A Datacentric view of the kutcherri season!

A cursory look at any sabhas season schedule makes it obvious that the ‘season’ is hardly instrumental musician friendly. At the Music Academy,arguably the season ‘bellwether’, for their prime slot 18:45,about 4 out of 16 are ‘instrumental’ concerts and over all in the 80 concerts about 13(one Nadaswaram). The question is “do audience during the season prefer vocal concerts over instrumental music or the Nadaswaram” ?

“In general that appears to be the trend” says ‘Keyboard Sathya’,the 22 year old wizard who has been playing during the season for the last seventeen years. In his case it is even more complicated,the instrument he plays is not even considered for performance at the Music Academy during the season,the purist believe that an instrument like keyboard can NEVER produce gamakkas(micro tones)

Keyboard Sathya Trichy 2016

clearly the purist’ have not yet heard any of his concerts!

But then this is not new,after all in our country even the All INDIA Radio had banned the use of harmonium for nearly 4 decades in their studios.

Says another young Veena artist Baradwaj Raman who is also the inventor of the portable Veena(patent pending) “during the season it might be low but the season indeed provides us an opportunity to be spotted,I have got invitations to concerts outside the city because the organiser saw my video on line,it is all about creating the opportunities”

Baradwaj Raman Facebook Cover Photo

The 117th edition of the Parthasarathy Swami Sabha started with the Nadaswaram concert of Thirumeignanam Brothers, at 16:01 when the concert began,the number of people on the stage were more than the number off stage by about a factor of 2.1,7 vs 3 to be precise. Over the next hour or so the crowd did manage to fill the chairs for this concert and the concert that followed which was that of the Sangita Kalanidhi designate,all is well in Carnatic the 2017 Sangita Kalanidhi awardee Ravikiran had stated even about a couple of years back,he reiterated this on his recent facebook post too. Speaking at the inaugural of the 91st Annual Music Conference,the music maestro isaignani Ilayaraja had said “when words become silent, the music speaks”.He had presented Chitravina N. Ravikiran the Sangita Kalanidhi M.S. Subbulakshmi award on that stage.

Things were not much different even at the Nadaswaram concert at the Music Academy’s morning concert session(super senior slot) the first one of the season began with the concert of Nadeswaram exponent Vysarpadi Kothandraman a free concert open to all,did not exactly have any on their balcony,thanks be to the famed unsaid ‘rotation policy’ of the academy we can be certain that around the next masi-maham (about 12 years) we will be able to see this artist again,Just like in the case of Injikudi E M Subramaniam, another Nadaswaram maestro who holds the record of being the only Nadaswaram artist to have played during the opening concert at the Salzburg Music Festival.

Speaking on the sparse audience for Nadaswaram concerts, “The practice of relegating Nadaswaram to a mere ‘Mangala isai’ format is the principle reason” says music connoisseur and journalist B Kolappan, Nadaswaram in general faced the complaint of being too loud,”the Nadaswaram concerts was originally designed for open spaces and it did not fit in the scheme of things with the city sabhas”.

However Injikudi indeed rewrote that grammar and presented it in these times in a format meant for the ‘chamber environment’,low on decibel,high on aesthetics, the accompaniments he uses are the mridangam and the violin as opposed to the thavil.

“The Nadaswaram bani’ referring to the aesthetic technique followed by the greats of yester-years be it GNB or Semmangudi and TNS involved displaying the ‘akarams’ and resulted in an experience for the listener in the form of a cascading flow along with the ‘Karvai’(standing notes)”,says Sangita Kalanidhi Sanjay Subrahmanyam.

Sanjay Subrahmanyam Facebook Cover Photo

“There is a need to understand the difference between ‘Mangala isai’ and the concert format, Infact in the past a separate stage used to be put out, right at the entry of Academy (lobby) and the Mangala Isai on the inaugural day used to happen there but at the same time the full fledged nadaswaram concerts would be organized at the main concert hall of greats be it Thiruvizha Jaishankar,Sembanarkovil etc, these were always treated as two separate formats”, Sanjay added.

“The challenge for the organizers is in the seamless integration of Nadaswaram concerts with their regular schedule.”

Speaking on this topic of Nadaswaram artists,Nadaswaram bani and the Nadaswaram repertoire, T.M.Krishna said ”the whole Karnatik music owes this idea of taking any line of music ‘Solkattu’ and developing it more on an intellectual and emotional construct largely due to the contribution of Nadaswaram and Thavil vidwans and it is from this canvas that most present day Karnatik vocal music have built on their presentation,therefore the need is to first acknowledge it, recognise there is a problem out there in the present when it comes to the audience for instrumental and Nadaswaram concerts and the urgent need to rekindle the art of listening the Nadaswaram and popularise the art form”.


Video of T.M.Krishna on Nadaswaram and Nadaswaram Bani https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2004200833136677&id=1578579489032149

Video of What can we do to reverse this trend by T.M.Krishna https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2004201203136640&id=1578579489032149

Is Carnatic music’ overwhelming focus on vocal music letting down Chennai’ gifted instrumentalists? According to data,sadly YES.

An edited web version of this was originally published here on The Week(theweek.in).