Memories of a much loved teacher

Dr. S. Ramanathan

Dr. S. Ramanathan – whose centenary is being observed beginning this month – was a much loved musician and teacher of Carnatic music. His humility and easy accessibility successfully hid his depth of knowledge and intellectual prowess from the casual observer, but he was an inspiring mentor and resourceperson to musicians and music scholars who sought his help in their researches. As Sruti N. Pattabhi Raman said in his obituary in the April 1988 issue of the magazine, he “was the first person in Carnatic music who shone as both a musicologist and musician.”

Ramanathan loved his legion of students and they adored him, too, to go by the stories describing the sheer joy and informality pervading his classes. S. Sowmya, today a much respected vocalist known as much for her scholarship as her musical depth, spoke at length to Sruti correspondent M.V. Swaroop about her guru back in 2010. The result was an entertaining and enlightening feature in the September 2010 issue (Sruti 312). It included a description of the professor’s classes and teaching methods: “Dr. Ramanathan was a busy teacher well into his seventies. On a normal day, recalls Sowmya, the house was bustling with students from 6.30 in the morning, until around nine o’clock. Then the male singers came and the classes continued in their sruti. After that, there would be some veena classes until around 10.30, when he would break for lunch. On some days, there would be a session around eleven o’ clock for a batch of women—often learning series like the Navavarana kritis or the Pancharatna kritis. He taught at institutions like Kalakshetra, the Music College, Kalapeetham, Soundarya Ladies Club and other places in the afternoons.”

“Most evenings, Sowmya remembers, if he wasn’t performing himself, he would listen to concerts. Classes for his daughters (and Sowmya, when she was around), veena or vocal, would happen after dinner. ‘I’ve even slept over the veena at times!’ she said.”

Ramanathan often taught in large groups, with the students singing in a chorus sometimes. Because he knew each student’s voice, he knew exactly who in the group had made a mistake. His pointing out the erring student did not hurt, and the pupil was never sacred of him… read more