faceted artiste, R Visweswaran is the only South Indian who plays the Kashmiri
santoor apart from saraswathy veena, western classicalguitar (LTCL), Bass,
12-string guitar, glock and spiel and harmonica. He's well-versed in Carnatic,
Hindustani and western classical music and isa self taught flamenco guitarist.
He's a Carnatic music vocalist as well as singer and composer for dance.
the Musician / Composer
us about how your family's music background and how it influenced you.
maternal uncle was the great GNB. From a tender age, I was exposed to the
music of great stalwarts like GNB, Madurai Mani Iyer, Ariyakudi,MSS 'maami',
MLV, Ramanuja Iyengar, Alathur Brothers, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Bismillah
Khan, Bade Gulam Ali Khan and others. Accompanying
my uncle to concerts plus having a father who was the then secretary of
Music Academy made me a regular concertgoer sinceage 5. My mother Rajeswari
Ranganathan is a musician in her own right who trained under Tanjore S
Kalyanaraman, a disciple of GNB. Herformal training became my informal
training in music as I used to listen to her and learn. Being born in a
family with musical heritage and comingin close contact with all the classical
greats of the time, I regret to this day that I did not make use of the
golden opportunity to enhance myknowledge of music, in particular from
you started learning music, did you learn Carnatic music first or western?
Or both simultaneously?
I did was hear the Carnatic and Hindustani music and assimilate it. Since
my uncle's days, my loyalty is divided between Carnatic and Hindustani
music. From 1962-1964, I trained to play the veena under R Pichumani Iyer.
But around '67, my predominant interest during my college days when I was
doing CA, was to experiment with flamenco music and practice on western
classical guitar music just by hearing Segovia's records. Instead of chasing
girls at that age, I used to sleep with my guitar!!! During my CA exams,
I even managed to go to Bangalore for a concert by the great jazz guitarist
Charlie Byrd. In short, I struggled and taught myself many types of music,
just by hearing and practicing the techniques. In fact, I finished the
11-year L T C L course from Trinity College of London in just 3 steps.
My formal training in Carnatic music under my mother started only when
I turned 35.
us about your experiments with flamenco music.
college days, I slogged from 6 to 22 hours on flamenco music, to strive
to get the notes right just by listening to the music of flamenco greats
like Carlos Montoya, Sabicas and Paco Penea. I kept my eyes and ears open.
Nothing escaped me. In the late 70's, the visiting flamenco groups commented
on my playing that my music sounded very much flamenco but the technique
was different. Though self-taught, I knew then that I was on the right
were an executive in a company. At what point did you decide to quit business
and devote full time to music?
wasn't a great academic student. But I was crazy for music. That has paid
rich dividends now. After my CA exams, I joined a company, but I felt like
a fish out of water in the commercial setting. Having grown up in a musical
atmosphere, my inclination was for music only. I got married to Chitra
on July 12,1972. A couple of years later, I got into full time music
with her encouragement which included film music.
did you get involved with R D Burman, M S Viswanathan and film music?
'74, I came into contact with R D Burman who took me to Bombay and gave
me entry into Bombay film music, an experience I cherish greatly.
I have played guitar for R D Burman, C Ramachandra, Rajesh Roshan, Lakshmikant-Pyarelal
etc. I have had the good fortune to play accompaniment to Lata Mangeshkar,
Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhonsle. Unfortunately, though I have heard Rafi
sing in a recording, I never got to play for him. It was during the Bombay
film recordings that I met the santoor maestro “avatara purusha” Pandit
Shiv Kumar Sharma, my great guru and revered influence in my life. Thus
started my training in santoor. He urged me to leave everything else and
concentrate on santoor alone, which put me in a great dilemma. I was shunting
between Madras and Bombay at that time. In '76, M S Viswanathan spotted
my talent and to this day, I play for him. And I love to play even today
for A R Rehman who is absolutely wonderful and takes the best out of an
musicians tend to discount film music as not respectable. Do you
think film music is a valuable experience for a Carnatic musician?
my opinion, it is better to be jack of all trades, master of some! Film
music helps you determine how close to sing to the mike at different voice
levels, feeling, how to adapt the music, especially quick composing which
I learnt from M S Viswanathan, quick decisions on where to modulate the
voice...The wonderful kalapramanams of MSV, R D Burman and Naushad have
inspired me greatly.
are your favorite ragas? Why?
love hundreds of ragas, especially apoorva ragas. My favorites are Ragesri,
Batiyar, Lalith and Puryadhanasri in Hindustani. Panthuvarali and
in Carnatic. Contrary to popular belief that vivadhi ragas have negative
effects, I enjoy vivadhimela ragas, otherwise Venkatamahiwould not have
evolved 72 melakartha. .
some of your favorite western composers who have inspired you.
incomparable Mozart, the religious appeal of Bach, Beethoven, folk approach
of Wagner, Ravel, Vivaldi, the liberal notes of Rachmaninovand Dvorak.
And I adore Tchaikovsky, Isaac Albaniz and F Sor on classical guitar.
people feel santoor has limitations and is a light, folk instrument from
the mountains and does not compare favorably with the solid weight of Carnatic
music. Your comments.
santoor does have its limitations, especially when it comes to playing
Carnatic music. I am at present trying to overcome this limitation bytrying
out a few ragas. I got the idea when I played Anandabhairavi and Hamsadhwani
in a jugalbandhi concert. It is wrong to decry any instrument as non-classical.
We have to adapt the instrument to our music, like Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma
has adapted the santoor to classical Hindustani music.
you in favor of fusion music?
Fusion is a very thrilling experience. A little of all disciplines is needed
for the effervescence, like film music, dance music and fusion music.
Exposure to various types of music promotes better output and better communication,
especially if there is a comfortable jelling of music styles. A memorable
experience is when I played before a crowd of 5000 near the Rouen cathedral
in France with a French keyboard player.
are your memorable fusion music experiences?
music is important to us. There's beauty in all music & I'm a culture
buff. I have participated in a CD album called 'River Rhythms' with Japanese
Sakuhachi flautist John Kaizan Neptune and Terry Allen amongst others.
I have played jugalbandhi on santoor to Balamuralikrishna's viola, Ravi
Kiran's chitra veena, G J R Krishnan's violin and Kala Ramnath's North
is your proudest moment as a classical musician?
there are quite a few.
I was a college student, I used to play flamenco solo guitar music. Veenai
Balachander gave me the title 'Flamenco Mylaporean' on 25th March 1968.
R D Burman introduced me to Asha Bhonsle as 'the best guitarist in India'.
Annamacharya learning session with M S S maami.
the late 80's, my mother and I sang before the Paramacharya of Kanchi.
He went into a trance but we mistook it for his going to sleep though we
sang on. When we were told that our music had moved him into deep dhyana,
we were engulfed in happiness that our music had pleased such a great soul.
'91, I was greatly honored when tabla maestro Zakir Hussain played with
us when I took a troupe of 18 to Malaysia.
is yet another incident not directly connected to music. Pandit Shiv Kumar
Sharma saw a photograph I took of him in a photo session and he called
me from Mumbai to say, " I have had so many professional photo sittings,
but none to equal this photo you took of me".
you satisfied with what you have achieved today?
have tied my physical age and put in deep freezer. When occasion demands,
it warms up. I'm my own worst critic. I think, look back and analyze, especially
when I have played or sung out of tune or wrongly. The day I want to hear
my own music is the day I will regard myself as a true and honest musician.
That day is yet to come. Many people say they do not go to sleep without
hearing my santoor. This does not go to my head, but a few words of praise
does help to egg me on.
Sri Labdi Colony
C V Raman Road
(044) - 4990036
(044) - 4992566
told to LV)
R. Visweswaran's experience as a dance accompanist will feature soon in
our Interviews Section