Veena Venkataraman Mourned

Sydhwaney deeply bemournes the sad demise of Veena Vidwan Venkataraman and his daughter in a car accident on 5 January 2010. Sydney siders were fortunate to listen and move with the great vidwan during his last visit at the Sydney Festival held in Sydney last year. His students Ramnath and Gopinath in Melbourne are devastated to hear the news of his sudden death.

The Iyer Brothers from Melbourne posted this article on Sydhwaney last year which pays tribute to their guru:

Venkitaraman – Master of the Veena

By Iyer Bros from Melbourne, students of Venkitaraman

The Veena (also referred to as Saraswati Veena) is one of the most ancient string instruments of India. It has a hollow stem made of resonant wood, about thirty-two inches long and four inches wide. It houses twenty-four brass frets embedded in bees-wax and is set on two chambers; the main sound chamber is made out of wood and a secondary resonator is made of a gourd. It has four main strings to produce the melody and three strings on the side for maintaining drone and tala (rhythm). Coarse tuning of the melodic and drone strings is controlled by the rotation of large wooden pegs. Finer tuning of the strings on the main bridge is accomplished using miniature tension controls, which also serve to attach the strings to the body of the instrument.

The artist sits cross-legged on the floor. The instrument rests horizontally on the floor in front of the musician, with the large resonator to their right. The smaller resonator rests on the left thigh. The index and middle fingers of the right hand are used to pluck the melody strings while the little finger is used to stroke the tala strings. The index and middle fingers of the left hand are used to glide over the frets and deflect the strings.

Our Guru, R. Venkitaraman is one of the finest exponents of veena in India today and his death is a sad loss to all his students, his family and the artform at large. Keeping the Guru Shishya tradition alive he has not only trained us on the veena but several eminent musicians. Notable among them are Seetha Balakrishnan (veena), Prince Rama Varma (vocal and veena), Sesha Nambirajan (veena), Sugandha Kalamegam (vocal) and others. He was trained by none other than Padma Bhooshan, Sangeeta Kalanidhi Late K.S.Narayanaswamy under whose expert guidance, Venkitaraman completed his National Scholarship for the Veena securing many awards. At the Swati Thirunal College of Music in Trivandrum he learnt vocal music under the guidance of such musicians as Shri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Shri C.S.Krishna Iyer further honing in on his musicianship skills.

Our guru is a top rank (A top) artist with All India Radio and Television known for his own unique style of veena playing which incorporates a blend of tradition and modernity. His facile fingering techniques and innovations have proved that the veena is an instrument with great propensity. Venkitraman served as Assistant Professor of Veena at Sri Swathy Thirunal College of Music, Trivandrum before joining All India Radio, Trivandrum in 1964 serving there until his retirement in 1996.

Venkitaraman has performed more than 1000 concerts all over India spanning over five decades. His most innovative venture was playing the TRIO concerts in a combination of Veena-Violin-Venu [Flute] with Shri Lalgudi G. Jayaraman [Violin] and N. Ramani [Venu, Flute]. The Trio concerts were greatly popular during the period 1965 to 1968. This unique blend of three instruments was a great hit paving the way for other innovative instrumental combinations in Carnatic music involving the veena.

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