Art to this man, knows no bounds. He sings, dances, plays the gambus and reads poetry. To top all of that, Hariraam Tingyuan Lam has made a name for himself thanks to his remarkable violin skills.
The Varnam team caught up with the fiddler for a quick chat on culture, music and his newfound role in the arts, teaching.
Of the many fields of art that he’s dipped his feet in, Hariraam fondly known as Hari, divulges where his heart is, “Music is what resonates with me, I am on the violin most of the time. If the composer wants me to sing or play the gambus, then I’ll gladly do that as well,” he says. “I’m definitely in a good place because I can do a few things other than just play the violin,”
Google Hari’s name and you’ll be greeted with a picture of the Temple of Fine Arts (TFA), Kuala Lumpur. “I was pretty much raised in TFA from the age of 1. My mum, Geetha Shankaran Lam, headed the Odissi department. While my dad, Lam Ghooi Ket worked in advertising, but he was very much into theatre. He would often help out with scripts and direction of the plays we put out,”
“So I grew up in this atmosphere of the arts, subconsciously absorbing all that was around.”
Hari was cajoled into picking up dance by his parents, he says, “Most bharatanatyam dancers start at the age of 4, but I only started at 9. My parents said, pick up dance, and we’ll let you choose something you’d like to do,” Hari picked the violin.
He learnt the instrument under the guidance of Shrimathi Kanagamani Vijayendra, the senior violin teacher in the Temple of Fine Arts.
Today, 20 years later, Hari still goes for classes with his teacher, and is currently under the tutelage of Carnatic violin Maestro, Shri Lalgudi GJR Krishnan of Chennai, India.
“Here in Malaysia, for most, education is about a certificate. Of course, it is on one level, but the way I look at education in the arts – there’s no end to it. Our growth as a musician is never stagnant, and that is so important,” he says.
A career in music
Hari doesn’t have a romantic story about how he always wanted to do music for a living. “In secondary school, I had set my mind on doing mechanical engineering,”
“Just before SPM, I chanced upon the brochure of a music program in a local university. I showed this to my parents and they were like, why don’t you pursue music? The logic was that I had spent many years practicing it, why not go in that direction. And you know, I have never looked back since,”
While being a full time musician in Malaysia isn’t easy, Hari’s views are rather unique, “In every career we have those moments where we question ourselves. The same goes to the arts,”
“In every career we have those moments where we question ourselves,”
“At the end of the day, hen I look at what I’m doing, I don’t think I would be any happier if I wasn’t in music. This is something that is so close to my heart,”
From student to teacher
Hari now has taken on a new role in the arts, as a teacher. “Going from student to teacher was an incredible experience. What keeps me going is how I can share my passion for the arts with my students,”
The fiddler quickly realised that there is a difference in mindset and values with teaching in this day and age. “During the 90s, the training method was parent says this and you do it, no questions asked. Of course, there weren’t as many resources, so people had to just go out and look for information. This, however, resulted in valuing that information because of the time spent on it, so teaching methods were stricter,”
“Today, the teaching methods and the challenges are different. Resources are now everywhere and free,”
“The important message my teacher had for me when I began teaching was this – teach to develop your understanding of the work. True enough, I have gained a lot by teaching, and I continue to learn, with every class,”
“I have gained a lot by teaching, and I continue to learn, with every class,”
To those adults who are tinkering with the idea of picking up an instrument, Hari has this to say, “Please go ahead and learn. My oldest students are in their sixties and they are doing really well. If you are able to find the satisfaction, then you’re in a good place. Don’t let the age thing bug you, you are never too old,”
Creating magic with the best in music and dance
Performing alongside talented musicians is nothing new to Hari. He has shared a stage with renowned Malaysian sitarist Samuel J Dass. Both Hari and Samuel as well as Santosh Logandran, Prakash Kandasamy, Marco Alonso and Elizer Enan make up Swarasia, the indo-western fusion band.
“I hold many of these arts pioneers with much regard. I grew up watching and listening to them, and to be welcomed into their fold and to learn something from them, it does overwhelm me at times,” Hari admits
“In times like those, I remember my teacher’s words. Don’t forget your roots. Be humble and don’t let other influences taken on,” Hari says. “I am grateful for my teachers, parents, peers and friends,”
Hari, along with 7 other male dancers performed at the Darbar Festival in London, with famed Malaysian bharatanatyam dancer, Mavin Khoo. “Mavin annae wanted to work with an ensemble of male dancers with an orchestra of women, because you know, bharatanatyam is usually the opposite,”
“We had to start 6 months ahead, and it was grueling, to say the least. I mean, I had stopped dancing 8 years ago! There was a lot of physical pain and emotion involved during the practice sessions,” Hari recalls.
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The truth behind my long absence… For the past 7 months, we have been working under the guidance of dance exponent, @mavin_khoo , who has been instrumental in bringing the entire team together, to present an intense, physically and mentally demanding, spiritual experience for this year’s Darbar Festival at Sadlers Wells, London. Truly a memorable experience just being here, and having THE Akram Khan grace us with his presence, who shared his thoughts and inspired us with his insight and artistry, and most of all, his humility towards the arts and those with him. I had the pleasure of playing in Mavin annes Abhinaya workshop, alongside @chitra_poornima , and we met the mrdangam and Konnakol maestro, Shri BC Manjunath Sir who was here conducting an exciting workshop for the dancers and participants. Tomorrow is the show day, the opening night… And we have been blessed to have our Gurus, Vasuki teacher and Umesh anne, supervise us and train us till this point… and our friends from TFA join us on this journey…
“But at the end of it, being in London and meeting artists like Akram Khan and others whom I had only admired through social media, that was an indescribable feeling. It really justified my feelings towards performing arts. The show went really well, and the audience was in awe of the whole presentation. I am really grateful to Mavin annae and our Gurus, Vasuki teacher and Umesh annae,”
The sense of professionalism coupled with empathy was something that struck Hari when he was with his peers in London. “What really amazed me was the whole working process, everybody’s respect for each other, and how everyone’s role was equally important. It wasn’t something that was forced upon us and you know, feeling like its all right to mess up. We had such a good time leaning from them and just being,”
What lies ahead
“I have been working with some of my violin students establish a good string ensemble,” Hari tells us. “Right now, I’m working towards developing a Carnatic violin string ensemble with my students, with the hopes of creating an orchestra someday. This is my long term goal,”
I’m working towards developing a Carnatic violin string ensemble with my students, with the hopes of creating an orchestra someday.
Composing is on his radar too. “Often I look at musicians in India who are doing so much, making use of their talents in unique ways, to the point that it is garnering a lot of attention from the West. I want to do this in my own way, and express myself through music. I would love to to compose my own work, and present Indian classical music in a fresh way,”
“I feel like it is my responsibility to see how far I can go, and to contribute to the Malaysian arts scene,” he says. “Ultimately, I want to bring carnatic music to our Malaysian audiences,” We cannot wait, Hari!
Keep up with Hari on Instagram here.