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Articles on Carnatic Music

Music Season
by P.V.Gopalakrishnan

(This is the fifth of our article entries. Here we will print several entries to our article contest for your benefit.)

Come December, the city of Chennai goes agog with the flavour of classical music. Thanks to the tradition established by the three-quarter century old & much revered Music Institutions, the city has been hosting strings of classical concerts, both vocal & instrumental, during this time of the year, right from the colonial times. This time-set seems apt considering the Tamil month of Margazhi, besides the less unkindly weather of Chennai at this time. It has become a sort of heritage related to Chennai. Indeed, there is an air of celebration in this December month on account of Music season.

Gone are the days when just a handful of Institutions conducted these music series. Now they are dozens of them, each featuring almost all the favourite musicians.

Music season is the time to realise, how important are the sabha secretaries. The levels of influence this tribe commands is awesome. The more visible the sabha is in terms of its visibility & standing, greater is their importance.

To begin with, one has to endure the nightmarish parking problems at most of the music venues, with almost every one having a car. The parking attendants who facilitate (at least, they think so) parking make a mess of it all. Some beat this by sprinting in by an “auto”, with their silk sarees & hair locks fluttering in the sultry evening breeze.

The event managers connected with launch of a swanky automobile or cell phone or Internet product do not discount the venue of a concert hall too. In fact, these days the concert halls are the "in" place to promote these! And you find colourful banners of many corporate houses as sponsors, which give a physical ambience of festivity.

I have even seen some doormen at the concert halls even pick up quarrels with the attending rasikas about the seating, unmindful of the concert in progress.

Some times ‘Attention to details’ is lacking regarding the on-stage seating arrangement of the performers at some halls, making one or more accompanying artistes invisible for the audience. It is not understandable as to why some sabhas allow people, other than performers & their aides, to squat on the dias. This surely spoils the stage ambiance.

NRIs descending into Chennai, women folk displaying their collection of Kanjeevarams & other fineries, exchanging of notes on classical music knowledge all happen at this time. Added attractions of these concert halls are the much-publicized canteens, doling out mouth-watering Lemon Sevais & Jilebis. These canteens seem to under-write a minimum attendance even for a not-so popular concert.

It is, indeed, heartening to note that these concerts, which mostly used to draw the upper age brackets only in the bygone days, are now filled with liberal sprinkling of younger audience.

From ardent Music pundits, who could pat mishra chapu talam without missing a beat on their laps, to the "not-so-sure-of-the-raga" categories to kurta-clad westerners, you can spot a variety of audience at these concerts.

The latecomers to the concert not only disturb those seated but also affect the performers by distracting their concentration. Some critically discuss the previous day's concert while the current concert is on. Some even bring the day's issue of newspapers & convert the hall into a de facto library, not realising the insult made to the artistes. Besides, the intermittent rustle of the paper as they turn the pages is quite annoying. The cell phones with their mesmerizing ring-tones are another source of nuisance to any one wanting to concentrate on the performance, as there are quite a few unmindful people who breeze in without putting them in silent mode.

And, there is this thani avarthanam when the percussionists vie with each other in demonstrating their best talents, but invariably treated as a recess to slip out by many.

All these seem not to affect the genuine lover of music. Many of them turn out with handy reference books on ragas and do not fail to confirm the raga of the piece being rendered. They know when to clap or which way to nod their heads, which are promptly pirated by the adjoiningly seated "not-so-sure" rasikas too. It is also amusing to see audience clutching various paraphernalia such as shawls, feeding bottles and even insulin kit etc entering the auditorium. It is indeed amusing to sit back & watch all this variety of humanity. Of course, it is their commitment that matters to the art form itself!

Talking of concert planning, the performers also should do better home work so as to avoid long alapanas at the fag end of the concert, when the audience had already reached the peak of sitting fatigue.

With these observations, as each music season drawing to a close, rasikas look forward to another bout of the music season coming up next year, despite the oddities they go through as detailed above!

P.V.Gopalakrishnan is a sixty one year old Chartered Accountant working in Dubai in a senior management position & a deep lover of Carnatic music.

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updated on 08/23/2006