!!! IMPORTANT – Read this first !!!
Over a period of time, the structure and presentation of a mainstream Carnatic concert developed a model format, which then established itself as the “ideal” format. The currently accepted “ideal” format is more or less based on the Ariyakudi paddhati, popularised by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar in early 20th century. Every now and then, some minor changes have been accepted (E.g.: Not starting with a varNam) or sometimes, a stalwart/bAni would rise and bring in some specific style (E.g.: GNB’s RTP style). The format also kept adapting to the times (E.g.: concert duration in the recent times are hovering around 2 hours, and, this in turn, has resulted in RTP getting dropped in most concerts). But, none of these changes significantly affected the overall structure; key characters like kruti sequencing (short items-submain-filler-main/RTP-tukDa), treatment of rAgas, treatment of kruti enunciation (though different pAThantarAs exist) or tempo (predominantly madhyma kAla based singing) remained more or less the same. Any attempt to disrupt this format was (and is) typically rejected by the whole Carnatic music fraternity (which includes the artists, rasikAs, critics and musicologists). Only a genius could tamper this “ideal” format and “get away” without being “battered” or thrown out of the system 🙂
And, MDR (M. D. Ramanathan) was such a phenomenon!
Let us suppose that there is a “regular” rasikA, who has been exposed only (or mostly) to performances that stuck to the above referred “ideal” format, and has never heard MDR before. And, this rasikA hears the below kalyANi varNam “vanajAkshi” by MDR (listen till 00:16:25).
Now, we can imagine the thoughts that will be running through this rasikA’s mind:
“What the hell is this??? How can someone sing like this? What a slow start! And how long does he take to finish a varNam! At many places, it appears like the singer is not even singing – there are so many gaps, parts of the kruti and swaras are “swallowed”, at other places, the words and swaras are manipulated to such an extent that I am not even able to understand what is being sung! And when he sings, he doesn’t follow the norms at all – he is distorting his voice, and at places, he generates sounds that are not typically used! He is also changing the pre-set laya pattern of the varnam and doing lot of laya acrobatics. He is stressing words/swaras at unusual places. On top of that, check what all other things he is doing while singing – he seems so lazy to start the charaNam, in between he is talking to someone, at one point, he laughs in the middle of the performance, and he abruptly stops and restarts his performance at his will. What a “crazy” singer!!!
And that is MDR for you – a true maverick!!!
Many people may be put off with this extremely slow tempo and unorthodox style, and many may not be able to enjoy this unconventional flow (with plenty of interruptions!)!
But, the few who can go past these initial hiccups, are rewarded with a “gate pass” to an “alternate” universe of Carnatic music, which I believe only MDR can take you to!!!
Saint Tyagaraja had described the essential qualities of a kruti (=> composer) and its rendering (=> singer) in his famous composition “sogasugA mrudanga tALamu” and we can see that this was a fair description of MDR’s music as well – MDR’s music was true to the lyrics and intent of the composer, was built on swara shuddham and focused on the quality of the sound produced, was based on his bhakti & virakti, had the right amount of pauses (viSrAnti), and, brought out the various emotions (“nava rasa yuta“) beautifully. Here is an example (listen till 00:34:00. Coincidentally, this is from the same concert which is referred earlier in this page, and note the contrast!)
The above kruti rendition brings out a completely different aspect of MDR’s music. Listening to this may open doors to a completely different world of music to some, as it did to me! As I listened to more and more MDR concerts, I started noticing some salient (and repeating) aspects of his musical ideas. In these pages, I have attempted to note down some of these with examples. So, here are some “MDR-isms” for you to ponder over!!!
And here is a short note on my journey till here.
Thanks for this. There was a website on MDR a few years ago that has disappeared now. That site contained MDR interviews in English, Tamil and also in his native tongue Malayalam. Hope someone still has all those material.
Wish you all the success.
Thank you! If you liked the contents, please share with other music lovers as well.
Most welcome initiative and all music lovers welcome, and thank you..
Thank you! If you liked the contents, please share with other music lovers as well.
Good to hear from mdr after a long time and very relaxing and its just divine to hear the details.
Thank you. Various links at the bottom of the page describes some interesting aspects about MDR’s music, do read/hear them at leisure and share your thoughts and detailed comments.
Thank you for sharing this DIVINE Experience! (If possible bless us with more repeats please). 👍👏👏👏.
Thank you. Please check the various links at the bottom of this page (if not already done) which describes some interesting aspects about MDR’s music.
A great work. Long live MDR in the hearts of Rasikas. Hearing only MDR’s Kalyani, Saveri and Bhairavi. Reethigowla and shahana nowhere else. 😍😍😍😍
Thank you. Then I am sure that you will find the renditions linked in https://musicofmdr.com/ever-green-performances/ really interesting!
Thank you first of all for creating such a wonderful website with wonderful information of the GREAT Shri. MDR. Looking forward to more interesting articles.
Thank you for the kind words. The site is dedicated about MDR’s music, will try to add more relevant contents as and when possible.
My humble pranams to admin .for bringing out a website on my favorite singer MDR.when I was 12 years I attended to his live concert in 1963 in Vijayawada.
First I could not understand his style of singing but after 1 hour into concert I became his admirer for lifetime.
Even in chennai I attended concerts and happily went home.
Those days having a tape recorder was a luxury I could not afford. And thus lost golden chances of recording .
Even AIR have still many of his concerts but we are forced to hear same set often.
I only wish and requests admin.
Sir pl.try to add great MDR singing records here.
I think there are several like me
Who will like to hear many more.
I feel not many of s concerts had been videographed .
But if you see him singing in video.we will be viewing a majestic dance performance by mdr .on stage.
His action while singing each kriti bit by bit following with his majestic mannerisms.
Hope we Get off well with all participating here in real happy music of Master MDR.
Thank you sir.
Thank you very much for the kind words. Agree with you that it is not easy at the beginning to understand MDR’s music, but once you cross the hurdle, a whole new world of music opens before you! The videos that I could gather are linked in the page https://musicofmdr.com/some-mdr-memories/. A selection of his renditions are present in https://musicofmdr.com/mdr-ever-green-performances/.
Small collections are also spread across http://www.sangeethapriya.org/homepage.php, https://archive.org/, https://www.youtube.com/ and https://shankarkrish.blog/carnatic-vocal/m-d-ramanathan/. That is all I could gather. If you have access to other collections, let me know, I can link them from here.
Most difficult to appreciate MDR’s Music.But if one can get a hang and start liking it will be the most cherished thing in the music world.Not easy for accompanists as they should be prepared for unconventional starts ,middle sangatis.
Agree. And for the accompanying artists, unpredictability is just one of the factors. The slow pace itself is a challenge as the time line is not stretched and filling this timeline may need a different approach. Then, there is the issue of where MDR is placing the words in a kriti rendition – this can again be unconventional and dynamic and need extra amount of attention from the co-artist to make sure that things do not go noticeably out of sync. Another factor is the laya plays that MDR likes to do, so, if co-artists are not prepared, the synch may not be achieved. Other smaller factors like emphasis etc also needs special attention from co-artists. At the same time, the co-artist now get a much wider canvas to show his capabilities and can create unique effects that is not possible with other singers!
Excellent Rendering by our Great Vaggeyakara Sri.MDR Sir.
MD Ramanathan , is a true torchbearer of the old order, purely traditional.
i was fortunate to attends his concerts from 1981 to 1985 when i lived in Madras,
i recorded over 27 AIR concerts in that time of whcih two concerts i sat with him in the AIR studio
my Guru MN Kandaswami played mridangam. Vidwan MDR gave me a piece of kalkandu before the recording i tsill preserve that piece of kalkandu till today in memory of that day.
I discoved a rare varnam composed by Great Tiger Varadachariar, great Thana varnam in Bahudai – Adi Thalam, i got the script from my other guru Smt Savathri Rajan in 1982( she was a disciple of Tiger Garu and Veena Dhanammal ) which she got from her mother Mrs Seethalakshmi who was a disciple of Vidwan TIGER, however Tiger never composed the sahityam for it as he died before that. In 1983 My guru MKN phone MDR and asked him about the varnam – he remembered the varnam, and told my guru he will composed the sahityam, shame soon he died as well,
in 1985 i composed the sahityam myself and sent the audio to Smt Savatri Rajan as i was back in South Africa, She very inspiringly approved of it and totaly loved the composition, so as at today we the only family in South Africa that has a varnam of India which India does not have SABASH South Africa , i sang it many times.
i remember Balaji his son since he was little.
Sir, thank you for those wonderful memories. It would be wonderful to hear your version of the varnam. Do share the link if it is available online.
I also hope you still have those concert recordings! If possible, do upload them in a publicly accessible site so that MDR’s divine music can reach more and more rasikas.
Good Morning. Dikshithar Kriti in Ananda Bhairavi
Pl visit for Tamil translation and listen to the evergreen voice of MDR. Thanks 🙏
I am an adult learning music through our music school and we also have younger kids. I am sharing your wonderful site link to our younger listeners who will be able to get the learning and understanding and enjoyment of MDR sir’s music. Thank you for your wonderful offering!
Thank you for the nice words and hope you find these pages useful.