T Brinda is one of the most remarkable musicians in the annals of Carnatic music. Grand-daughter of the legendary vainika, Dhanammal, and daughter of Kamakshi Ammal, T Brinda was bred in the evergreen nursery of vibrant classicism in Carnatic music. She imbibed the Dhanam tradition of melody from Dhannammal and her daughters. She was the most prominent & eloquent inheritor of its grace and charm. She had absorbed enough music at home to elaborate ragas at the age of nine and at this time, she came into contact with Kanchipuram Naina Pillai.
Brinda learnt directly from the maestro in the traditional gurukulam system and, within a short span of three years, she had mastered over 300 compositions of Tyagaraja, besides various other musical forms like Tevaram-s and Tirupugazh-s. She returned home and enriched her repertoire by learning from her grandmother, the legendary Veena Dhanammal.Thus, Brinda had the best of the graceful style of Dhanammal’s music that was soft, sweet and feminine as also the fireworks-filled masculine style of Naina Pillai.
Brinda made her debut with her sister Mukta as vocal support at the Tyagaraja Festival, Kanchipuram, which was celebrated annually by Naina Pillai. Thenceforth, the Brinda-Mukta combine was a prominent duo for four decades, till Brinda’s daughter and vocalist Vegavauhini joined to sing with Brinda. Thus Brinda had, over seventy years, solid credit as a performing artiste of merit. She enjoyed a vast repertoire of krti-s, padam-s and javali-s.
Her music was full of microscopic nuances. She had a captivating voice, almost ideal for Carnatic music. It had clarity, sweetness, depth and majesty. She was in control whether she sang slow or even super slow, plain notes, or notes with oscillations, soft or loud.
She was probably the first vocalist to highlight voice modulation as a major aspect of music and it made a tremendous difference to the class of her music. Recordings of many of her contemporaries – both male and female musicians – testify to the fact that most believed in singing predominantly in their natural voices. Brinda started modulating her voice to make it sharper when she sang subtle, fast phrases in higher regions which imparted a laser beam precision and intensity to the phrases, and deeper, when she sang in the lower octaves or sustained notes with karvai-s.
This was a marked contrast to many artistes singing louder as they approached the high notes. Brinda believed that singing loudly in the higher octaves prevented clarity in the lower octaves, and moreover, was ruinous to the vocal cords in the long run. Her correct judgement and technique were evidenced in her concerts in the early 1990-s when she performed with no loss of either range or clarity even when she past 80.
One almost associated her with padam-s of Kshetragna, Sarangapani, Ghanam Krishna Iyer and others as she was undoubtedly peerless in this area. Each rendition of pieces like Moratopu (Sahana), Ninnu joochi (Punnagavarali), Rama rama (Bhairavi), Ososi (Mukhari), Tamarasaksha (Yadukulakambodhi) and Yalapadare (Begada) brought to light something one may have missed earlier and never failed to astound or refresh the listener.
Her exquisite rendition of such demanding masterpieces was due to her ability to highlight the long, plain notes with her tranquil voice and intersperse them with gems of microscopic phrases, which opened up a new world altogether. Most quality musicians adored these nuances and were inspired to incorporate them in one way or the other. Those who learnt directly from her include Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Ramnad Krishnan and M S Subbulakshmi.
But Brinda’s comfort zone was not limited to merely slow pieces such as padam-s. She could effortlessly handle fast-paced pieces like Manasa etulo (Malayamarutam), Nee muddu momu (Kamalamanohari), Vinave O Manasa (Vivardhini), Janakiramana (Shuddhaseemantini), or Chinnanadena (Kalanidhi). She sang even pieces like Pakkala nilabadi (Kharaharapriya) or Epapamu (Atana) in speeds faster than what was conventional and laced them with demanding variations.
She was was much more than a gifted artiste to whom music was as natural as breathing. She was very analytical and often discussed musical points intellectually. This enabled her to successfully hold posts such as Professor, Central College of Carnatic Music, Madras and was the Visiting Professor in University of Washington, Seattle and University of California, USA
Her titles include Sangeet Natak Academy Award – 1965, Sangeeta Kalanidhi from Music Academy, Madras – 1977, Sangeeta Sikhamani from Indian Fine Arts Society and Swaralaya Pushkaram by Swaralaya – 1992.
Above all, Brinda was a rare human being who had the strength of character to never deviate from her convictions and values for over 75 years. She represented not merely a great style of music but a great way of life.