A multi-talented Carnatic musician, Prince Rama Varma’s lockdown videos on tips for music students, on his gurus, and related subjects are amusing as well as enlightening, writes the author.

Carnatic musician Prince Rama VarmaYouTube screenshot | Musiquebox
Features Music Sunday, September 12, 2021 - 12:02

By SD

The performing arts industry, among many others, has suffered unprecedented disruptions since the pandemic. Although several artistes have started exploring alternatives such as digital platforms, many others are far from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Amidst the gloom, an artiste – in his own quiet yet charming manner – continues to paint colours of joy and happiness in a language he speaks best – music.

Prince Rama Varma is a multi-talented Carnatic musician who is well-known for his musical prowess, capturing the essence and soul of a composition and its composer, and generously sharing his in-depth knowledge on the subject. Though COVID-19 has halted live performances, it didn’t dampen the love and passion he has in sharing his wealth of knowledge and spreading a little cheer during these tough times. His lockdown video uploads on YouTube have a wide array of musical ‘cuisines’ – enlightening, entertaining, eye-opening, amusing, heart-warming and soul-touching.

I never had much interest in Carnatic music, mainly because the few renditions I heard weren’t exactly ‘friendly’ to my ears. It felt like as though the poor musical notes were being stretched and pulled to a point beyond tolerance that they started wailing in pain. Having this stereotype in mind, I completely avoided this genre of music – until I came across one of Prince Rama Varma’s renditions several years back. No exaggerations, no unnecessary ornamentations – the song sounded like it was presented in its purest form, and more importantly it had soul.

What is it in his singing that made the difference? His YouTube series on ‘Useful Tips for Music Students’ unravels the secrets behind his unadulterated singing. In this set of videos, he patiently explains simple, practical yet effective tips on enunciation, common mistakes that can be avoided, importance of listening and paying attention to basic lessons, understanding the word-by-word meaning of a composition – the list goes on. In addition to sharing technical aspects of Carnatic music, he shares invaluable insights on the subtler aspects too, for example, keeping an open mind, having the spirit of togetherness and teamwork, approaching music (or anything you do) with genuine love and interest and so on – which I personally feel can be applied in one’s career (regardless of whichever field one is in) and personal life too.

Check out the ‘Useful Tips for Music Students’ series on YouTube here:

Decoding Carnatic superhits

Many of us may be familiar with songs like Deva Deva Kalayami, Bhavayaami, Endaro Mahanubhavulu, and Jagadananda Karaka in the Carnatic music world, but not everyone may be familiar with the words, meaning, and how these songs can be rendered in a way that brings out the brilliance and beauty of the song. In these videos, Varma patiently explains the word-by-word meaning together with the background in which these compositions were written, followed by demonstration of how these songs can be sung, giving the right modulation according to the context, and pauses at the right places, avoiding splitting of words to ensure that the meaning of the song doesn’t get distorted. This is especially important in Indian languages where addition of the syllable ‘a’ to certain words can give an opposite meaning altogether (example, Amara & Mara, Nimisha & Animisha). Being the excellent raconteur he is, the characters in the song come alive as he entertains us with colourful puranic stories relating to the composition, giving us listeners an opportunity to savour the true essence of the lyrical content.

Also read: The sound of music: Meet Rama Varma, the man behind Thiruvananthapuram's Swathi Festival

Remembering his beloved Gurus

In another video, Varma shares sweet and heart-warming stories about his beloved gurus Vechoor Harihara Subramania Iyer, Trivandrum R Venkataraman, KS Narayanaswamy and Dr M Balamuralikrishna, giving glimpses of their in-depth involvement in their profession, and how each of their contrasting personalities helped ‘chisel’ him into the artiste he is today.

Watch the video here:

He gave another brilliant, enlightening talk about his Manasika Guru, MD Ramanathan. The captivating way in which Varma spoke of MDR’s brilliance in music, citing specific examples of his concert renditions, would have certainly invoked curiosity and interest amongst any listeners who are not familiar with MDR’s music to explore at least one of his renditions.

Home concert during lockdown

On Dr M Balamuralikrishna – Padavarnams and Thillanas

Being a sterling disciple, in addition to doing justice to his Guru’s teachings, Varma goes above and beyond to spotlight the gems from Dr Balamuralikrishna, making sure his mastery as a composer shines even to those who may not have detailed knowledge on the subject. In simple words, he explains how these compositions are crafted intelligently – superior in both literature and music. He also shares how these compositions should be sung, giving a complete demo. His explanation on the thillanas is extremely detailed and generous where he reveals the secrets of elevating the super thillana of Dr BMK into a super-duper thillana.

Delightful nuggets

Prince Rama Varma’s breathtaking veena renditions have so much beauty and soul immersed in them. Aside from the dozens of veena renditions, his compilation of Western Nottuswarams from various composers, mainly Muthuswamy Dikshitar, are an absolute delight. We also get to witness his versatility as a singer and inclusion of various music forms through his diverse music renditions from different genres and languages.

Whilst many of his admirers are familiar with his exceptional talent in singing, playing the veena and giving lectures, during the lockdown we get to see more of his hidden talents through his sunshine-soaked jokes and Dubsmash, revealing his flair for the dramatic too.

His sweet and thoughtful gesture of dedicating a whole full-fledged home concert just for his fans and followers speaks so much about his sensitivity and genuine intention of spreading joy. Even on a rainy day our hearts are filled with rainbows, thanks to the sunshine he brings.

Prince Rama Varma’s videos can be found on Musiquebox, a YouTube channel maintained by his dear friend.

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