Saturday, November 29, 2008

Header blacked out as protest

Upon advice from Sathyanarain I am just blacking out the header of my blog as a protest against the terrorist attack on Mumbai. Let us all do this!

Is it the mad season?

In the late eighties the Sruti magazine began a campaign labeling the music season in madras as the "Mad Mad Mad Season." Till this day it continues to view the music season as an exercise in madness with the volume of concerts increasing so much without a corresponding increase in rasikas. How mad is the music season. Aren't people looking forward to it so much that it is not as mad as it has been made out to be? Here is my personal take on the same. For years we have seen the steady increase in the number of organisations and sabhas promoting music and having festivals during the month of December. We musicians have also seen the increase in the number of concerts that we perform in December. While the mainstream media as well as rasikas debate about the problems the season throws up I would just look at the positive side of things in this post.

1. It is the singular most looked forward to event in the carnatic music world. Much like a world cup that is held once in 4 years or the Wimbledon championships that happen every year in June, December is very very significant.

2. An event of this magnitude can never grow to its current proportions if there wasn't support from the public. This really means that the people have spoken! They throng the concert halls and create the atmosphere that we have all experienced and look forward to every year. Most of the major sabhas especially during the period of 20th - 31st December do draw huge crowds for the premier performances. Yes there are a lot of other concerts that do not get a crowd but so what. When I first sang in 1987 in Kalarasna I had a record audience of 21! But then 21 people brought in 81 in 1988 and we did not even have our photographs printed on the newspaper back then. Newspaper reviews in the Hindu for instance did not carry photographs of carnatic musicians till the early nineties. The power of the 'word of mouth' is such that a good performance will immediately create attention around the city.

3. Season is also financially very successful. Sponsorship money comes in. Corporates are looking to cash in on the publicity that is generated at a fraction of the cost they would have to incur for a single 20-20 game. Musicians also benefit with more concerts and hence more money, so I am not complaining there.

4. Media and its obsession to sensationalise everything is a big plus especially for the 'young and upcoming' as well as the 'old and downgoing' crop. A number of younger musicians can just have their say, get themselves written about and have their pictures plastered hoping that it will help accelerate their success. While their performance on stage will be the final factor to decide, this will definitely give them a big push initially that needs to be capitalised. On the other side of things there are a number of fading seniors who can again go to the media with stories of nostalgia, decry the current state of music and say that they still have something to offer and try and revive a failing career.

5. Chennai traffic can be a nightmare. The once famous internal bus system is not exactly preferred the way it used to be especially for attending concerts. Urbanisation and extended suburbs are making it difficult for rasikas to make the trips to Mylapore and T Nagar every day during the season. This where the localised sabhas have got into the act seizing an opportunity to recreate the season magic in their own locality. Tiruvanmiyur, Villivakkam, anna Nagar, Nanganallur, Chrompet, KK Nagar have all managed to draw their own crowds for concerts.

6. Television, especially Jaya TV with its Margazhi Utsavam is also hyping up the season in a big away. All the news channels are scouring the sabhas to get a 'byte' from musicians or rasikas. Internet sites and blogs are flooding the web with information. More and more artists are joining the blogging bandwagon to 'connect' with the rasikas. People use cell phones and mp3 recorders to save and upload stuff like pictures, audio and video.

All this points to a great music season all round. Even as Mumbai slowly picks itself up yet again after the innumerable attacks on its flourishing life, we in more sober Chennai hope the rains will stop soon so that we can welcome our own special music season! Here's to another great music season!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Season Curtain raiser

As December 1st approaches the media in Chennai gears up with curtain raisers etc. Here is a typical list of questions asked by journalists.

1. Is the season very special to musicians?
2. What will be the highlights in your concerts this year?
3. What is your favorite venue?
4. Are concerts in the season different to others?
5. Do you think more youngsters are attending the concerts these days?
6. Is there an overdose of music in Chennai during the season? Could it not be cut down and staggered throughout the year?
7. How do you take care of your voice?
8. Any special moments from the season that you can recall?

And some typical answers

1. The season is the most important period in a carnatic musician's performing schedule. The sheer no of concerts, the pressures of performing before the very knowledgeable Chennai audience and the hype created by the rasikas and media makes it special in more ways than one.
2. I am planning to add a number of new songs to my repertoire. I have also been working on some special items, the details of which I cannot disclose at the moment.
3. The Music Academy
4. They are very different for some of the reasons said earlier.
5. Definitely this is a very welcome and positive trend. After all it is the youngsters who will take this art form forward.
6. Definitely not. It is the volume that makes the season what it is. But it would be nice if the sabhas can come together and get into some sort of understanding but it is very difficult.
7. I rest my voice adequately, do not answer too many phone calls, and have strict control over my diet.
8. Many moments among them the visit of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer to my concert in the Music academy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Vakkeel Venu

Vakkeel Venu was a very good friend of my grand uncle, the younger brother of my earlier mentioned grandfather Tyagu. This grand uncle Tambirajan, was very closely associated with musicians like PSN, Flute Ramani and Vellore Ramabhadran. In fact it was he who, first made me sing a wedding concert with Tirupparkadal Veeraraghavan and TK Moorthy some 20 years back. Tambiraju mama's house always had a number of people trotting in an out and many of them were very musically inclined. One such person was Vakkeel Venu as he was called. Venu mama was an advocate and a keen music enthusiast who could sing very well. He was a huge fan of Ramnad Krishnan as well as TMT besides GNB etc etc. He was a regular at the academy lobby especially during the morning sessions and it was quite common to see him and a few others hold fort on the previous evening's concert. I would always linger in the periphery and listen in on all the dope.

Once I was in Tambiraju mama's house watching a cricket match (we never had television in our house for a long time) and Venu mama just walked in. He asked me "What song are you learning now?" I said "Maa ramanan" in Hindolam. He asked me next "Ah good. Have you heard TMT sing this?" I said no but the முந்திரிகொட்டை (eager beaver) that I was, I immediately said I have heard of a GNB recording. He just brushed it aside and gave me a stellar demonstration of how TMT had sung it. It was terrific and his voice intonation also sounded exactly like TMT. Many years later I got a recording of TMT singing that same song and realised what he had meant then.

Another day he walked in and asked me if I heard the Mali radio program that morning. I said no and he immediately sang a few choice phrases of Pantuvarali (or the original Ramakriya as some should call but do not do so) and said that was what made Mali such a genius. He once said about a renowned Justice of the High court who was also a much sought after 'chief guest' in music functions, "I don't know which is worse his knowledge of English or his knowledge of Law!"

Once there was a detailed discussion about Ramnad Krishnan and how he was one of the most underrated musicians of his time. Venu mama insisted that Ramnad Krishnan suffered from a weak voice that was unsuited for concert performance especially in the times when people still considered volume an essential ingredient for a good voice. If one's voice was softer (பூஞ்சை) then they were asked to take up an instrument. This was why Krishnan was never too popular with the masses, though he was musicians' musician. I was sitting next to Venu mama when Ramnad Krishnan's portrait was unveiled at the Music Academy for their 'Hall of fame' and TMT gave a stirring and emotional speech. As we came out, Venu mama proceeded to sing a delectable Sahana in true Ramnad style and said "you should listen to his rendition of Shri kalamambikayam!"

Once I was at home practicing when Venu mama dropped in. I was singing the Todi kriti "Nee dayaravale" and he just sat and heard it. Then he said that the alst time he heard anyone sing the sing was GNB many years back and immediately sang a brilliant GNB sangati in the charanam line. He then asked me to sing Kambhoji ragam. As I began in the style of my then favorite Alathur Subbayyar, he just stopped me and said "Chi Chi! Don't sing like this!" when I protested saying this is how Subbayyar sang, he just brushed it aside saying "Subbayyar can sing what he wants. You sing normally." He then launched into a terrific Kambhoji alapana and I understood what he meant. But then even today when I dig out some of those Subbayyar phrases in a concert I remember Venu mama!