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Happy to serve society as a musician: Pt Balkrishna Iyer
- Vijay Shanker, Mumbai

July 7, 2012

Hailing from a family of music lovers and practitioners, Pandit Balkrishna Iyer has been a professional tabla maestro for more than three decades, with performances around the globe. Besides solo tabla concerts, Balkrishna Iyer has also accompanied top musicians for various prestigious music festivals. Besides the tussle with renowned vocalist Kishori Amonkar, Balkrishna also talks about his successful musical journey and the establishment of the Iyer Foundation for the welfare of artistes and for the promotion of classical arts.

How were you inclined towards classical music?
I hail from a family of classical musicians. My father Gopalkrishnan Iyer was a mridangist and my mother was a violinist, so I was naturally inclined towards classical music from a tender age itself.

Why did you select the tabla and not the mridangam or the violin?
I did learn the basics of both the violin and the mridangam but somehow the tabla caught my fancy due to its soft tonal quality that is quite soothing to listen to. I was born in Bhopal where the tabla was more prevalent than the mridangam and my parents were happy with my decision to concentrate on the tabla.

From whom did you learn the tabla?
I was initiated into tabla by Pandit Taranath Rao. I also learnt from Pandit Arvind Mulgaonkar, who was the senior disciple of Late Ustad Amir Husain Khan saheb of the Farukabad Gharana and in 1997, I had the unique privilege of learning from Pandit Kishan Maharaj, the doyen of the Banaras Gharana.

Do you think it is necessary to learn from different masters, rather than being dedicated to one mentor?
Every master has his own style of performing and in the arts, you know, the more you learn, the better it is and it ultimately adds to your personality of becoming a fine musician and one needs to evolve and grow continuously.

What were the difficulties you faced in order to place the tabla in the solo concert status?
There are not many musicians who have taken the tabla to the solo concert status. So, it was not easy but once I started proving my calibre as a performer in the style and technique of playing the tabla, I was easily accepted. I started playing tabla for solo concerts from the year 2002. Earlier, I had accompanied several performers but now I mainly concentrate on my solo concerts.

How would you differentiate the technique and style of playing the tabla?
For a person who is not technically inclined, all the players would seem the same but for a devoted performer like me, one has to understand the subtle nuances of playing the tabla. It is not necessary to beat the tabla, which is normally done by most percussion musicians. It is necessary to understand the tonal and the musical attributes of the tabla. In other words, one should know how to play the tabla softly and not beat them harshly to get a thundering impact. Soft and subtle touches can create a pleasant musical impact on the audience.

Can you recall any unusual incident in your career?
In a program in New Delhi organised by Music Today in the year 2007, I had accompanied the renowned vocalist Kishori Amonkar. After the performance, she refused to pay me and I was completely disturbed. I enquired with the organisers and they told me that they had paid Amonkar my remuneration too. When I asked her she refuted. In fact, I told the organisers that they should have paid me directly. I took the matter to court by filing a legal case against her. It was splashed in the media and people were shocked to know about it. While some of the musicians were in my favour, there were others who were not. I did not receive the proper support I expected from the music fraternity. Later, I withdrew the case.

Are accompanying musicians treated badly?

There have been several cases where the accompanying artistes are not treated properly, so it was really necessary for me to voice my opinion about it. Leading musicians should realise that the accompanists have their role to play, which is important in making or marring the success of the performance. Another aspect which musicians and organisers fail to note is that all the artistes should be given their due credit. For instance, the NCPA has recorded many concerts that they have brought out in the form of music cassettes and CDs where the accompanying artistes may not be mentioned and they are not paid too. It is really sad that such things do happen, so it is necessary for all musicians to come together and fight such cases for the betterment of the artiste fraternity.

Is that the reason that you have established the Iyer Foundation?
Yes, to quite an extent. Besides organising concerts, we have decided to take care of the ailing musicians who are senior citizens and are financially weak.

What is the response you get for your performances in India and abroad?
In European countries, the impact is astounding but here in India, people are still surprised to learn that the tabla can really hold the audience on a solo concert platform.

Who is the musician that you have always loved to work with?
Well, I enjoy working with everyone but one name that comes to mind instantly is that of Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur.

Do you think it is essential for children to learn classical music or dance?
Parents should realise that they should not force their children to do well in academics as everybody can't be a first ranker. The stress and strain level has to be checked, otherwise it would result in misery, so music and dance form fine recreation for children, and they must go for it.

Are you satisfied as a musician?
Yes, I am very happy to serve the society as a musician.

Contact Pt Balkrishna Iyer:‬

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