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As one listens to the mellifluous tune from the Tamil film "Duet" where the saxophone melodiously grips the listener as the lyrics flow "Anjali Anjali – Pushpanjali" – that is when one realizes the true blend of Eastern tunes with a western instrument, the Saxophone, the most powerful and vocal of the woodwinds. Never before does one feel the strength of Indian compositions and, the inherent struggle of a musician who was once relegated to just wedding functions and the corridors of the Sabhas frequented by the connoisseurs of classical music (Sabhas are venues where classical music concerts are conducted). As praises and adulation followed the film, one individual breathed through every printed page- be it a newspaper, a local chronicle to the covers of popular magazines. The television channels made this humble musician an overnight star. Welcome to the story of Master Saxophonist, Saxophone Chakravarthy (king) who was one of the pioneers in using the Sax for promoting Carnatic Music – Padmashri Dr. Kadri Gopalnath, interviewed and written by Anu Gopalakrishnan (Rockin' Raaga -WCXI 1160 AM)

Excerpts from the interview with

Q: Tell us about your first encounter with the instrument?
Music was part of my daily routine as my father was a Nadaswaram Vidwan (master of the nadaswaram instrument). When I was 15 years old, I saw the Saxaphone played by a young man, part of the music band that played at the Mysore Palace. I was very excited and thrilled to hear the vibrant tone and I decided that I finally found the instrument I was really interested in. I felt a deep sense of affection to the sound. The Saxophone was an instrument that wasn't available in India. It was a norm to buy the instrument in the UK. My dad paid Rs. 850 to buy the instrument. Today, it costs Rs. 8.5 lakhs. It took me twenty years to learn and master the complexities of the wing instrument.

Q: What made you choose playing the Saxophone as your career?
How did you believe in the sound, when not many have experimented with it in India? True. Not many in India play Saxophone. Why did I encounter the instrument? I think it was pure destiny. I loved the sound of the Sax. My constant experimentation with the Sax led me to believe in my choice. It was kind of a brainwash when as a kid, you aspire to do something. This is the same way where I began to love the music. The personal choice I made. The knowledge I gained became an intrinsic part of me. It was only after six years of teaching did I realize the experiements and improvizations I could do with it.

Q: Who was responsible in molding you?
I learned playing Carnatic Music on the Saxophone under Gopalakrishna Iyer of Kalanikethana, a music school in Mangalore. He asked me to join him and I just followed what he taught me. After six years, I began to understand the intricacies of the ragas. He is my Guru. His selfless dedication made me adapt to all the nuances of Carnatic Music. It was in Guruvayoor (the temple town) when I met T.V Gopalakrishnan of Chennai (then Madras). He became my second Guru as he started molding me by teaching me important things, some kind of tricks. I became ready to have my own concert. I will not be here if it wasn't for the two people, individuals who are responsible for my success. Whatever I am today, it is because of their blessings and guidance.

Q: In your opinion, what is the best piece of music you have ever created?
I have not created any music. I am playing what is already composed. As a saxophonist, we follow what is already composed. We cannot declare any compositions as our creations. And in my opinion, I cannot complain about what is good and what is bad. What I can do and cannot do is my weakness. That does not mean the music is bad as most of the connoisseurs of music would believe. Since you asked me, playing the compositions of Saint Thyagaraja (his kirtana) is like having icecream. Playing a musical instrument after understanding the method of the melody and the thaalam (rhythm), the verses become lovely and there is a certain meaning to the bhakthibhav. When I play the saxophone, I feel like I am in deep meditation, where I visualize and feel that the lord is in front of me. This mood we get into, also called the "bhava" is very special for vocalists and instrumentalists. Only after this sits inside my soul, I begin to love what I am doing.

Q: Tell me about your collaboration with alto saxophonist Rudhresh Mahanthappa. Have you ever been influenced by the western wave in terms of creating notes or making improvizations?
Rudhresh is a very divine and talented artist. He is from the Indian ancestry but his musical treatments are beyond excellence. When I toured in the USA, he came to my concert and also visited India after that. Owing to my knowledge of the ragas in carnatic music, we decided to work together. He was into American Jazz. I briefed Rudhresh about the various ragas like kalyani, rasikapriya, mohanam etc. He took a lot of CD's from Chennai. We created an ensemble called "Svajanam." We took a lot of artists – guitarists, drummers, mridanga players and violinists and toured the US and the UK. This included one of my key musicians Kanyakumari who plays the violin at all my concerts. And answer the question, No. I do not play western notes. I use the eastern ragas and kirtanas to create a true fusion of music. Rudhresh is my western classical counterpart. I would also like to highlight my observation with regard to education in music. Internationally, music is very much regarded as compulsory for students. In Europe especially, music is more prominent in the curriculum. Like sports, music should be made mandatory. There are a lot of people coming to India to learn Carnatic Music. I have started the Kadri Academy for Music in Bangalore. The school boasts of over 60 students from overseas and over 700 students across India.

Q: Tell us about your connection with music– how do you create magic?
I always read the audience mind. The first 15 minutes is very critical. As a musician, you would know whether they like your work or not. I change my speed accordingly. I have always mentioned that the language of music is universal. My music has no religious overtones. My country is India and my religion is "Sapta Swaram" (the seven musical notes of Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni). Another good album I have done is with the flutist James Newton. It is called "Southern Brothers" - I come from the southern part of India and James is from the Southern part of the US. Music is what connected us. For me audience is like god. When my audience love and appreciate my music, I go to the extreme levels of sustaining that throughout the concert. This is my diet for good music. There are thousands of compositions. We can develop and improvize those works as it has been left behind by a treasure of saints. My top secret is in adding and improvizing those works without disturbing its originality.

Q: What is your life after the success of the film "Duet" in 1994 and working with two legends – K Balachander and AR Rahman?
K. Balachander and AR Rahman were conceiving a storyline based on a protagnist who plays a musical instrument. They attended a series of concerts in Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai. Cinema has a mass appeal. It is a powerful medium and I strongly believed that cinema could do justice in spreading the appeal and beauty of the Sax to a bigger audience. That night after my concert, K. Balachander and AR Rahman approached me and asked me if I would be able to collaborate with them on the film. Instantly, I agreed and said that it would be challenging but fun. Thus was born Duet. I went to Rahman's studio, played several ragas and then he adopted the kalyana vasanta ragam in different ranges. Of course, he did use his sound techniques, but we did retain the original sound as much as possible.

"Duet" was a beautiful film that became a super hit in Tamil and Telugu. I became busy in terms of concerts, people began to recognize me. Prabhu's father the thespian/actor Sivaji Ganesan invited me personally to his home because of his close association with the Nadaswaram in his movie Thillana Mohanambal. He appreciated my work. Usually I perform the "mangalam" as a closing to all my concerts but there are many concerts where because of the audience demand, I had to open up my orchestra after I have packed and deliver the songs from Duet – this was done predominantly to respect my audience who travel several hours to come see me and enjoy my music. My success is because of them and I am truly blessed.

Q: Was that a conscious choice to not work with the film industry? What happened?
Well, I have a mixed response to this question. I got busy with concerts, weddings. I became so busy; I had to shift my residence to Gopalapuram in Chennai. I did work on a small bit in Director K Balachander's "Paarthaale Paravasam" in 2001 which had music by AR Rahman. I also played a bit in "Parthiban Kanavu" released in 2003, music was by Vidyasagar. Honestly, no film director could give me a film like Duet. The stories that came my way did not have any relevance, no solos like the way I had with Duet. I did play for a couple of Kannada films as well. The kalaimamani and the Padmashree awards followed. The Classical/carnatic world beckoned me. I started doing concerts in Delhi, Bombay, Kochi and Pune. I will be unable to play for films until I have a strong script that focuses on the instrument. My next project is to play Jugalbandi – integrate the Sax with another type of music. I am deeply touched by the invitation from The Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsav for having invited me this year. As you know this is one of the largest and most sought-after Indian Classical music festivals in India. I will be playing with Pt. Ronu Majumdar and it is truly an honor.

Performing to a packed audience on October 7th at the beautiful Canton Hindu Temple, the concert was a huge success. Organized by the well reputed Great Lakes Aradhana Committee (GLAC), the audience was left spell-bound by the alto saxophonist and his intricate works. GLAC is the only organization that promotes traditional music and arts in all its finesse and quality by bringing musicians from across the globe. Definitely a night to remember!

Kadri Gopalnath – a reputed musician who was the first to play Carnatic/Classical music on the saxophone has been busy performing to the likes of the audience since 1994 - his entry on the main stage. Here is an instrumentalist who was passionately progressing in his pursuit for excellence with his sheer skill, who has perfected something that jazz saxophonists have been attempting for decades. With his faultless intonations and his raga expositions, his feat displays an innocence and purity complete with grammatically correct renditions that is rarely to be seen. Keeping the audience transfixed with his innovative techniques and sophisticated elegance, Kadri Gopalnath has mastered the art of using the Saxophone – something that is hard especially when it comes to wind instruments. He isn't a jazz musician, and it doesn't matter!

Interviewed and Written by Anu Gopalakrishnan, a exclusive.
Special thanks to Sri Ganapathy, Great Lakes Aradhana Committee (GLAC)
Copyright 2011

"He plays compositions meant for the nagaswaram, anaboc like double reed instruments."
- International Herald Tribune
"Kadri's prowess and skill in handling the Saxophone to convey the nuances of Carnatic Music was really encouraging to watch. Despite the fact that the saxophone is a brass instrument and lacks the mellifluous timbre of the traditional nagaswaram, Kadri was able to produce such a rich variety of Musical Cadences."
- Daily News, Colombo

"His soft, legato flurries meshed perfectly in a unusual grouping of violin, Jew's harp and Mridagam drum." - The Times, London
The phrasings ebbed and flowed; encompassing four and half octaves and when he operated on the sub-bass registered the audience swayed."
- Subbudu, Indian Express, Madras
"The artiste revealed his commendable control over the instrument and skill in a technique that suited the Carnatic Music overcoming the instrumental hurdles if any."
- Deccan Herald, Bangalore
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