Five Strings To Heaven

Five Strings To Heaven

Heard melodies are sweet; but unheard melodies are sweeter. Who would have thought that the six year old Shrinivas, who was casually strumming the mandolin at a musical party would one day be the youngest performing artiste at the Festival of India at Paris ? He has given a new dimension to the mandolin….

Shrinivas rectified the inadequacy of the instrument to negotiate Carnatic ragas. He modified the traditional mandolin and bringing about alterations in the thickness of the strings. He has made it more adaptable, facilitating playing of “swaras” of even the lower octave on it.

“Yes, at first it was difficult to produce Carnatic Music on the instrument. I added an extra string, pitched at the base, ‘sa’ (shadjamam) and then no Carnatic raga was beyond its scope. The tonal range of the five strings arranged in the sequence of sa, pa, sa, pa, sa gave the necessary freedom to improvise. I can now play any Carnatic raga on my mandolin – even our Thodi which is the most demanding of them all”

Shrinivas has been able to bring out skillfully finest and clear notes, soft sounds and “gamakas” (sustained notes) which are alien to the instrument. The higher octaves are as easily spirated as he placidly plays the lower ones. Indeed it is rightly said that “an instrument must produce vocal music and not instrumental”. Shrinivas’ does.

Maestro U.Shrinivas’ – Mandolin

Mandolin Shrinivas, is perhaps the greatest thing to have happened to “mandolin”, for it was he who adapted the instrument to carnatic classical music, made some structural modifications and introduced ingenious playing techniques to take mandolin to its present enviable position in music. The Mandolin Samrat’s contribution to music and the instrument is invaluable, and he has elevated the mandolin to the status of a lead instrument and that too the complex Carnatic Classical Music.

It would be worthwhile dwelling in sufficient detail on U.Shrinivas’ design in order to fully comprehend the magnitude and enormity of his contribution.

Five Strings To Heaven

‘Gamakas (sustained notes), one would doubtless agree, are quintessential to carnatic music – so much so that, one cannot play carnatic music without using ‘gamakas’ (sustained notes). With the original design of the mandolin the musician venturing to play carnatic music on it, faced two major problems :

  • The presence of pairs of strings made it difficult to render complex ‘gamaka’s (sustained notes) on the mandolin.
  • The sustenance (the time period for which a note would be heard from the time the string is plucked) of the instrument, on the whole, was not sufficient enough (to some extent attributable to the presence of “pairs of strings”) to admit slow-tempo compositions.

Mandolin Shrinivas came up with some modifications which (i) eliminated completely the problem of ‘gamaka’ (sustained notes) rendition. (ii) to a great extent enhanced the sustenance of the instrument, and (iii) enhanced the acoustic range of the instrument.

Mandolin Shrinivas

The modifications have opened up the floodgates of expression to the mandolin which were hitherto thought impossible. The inevitable fallout of these modifications is that mandolin, in this new design, has lost its characteristic “plink-plunk” sound (attributable to the pairs of strings) and the playing style of continuous, fast up-down plucking as a means of sustaining notes. But then, in view of the stupendous vistas and the expressing potential opened up by the new design, one is more than pleased to overlook this.