction I have had with him. Even now, while I sing or teach, his face comes alive in front of my eyes. His sharp observations and valuable nuggets of advice keep ringing in my ears.
I happened to come under his tutelage as a Govt. of India Scholarship awardee in the year 1969. By then Semmangudi Mama, as we students address him, was over 60 years of age. He had settled down in Chennai after a long tenure at Trivandrum. We students, who had the privilege of learning from him and listening to him sing with abandon for hours and hours at home, were real beneficiaries.
Apart from his teaching personally, he has opened my eyes and heart to look around for many valuable aspects and incorporate them and internalize them into my system. It was very liberal on his part to have sent us occasionally to simultaneously benefit from the tutelage of his friend Musiri Subramanya Iyer. He was also instrumental in introducing me to the style of the Dhanammal school by personally arranging classes with T Mukta amma to learn padam-s and jāvali-s. He firmly believed that while adhering to the pāṭhāntara neatly, a student need not try to imitate the Guru. The student should shape his music according to the individual voice, temperament, and taste and present one’s self after deep deliberation and repeated practice(at least a hundred times).
The hallmark of Semmangudi Mama’s music is a beautiful synthesis of gāmbhīryam and saukhyam (briskness, majesty, and poise). His renditions combined torrential rounds of kalpanasvara-s and niraval lines as well as free-flowing, aesthetically rich ślōka renditions which had a lingering effect.
Innate high intelligence and indomitable diligence helped him shine in all the roles that he performed – be it as a sought-after vidvān, a dedicated Guru, an able administrator, or as a role model for generations to come.
I have been a witness to the endless hours and untiring effort that went into giving a clear shape to many a composition before it is ready for final presentation. With many versions of the base notation in front of him, he would sing each line multiple times with different variations and try to connect the lines effectively keeping in mind all the necessary aspects with respect to rāga bhāva, laya, and sāhitya bhāva. And all this without altering the base notation much. The effort would go on for hours and even days and he wouldn’t rest till an aesthetically satisfactory structure emerged.
He was unsurpassed as a Guru, his numerous students deem their association with him as a great blessing. Both as a sincere teacher and a caring father figure, his care and concern for each student extended to ensuring their personal welfare too.
I savour and cherish my association with the legend who breathed music all his life as a gāyaka, sādhaka, bōdhaka, and bhāvuka.