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Deccan Herald » Fine Art / Culture » Detailed Story
Pulling off a musical leap of faith
He holds courses for corporates in music. An ability to render contemporary Kannada lyrics in the khayal style is his innovation. Bindu Gopal Rao meets Nagaraja Rao Havaldar.
When I enter his home, the first thing that strikes me is the pleasant musical notes that reverberate all around.

Meet Dr Nagaraja Rao Havaldar. A name that is not unknown to an ardent Hindustani music lover. What is relatively unknown is that for all his fame he is still a simple man who attributes his success to his audience.

Hailing from a family of artistes with both parents into singing devotional music and siblings also into singing, it was natural that Dr Havaldar developed a keen ear for music from his childhood itself.

It was also during his very early days that he started idolising veteran Hindustani singer Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. Dr Havaldar reveals, “I was a big fan of the songs of the Kannada movie Sandhya Ragaa. As a college student I was a member of the local orchestra group and even then my choice of songs were those based on classical ragaas.”

While at this stage, music was just an incidental part of his life, the turning point came in Dharwad where he went to pursue his post graduation in History and Archaeology. “My six-year Sangeetha Ratna course comprising two years of post graduation and four years of research exposed me to a big band of musicians,” he says.

This, coupled with working in the Music Archives at Hubli for 2 years, gave him a chance to listen to great masters like Ustad Bismallah Khan, Pt Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbhar Khan, Gangoo Bhai Hangal, Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva and others.

“My day used to only consist of listening to these maestros and writing critical analysis of their renditions which greatly helped me mould my musical thoughts. In fact music is something that you can learn only when you listen more and more. We call it Shravana Vidya in Kannanda (Shravana means to hear),” he adds.

Brave decision

After a short stint with the All India Radio as a programme executive, he decided to take a “brave decision” to pursue music full time. So that must have been a tough decision to take?

“Yes certainly since at that time I was earning the same salary that my father was after he had thirty eight years of service. In fact it was my wife who encouraged me to take the plunge and even volunteered to take up a job if required,” he reminisces.

Incidentally Dr Havaldar belongs to the Kirana and Jaipur Gharana of music and has trained under Pandit Panchakshariswamy Mattigatti and Pandat Madhav Gudi— a prime disciple of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. In fact he is still training with the latter.

An innovation by Dr Havaldar that needs special mention is his ability to use contemporary Kannada lyrics into the khayal style which is typically sung in North Indian languages.

“Of course I do sing typical traditional khayal as well but using this style in Kannada is my innovation,” he elaborates. In fact he has a passion to impart music and teaches music at a “more advanced level”. So much so that he also has students in the USA connecting over conference calls “at least twice in a month.”

Dr Havaldar also conducts corporate sessions on music for companies like Wipro, Computer Associates, Birla 3M and Khodays among others.

“These essentially are sessions on ‘Stress Management through Music’ and ‘Appreciation of Indian Classical Music’. He is also on the panel of PhD examiners for Karnataka University. Speaking on the importance of music as a vital part of life, he makes an interesting observation. “In Hindu culture we have a traditional function for a woman in her seventh month of her pregnancy. The songs that are sung here are intended towards the child as it is said that during this time they develop a certain insecurity as they would soon be out of the secure confines of the womb.”

All in the family

On the family front a musical family supports him. Wife Sudhamayi has a degree in music, and sons Omkarnath, a degree student and Kedarnath doing his pre university have already taken to vocal and tabla, respectively. In fact both his sons have made an impressive start into their musical careers and Dr Havaldar says with justifiable pride, “they will be musicians”.

In his musical journey, Dr Havaldar has also scored music for Girish Karnad’s Taledanda, late P Lankesh’s Gunamukha staged by the theatre group, Roopantara, the television version of Master Hirannayya’s Lanchavatara and T N Seetharam’s teleserial, Mukha mukhi.

Currently he is working with a theatre group in Indianapolis on the music of a play with a spiritual theme. He has also completed the recording of a music album in Multani Ragaa that should be released soon. He also hopes to release a complete Kannada Khayal album to coincide with Kannada Rajyotsava this November.

With several concerts in India and abroad now, there must be a difference in the audience? “Yes abroad audiences are more demanding and inquisitive. I make it a point to explain the ragas and compositions before rendering them,” says the artiste.

Dr Havaldar also believes that he has a greater social and cultural responsibility now. This has led to the formation of the Sunaada Art Foundation of which he is the President to build music archives in digital format. And finally before signing off Dr Havaldar sportingly obliged to sing a few verses of his favourite compositions and it was certainly an experience to cherish. And I leave him with his music that is certainly one that you must listen to.
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