Swarathma’s Blog

My Violin and I: The Journey Together
April 11, 2009, 3:13 am
Filed under: Experiences, Music | Tags: , , , , , ,

Sanjeev Nayak

Sanjeev Nayak is arguably ‘Aathma’ in the Swarathma sound. When he is not conjuring magic tricks on the 5 string violin he is a hardcore techie. Here he speaks of his journey with his violin, where it all started, and the milestones on the highway he is on, today.

I still remember the day I picked up violin as a 12 year old. It happened quite by accident – the teacher had brought the violin home with the intention of teaching my sister the instrument. As luck would have it, the teacher changed his mind and taught me the first notes instead!

Kids learn by imitation. My violin classes were no exception. Whatever my teacher played on his violin, I was supposed to repeat – something I got better at with time. It wasn’t just me playing the violin; my sisters were learning Carnatic vocals from the teacher. As is the tradition, the Carnatic violin always accompanies the vocals. This particular skill of being able to play alongside a vocalist, practiced over time, develops a very good ear for music. This is the Carnatic equivalent of the famed Suzuki method!

My aunt had a huge influence on keeping me interested in the violin. She made me practice the violin every single day after I came back from school. Those days, the Nayak household was active musically. Trust me, every music loving parent wants to see his/her kids on stage. Given that, it was only a matter of time before my sisters and I hit the stage. In the Carnatic tradition, a kacheri at a temple is normally the initiation into public performance. If you perform at a kacheri, you’re considered a musician of good caliber. After a few kacheris I guess I had truly arrived in the scene. Here was a kid who could play the violin.

I hated the attention I was getting. I figured I was doing something very few did. Soon enough I realized it was one thing to play Carnatic kritis you practiced, it was quite another to play what people requested you to play. One day somebody asked me if I could play something he knew. That kind of got me into playing something the teacher had not taught. When I presented this to the teacher, he was pleasantly surprised and encouraged me to listen to other forms of music. It was during one of those searches that I chanced upon a tape of Dr. L. Subramaniam.

You may have noticed, Carnatic violinists normally play the violin seated on the floor with the scroll of the instrument rested on the side of their foot. I learnt to play the violin that way. I don’t know the reason behind why or how this method of playing the violin developed. Many people say it helps to play the gamakas which are an integral part of Indian music. To play gamaka, a Carnatic violinist would have to slide his fingers across the length of the string. Of course this is a highly controlled motion and will take years to perfect. The point being that this technique requires a free motion of hand which is possible only when the hand is not “holding” the violin. Western violinists play standing up, but they don’t play gamakas either. I found standing up and playing the violin quite convenient and cool. That day I stood up with my violin and played, and never sat ever since!

lsubramaniamL. Subramaniam has perhaps been the biggest influence on my musical ideas and playing style. I have read almost every article on him, listened to almost everything he has composed and have all his CDs in my collection. Our college band won every award there was in the instrumental section by playing his numbers. If you’re new into fusion, I highly recommend his work on “Conversations” with another great violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Some of the solos that LS has played in this album still give me goosebumps, and I for once, don’t believe anybody else can quite create the same soundscape like he does. To play them is one thing, but to create this amazing body of musical masterpieces is quite another.

During my college days, I was part of the college band. The band didn’t have a name but it had a violinist! It was during this time I got exposed to other musical instruments like guitar, keys, bass, drums etc. and got a general idea of how they would sound together. Out of curiosity, I did try the guitar for sometime but gave up because it was too difficult an instrument to play. It was during those days I came to know about the existence of Electric Violins.

Shakti was another band that influenced me quite a bit. Their music was free spirited, spontaneous and fun. Shakti had another truly great violinist in L. Shankar who is L. Subramaniam’s brother. When you listen to both, you can almost sense the similarity in their musical expressions. Among the two, I find Shankar more flamboyant in his playing – after all it was he who invented the double neck violin. One day I will play a double violin.

After college, the musician in me took a back seat. This was a time when I pursued my other love – computer programming. My work took me abroad and during one of those trips I picked up my first Electric violin. It didn’t look anything like a violin, didn’t sound very bad, but most importantly didn’t feedback on stage. More than anything, it served the purpose of playing at corporate functions. In my next trip, I upgraded – got a 5-string zeta jazz modern violin. I found that the 5th string really made a big difference to my playing. It not only gives you the additional range, but also gives the depth to your musical expression.

Many times people ask me what my playing style is. Is it Western or Carnatic, they want to know. I think my style has evolved over a period of time with influences from different forms of music and from people who created them. My basics are Carnatic, I tune the violin Carnatic way, stance is western, instrument is electric, playing style is a little bit of everything. So I guess it is only befitting that I now play with a band that believes in bringing diverse musical elements together.


3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Hey Sanjeev!!!!Awsome writing,I must say!Good to know the personal side of an artist you admire. Hope you write more about your journey with your instrument!Looking forward for more blogs!!!!

Comment by kavya

Interesting story – good personal touch. Write more about your musical experiences. And about your opinions on violins and violinists. And your opinions in general.

Comment by proski

BTW is zeta doing something for you in return for the free publicity they are getting 🙂

Comment by proski

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