Interview: V.V.

Subramaniam Violin Teaching Has Serious Flaws
Once a professor, always one. V.V. Subramaniam, a leading violinist who had taught at the Government Music College in Madurai is deeply concerned about the standard of violin teaching today. He shared his thoughts with our R. NATRA.IAN. himself a fiddler. who inteniewed him. We've not heard other violinists talk about the standard of violin-teaching today. You alone seem t o be concerned about it. W h y ? C o m m e n c i n g from pioneers like Baluswamy Dikshitar and Vadivelu the violin has been well a d a p t e d for Carnatic music. T o d a y it has c o m e to occupy a place of pride. While so m u c h improvement has been made in adapting the ways in which the instrument is played for our music. I do not know if our methods of teaching have also kept pace. W h y do y o u say this? This is based on my observation and study. Many youngsters w h o have learnt from other vidwans have played before me and 1 am c o n c e r n e d to see them d o so many things wrong. Sometimes I wonder if the fault lies with the student or the teachers. Can y o u talk about this in detail? Certainly. I will. First. I see from the students w h o have learnt something elsewhere that their sitting posture is wrong and mjethod of holding the bow incorrect. Besides, they make mistakes in bowing, fingering. playing of swara-s and sahitya-s. the student for the work put in by him. I w o n d e r e d why he had not been taught to distinguish between the swara-s and m a d e to realise what was wrong in his method of playing. T h e r e was another case of a girl w h o m I asked to sing what she had just played on t h e violin. She told me that she had not been taught how to sing. T h e n I told her to first learn some vocal music and then c o m e to me. She came after a lapse of t h r e e m o n t h s and I was surprised that she could not even sing the elementary geetam-s taught to beginners, not even o n e note. W h e n asked how she was taught to play the violin, she replied that she was in a g r o u p of three girls, w h o all learned simultaneously. She a t t e n d e d t h r e e half-hour sessions a week. She had memorised all the swara-s of a song, though she could not sing them. Even though she was charged only 2? rupees a month, it s e e m e d to m e that teaching music in this manner had b e c o m e a moneymaking proposition, that the teachers least worried if the students were really learning or not. I find that there are a lot of young people wanting to learn to play the violin, but the o p p o r t u n i t i e s for learning properly seem to be totally inadequate. In a nutshell, this is the state of affairs at the m o m e n t . What do y o u feel should be done to rectify this situation?


In my opinion, the first thing that should be d o n e is to teach a student how to sing before he or she t o u c h e s the instrument. I always insist that my students learn to sing first and. many a time. 1 sing and ask the student to follow m e on the violin. Unless t h e r e is Sometimes. I find that, when o n e of these students music in the person, how can it be brought out via plays, sruti gets shifted by about half a note or so. the instrument? Kural illathavanukku viral' — o n e and the student is not able to even perceive it. If he w h o does not have a voice has the finger — is an old is not taught to recognise and feel this by his ear. saying and how very true it is. Singing makes the how can he learn to play the instrument well and also have a good sruti g n a n a m ? T h e other day. a boy student realise what the correct relationship between the various swara-s is. w h e r e the sahitya has to be w h o had learnt some music, elementary though. stressed and also which g a m a k a is a p p r o p r i a t e to a wanted to learn to play film songs. I was pleasantly surprised that his techniqes of bowing, fingering, etc. particular raga. Now let us t a k e the t e c h n i q u e of w e r e reasonably good. When I asked him to sing, he playing the instrument. T h e sitting posture, the said he did not know how to sing. T h e n I asked him if positioning of the violin vis-a-vis the body, the he at least knew the song. He replied in the negative. m e t h o d of holding the bow have all got to b e taught W h e n I asked him as to how he had learnt to play correctly in order to ensure proper playing. Here. any song, he said he did it by observing his teacher's these photographs illustrate what I mean. (See fingering. I was surprised but even more so when he a c c o m p a n y i n g photographs). told me who his teacher was.. When I asked him if he In bowing, which I consider to be very important. had not been taught how to sing, he said that his I he hand has to be steady and the pressure oi the teacher had a large n u m b e r of students and did not bow on the string correct in order to r e p r o d u c e a have the time for it. He had been told to c o p \ what sweet sou m l Bv properly manipulating the fingers of the teacher did and to move ihc finger slightly up 01 I he right hand, the pressure of the bow on the strings down if the sound did not seem right. While crediting van be varied, bringing out various effects. I <.\D not

Naturally one starts playing plain notes first. Likewise. producing an even smooth sound. one cannot learn music from text books alone. But then. depending upon the circumstances. Are there any comments you would like to make about the teachers? Yes. Correct bowing is very important for playing the sahitya | lyrics| properly. can he be considered an authority on leaching also? The ability to perform in a kutcheri is not the same as the ability to teach correctly. the bowing has to be done differently to suit the phrases. bowing according to the phrase is important and can easily be seen in Purandaradasas Malahari geetam Sri Gananailut. Similarly. Even while playing a geetam. fingering speed and synchronisation with bowing are equally important. To be able to play a phrase fully in one direction of the bow. Sometimes I see students holding the bow in the middle and this makes it difficult for them to accommodate the phrase fully in one direction of the bow. there is an intrinsic limitation in trying to learn from a text Also there may be a popular vidwan who plays well. in one octave alone. though it is not actually so. since the phrases are different. Firstly. No doubt book. then with gamaka-s in various raga-s. The bha\a of a particular raga or where a particular gamaka has to be given. Just like taking a breath while singing. the bowing can be hard or soft. So. there are around90 different fingering positions and I can play around 40 or so. Some violinists when playing two or three or four swara-s of one phrase.^2 or f»4. They do not have the patience or the inclination to practice adequately.Cvrrvci tilting posture it takes time. mistakenly call it tana* bowing. but may not perform well on the concert platform. practice and patience to do this properly. Correct tana playing requires the playing of one or two or three notes per bow in different combinations. as I explained before. because he is popular. One can play one note per bow or two or four or eight or Id or . To play in all the fingering positions one needs a lot of patience and practice. Many of the students cannot even do this for one minute. It is here that the slow bowing technique helps. that is the use of fingers for playing a swara For instance. It is important that they insist upon the Pn\innn til M-roll on the foot Correct method of holding think any other instrument can be so fully exploited to reproduce the human voice as a violin can. The bow is about 2H or 29 inches long and in slow bowing the hand should be steady enough to play one stroke of the bow for one or even two minutes. The other important aspect which has to be taught is the fingering technique. but again thai needs a lot of practice. and slow or fast and students should be taught all these properly. . a person may be an excellent teacher. these are two different skills. the bow must be held and positioned properly. an akaram is also permissible by putting stress on the bow. Also. It is my belief that todays good vidwans must do some research and take pains to develop young talent. Holding the bow in the middle without doubt facilitates fast playing and perhaps this is the reason why some students prefer this. while playing a varna one phrase should be played in one direction as a karvai. Although the stanzas have the same notes. The direction of the bow has to be changed to produce the proper phrasing and the pressure on the string must be applied at the correct time to emphasise a particular syllable as needed. Likewise. in spite of the fact we have developed a musical notation system. can only be taught by a teacher.

I am willing to undertake the task but I cannot afford to do so on my own. . I wrote an elementary book on the history and anatomy of the violin titled Violin Varalaru (the history of the violin). requesting them to publish it. What about teaching materials and aids? This again is a sore point. We do not have proper books. 1 mean the copying of the teachers style. etc. that they leave the students to develop a style of their own rather than insist upon the students copying their own style. What about the quality of teaching in the music institutions? I had ample opportunity to observe the situation when I was attached to the Government Music College in Madurai. but they returned it. What then can one expect of the students? When I insisted that bowing should be done in a particular fashion. I also found that some of the instructors themselves did not know the correct method of playing.correct technique of playing. Then there is no uniformity in teaching or methodology. The objective is that the students should not give up and at least attempt to play the easier one which in itself is a gain. For instance. It is important. having burnt my fingers once. Finally. the teachers must tak. I published it on my own and in the bargain lost money. to break the monotony and to motivate them I teach my students two exercises or songs in parallel. unwilling to accept it for publication. teaching aids. and even if there should be interest in preparing them. it merely brought out a difference of opinion. I offered the manuscript as a gift to the Madras Music Academy.' more interest in seeing that the students learn something rather than making teaching just a money-making proposition. The syllabus lays down that a student should learn about 20 kriti-s in three years. there is no one to finance their production. 1 have seen this sometimes. Motivating the students is also important. one slightl\ easier than the other. Some students go to the extent of copying the sitting posture and other mannerisms! As 1 said before. too. Such is the sorry state of affairs when one wants to do anything constructive. According to me the information contained in this book is a must for every violin-playing student. What happened? Some years ago. It was not good. Considering that indiscipline and other unfavourable conditions prevail in educational institutions and considering that there are at least four or five students in a violin Class it is a virtually impossible task to give attention to all students.

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