I got back from Chennai about 2 weeks ago and didn’t really have time to pen down my thoughts on the music season until now, so now that I have a few minutes, I’m getting around to doing so.
The 2011 Music season was interesting because it was evident that we were in changing times; the younger generation of musicians was coming up and slowly starting to displace the older generation. The tastes of rasikas was in Chennai was slowly changing to reflect that, as the younger artists started to draw more crowds and attract people who would have otherwise attended the concerts of the old timers. By this season, the shift was essentially complete. In 2011, the younger generation of vocalists, including my friend Saketharaman, Sikkil Gurucharan, Kunnakudi Balamuralikrishna, and Abishek Raghuram among others, had been promoted to the senior slots in most sabhas (such as the Music Academy). Senior mrudangam vidwans were playing concerts for them regularly, including Umayalpuram Sivaraman sir and my guru Neyveli Narayanan sir among others.
By the time this season rolled around, the next set of musicians, including Bharath Sundar and my friends Ramakrishnan Murthy and Sandeep Narayan had also become very popular. Bharath Sundar won the Carnatic Idol competition in its inaugral season, thus promoting him to instant fame. Raam and Sandeep, through hard work and consistently performing at a high level, had also achieved a celebrity status of sorts among the Carnatic community. I was not able to attend their music academy concerts this season due to other commitments, but I had heard through the grapevine that they performed to a full house. They also both won awards at the sadas this year for the second year in a row, which is not a trivial accomplishment.
In any case, as usual, the majority of my time was spent attending concerts. This is the only way for any musician to learn new things and get exposed to new ideas. Attending concerts is also essential in order to hear the real standard that people perform Carnatic music at in Chennai; what you have in other parts of the world will naturally be diluted and of a lesser standard. Regular exposure to the Chennai music scene is essential in order to mentally maintain that level. That being said, this time I got to hear 3 concerts by Abishek Raghuram, the “boy wonder” of Chennai (although I shouldn’t say that since he is older than I am). In one concert in Karthik Fine Arts, he sang a 28 minute Kalyani alapana, and in Mylapore Fine Arts, he did a Shankarabharanam RTP for the main piece, where the ragam and thanam went for 55 minutes! The beauty of Abishek’s music is that when he does such elaborate raga explorations, there is never a dull moment. There is never a time where you feel like he is repeating himself and the concert tempo is sagging. The highlight of the season would have to be a concert of his I attended in Adyar where my guru played for him. That concert featured Paalimpa (Arabhi) and the main piece was Kaligiyunte (Kiravani), with fast-paced kalpana swarams in khanda nadai.
Abishek Raghuram (vocal, middle), B. U. Ganesh Prasad (violin, right), Neyveli Narayanan (mrudangam, left). Me and Abishek Iyer (another student of Narayanan sir) are sitting on the stage as well.
As mentioned earlier, I also performed several concerts in Chennai this year, and just like the last season, one of them ended up being reviewed in the Hindu. Unfortunately, the reviewer was too critical and ended up liberally tearing apart Akshay’s music. I have an issue with these types of overly critical reviews, in that they are not helpful at all to the main artist. Rather, it almost seems like an exercise to see how far he or she can go with publicly humiliating someone! The other thing is that nobody knows the credentials of these critics. They may turn out to simply be casual rasikas! Critics should only be people who are equally qualified as those performing on stage, and even then, the best course of action is to keep your mouth shut! All musicians know this, as we all have enormous respect for each other, since only we know the amount of hard work and effort that goes in to getting to that level. Even then, when on the stage, anything can happen since the art is highly improvisational, which is why all artists have respect for “the stage”. My friend Arun Ramamurthi (whose name was misspelled in the article as “Ramamurthy”) played violin, and fortunately we were left unscathed.
EDIT: I found that Akshay has uploaded one song from our concert here:
The other thing I did during the season was record concerts that I attended. I have been doing this regularly every December. In previous seasons, I would make recordings on my old iPod (with the iTalk) addition. That setup was pretty good – the audio quality was surprisingly good, although it did leave a lot of features to be desired. Finally, in 2009, I purchased a Zoom H4n recorder as an upgrade. I decided it would be worth it to splurge on something high-end if I was going to get mileage out of it. I didn’t have the opportunity to properly field-test it until this season, and I have been very satisfied with the results. In closed environments (such as small rooms or mini-halls), the quality is exceptional. Listening with headphones or on a good stereo system basically reproduces the effect of listening live. However, when making outdoor recordings, the sensitive microphones on the unit also pick up the sound of moving air (this can also happen when sitting under a fan indoors). This problem can be remedied by putting the wind screen (which comes with the unit) on top of the mics. I didn’t bring that with me to Chennai but will be sure to do so next time. The issue with using that is that is makes the unit, which is already pretty big, even more conspicuous. I had several people come up to me after concerts asking me for copies of the recording since they had seen me sitting with a recorder in my hand!
There’s more that I want to discuss, but that will be for next time.