Yatha Sabha, tatha Rasika; Yatha Rasika; tatha Sabha – Chennai Music Season – Dec. 2017 – Post 1

‘Yatha Sabha, Tatha Rasika; Yatha Rasika, Tatha Sabha’

If you click on the link called http://www.musicacademymadras.in, what would you expect to see, first thing? As an ordinary music rasika, you would love to see a link called ‘Tickets’ or ‘How to buy?’ or ‘How to attend concerts?’. Try your luck. May be, I am a novice and I do not know how to navigate the site and find it.

I was told that daily tickets would be sold only on the morning of the concert and tat too, you have to queue up like one does for Wimbledon, early in the morning. But, in Wimbledon, there are other avenues to get tickets – through Tennis Clubs, through a lottery, by buying Wimbledon debentures, etc. Then, you can also go online every day at 9 AM (UK time) and rely on your computer and connection speed to get some daily tickets. I did that in 2015 and got tickets. It was not difficult nor was it exorbitant. Try any of that with the Chennai Music Academy, hosting its 91st Annual Music Conference and Concerts. Most of the donor members and patron members do not show up for concerts especially if they are by artists who are not from within the radius of few miles from the Music Academy. Those seats are empty while, outside, many Rasikas are probably turned away because the daily tickets are ostensibly sold out.

Lest anyone think that I am singling out the venerable Music Academy of Chennai, I must hasten to add that they are probably one of the better ones. Another Sabha continues to hold its annual December performances in a marriage hall. Another one has remodelled it for enhancing dance and drama performances but continues to insist on classical music concerts there too with a result that one hardly sees the artists (because they are seated deep inside the bowels of the stage) or hears them. The audience is in total darkness – an atmosphere conducive for sleeping and not listening to music.

Most of the Sabhas think that they are doing a favour to the artists, to the Rasikas by holding these annual music and dance festivals. The idea that they are selling an experience to the audience is missing from their behaviour. Chennai Music Sabhas are stuck in a time-warp.

However, just as the saying ‘Yatha Raja, Tatha Praja’, the same goes for music. ‘Yatha Sabha, tatha Rasika’. They are educated and usually belong to the middle class or above.

The amount of movement that one encounters and chatter that one hears is not funny. A not-so-old man sitting in my row insisted on explaining everything to the lady next seat – a doctor, whose eighty-year old father was doing the same before he disappeared into the canteen or the rest room for a long time. Mamas and Mamis do not know how to put their smartphones in silent mode. You will be lucky to listen to the music in between.

There is also the habit of seating rasikas on the dais. At one level, it is nice. At another level, there should be some decorum for the rasikas sitting there. They should not distract the artists. There can be an age limit for those who get in there. Last evening, during the concert by ‘Bombay’ Jayashri, a young boy kept moving around the dais. Thank God, Jayashri did not notice it.

Then, there is the habit of the rasikas walking in at 6:00 PM for the concert of their favourite artists at 6:45. The artist who has been singing and the rasikas who came to listen to him from 4:00 PM be damned. These people are out to get the best seats for their favourite Chennai artist. In the meantime, if the Rasika enjoying the concert of his or her favourite artist, how does it matter to me? The slot at 4:00 PM is for outstanding outstation artists. For all they care, for the Chennai rasikas, those artists do not really matter. I am exaggerating on this aspect but only a bit.

There should not be such unlimited arbitrary entries. Music is meditation. South Indian Classical Music was in praise of the Almighty. It is not casual entertainment in one’s dining room to walk in and walk out, at will. The Rasikas must show some respect to the artist, the composition, the composer and the performance. The artists too must render the composition not just with technical accomplishment (necessary condition) but also with bhava, bhakti and dedication (also necessary conditions).

An old friend (still a good friend) whom I ran into at the Music Academy told me that this is all part of the manner in which the ‘Mylapore Mafia’ enjoyed its music and that the artists expect it and are used to it. Well, Sir, my friend, I do not buy that. This is an excuse born out of the twin tyrannies of habit and laziness.

No matter how expensive one’s saree or trouser is, it will be trampled upon because the Music Academy in Chennai has taken it upon itself to play the ego-leveller by ensuring that anyone and everyone can and will (or, will have to) trample upon the feet and the dress of those seated if they have to leave. There is no gap between rows to exit with dignity. Nor has this inconvenience prevented the Rasikas from attempting to leave and enter at will.

One must not be churlish, however. The Music Academy does two things well. One, it starts and ends concerts on time. No quarter given to anyone. Praiseworthy. Second, they have put in some effort in maintaining the cleanliness in toilets. There is a strict request to the users to keep the toilet seat dry but that is unheeded. Pity.

In case you are wondering why Indian voters elect the kind of leaders they do, look no further than the behaviour of the Chennai Music Season Rasikas.

Chennai music season 2016 – final missive

December 29, 2016 was the last day of the season for me and for my wife. We were returning to Singapore on December 30. We had packed the day with programmes to attend. It ended up as a day of attending lecture-demonstrations rather than performances. Overall, no complaints about the programmes but about the venues, yes.

First, thanks to light traffic, we reached Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha earlier than we thought. So, we caught more than half of Dr. Radha Baskar’s lec.-dem. On Thiagarajar compositions. She was assisted by two good and young singers. Dr. Baskar was an accomplished speaker.

From my notes, I find three interesting things to mention here:

(1) On ‘Sankatis’ – note the difference between ‘Ada Modi Galade’ vs. Marukelara, O! Raghava. Her singer Sangita did a good job of differentiating the Sankatis in both the kritis.

(2) Entharo Mahanubhavulu – begins in the little finger (not that I know the significance)

(3) Saint Thiagaraja composed one Notu Swara based Kriti – just to show that he was capable of doing so, too.

She kept saying that one should not belittle Shri. Thiagaraja Swamigal by calling him a saint?!! She wanted to say that he had a very good aesthetic and artistic sense and that he had not renounced those as saints do. One gets the point. But, to say that one should not belittle him by calling him a saint is a bit ludicrous. ‘Sainthood’ is not a demotion. It is an exalted state. One should prepare the script carefully to avoid such bizarre statements.

Next, in the same venue, was the topic, ‘Vainava Abhimana Sthalangal’, jointly presented by Dr. Sudha Seshaiyan and Ms. Vasundhara Rajagopal. Last season (December 2015), the singer, Vasundara Rajagopal had offered a great programme ‘Nava Vidha Ramanayanam’ with Sri Srinidhi Swamigal. It was a memorable programme.

Dr. Sudha Seshaiyan is very knowledgeable, thorough and accomplished. Her diction and delivery are flawless. But, she lacked a bit of life. The programme was about Vaishnava Temples not sung by the Azhwaars. The duo took us through Bhadrachalam, Udupi, Guruvayoor, Mannargudi, Puri and Pandaripuram.

Most of us know of only the Sri Udupi Krishnan Temple. Well, I was referring to myself. Dr. Seshaiyan told us about the Sri Chandramowliswarar Temple and the Sri Anantheshwarar Temple there.

About Mannargudi, she mentioned that the temple had an area of 36 acres of which 23 acres was the area of the Temple tank! The Temple has 16 towers, 18 Gopurams, 7 Praharams and 24 Sannidhis.

Then, we had the choice of attending Shertalai Shri. Ranganatha Sharma at the same venue at 4 and Sri. Ramakrishnan Murthy at the Music Academy at 6:45. These were the two musicians who impressed me in the 2016 season and it would have been an apt finish to the season for me. But, we chose to attend the three-hour long lecture-demonstration by Shri. R.K. Shriramkumar on those who inspired saint Thiagaraja. 2017 is the 250th year of his birth.

Shriramkumar had done meticulous research. He was assisted by three good singers – Amrita Murali, Nisha Rajagopal and K. Gayatri (was there a fourth one?) and Arun Prakash on the Mrdangam.

I may not have taken down notes meticulously. But, this is what I have. The songs that accompanied the commentary are in brackets:

  • St. Thiagarja considered sage Narada as his Guru. (Shri Narada- Kanada – Rupaka Talam)
  • His second influence was sage Valmiki (Maa Janaki – Khamboji)
  • His third inspiration was Bodhana who translated/re-composed Bhagavatam in Telugu. A copy is available in the Sourashtra Library in Madurai.
  • His inspiration came from Tulsi Das Ramayana (Giripai – Sahana)
  • Influence of Sri Purandaradasa on Thiagaraja (esp. for Nindastuti)
  • Influence of Bhadrachala Ramadas was substantial. He praises Ramadas in several compositions.
  • The influence of Sri Narayana Theerthar (the author of the Sanskrit opera, ‘Krishna Leela Tharangini’) was evident in the two operas that Saint Thiagaraja composed – Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka Charitam.
  • Next, Shriramkumar mentioned Sri. Upanishad Brahman also known as Sri Ramachandreswara Saraswati. He was a close associate of Sri. Thiagaraja’s father.
  • I do not know if Shriramkumar said that he was the inspiration for Saint Thiagaraja to compose Divyanama Sankeertanams for congregational singing. But, it is there in my notes!
  • RKS mentioned that ‘Rama-ashtapati’ of Upanishad Brahman was set to tune by Sri. Muthuswami Dikshitar but that the tune was lost.

I found this on the web:

One of the oldest Mutts in TamilNadu is the Upanishad Brahman Mutt in Kanchipuram, near the Sri Kailasanathar temple. The Mutt derives its name from Upanishad Brahmayogin or Upanishad Brahmendral or Sri Ramachandrandra Saraswathi. He is called by the name of Upanishad Brahmayogin since he wrote commentaries on all the 108 upanishads of Hinduism in deference to the wishes of his father. The commentaries are now preserved in the Chennai Adayar Manuscripts Library. He had written close to 45,000 granthas and two other books covering various aspects of Advaita Vedanta and Bhakti.

(Ref: http://www.columbuslost.com/temples/Upanishad-Brahmendra-Mutt-and-Maha-Samadhi-Temple-in-Kanchipuram/info).

Incidentally, just as Columbus discovered the land of America, I discovered the site, ‘Columbuslost.com’. Check it out!

  • Kshetraiya Padams influenced many Sankatis in O’ Rangasayee and Pakkala Nilapadi.
  • Naada Thanum Anisham is the essence of the Mangala Shloka in Sangeeta Ratnakara.

By 8:30 PM, it had commenced at 5:30 PM, the programme had not ended. We had to leave. RKS has done tremendous work for this programme. His hard work and sincerity were amply evident. With some editing, it would be a good programme to repeat.

Back in Singapore, I listened to V. Sriram’s lecture on Saint Thiagaraja given in May 2016. Naturally, it had many common elements with RKS’ programme. It is available in Charsur.

After listening to that lecture, one could not help thinking that any other country would have nourished and cherished Tanjore city as the cultural capital of Southern India. It would and should have been made the destination city for cultural connoisseurs from all over the world. V. Sriram spends a few minutes on the Tippu Sultan invasion and the havoc and harm it wrought on the Tanjore region, including on art and culture.

Something has to be said about the NGS Mini hall. It is one of the most unsuitable halls for performance. It has only one door to enter and exit.

Our Rasikas are mostly impatient. They keep moving constantly. There is no stillness. Music is for stillness, mostly. The doors make noise. Chatting is going on in the corridor. When the door opens, the chatting drowns out the performance. The air-conditioning is either too cold, when it is on, and it feels too warm, when it is turned off, because there is no natural ventilation. The audio system is too loud if one sits in the front and if one stays back, then these swinging doors and conversations mar the experience.

The experience in most concert halls is more or less similar. There is no satisfying musical experience. From the manner in which the tickets are sold (or, not sold) and Rasikas checked in to the audio systems to the toilet facilities to temperature control in the halls, etc., there is a lot of scope for improvement. I am being polite here.

There is no concept of enhancing the Rasikas’ experience. Despite this, if we are able to glimpse divinity here and there, it speaks to the innate energy and divinity of the art and some of the artists who have imbibed the spirit of the art. The Sabhas can take no credit for it.

But, all that being said, for us, Chennai and its music season remain the biggest draw in December. We cannot conceive of being in any other place at that time of the year. After 12 concerts and 10 lecture-demonstrations, we are still hungry and insatiate. God willing, we will be back for more next year.

Chennai music season – Part 1

I arrived in Chennai on Dec. 17.

On 18th, I began my attendance at the Chennai Music festival by listening to Tiruchur Brothers for 40 minutes at the Music Academy.

Then, I went over to the Sri Parthasarathi Swami Sabha to listen to Nirmala Rajasekhar play the veena. Despite all the troubles with the mike, she gave a vivacious and memorable concert. Her violinist Padma Shankar was brilliant. Shri ‘Tanjore’ Murugabhupathi was a lovely source of support. The ‘Kanjira’ Vidwan too was energetic. Overall, a wholesome concert.

Next was Malladi Brothers. It was good. Ravikumar’s Kalyani Alapana was nice and deep. They sang a krithi by Nallan Chakravarti Krishnaswami who had served in AIR Vijayawada for fifty years. It was a lovely krithi in praise of the Ambaal, in Sanskrit, I thought.  They praised the man as some one who knew the Sastras well – Meemaamsa, Vyakaranam, Sanskrit, etc.

Still, I feel that the Malladi Brothers need a second wind.

Next morning (19.12), it was the lecture demo by Shri. Sriram Parasuram on the Raaga Thodi. It was fabulous. He is a wonderful musicologist and a great teacher and communicator. Regardless of how ignorant we are, at the end of his lecture, we feel that we have learnt a lot. That is a tribute to his skill, knowledge and communication.

The concert that followed the lec-dem was by R. Suryaprakash. It was forgettable, despite the best efforts of M.A. Sundaresan on the violin and Thiruvaroor Bhaktavatsalam on the Mrdangam. Then, it was time for lunch with friends and a snooze at my sister’s place.

We had a lovely concert at 4 PM by Shri. ‘Shertalai’ Ranganatha Sharma, accompanied by J. Vaidyanathan on the Mrdangam and B.U. Ganesh Prasad on the violin. It was a lovely unhurried concert with ‘O Rangasayee’ as the main piece and before that, was ‘Ennadum Urage’ in Shubapantuvarali. JV was very correct in his percussion support. Never tried to outdo the main artist. I was not happy I had to leave slightly early to catch Ranjani -Gayatri at Brahma Gaana Sabha for a 6:00 PM concert.

They are popular artists and they have seldom disappointed me. But, today, when I left the concert hall at 9:00 PM, I did not have that wholesome feeling. More applause than before and more singing for the applause now. They are at their peak now. It is not the time to go ‘long’.

20.12 was day-off from concerts, to write the MINT column and catch up with other work.

21.12 and 22.12 in Delhi to bring daughter to Chennai. Haze and pollution were too bad when I was there.

23.12 (Wed.) back to the concert circuit. It was V. Shankar Narayanan’s lec.-dem on Vivadi Raagas. He is a personal friend.  We enjoyed his kritis and his witty explanations of Vivadi Raagas and Swaras. Come to think of it, artists use Janya Raagas more than they use Mela Karta raagas (e.g, Needhimathi, Raagavardhini, Chalanattai, Senapati, Soolini). Udupi Srijit was lovely on the violin. He is the third of the three brothers who are into Carnatic Classical Music (http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/pots-of-music/article3892762.ece). The family is blessed.

Then, we stayed back for the 4:00 PM concert solo-vocal by Dr. Sriram Parasuram. It was Pradosham day. Hence, even though the platform was provided by Sri. Parthasarathi Swami Sabha, he started with ‘Thevaaram’ (‘Piththaa Pirai Soodi’). He used Kumadakriya (‘Ardhanaareeswaram’) and the main piece was in Shankarabaranam.

His keertana by Akka Mahadevi on Mallikarjuna Swami rendered in Pahadi was moving as was his Abhang that followed. In my view, he has the best Abang rendition. You are swaying spontaneously.

We ended the day with a visit to the Shri. Kapaleeswarar Temple in Mylapore. Lovely to listen to a Tamil discourse, Vedic chanting and the rendering of ‘Siva Puranaam’. We sat down and recited it with them and left for home.

On 24.12, I went for a lec.-dem on Nandi and Percussion. I was left by 75 minutes. I had only 45 minutes. But, I did not have to regret it. The artist, a lovely old man (Thiruvidaimarudur Radhakrishnan) was not really up to it. His vocal support, Vaikom Jayachandran had a great voice but mispronounced நெஞ்சே as நஞ்சே (that means not heart but poison).

Then, I came to Narada Gana Sabha for the 4:00 PM concert by Sanjay Subramanian. He has received the ‘Sangita Kalanidhi’ from the Music Academy this year. The hall was full. He did not disappoint. He took some time to settle down. But, once he sang a kriti in Atana he hit full stride. Then, came the main piece in Thodi which was also RTP and then some lovely Tamil Viruththams. Both the vocalist and the violinist excelled in their Thodi Raaga Aalaapana and in the Thaanam that followed. It was quite mesmerising. S. Varadarajan on the violin was more than a match for Sanjay and drew more applause than Sanjay on occasions. Quite deservedly so. Neyveli Venkatesh did not over do it on the Mrdangam. Good for him.

Overall, it has been a good season of listening for me, so far.

I personally think that it was right to go ahead with the season. Kalki magazine has a good lead article on it in its issue dated 27th December. TM Krishna had not been pleased that the season has gone ahead. He thinks that it is insensitive.  I think one could be sensitive and still go about the normal pattern of living. Nothing else has stopped in Chennai. It is a personal choice. The instituions have done well to go ahead.

It was good to read in Kalki, however, that TM Krishna had trained some young children in singing Shri. Muthuswami Dikshitar’s short krithis in Sanskrit.

If you have artists to suggest, I would be grateful. I am told that Bharati Ramasubban (vocal) and J.A. Jayant (flute) are to be watched.

The little we heard of Apoorva-Anahita sisters was promising.

Another update or two later.