Saturday, October 15, 2011

Happy Birthday: Dr. N. Ramini

Dr. Natesan Ramani, also known as "Flute Ramani" was born on October 15, 1934 in Tiruvarur in Tamil Nadu, India. Aside from the influence of his place of birth, Ramani was born into a musical family. Ramani's grandfather, Sri Aazhiyur Narayanaswami Iyer, was his first guru and was a well known flute artist and singer himself. Aware of young Ramani's keen interest in the Carnatic flute, Ramani's initiation to Carnatic music began at the age of five. He is a disciple of the legendary T. R. Mahalingam, known more commonly as "Mali," who first popularized the Carnatic flute in Indian music. The birthplace of Ramani is symbolic in that Carnatic musicians consider Tiruvarur the sacred sanctuary of Carnatic music, being the birthplace of the "trinity" of Carnatic composers, Saint Tyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Shastri who laid the foundation for the tradition.

As a regular performer and an 'A top' grade artist on All India Radio (AIR), his style and improvisations in the rendition of many compositions of Carnatic music brought him instantaneous fame from state level to national level and famous musicians from all walks of classical Indian music praised his genius including the world famous sitar player Ravi Shankar, who was so impressed and mesmerised with Ramani's unique and brilliant control of sruthi and laya made a personal visit all the way to Ramani's home in South India the very next day to praise Ramani and requested Ramani to stage the world's first Carnatic flute jugalbandhi concert (a North-South collaboration of Indian classical music). Such concerts continually received international popularity and demand with the Carnatic flute, and with Ramani rendering both Carnatic and Hindustani ragas, he was the first Carnatic flautist to create the transparency between Hindustani and Carnatic music across India and in the world.

Although Palladam Sanjeeva Rao was Sharaba Shastri's successor, it was "Mali" and N. Ramani as well as K.S Narayanan (the first disciple of Mali), who brought international attention to the Carnatic flute both in their own distinct flute playing techniques, with the latter two improving on the former's methods. He did so by studying the long bass flutes of the North Indian bansuri genius, Pannalal Ghosh which the later had incorporated successfully in Hindustani concerts. To further enhance tala dynamics, he followed the "GNB" style which was developed by the legendary G. N. Balasubramaniam.

The "Mali" bani encompassed facial expressions such as slight tilting of the head, varied movement of the lips which produced the vocal effect in the Carnatic never explored before by Sharaba Shastri or Palladam Sanjeeva Rao. Bringing out more of the tradition Mali introduced in the playing of the Carnatic flute, Ramani's distinctive style is the transformation of the Carnatic flute into the voice of a proficient Carnatic vocalist. Stressing such importance on the emphasis of vocal style of playing, he displayed characteristics of the human voice in his concerts often observed in his fast paced yet melodious performances. According to Ramani, "Mali's teaching methods were worth emulating. "A good teacher should be open to learning from his students too."

Considered an ace jugalbhandi flautist in the local and international arena, Ramani's contributions to the world of the Carnatic flute are immensely popular, especially the introduction of the duet flute concerts which have gained popular appraisals. He also introduced the long bass flute to increase the reach in the lower octaves. In addition, he introduced the 2.5 pitch flute, which is ideal for violin and veena concerts, keeping the strict tradition of Carnatic music.

At present, Ramani is also actively involved in improving flute playing techniques by experimenting with the sizes of the instrument's finger holes and the length of the flutes, especially in the area where fast tempo ragas can be delivered with ease and ultimately improving the quality and diversity of Carnatic music pieces delivered by the flute.Beyond Carnatic music, his proficiency in Hindustani classical music pioneered the playing of the North Indian bansuri flute in Carnatic music concerts.

Scientifically, he is involved in music research, especially in the effects of Carnatic music on improving the quality of new flutist by exposing the music to the young, and also the possibilities of curing diseases or improving immunity against diseases in humans by exposing to Carnatic music.

Dr. Ramani's performances in All India Radio (AIR) have received numerous praises from renonwned Hindustani and Carnatic musicians alike and his performances overseas had been recognised with numerous awards. Some of the highlights include the Sangeetha Kalanidhi, awarded by the Music Academy in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India, the Sangeetha Acharya award from Wasser College, U.S., the honorary citizenship status in Maryland, Ohio, U.S., and the Padma Shri Award from the President of India. He holds an honorary Cultural Doctorate from The World University of Arizona.

Dr. Ramani is also an innovative teacher. He founded the Ramani Academy of Flute to promote the Carnatic flute to anyone who is interested in learning, regardless of age. As a teacher, Ramani believes that the practical mastery of any art is more important than receiving certificates. As a result, Ramani Academy of Flute does not offer certificates to students except with the rare opportunity to learn under the tutelage of Ramani. This learning policy has made his students well versed in the proficiency of the Carnatic flute and some of them being famed individuals and teachers located around the world.

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