The musical odyssey
Music permeates nature The rustle of leaves, cascading streams, the buzz of insects and songs of birds, an intrinsic part of natures symphony are there to be enjoyed if we care to listen For those who live and breathe music, natures sounds, unheard melodies and even normal conversations are an extension of mellifluous sound embellished by musical notes
Music permeates nature. The rustle of leaves, cascading streams, the buzz of insects and songs of birds, an intrinsic part of nature’s symphony are there to be enjoyed if we care to listen. For those who live and breathe music, nature’s sounds, unheard melodies and even normal conversations are an extension of mellifluous sound embellished by musical notes. “Every lyric is replete with expression and each word conveys an emotion. Our conversations are at three levels (Tristhaayi). When we whisper a secret, our voice is in the base note, when we speak normally it is the middle level and when we shout, our voice is at its peak. Music is a conversation, a dialogue where lyrics set to a particular tune and rhythm are communicated from the musician to the audience,’’ says Ramachari Komanduri, the famed musician and extraordinary guru, who has been teaching students the various nuances of music at the ‘Little Musicians Academy’ (LMA) established by him two decades ago. From a humble beginning with a dozen students most of whom are well-known musicians today, the institution has steadily grown in stature both within the country and globally. Reversing the trend where hardly any recordings took place in Hyderabad, to that of a sought-after destination, the LMA has carved a special niche with its students emerging as favoured musicians singing for major films, commercials, stage performances and reality shows across the country. Karunya, Hemachandra, Geeta Madhuri, Mohammad Irfan, Rohit, Saketh and Sahiti, Ramya Behera, Nutana, Spandana, Satya Yamini, Krishna Chaitanya, Ritesh, Raghuram the list is long, and it will suffice to say that most well-known and upcoming names in the music industry are all products of the academy. This is perhaps the only academy in the country to have given so much talent to the Telugu film industry in the form of fresh and sparkling singers known for their controlled tonal quality.
The Academy has day-long classes every Sunday for students, who qualify in the audition held by LMA after which they are taken through a journey involving minute details including the proper manner of holding the mic, voice throw and modulation, pronunciation, emphasis on lyrics and other details along with training in classical and light music to prepare them for a professional singing career. Ramachari, who does not charge any fee for these classes also organises regular talks, seminars and lecture demonstrations on various subjects that raise their social consciousness and contribute to the overall development of their personality. Students are asked to dress in white to ensure uniformity and interested parents are encouraged to attend these classes. Free coaching in times of crass commercialisation is indeed a rarity and I express my surprise. Ramachari is quick to respond. “This is my service, thanksgiving to society. My own gurus taught me without charging any fee and I have been helped immensely by the support and encouragement of innumerable people in my eventful career. I wish to do the same for others. I love children and teaching comes naturally to me. What I earn from my performances and recordings are for my livelihood. This academy is my passion,” he asserts. His auditions are so popular that institutes coaching students appearing for the auditions have come up in various districts of Telangana drawing comparisons with the reputed IIT coaching institute of eminent educationist Chukka Ramaiah. ‘Ramaiah for IIT and Ramachari for music’ was an oft-heard statement in places surrounding Hyderabad. Ramachari points out that only two per cent of the population are endowed with a good singing voice and he concentrates on honing the skills of such rare talent already proficient in the basics.
Ramachari’s rise to eminence as a playback singer, music composer and teacher from a small village in Medak where he was encouraged by his mother Yashodamma and learnt singing accompanying his father Komanduri Krishnamachari, a Vedic scholar and harikatha exponent is a combination of hard work, talent and destiny in the form of mentors. Learning classical music from Guru Oruganti Leelavati and light music from PV Saibaba he began teaching music to children at All Saints High School and singing songs on All India Radio, where he received great encouragement from ‘Radio Akkayya’ Turaga Janaki Rani among others. As runner up in the first season of ‘Padutha Theeyaga’ one of the first ever music reality shows in South India that had viewers glued to television screens, he was catapulted to fame. His smooth voice and melodious rendition with proper emphasis on sahityam (lyric) earned him accolades and adulation. He was, however, saddened by the fact that very few film recordings took place in Hyderabad, and even when they did both the lead and chorus singers were brought all the way from Chennai.
Realising the futility of raising this matter in the musician’s union of which he was then a member and is now an advisor, he decided to come up with homegrown talent to meet the demands of the industry. Blessed by famous playback singer SP Balasubramaniam he founded the Little Musicians Academy on February 18, 1999. Today, his students are winning laurels not just in India but in LMA-USA, which has 1,000 students, who learn from him from June to August every year. His students are singing for major films, commercials and stage shows and most of the chorus and main singers in the blockbuster film ‘Baahubali’ were from LMA. Ramachari is the proud father of two great singing talents, who are part of his academy. His daughter Sahiti (Sony) sang the beautiful song. ‘Hamsa Naava’ from ‘Baahubali 2’, which became hugely popular while son Saketh is an excellent singer who impressed with his ‘breathless song’ in ‘Telangana Bandhook’ penned by Goreti Venkanna. He has sound technical training as well and is also a music director for films. The head starts that LMA singers enjoy as professional musicians can largely be attributed to the fact that they are experts in the various nuances of playback singing having recorded many songs in Ramachari’s studio before they get their break in films.
Students of the Academy have gained visibility for their humility, musical skill and exemplary discipline. Ramachari describes them as ‘Susikshitulaina Saiikulu’ (well-trained warriors) out to claim their place among the best in the field. Although there are many memorable events that mark LMA’s journey, two incidents remain unforgettable. The first is the tears of joy shed by mentor SP Balasubramaniam on stage at the 10th-anniversary celebrations while acknowledging his work as an outstanding teacher. The second one is the performance of hundred students of the academy at the closing ceremony of the National Games in Hyderabad, where they sang ‘Vandanam Janani’ written and composed by him with Sanskrit, Hindi, English and Telugu words in front of an August gathering that included the Prime Minister and several dignitaries. The song received thunderous applause and great appreciation and its memory brings a warm glow to this day.
Ramachari has won many prestigious awards for his accomplishments as singer and composer, which include the Nandi award and the special commendation award of the Telangana Government. However, it is in his role as a guru that he excels. Ever grateful to his parents and gurus, he guides his own students with utmost patience never getting impatient or angry with them. Inculcating a universal outlook where ‘I’ is replaced by ‘we’ he believes in the concept of a global family or ‘Vasudaika kutumbam’. Teaching also enhances his own learning. “One should not teach film songs to those who want to become playback singers. I compose songs in film tunes and teach my students so that they retain their originality,” Ramachari states.
He is, however, pained at the scant respect accorded to Gurus after students become successful. “Most European countries whether it is sport or culture, honour the teacher whenever the student wins laurels. The role of a Guru is largely overlooked in our country. Why are awards like the ‘Dronacharya’ given to Gurus of the sporting world missing in the creative field? There is a need to introduce ‘Best Creator’ awards honouring music gurus,” Ramachari asserts. His students are pictures of humility having imbibed great life lessons from him and are part of a big musical family that is ever growing. They do their bit for several social causes including contributing to help victims of disasters as in the case of the Hudhud cyclone in Andhra Pradesh. Most of them have a long bonding with the academy continuing their association despite scripting success and being busy with their work. Keeping alive the tradition of the guru-shishya parampara,” Ramachari hopes to have his own music school in the centre of the city, where he will have an auditorium, library, archiving section and guest rooms to accommodate children coming from remote villages. To realise this dream, he started an initiative called ‘Donate a yard’, where an amount of Rs 50,000 was fixed per yard and people can donate money for the construction of the school with the donors’ names inscribed in the premises. “SP Balasubramanyam and Sri Raghavendra Rao were among the first donors and there are innumerable industrialists, artistes, and people from all sections of society who are lending a helping hand. We have received the blessings of Sri Chinna Jeeyar Swami who is supporting our cause,” says Ramachari. The Telangana government and the department of culture have also provided great encouragement and the academy plans to construct an old age home for senior artistes as well. “My school is not just about teaching music. It is about making them good human beings,’’ Ramachari declares even as his Little Musicians Academy moves from one milestone to another winning hearts, striking the right notes and ever striving for perfection.