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Tuesday, Oct 26, 2021
Outlook.com

Leonine Grace Notes

Carnatic had other non-conformists. But he was like a separate one-man genre.

Leonine Grace Notes
Photograph by Avinash Pasricha
Leonine Grace Notes
outlookindia.com
2017-02-10T16:04:08+05:30

The only time one heard Dr M. Bala­muralikris­hna struggle to produce a note or two was when he deliberately imita­ted certain constricted throat modulations prevalent in Carnatic vocals. Such rasping passages, the master would observe in his talks on voice culture, had found a tacit res­pectability in the south Indian classical system over the decades. Bending that note furt­her into humour, a music buff could wonder if the contorted faces typical of some bhagavatars on stage had anything to do with strained nerves aro­und their neck. Or indeed, vice versa. Either way, Balamurali did not figure in that pool even in his very last phase.

It isn’t commonplace, anywhere in the world, to see an artiste’s performance quality stay on an even graph for eight decades. This is much more than of academic interest—no stories of a shrinking larynx, leave alone fading memory, preceded Balamurali’s end at age 86. An intact voice box is particularly meritorious in an idiom like Carnatic, where vocalists often become victims of a tendency to show off microtone oscillations purely as a professional asset, rather than as a genre highlight or a musical need. The prime, thus, rarely stays very long.

Balamurali did employ that Dravidian gamaka to profound effect and wide appeal, but in measures he thought were optimal. That is no explanation, though, to his retaining a robust voice all his life. A silken touch across his full range—from a grainy baritone to a nasal, near-falsetto, almost like a female voice, on the higher octaves—apparently owed to an underlying principle only the extremely gifted can afford to practise: don’t use your full tonal volume. Alongside a scratch-free resonance,...

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