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Bengaluru memories of the saxophone great

Just as Mandolin Shrinivas took up a foreign instrument to make it work for the nuances of Carnatic music, Kadri Gopalnath Indianised saxophone to perfection.

Back in 2014, he had shared his instrument’s 100th birthday with The Hindu. Looking lovingly at the Belgian instrument he played on, manufactured in 1914, he had told this reporter, “You think Adolphe Sax [credited with inventing the instrument] would have ever imagined that this would be hailed in India on a Carnatic platform? I am thankful to the great man.” The manufacture date was embossed on the German silver Cannonball saxophone.

The antique musical instrument was bought in a store in South Carolina in the U.S. in 2010 and Kadri seemed especially happy as the instrument’s master-craftsman had brought a narrow piped bore that enabled the finer gradations of the Indian classical music with precision. “My blow and press for oscillations gets half easier with the accuracy of its 26-key and pad placement. I save on my energy,” he had said.

The earlier alto sax he used for five decades had a bass that most violinists struggled to match with the deep tenor. The spaced out keys and the wider pipe were also modified as the lung power needed was immense. “I also altered the pads and fastened some keys with rubber strips to suit the gamakas and violin accompaniment,” he had explained.

Bengaluru will miss him

A regular in Bengaluru’s Carnatic music circuit, Gopalnath will be missed here. “It was less than two weeks ago that Kadri had called me to say that he wanted a mid-series Ramanavami cutcheri date as he wished to play four hours for Lord Rama,” said S.N. Varadaraj, general secretary of the Chamarajpet Ramaseva Mandali. “My father S.V. Narayanaswamy Rao had introduced Kadri as a 15-year-old youth to Bengaluru audiences in the mid-1960s. It was from then on that Kadri has had nearly 55 cutcheri’s in our Mandali and he loved the open air concert that suited his instrument,” said Mr. Varadaraj.

Gopalnath was the most wanted guru as he was the only exponent in India, says Morsing Rajashekar, son of the veteran morsing expert Bheemachar. Mr. Rajashekar, who has been playing with him from 1989, says, “He had nearly 100 students in India, US, Canada and parts of Europe and he would conduct Skype classes to many.”

Gopalnath’s last public concert was at the Bangalore Gayana Samaja when he was honoured with “Nadashri” award for his lifetime achievements at Vadhya Vaibhava-2019. “Apart from many Devaranamas he took up raga Kalyana Vasantha, which we have in our records as his last Bengaluru concert,” says Dr. MRV Prasad, president, Gayana Samaja.

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