Yesterday was my annual trip to the SGBS concert at Bangalore. SGBS is the Sree Guruvayurappan Bhajana Samaj, that conducts a music festival in connection with Gokulashtami every year in the Odukkathur Mutt, in Ulsoor, Bangalore. This year they finally kicked off their new Unnati Centre and concerts were shifted to the new venue. The venue is a very nicely built acoustically suitable auditorium. The mic systems were good and we hardly had any problems. My only personal grouse was that the ceiling could have been higher than the 16 feet they had allotted. But then there so many other constraints to consider I guess.
Ramesh Swamy, the chief architect and driving force behind the SGBS is an old friend of mine. We have enjoyed a long relationship and I have been singing quite regularly at his festival. I still remember more than 10 years ago when he called met to ask me to sing as a replacement for Trichur Ramachandran, who had to opt out. It was my wedding anniversary and I was reluctant to travel. But he agreed to get my wife also along with me. The concert was even more memorable because it was the first concert that Nagai Muralidharan accompanied me. I called him the previous night and told him that it would be an honour to perform with him. His first response to me was "You remind me of S Kalyanaraman so much!" What more could I have asked for!
Anyway the venue has a lot of teething problems and things should get sorted out in the coming years. The first of course is the bad quality of the approach roads and the rain did not help things yesterday. Secondly like a lot of newly built venues it takes time for people to warm up and generate the kind of buzz and ambience that one is used at the SGBS venue in Ulsoor. This will happen in due course so it is not good to compare the two at the moment. For instance when the Narada Gana sabha was inaugurated it had a similar problem and people were unfairly comparing it to the Music Academy. Over time the place has managed to create its own ambience and acquired a character that is quite unique making it one of the premier concert venues in Chennai. Similarly I am sure the Unnati centre with sustained exposure to music concerts will gradually acquire an identifiable character and artistes and rasikas will start enjoying it much more.
Of course I am not taking anything away from yesterday's experience on the other hand. It was great and the numbers that turned up inspite of the nightmarish traffic and rain was so encouraging. I was not happy to stop after singing for 3 hours and 15 minutes! As I was just getting on to stage I joked with Ramesh Swamy's dad that I will not allow Ramesh to make his customary speech if he did not arrive in time when I started the varnam. As I began the Reetigowla varnam I was happy to see Ramesh stroll in! As the concert progressed and I was ending the main alapana there was movement in the audience as a couple of women took on a plate to pass it around for contributions. This is a huge distraction to the musicians on stage. This is more so in a compact environment like yesterday's. I am used to this in the old SGBS venue but then there is a very open feel to the place and the temple atmosphere also helps. So one is not bothered as much. But here the distraction a bit more. I hope Ramesh can look at putting 7 or 8 contribution boxes around the hall and people take the cue rather taking out the plate right in the middle of the concert.
The next was the interruption for the vote of thanks. Ramesh has a reputation of extending it to almost 20 minutes sometimes. I always feel that this really brings down the tempo of the concert and calls for a substantial effort to get it back on track especially if one wants to sing an RTP. I am happy if this is done after the pallavi. I actually had an extended conversation and succeeded in getting Ramesh to postpone his speech. The net result was that some sponsors who were waiting had to leave. My suggestion would be to honour sponsors in the beginning of the concert itself. And please allow me to finish my RTP before you can start your speeches. Semmangudi once told me that he had a deal with Palghat Mani Iyer. The tani avartanam would normally not take more than 10-12 minutes. He felt that his voice would get dry and he found it difficult to get it back on track quickly. That was why Mani Iyer also played a second tani after the pallavi. I am not making an appeal to mrudangam artistes to shorten their tani. I am only appealing to organizers to shorten their speechifyings!!!
Overall I am so happy that Ramesh has got his dream project running. He is an avid music enthusiast and has been working tirelessly for many many years. I have stayed at his place on numerous occasions and the entire family including his wife Valli, children and parents treat the whole festival as a family function. I am sure Unnati will take off to greater heights and I personally am looking forward to my annual performance for the SGBS at the new venue. An email I received this morning from a friend who was at the concert sums things up "don't you love the gentleman Ramesh Swamy; i looked him up in the dictionary and he was listed under kindness!"