T.R. Subramaniam, a rare vocalist, musicologist and teacher passed away in Chennai on October 4, 2013. See article at The Hindu.
I am extremely lucky to have known Sri T.R. Subramaniam or TRS as he was called. I came under his tutelage while on a Senior fellowship in Chennai with AIIS in 2004-05 and continued to study with him whenever I had a chance during my subsequent visits to Chennai.
I can only agree with all the of positive things said about TRS already. He was an incredibly warm and welcoming person. To say he was supportive and encouraging is an understatement. I have seen the incredible patience and precision he had teaching me as well as many other students. Many have observed his almost daily attendance at concerts by artists young and old even up to his last days. As a musician he was unique and a force to be reckoned with. When I began learning with him another mentor musician gave me some old recordings of TRS from the early 70’s with masters like T. Rukmini, Karaikudi Mani, TVG, Upendran etc. The concerts were amazing and at the time I had never heard anything like it before. There was a palpable electricity and energy along with the technical mastery. Surprisingly many people haven’t really heard him at his peak.
My very first class he asked me to play Kharaharapriya (Ganapatiye – Papanasam Sivan) and immediately pointed out various subtle but important ways to improve it. During that period I was working on delving deeper into possible approaches to further creating gamaka on saxophone and was interested in exploring ragas that were typically considered impossible on my instrument. I’m still working on that one. TRS encouraged it by patiently sitting with me on such ragas as well as teaching me compositions that he felt would sound especially good on my instrument. He further opened up many areas of exploration for me such as his signature pallavis and ways of improvising in various nadais or pulses per beat. He would show me his unique rhythmic neraval variations in pallavis and say with a mischievous smile “this is intelligent neraval.” He would always say that you should be ready to perform any pallavi in any raga. I found that in many classes I was quite simply surprised at the sheer depth and breadth of his knowledge. You could ask him about literally any song and he would immediately be able to go into fine detail on the music, sahityam and its intricate meaning. He told me that he got such a strong grasp of Telegu through sheer hard work after realizing that he was unsatisfied singing Thyagaraja krithis without it. Many say that his approach is purely scholarly. I have seen articles that blatantly say TRS is just a technician. I don’t agree. I felt a deep reverence emanating from the master when he would speak of the great composers that went far beyond the technical.
His pallavis were so unique that they had a TRS stamp. When I had a concert in Mysore, I showed the violinist Sri H.K Narasimhamurthy the pallavi and to my surprise he immediately said, “this must definitely be a TRS pallavi.” The giant he was in the pallavi category, he still encouraged beginners like me. I had an album called “East Facing” in 2007 for which I composed a simple pallavi in Lathangi. But I was not so good with composing lyrics so I asked TRS about it. He immediately composed a line of sahityam on Lord Muruga in Tamil. Then he exclaimed “I like this pallavi very much, very good! I will teach this to all the students and popularize it as Prasant pallavi!” He showed me that is possible for a teacher to be completely encouraging, gentle and fun with the student while still firmly conveying the precise information and dedication needed to approach Carnatic sangeetham.
His caring demeanor did not end only with teaching music. He would not allow me to leave if it was near lunch time and would make sure that I had eaten. If we happened to be in the same concert anywhere or if I had to take a class from him in a different location he would always make sure I had a ride and often would pick me up or drop me off, regardless of the time or the traffic conditions.
He went further and often organized concerts for me while I was in Chennai, completely unasked. One special concert in fall of 2004 with M.S. Anantharaman on violin, Guruvayur Dorai on mridangam and V. Suresh on Ghatam at Shastri Hall was also spearheaded by TRS. He attended all of these concerts and would always have helpful and encouraging words to say afterwards.
My only regret is that as I was not in India full-time after early 2005, I could not see him as frequently and learn from him. I will really miss his disarming humor too. The music community is indebted to him for his numerous and special contributions.