A brief on my life and work 


Traditional Music Lineage-General Education-Foundations in Music (traditional and non-traditional)-Karnatak music performances and evaluations-Theory &  performances in music in the Global context.

Born: In Madurai, 1944, to my parents, Lakshmi Ammal, a 8th generation vina player and my father, D.K. Narayana Iyer-A school teacher. I inherit my music from my mother, a generous loving, giving, mother, teacher, to every one in Madurai, giving herself dedicatedly to who ever wished to learn music, without distinction, although they might not afford to pay. She has helped numerous students in their personal lives adding beauty through vina music. I inherit her in my spirit and substance. My father was a dedicated school teacher who taught all types of students with discipline in his bones.  


Traditional music lineage & Learnings:

Lakshmi Ammal was the third daughter of  Subbarama Iyer, the elder of the legendary  “Karaikudi Veena Brothers”, Subbarama Iyer, and Sambasiva Iyer, his younger brother. Subbarama Iyer had only daughters. Sambasiva Iyer had no children. My mother gave me in adoption to her uncle Sambasiva Iyer, on his request, to  officially take the mantle of the music tradition though a male member in the family.  Karaikudi Veenai Sambasiva Iyer, as a guru  gave me the spiritual and musical foundation.


Also learnt vina from Rajeswari Padmanabhan, sister & Ranganayaki Rajagopalan. Both were prime disciples of Sambasiva Iyer and excellent vina players who got all the awards and recognition which they deserved in abundance. While my sister had her musical genes, Ranganayaki was inducted into Sambasiva Iyer’s family at the tender age of 3 with no music in her family, showing no interest either in music. Sambasiva Iyer’s spirit of giving outside the family was well rewarded because every member in her family still holds him with utmost love, affection, gratitude and esteem which is legendary. Whenever I meet her (unfortunately a parkinson’s disease afflicted musician now), her body will react to the respect she continues to hold even now to my grand uncle, and will try to rise from her bed and offer to play vina for me!  No words can do adequate justice to this relationship! I feel proud of this great gesture of my grand uncle whose love keeps this lady still blooming with love for this instrument, a divine symbol of spiritual knowledge! 


My General Education:

M.A in English, Madura College, Madras University (1967-69); B.Sc in Chemistry, Madura College, Madras University (1965-67); Madras Matriculation: (From Kalakshetra, 1957-60). The Kalakshetra education was the foundation for my idea of a blend of ‘Gurukulam & Curriculum’ spirit in the COMET education I developed later in my life. One cannot imagine how the spirit of the visionary, Smt. Rukmini Arundel, the legendary dancer and educationist, permeated the time, space and cultural climate of Kalakshetra to instil something original in every student there. I never knew that the freedom I enjoyed there, in intuitively, transforming,  blending school education, my spirit of musical creativity, the orthodoxy and puritanism of my grand father in his personal life as well as in his music life had become a firm foundation and a beacon to show me the pathways for a new edifice in music education! 


Explorations Beyond Family lineage:

The spirit of freedom and creativity gained from Kalakshetra experience, made me explore new pastures for my musical life. I was fascinated by the originality and power of Veena Balachander in creating a special space in the world of Karnatak music. I was particularly captivated, apart from his pulling technique on the vina,  by his excellent laya flow without mathematical and repetitive cadential structures which dominated the concert stage later (I was not able to understand then how it flowed!). When I asked him about it, he told me that I should learn the basics from him! I did learn some basics from this legendary veena maestro, ‘Veena Balachandar’. This was another window opening  in my inner consciousness in my musical growth.


Music Performances Tradition & Beyond:

All India Radio (AIR)  graded me ‘A‘ when I was growing as a vina player. Performed regularly on AIR, a great encouragement for a budding artiste then! Since then began performing  solos on the vina in India, Europe, USA, Canada, Singapore & Malaysia in traditional contexts of preservation and propagation of the finer aspects of  cultures in museums (Germany, The Netherlands, France & Canada) in prestigious spaces including, The Madras Music Academy in the exclusive morning slot!


Going beyond tradition is, in fact, inclusive of tradition, powered by tradition. The Wesleyan University experience  offered me the great opportunity to be ‘inclusive and exclusive’ in the creativity in music.  By acknowledging and exploring the musical traditions of world’s cultures the study of ethnomusicology provided the windows  for ‘insider-outsider’ perspectives on a musical tradition.  This was a ‘brave new world’ which began removing the cultural barriers, so to speak, in one’s creativity. I could see how a person like me steeply planted in a tradition can go beyond while keeping up the spirit of it intact. This was a near impossible opportunity for a traditionalist like me from a family lineage underpinnings. It removed the myth of pride in a tradition blindly. While I was pursuing  ethnomusicological studies without fear of ‘sanctions’ from the tradition, I freely experimented on teaching, benefitting me and my students at Wesleyan. I performed in, obvious but yet different, culturally meaningful situations such as Flute & Vina, Voice & Vina, Sitar & Vina. Then I went beyond to explore the aesthetics of Piano and Vina,   pushing further, I played vina with church organ and Carillon (Church Bells on the top of the tower), such a culturally and musically contrasting musical instruments, with no possibility in the original cultural context. 


Music Education in the Global context: Got awarded a Ph.D. with my Dissertation on: “South Indian Vina-Tradition and Individual Style”, (1985)- Graduate studies at Wesleyan University-M.A. in Music, (Guide: Prof. Jon Barlow); towards Ph.D in Ethnomusicology 1975-77, mentored by: T. Viswanathan (singing and guidance): David MacAllester (Navaho music); Mark Slobin (Ethnomusicology), Richard Winslow   (Modal Counterpoint); Namino Torii (Koto); Sumarsam (Javanese Gamelan); Abraham Adzenya (Highlife African drumming)



University & Colleges: First Reader & later Professor of Music at the University of Madras (1986-2002); Assistant Professor of Music, SSSS College of Music, Madurai (1980-81); Lecturer in English, Vivekananda College Chennai (1970-75); Madura College (1969-70); Demonstrator in Chemistry, Madura College, 1965-67.

Visiting positions: Valentine Professor of Music at Amherst College, 1991; Leeds College of Music, UK. 2013; York University, Canada (under Shan and Jaya Chandrasekar Visiting Artist Residency grant)   Had been a frequent Visiting artiste at York since eighties 2012.

Fellowships: Asian Cultural Council Fellowship (USA, 1983) & Copeland Fellowship (Amherst College, 1986); Wesleyan University Fellowship for Graduate studies (1975-79).

Awards: Schallplatten Kritik Award (1980) for ‘Music Fur Vina’ recordings (of my sister Rajeswari Padmanabhan and me) made by Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin-(1975); (Naird Award for Vina and Mrdangam music-‘Sunada’- Bob Haddad’s World Music album (1991); Suryakanthamma Award-The Music Academy for the best paper presentation “From Folk to Classical music” (1991)  

Productions: Conducted and participated in International workshops and seminars. Produced and directed programs on music educational topics for Television and Radio; Produced a music program for the Singapore Government Art Festival  on the theme of how the whole Universe is contained in the mystic sound ‘OM’, (1983); The first ever production of a 13 episode serial on Music and Musical Instruments-“Nadangi”, with the greatest of Carnatic music maestros, and the greatest artistes, was researched and produced for Soori-Murali’s Citadel Video- A first ever Doordarshan telecast for the whole of Tamil Nadu. (1988); The first ever program connecting the folk and classical music of South India, “From   Folk to Classical” was produced for the Chennai audience with the top most South Indian Classical artistes (N.Ramani, V.V.Subramaniam, Umaiyalpuram Sivaraman and Vinayakaram) and a folk singer, Pushpavanam Kuppuswamy, with a humble village background with a music degree from the University of Madras,. This program shot the folk singer to stardom (1990) !

Reviews: Have written news paper reviews in ‘The Straits Times, Singapore for Carnatic music concerts show cased by SIFAS in Singapore.

Publications: Second book in the series of music books for SIFAS (Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society) “Rishabham”, got published, 1982; The third book in the series   “Gandharam” was authored and published, 1983; “An Introduction to the Vina”-Asian Music (Journal/Volume XVI-2/Spring/Summer)-Excerpts from the doctoral dissertation, 1985; An article “Sino-Indian Musical Symbolism”, a comparison between Chi’n and Vina as

representative instruments of two cultures, 1987; Presented and published an article in International seminar organized by AIIS, New Delhi, “Text, Tone, Tune in Karnatak Music”, 1993; “Continuity and change in musical transmission in contemporary South India –Brhaddhvani, a case Study”, a paper was presented on the occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Berlin Phonogramm Archiv. Subsequently the article was published along with other international papers, titled “ Music Archiving in the World” edited by Gabriele Berlin and Artur Simon, 2000; Editor: “Semmangudiyin Kural”   (2008).

Contribution to Music Education in the Global context:

Evolved a system COMET, ‘Correlated Objective Music Education and Training’ (1986-1990), which combines, tradition and technology, arts and science, preservation and propagation methods reaching out to dancers, theatre actors, children in villages and cities suiting the contemporary demands in India to reach music to everyone without distinction. Brhaddhvani, Research and Training Centre for Musics of the World, in Chennai was jointly founded for this purpose, with Dr. S. Seetha in 1989, as a non-profit model of a new generation music organization. Received major grant supports from The Ford Foundation, Impact Partners, India Foundation for Arts & the Government of India.

The outcome of my research in Music?

BRHADDHVANI & COMET: http://www.brhaddhvani.org

Brhaddhvani was founded in 1989 as a registered non-profit organization along with Dr. Seetha, (Professor and Head of Music, University of Madras). Dr. KSS’s  educational concept- COMET, has covered a wide spectrum of music learners globally.

This system brings confidence in any learner without distinction that ‘ I too can do it’.

Grants Received to develop the new music educational model-BRHADDHVANI

1993-96        First project grant-    From The Ford Foundation        

1996-99       Second Project grant-From  The Ford Foundation

1999-2000  Project grant-(18months) Documentation of Sopanam music of Kerala- From India Foundation for the Arts http://www.indiaifa.org/brhaddhvani.html

2000           Corpus grant-  From The Ford Foundation   http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/committed-to-teaching/article2876775.ece)

2002-03   Grant for Administration   The Impact Partners (USA)

2003-06   Sustenance grant-  India Foundation for the Arts

How were the grants used?

 1.To connect with the Carnatic Music Maestros, dancers, theatre artistes, sculptors, folklorists, world class musicians, scholars, professors and students of ethnomusicology, folk and temple musicians, to establish a model of an institution to combine ‘Gurukula & Institutional curricula’ with a ‘democratic world consciousness’ in Arts and Education at a global level of competency. 2. To document various aspects of music at different levels of consumption towards creating a ladder in music education, from the primary, secondary school up to the University level. 3. To create opportunities to introduce music and musical principles in various disciplines including therapy.

1.1   Musical celebrities such as Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Dr. Sreepada Pinakapani, T.M. Thyagarajan, K.V. Narayanaswamy, Lalgudi G. Jayaraman, T. Viswanathan, S. Kalyanaraman, Trichy Sankaran, dance celebrities such as Kalanidhi Narayanan, Adyar Lakshmanan, Chitra Visweswaran, Chandraleka, Leela Samson, folk theatre celebrity, Na. Muthuswamy, celebrated Sculptors such as Ganapathy Sthapathy & Madhubai Patel of Bombay, celebrated folklorist, Komal Kothari of Rajasthan, world class musician-composer, such as Eero Hameeniemi and his colleagues from Sibelius academy (Finland), Steve Coleman (Jazz musician, McArthur award winner), celebrated Jazz player, Woody Herman Shaw’s son Woody Louis Amstrong Shaw III, celebrated ethnomusicologist, David Reck and many other music educationists got associated with Brhaddhvani in one way or the other. World celebrity Pandit Ravishankar visited Brhaddhvani and had valuable informal discussions on Hindustani and Carnatic music education. Brhaddhvani’s work brought collaborations with Sibelius Academy, Pirkanmaa Polytechnic-University of Applied Sciences (Finland), Cologne University (Germany), New School University, Wesleyan University, Amherst College (USA) and York University (Canada).

1.2     The temple tradition of Sopanam music of Kerala was documented with the help two students of Brhaddhvani and in collaboration with a dance school of Kerala. A student was trained to learn the Sopanam songs using Dr. KSS’s EGR (Emotional Graphic Representation). Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer was documented and his autobiographical book in Tamil was published.

1.3 A 14 graded COMET curriculum was prepared creating a ladder from the first standard in the schools going up to a University degree in music. Four books for Children, ‘Kid’s COMET & Svaritha were authored by a senior COMET trained student incorporating elements from all types of music from folk to classical from around the world. Between 2011-12 twenty teachers were trained bringing them placements in schools. COMET has reached out to more than 3000 children in nearly 17 schools in Chennai and one school in Trichy. It has also reached out to children in two villages Vilvarani (T. Nadu) and Koppa (Mysore).

Recognitions from World Renowned maestros on Brhaddhvani’s contribution to the world of Music.

Pandit Ravishankar and his family visited Brhaddhvani (April 2, 2001) and witnessed the impact of the COMET music education on the student community.

“ I am deeply impressed by the new and scientific approach to the great tradition. I pray for even greater achievement for Brihaddhvnai. My heartiest congratulations to Shri Karaikudi Subramaniam for his great work” –Pandit Ravi Shankar

 “The children touched my heart!! I would lure Mr. Subramaniam to come and be associated with the centre in Delhi   – Sukanya Shankar

 I am so amazed, on once side there is so much experimentation and ground breaking work, and on the other, a preservation and promotion of our oldest traditions. I am very inspired for what we can do for our own centre in Delhi!“—Anoushka.

Lalgudi G. Jayaraman “Karaikudi Subramanian is doing what should be really done to Music and Education”

Dr. Sreepada Pinakapani

 “Dr. Karaikudi Subramanian’s contribution to Music Education is a pioneering attempt in music pedagogy. I have used his svarasthana notation in one of my publications on Pallavi singing.”

 The on-going work in music..

  • I continue to work on creating audio-visual content and notes for self-learning Karnatak music, supported and guided by COMET trained teachers. The audio part will go on line covering a wide range of learners at a global level, through the state of the art on-line portal: https://patantara.com getting developed by my son, Dr. Srikumar Subramanian, a veena player who got a Ph.D in Music Technology from the National University of Singapore- https://www.linkedin.com/in/srikumarks/?ppe=1