Welcome to Sangeetha Samvaadham, a series of compact written interviews with Carnatic musicians by Ramaa Ramesh. Samvaadham is the Sanskrit word for a conversation, and each of these conversations is an attempt to understand a little more about each artiste, their journey and how they perceive themselves and their art form. To this end, the set of questions remains largely consistent while the answers vary significantly by artist - some deeply introspective, some refreshingly practical - each a reflection of how that artiste perceives themselves and the world around them.
Photo: Aravind Srinivas
Sunil Gargyan is a vocalist. An AIR A-graded artiste and a regular fixture in the Carnatic concert circuit, Sunil is a disciple of veteran vocalist and guru Shri P.S. Narayanaswamy. Sunil began learning music at 3, performing at 5 and decided in his early teens that music was his calling. He holds degrees in music and Sanskrit.
NOTE: Interview responses are rendered in a mix of text and video to best capture and convey the artiste's insights.
Q. Which freely-available piece or concert would you recommend as a 'Sunil 101' introduction to a new listener?
Sunil: As regards one piece: I have sung a krithi which is a composition of Mahakavi Subramania Bharathiyar, aesthetically and beautifully tuned by Padma Bhushan Sangeetha Kalanidhi TN Seshagopalan mama in the ragam Varamu, that I have rendered for Charsur's Margazhi Sangeetha Utsavam. (Listen here.)
I don't have one specific concert that I believe projects me as I would like though some aspects of different concerts make me happy... I hope to get there some day.
Q. What do you think makes you a successful musician?
Sunil: (laughs) To be considered as one among successful musicians is such a huge honour, I don't think I'm there yet. I'm very lucky to have had such patient and amazing gurus throughout my young career and from them I have learned that one key trait is patience because when we chase something, it runs away from us. I've been schooled to be patient, keep my head down and work hard so that whatever is mine will find its way to me. I think this holds true for everyone.
Another trait is that I listen widely; to a lot of old concerts by yesteryear greats. Listening gives you so many ideas and develops the thought processes that encourage experimentation: 'maybe I can do this, or try that'.
Q. Have you had a concert moment - either as a performer or a listener - that opened up a new window of possibility for you, or led to a fundamental shift in the way you sing?
Q. Imagine you could be born in any period of history and grow up as a peer alongside any musician of your choice, with unfettered access to them. Which musician would you choose and why?
Sunil: I would choose my guru because PS Narayanaswamy mama has been a visionary in his times. Mama's incorporation of naadaswaram music with vocal, the quality he has produced is mind-boggling.
One other musician would be Kalyanaraman sir. I would love to have been born in his time, to have been neighbours to learn from him face-to-face live - that would be a dream come true.
Q. What's something that you consider an unexplored frontier for you musically, or something on your list?
Sunil: There are various aspects to our system of our music, and one aspect that I want to focus on, is the item that follows the main piece of the concert. My goal is to equip myself with a number of what you can call 'lighter' pieces - ashtapadis, bhajans, and the like. I want to do more in that part of the concert experience, and learn as much as I can to give a varied flavour to my concerts.
Q. What one style of music other than Carnatic finds place on your playlist?
Sunil: One genre I love listening to is olden Indian cine music, Hindi as well as Tamizh. There are so many evergreen hits and as a musician, you simply have to love those songs: the compositions as well as the tuning, it is amazing how they have mastered so many beautiful ragas and with such little equipment, comparatively speaking, they still managed to produce so many beautiful gems.
Likewise I enjoy Hindustani music, both pure classical Hindustani as well as Hindustani folk music. Sufi music finds a place on my playlists as well: the raw emotion and feeling that is channelled, the attention to detail, shruthi shuddham and the overall musicality is fantastic.
Q. What is one moment you've been especially proud of in your musical journey so far?
Sunil: I don't know that I'm proud of anything I've accomplished myself, however I have had so many greats encouraging me on stage right from Padma Shri Sangeetha Kalanidhi TK Murthy; when I was 15 years old he accompanied me (I should say he encouraged me and blessed me by allowing me to be part of the concert stage that day!) followed by Sangeetha Kalanidhi M Chandrashekaran, Srimushnam Rajarao, Thiruvarur Bhaktavatsalam, Mannargudi Easwaran, MA Sundaresan, MR Gopinath. All these greats, amazing vidwans and maha-vidwans, have gracefully blessed me by being there on stage and making it a beautiful, proud moment for my parents each time. Now that I have come this far from what I was then, on reflection I don't think I am proud so much as I have been blessed.
Q. And do you have a moment that you've been moved by, that remains with you?
Q. To wrap things up, can you sing something for us that is a favourite of yours?