It is tough to say whether geniuses are born or made. Some pundits support the theory of genetics and some speak totally against it. The raging debate has been on for centuries now but without any logical conclusion. Karnataka, the land of Carnatic and other forms of music, has the distinction of producing famous musicians in dime and dozen. Here is a flutist, hailing from a small place called Mayasandra in Tumkur, who has carved a niche as most-sought-after musician in the last couple of decades. From a not so famous place, Hemmige S Venugopal’s growth has been smooth and steady. His fairytale is all the more interesting considering he is the first generation musician in his family.
Born in a family of music lovers, Venugopal’s father H S Sreenivasa Murthy was a teacher and mother Jayalakshmi a home-maker. As a school boy, Venugopal was very keen in participating in various cultural activities and sports. His first lessons in vocal music were under Rangaswamy, who they fondly called Mari Meshtru. As the veteran flutist puts it, though his parents had no formal training in Carnatic music, they had an unparalleled passion for it. Murthy, who had a flair for all forms of music, is no more. His wife, a great connoisseur of music, still lives in Mysuru.
Venugopal’s grandmother Rukmini Amma, a great devotee of Lord Panduranga, has been a great influence in his musical journey. “She used to do ‘Hari Katha’/discourses to a gathering of 25-30 people in the Panduranga temple at Chamundipuram. Though she was not a professional musician, she was so passionate about the art form that till her last days, she had around a thousand devotional songs in her memory. I learnt many Devaranamas from her. She never went to school, but she had learnt how to read. Her father Gopalaswamy Iyengar used to be a drama teacher in Hemmige (a village near Talakadu) on the banks of river Cauvery. Perhaps the exposure to drama and theatre was the initial inspiration that she got, in her younger days.”
Venugopal’s real musical journey began when he shifted his base from Mayasandra to Mysuru. He started learning flute under the guidance of Vid A V Prakash when he was barely 15. That he was born with an uncanny knack of grasping things fast, Venugopal climbed the ladder of music much faster than he thought. His other teachers M S Sreenivasa Murthy and K S Gopalakrishnan helped the youngster grow further in the world of music. He fondly remembers their valuable guidance about flute-playing and concert presentation.
Venugopal getting hooked to flute was by choice. He explains, “I was always fascinated by this instrument ever since my childhood. I used to accompany my father whenever he was on a visit to Bengaluru. He used to take me to concerts that happened during the Ramanavami season. Listening to concerts by stalwarts like Mahalingam, N Ramani, M S Amma, M L Vasanthakumari, KVN, K S Gopalakrishnan, etc, nurtured my musical spirits. My fascination for flute grew even more. So, learning to play the flute was totally by choice.”
The veteran flutist says it is patience, perseverance and practice that make a good musician. If Venugopal has earned a name as a good musician who is unique, it is because of his open mindedness to accept and adapt good things. “Not being in a hurry always helps a musician to get the best out of him/her. A long association with a good guru and focused practice are also equally important.”
Venugopal’s musical journey in the last couple of decades has been mellifluous. The many awards he has won over the years are a testimony to his dedication, devotion and discipline to music. That music has given him name and fame, Venugopal doesn’t want to sit back and relax, he wants to train more and more youngsters who could spread the essence music in the years to come.
– R MURALI
- Schooling and college.
After finishing my SSLC in Mayasandra, I moved to my maternal grandmother’s place in Mysuru and joined my elder brother and elder sister who were already living there. I joined Sarada Vilas College for my PUC and later enrolled for a degree course at Yuvaraja’s College.
- How tough is flute compared to other instruments?
I cannot provide an accurate answer to this since flute is the only instrument that I play. I feel that each instrument is tough to master in its own ways. Along with the mastering of the instruments, gaining a deep knowledge in music also becomes equally important. When it comes to flute, it becomes quite tough to produce the nuances exactly as in vocal music. However, one should extensively listen to vocal music and also should learn to sing, to be able to apply the ‘Gayaki’ style in his playing.
- Are musicians born or made?
Everybody is a born musician. It is just that different people realise/discover the musician in themselves at different stages of life. Any form of art requires a lot of physical practice and efforts, the right kind of environment and exposure, and a great Guru.
- When did you get big break in music?
My musical journey has been quite constant, without any ups or downs. I have considered every opportunity to be a learning experience. The ‘break’ that I got as a musician was when I started organising concerts, about 20 years ago. It began as small chamber concerts held for a gathering of 50 people, and has now grown to be an annual music and dance festival called ‘Kalaarnava’, under the banner of Gokulam School of Music. ‘Kalaarnava’ has been very well appreciated by music lovers and completes its 11th anniversary this year.
- Are you happy with what you have achieved so far?
I am a very contented man. I am grateful for what life has given me. Teaching has been one of those things that have made my life worth. I have been teaching in various music schools for the past 30 years. I started my own music school – Gokulam School of Music 15 years ago and this has been giving me immense satisfaction. I consider it a blessing that many of my senior students are growing up to be good performers today.
- The positive and negative sides of Venugopal.
I am a person who wishes to see only positive things in life. Man is to err. If there are any negatives in me, I make a constant effort to correct it.
- Who are your favourite musicians?
There are many of them, including the ones that I have previously mentioned. Of course, my Gurus are my favourites. It is great to see that many young musicians of today are producing wonderful music.
- Any one musician who has influenced you the most?
I have been influenced by many artists. It is difficult to mention just one. My salutations to the whole music parampara.
- Mysuru, as a music hub… What is your take?
Mysore holds a historic importance when it comes to art, culture and music. It has been a city that has nurtured the greatest of great artists. The patronage of Maharajas for music has done good to the fraternity. The immense contribution of Mysuru composers to music is a proof that the city is culturally rich and sophisticated. Even today, Mysore is one of the most sought after places for musicians to perform at, to an elite gathering. Mysore has retained its artistic charm.