by Rajeswari Satish | Sruti, Apr 2017
A successful concert artist with nuanced knowledge, a busy globe trotter, a devoted family man, an avant-garde teacher, a musician who seamlessly weaves novelty into tradition, and above all, a human being with admirable genuineness. That is Neyveli Santhanagopalan, whose personality is as compelling as he is influential in the field of Carnatic music.
His greatest skill, arguably, is his uncanny ability to extract the full potential in a student and bring out the music in a way that even the student may have never imagined. My daughter remarked once, “When Neyveli Sir is present, I like to try out crazy ideas, and things always turn out so good when he is there to help. He knows what I can do, more than I ever realize”. He gently prods a student to try out an out-of-the-box idea, usually in manodharma, that leads to further ideas. If the result is good, he moves to the next level and challenges him or her further, this goes on and on. All this is so masterfully done, and the fun that both teacher and students have is a pleasure to watch. Each raga is explored to the fullest, and he always has a full load of new challenges to offer both in melody and rhythm. He treats all students respectfully and gently, with never a harsh word said. Classes are often infused with jokes, and he plays along when students bring in some fun.
True, he has many students who are high achievers. Another side of his teaching prowess that I have witnessed, is the way in which he has raised the confidence of students who may have thought they had limited abilities and transformed them into performers with admirable standards. That definitely, is no mean task.
On stage, his interaction with fellow artists is a pleasure to watch, as he engages them fully and encourages them boundlessly. If a junior artist accompanies him, he offers gestures of praise for simple things done well, and if it is an experienced senior artist accompanying him, he offers them fresh challenges, draws from their ideas to create further musical experiences, thereby creating an emotionally and intellectually charged atmosphere. This can be done by an artist only when the attention is on the entire musical experience. The joy that the artists derive from it, in turn, rewards the audience.
An eloquent speaker, NSG is knowledgeable on several aspects of Carnatic music such as the philosophy behind the composition, the composer’s intent, the relevance of the sangatis within a composition, and the anecdotes that surround it. Those who know him closely would be privy to his knack for conveying a concept, or a message, however difficult, in the most pleasant way. The recipient of the message or conversation often needs to think for a while to realize the full import of his point.
A lifelong learner, he is ever so willing and humble to learn and understand from others. On musical subjects, he shares his knowledge and thoughts with not only peers but also those who lack formal knowledge or experience. On other topics, be it science or politics, he questions with enthusiasm and takes in new facts.