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Musician / Composer, R Visweswaran
His experience as a dance accompanist


Oct 2000
Narthaki Online interviews R Visweswaran, a multi faceted artiste who is an adroit santoor player, vainika, singer, western classical guitarist, a self taught flamenco guitarist and composer. He's proficient in Carnatic, Hindustani and western music. That apart, he's an experienced film musician and also lends vocal accompaniment to the Bharatanatyam dance performances of his versatile wife Chitra Visweswaran. He has composed individual music compositions as well as for a number of dance-dramas and dance-theatre productions.
How did your knowledge of western music help in composing music for dance?
It is most helpful when I give notes to the orchestra in a new dimension within the framework of classicism.
Isn't it difficult to live and work with another artiste?
In 1973, I played veena for Chitra's dance when she got a dance scholarship and was training under Ramiah Pillai. In 1980, I sang for Chitra for the first time in London. Earlier, I used to compose music for her dance dramas like 'Ashtasahasramalika', 'River Ganga' etc. She urged me to make these forays into dance music, just as she encouraged me to take up film music earlier. I owe my success to her encouragement and confidence in me. I have been told that I sometimes sing without even looking at her, but my music and her dance go hand in hand. That's because we are tuned to each other.
What's your opinion about the new breed of singers, both classical and for dance?
I find amazing potential in today's youngsters. There's been a spurt of activity in the field of Carnatic music as many youngsters are taking it up with the encouragement of parents. Professional security and media in today's context is an added boon. Branching into dance music will make them total musicians, as during a dance recital, the mind has to be constantly alert. This alertness helps during alapanas and neravals in a Carnatic concert. My advice to youngsters for a better output is, "Trained in a form, open your eyes and ears and you are open to a gamut of music tones".
Even today, Carnatic musicians think it is below their dignity to sing for dance. Your comment.
It is very bad to decry dance music as mere dance music and that a musician for dance will not make a good Carnatic musician. One can do the bhava of a Carnatic music in dance music and add to the beauty, and colorful presentation which will go a long way in making Carnatic rendering more interesting.
How difficult is it to sing for dance as opposed to a Carnatic music recital?
To sing for dance is very difficult. The composer writes his piece. To elaborate the 7 to 10 lines into a varnam is the difficult part. While playing or singing for dance, people expect more variety and improvisation than in a Carnatic music concert. I've tried adding different sangatis in thillana. To improvise within limits in thillana gives me great joy. Improvisation is the essence of life, soul of Carnatic and Hindustani systems. In music, we have to improvise atleast a little or else people will consider it a bore and go to sleep. No problem if it's a slumber of ecstasy! Both good music and bad put you to sleep in different ways!

How does it feel to sing accompaniment for a dancer other than Chitra?
It is a very nice and challenging experience. As recently as February 2000, I had the opportunity to sing one of my compositions for which Anita Ratnam danced. It was in Wolverhampton for an organization Surdhwani in UK. I felt satisfied at the outcome. When I asked Anita, she answered that it was 'nice!'

Which is your most tense performance experience?
It was in Music Academy in 1985 during a morning lec/dem session, with erudite scholars in the audience. I had to sing a natta kurunji piece for Chitra's dance. I sang with such fear and restraint that I was criticized for not being bold and firm of voice, although they appreciated scholarship in rendering!
Which is your proudest moment as a musician for dance?
Chitra's dance performance and my santoor concert are usually presented as a double billing.
* On Feb 5, '87, we had the privilege of performing before Pope John Paul II at Rajaji Hall, Chennai. After thoroughly analyzing the tape we sent him, we were granted the privilege of performing in his presence.
* In France, we were invited to represent Hinduism in an international religious meet. "We want peace and we seek it. We can see it in your art and music" is an appreciation we treasure.
* In '98 when Chitra and I were invited by Ganapathi Sachidananda Swamiji to perform for the inauguration of the 5.5 crore 'Nadamandapam' in Mysore.
What's your favorite color?
Maybe something beyond the spectrum??!! Actually, my favorite colors are black and white, like the piano keyboard. Life is not an unmixed blessing. So I like all things, even photographs in B & W but not black money, only white!

Your favorite food?
Next to music, I love food. 'Let food be the music of life, eat on' is my favorite line when I'm entertaining guests, something I love to do. Since my cardiac arrest in '84, I'm on a diet and my favorite food is of course what the doctor has forbidden me to have! If I look too healthy, my doctors raise their eyebrow, of course, in my own interest!

Your favorite city in the world?
I love all the places I have visited but Barcelona is very special to me because I wanted to touch the soil of the great flamenco music, though in the classical circle, flamenco is not regarded highly. I got the opportunity in '75 when I accompanied Chitra for the international festival organized by Forum de la Danse in Paris. Though I had my visa to Spain, I had to renounce my visit to Barcelona as I had the privilege of being selected for master classes in classical guitar in Conservatoire de Paris by Alexander Legoya, one of the world's greatest classical guitarists and a Bach specialist. But I did visit Barcelona much later and fulfilled my desire last Aug '99.

Your star sign, your birth date?
May 9, 1944. I'm a Taurean. My star is Anusham.

Your idol?
My mother Mrs. Rajeswari is my friend, philosopher and guide and incidentally my mother! The other is my wife Chitra who gave me the impetus when I was going through career changes to switch from pop music to classical music and to even sing and play for her dance. Thanks to her, I am a world musician today.

Your favorite quotes?
"All countries have their differences and disputes, but the music of all countries have the same basic 7 notes" - Bismillah Khan
"Today's music makes our bodies move. Yesterday's music moves our hearts" - Naushad

Visweswaran is in the process of making a one-man recording studio with G 3 Apple Power Mac in his house where he can work freely on recording different musical compositions as and when he feels inspired.


Visweswaran R
2, Sri Labdi Colony
Off C V Raman Road
Alwarpet, Chennai 600018
Ph: (044) - 4990036
Fax: (044) - 4992566
e-mail: vichechu@vsnl.com


(as told to LV)