The first song that I learnt from her was a composition by Annasaamy Sastrigal in Ragam Bhairavi, “Sri Lalite”. I was awe-struck; “Was I really learning from the Sangeetha Saraswati as she is reverently called?” That excitement was also followed by a fear, “I need to sing well and up to her expectations.” She was quick to dismiss those fears as she affectionately reassured me saying “Don’t worry. You are singing well, Lalitama.” And I went on to learn many songs from her, which I consider my biggest treasure.
She never set aside a specific time for classes. She would teach me whenever she felt like it. However, more often than not, the time that she dedicated to music was 4am. She considered it an ideal time for music as we were able to devote full attention to music without any interruptions. Practising new songs, preparing for concerts, choosing the song list for concerts – all of those usually happened during our 4am practice.
Learning from Amma was a delightful experience. She not only taught the song; she explained the meaning of the song, which musician popularised it, how she learnt it, when she sang it, the incidents that happened when she sang that song, etc. She would also sing the special nuances of the Ragam and the different sangatis.
For example, when I learnt “Yaaro Ivar Yaaro”, she immediately recalled meeting Ariyakudi after the release of the song and the praises that he showered on her. She gushed, “What greater joy could I have in my life?” When we sang “Kanchadalaayataakshi” or “Bala Gopala”, she would share, teary-eyed, her learning experience with Ambi Dikshitar. She would recall learning from Nayanapillai’s mother when singing Brovabamma, a beautiful song in Ragam Manji. This list is inexhaustible.
Another interesting feature is that Amma would demonstrate very naturally how the other artists sang. She held her fellow artists at high regard. She would bring to my attention their special attributes and ask me to pay close attention to them. It felt like I was listening to the artists live, when she would sing like:
- Ariyakudi; Sri Subramanyaaya Namaste – Vaasavaati
- Alathur Subbaiyar (Alathur Brothers); Thodi Alapana
- Madurai Mani Iyer; Poorvikalyani Alapana, Sarasa Samadana – Ithavumaata
- Musiri; Thiruvadi Charanam – Marupadiyum Karuvadaiyum