Thursday, December 24, 2009

Empty musical afternoons

It is the December music season at Chennai and all of us rasikas are in our Kangaroo avatar hopping from one sabha to next. But what saddens me is that there is a Friday-evening-Satyam-theatre kind of rush for certain concerts while certain afternoon concerts have as much crowd as the bus stop opposite Theosophical Society at Besant Avenue. Nobody knows it is there and nobody stops there, not even the buses.

The afternoon slots are usually reserved for junior and sub-junior musicians and possibly the audience are too hoity-toity to appear in their best silks at a “junior” concert. The poor afternoon musicians sing to empty chairs with such gusto that if I were a chair, I would lift my two arms and applaud them heartily. However, some smart parents of certain afternoon musicians had ensured a decent crowd by pressing relatives and friends into attending the concert. As you enter the hall, you feel you are intruding a family get together like a seemandham or punyajanam. “Where is Kappu living now? Was Kalli’s delivery normal?” and such talk abound. Two people (presumably father and uncle) go around welcoming and thanking people. You almost expect them to tell you, “kandippa saptutu daan ponum” (please have food before leaving). During the concert, one lady leaned forward and I thought she was going to ask “who on the stage are you related to?” like they ask in weddings “which side do you belong? Girl or boy?” Thankfully she only wanted to know the raga. Yet not all relatives and friends are as obliging and something has to be done about these performances which have more people on the stage than in the seats.
I am not going to make any serious suggestion here like switch the senior musicians’ concerts to the afternoon slots because they get their audience anyway and/or don’t spread so many concerts across so many sabhas, it only thins the attendance etc. These suggestions have been made by many to deaf ears and therefore I shall not waste further time. Instead I have a new set of suggestions.
Just as certain sitcoms have a laughter track running behind, the sabha people can switch on an applause track at appropriate moments to create a feeling of audience. But usually the organizers themselves are not present. So they may have to train the mike man to do it, only that the mike man, in the event of being tone deaf may switch on the applause track at inappropriate moments like when the vocalist is sipping milk or when he has lost a beat stupidly or when he is glaring at the violinist for a goof up. Still, some sound of applause is better than none.
Secondly the backs of the chair can be painted on to resemble human beings in seated posture. From the stage it would look like the chairs are people. And if the arms of the chairs can be robotically programmed to lift and applaud at the end of every song on cue, it would even be better.
Thirdly those rare few who enter the hall should be given ping pong balls cut in halves with the orbs of the eye painted on it. You see, most people fall asleep insensitively sitting in the very first row. These people can press the ping pong orbs onto their eyes and go to sleep while the performers sing rest assured that they have an audience who are listening “wide eyed” with surprise at their incredible talent.
Once I invited my friend at Royapuram for a book reading of mine and he said he would come if I gave him, “noor rooba, kaila kuska” (Rs.100 and a packet of Kuska in hand, which is apparently what politicians give to bribe voters). I think afternoon slot musicians should contact my friend at Royapuram.

The above article was published in my "Loony Life" column two weeks ago.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Enough Kohl to put Johnny Depp to shame

By far, the Chennai December music season this time has been a case of “I went, I saw, I ran away” kind of experience for me. I began writing a stiff ‘Carnatic music and consumerism — Making the audience buy’ type of article. But considering my sworn readers who cannot brook one grave sentence from my pen, I have here a series of (loony) snapshots on the music season.

  • I thought I had wandered into a South Indian wedding when I entered a concert hall this December season. Rustling silk saris, fragrant jasmine strings, deep namaskarams, aroma of filter coffee and idli-sambar, snatches of gossip…eh? If I had anticipated such heavy dressing, I would have at least remembered to comb. But what the hell? I came to listen to music, not be seen. The violinist on stage had enough kohl in her eyes to put Johnny Depp to shame, while the vocalists glittered like Christmas trees. So much so, I was tempted to carry one back home and hang some gifts for my kids. My vote any day is for Sanjay Subrahmanyan, who prefers to throw his flamboyance into his music rather than his clothes. If musicians felt glittering jibbas and flashy saris added weight to their music, then why wear just one? Why not wear four? Or maybe I belong to that dwindling population which expects only a good concert and not a ‘good-looking’ concert.
  • There was just so much fanfare on stage and off stage in every concert I went to that I wanted to shout, “Will the real performers please stand up?” Where were those good old mamas and mamis hugging yellow cloth bags, taking the 23As and 12Cs to arrive at Sastri Hall and Music Academy? These good souls, who could outcry any geko with their appreciative tch-tch-tches, were completely lost in the overdressed crowd.
  • For those unacquainted with Carnatic musicians, people who sing in pairs give themselves creative names like Mambalam sisters, Hyderabad brothers and Carnatica brothers. Given the burgeoning talent base, there will come a crowded day when we will see Thambiah Reddy street sisters, 4th main road (next to Pizza hut) brothers etc. Tomorrow perchance my daughter and niece begin to perform as duo I plan to call them Vatsalya sisters after the playschool they go to.
  • Coming to music reviews in a popular daily, one can never make out if the concert soared or sucked from what they write. Consider this convoluted writing — “Mutual enrichment of the musical fare was facilitated by the individual merit of each expert member”. Translated it simply means, the musicians did a good job or at least that’s what I think. And then there is this insufferable alliteration critics get into. “Mellifluous Madhyamavati, kindling Kalyani, meandering Mohanam, roaring Ranjani” ad nauseum. As such Carnatic music is inaccessible. For God’s sake, should we employ ‘twilight language’ while speaking about this art form?
  • Carnatic musicians have really smartened up. They act in movies, endorse products, appear in reality shows, write books, email their concert schedules religiously, have perky music profiles, perfect PR, well- updated blogs and websites. It is a good sign that one can indeed make a living out of Carnatic music. I am saying all this so that, that segment of population, which still drools over Carnatic musicians as if they were messengers of God, should wake up and understand that they’re all in this field as professionals, just as any doctor or engineer is in his.
  • Visaka Hari(ji) is one performer who has spoilt every Tambrahm married woman’s chances with her mother-in-law. She is the dream daughter-in-law of every mamiyar, what with her madisar/straight hair parting/diamond earrings and absorption in all things politically correct. She makes all the mamis wonder why it didn’t occur to them to make a career out of the bedtime stories they knew and wear their madisars with more pride. For foot-in-mouthed, jeans-wearing failure of a character like me, Visaka Hari is a Kafkaish nightmare (my mother-in-law loves her). The way the older generation spring into action to ‘catch’ seats for her programme — well, you have to see it to believe it. She makes them forget their rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Amidst kanjeevarams and namaskarams in the concert hall, I also spotted some straight skirts and hugging and kissing on both cheeks. Wasn’t this behaviour usually displayed by the audience of Alliance Francaise programmes? Good! So Carnatic music is also turning ‘happening’! And may it happen minus the trappings!

    This article was published in my Loony Life column

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

G.Madhavan Vocal. Dec '09 Carnatic music concerts for season

Monday, December 07, 2009
2:45 pm to 4:15 pm
Nungambakkam Cultural Academy
Ramarao Kala Mantap, Habibullah road, T.Nagar
Sudha Iyer on violin, Vijay Natesan on Mridangam

Friday, December 11, 2009
12:15 pm to 1:30 pm
Karthik Fine Arts
Naradha Gana Sabha Mini Hall

Saturday, December 12, 2009
5:00 pm to 6:00 pm
All India Radio - FM Gold

Saturday, December 12, 2009
6:30 pm to 9:00 pm
Papanasam Sivan Sangeetha Sabha, Madipakkam
Kalyani Shankar on violin, Mannarkoil J.Balaji on Mridangam

Sunday, December 13, 2009
5:00 pm to 6:15 pm
Chennai Fine Arts (RTP Concert)
Gokhale Hall, Mylapore
Dr. R.Hemalatha on violin, K.S.Ramana on Mridangam

Monday, December 14, 2009
2:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Krishna Gana Sabha
Gana vihar, Maharajapuram Santhanam Road, T.Nagar
Usha Rajagopal violin, T.R.Sundaresan Mridangam

Saturday, December 19, 2009
10:00 am to 12:00 pm
Nadha Inbam
Ragasudha hall, Mylapore
Usha Rajagopal violin, Sherthalai Ananthakrishnan Mridangam

Saturday, December 19, 2009
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Sankaran Temple, Kuppiah street, West Mambalam
Usha Rajagopal, Sherthalai Ananthakrishnan

Friday, December 25, 2009
9:00 am to 10:30 am
Valayapatti sabha
Anantha Padmanabha swami temple, Adyar
Kalyani Shankar, Madurai Shanmugam, Mayavaram Somu Pillai

Friday, December 25, 2009
2:30 am to 4:00 pm
Brahma Gana Sabha
Sivagami Pethachi auditorium, Luz church road, Mylapore
Kandadevi Vijayaraghavan, T.R.Sundaresan