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Meet India's Saxophone Sisters

Last updated on: August 17, 2010 08:53 IST

Blowing us away: India's Saxophone Sisters

Shobha Warrier

This twosome are making a name for themselves by virtue of their choice of instrument -- and their talent.

M S Lavanya and M S Subbalakshmi are quite different from other young musicians you meet.

Yes, they also drape themselves in silk saris and wear shining gold jewellery but they play the saxophone -- the only sisters to do so in India. There are very few women sax players around to begin with and that holds especially true in our country.

Lavanya and Subbalakshmi's musical repertoire includes Carnatic music, Hindustani, Western classical, Hindi, Tamil movie songs and jazz.

When I met them, they were just back from Tirunelveli after giving a fusion concert at a temple, where they played Carnatic classical, semi-classical, and devotional songs. "People over there were used to only traditional classical songs; our concert was a new experience to them and they enjoyed it. We started at 8 pm and ended at 11:30 pm," the sisters said.

Here is the story of how these two young women got interested in a traditionally male instrument, learned to play it from none other than Kadri Gopalnath, the most renowned saxophone player in India and came to be known as 'the Saxophone Sisters'.

Videos: Sreeram Selvaraj

Image: M S Lavanya and M S Subbalakshmi, the Saxophone Sisters


'When I saw the hall, which could accommodate around 5,000 people, all my courage left me'

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The first concert

It took three years for Lavanya to get ready for a solo concert (in 1999), at the Ganapathi Sachidananda Ashram.

"As I have seen to several of my Guruji's concerts, I knew what to play to impress the audience. But still, there was a bit of nervousness. I had prepared very well but when I saw the hall, which could accommodate around 5,000 people, all my courage left me," she says.

"Then my father asked me to close my eyes and imagine my Guruji right in front of me and sing. I did that and after two songs and with people clapping in appreciation, all my fear went away and I became more confident. When a request to sing one particular song came, I knew I had struck a chord with them."

The birth of the 'Saxophone Sisters'

Subbulakshmi joined Lavanya in 2000 -- it was their father's idea that they play together. They did so for the first time at a Mahakali temple in Mangalore.

They have only good words about Chennai. "Here, nobody cares even if you are the daughter of the Maharaja; only quality counts and we are happy that we could make a mark in Chennai. Even our first concert during the Margazhi season was appreciated and reviewed well in the newspapers. Our Guru Kadriji sat at the back and later said, "Not bad!" That itself was enough for us! After the concert, we were described as the 'Saxophone Sisters' by the media. We were not called the Saxophone Sisters in Karanataka but here we were -- and we liked it a lot!"

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'One day, I want to perform with Kenny G'

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Participating in 'India's got Talent'

It was not the intention of the sisters to participate in a reality show. Their concert on Vijay TV was sent by the co-ordinator to Mumbai and they got a call to perform for 10 minutes. "What we thought was, we were called to perform on TV. Only later did we come to know that it was a reality show. We were in a dilemma whether to participate or not but the co-ordinator of Vijay TV told us that it was a national platform and it would give us greater visibility," they say.

It did give them a lot of visibility. Today, they have invitations to perform in many small towns in the northern parts of India. The sisters have also performed in more than 16 countries all over the world.

Currently, Lavanya is learning audio engineering as she feels it will help her fine-tune their own compositions.

The sisters have only one ambition, to "follow the path of our Guruji and be good musicians."

And Lavanya has another one too -- "One day, I want to perform with Kenny G."

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