The Music Academy completes half-a-century. Read on to know more about its foundation and growth.
The Music Academy’s auditorium turns 50 this year. One of the best-recognised landmarks of Chennai, the story of its construction is an interesting one, for it was one of the earliest modern auditoriums to be built.
The land on which the auditorium stands was acquired by the Academy in 1946. The institution moved into Sweet Home, the colonial bungalow that stood on the property, on August 28, 1947. In 1955, it was decided that the old bungalow be pulled down and a modern auditorium built in its place. Thanks to TT Krishnamachari, who was then in the Union Cabinet, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru consented to lay the foundation stone, which was done on October 5. The event witnessed a fund-raising concert by M.S. Subbulakshmi, one among the many she would perform for making the Academy’s auditorium a reality.
Work began on the new building in 1956. The new auditorium was planned in the modernist style that was liked by the Prime Minister. The architects were M/S GM Bhuta and Associates of Bombay in collaboration with P. Bose, chartered engineer from Calcutta who was a specialist in reinforced cement concrete. The contractors for the civil works were Shah Construction Company (Pvt.) Limited of Bombay. The Academy had its own resident engineer, V.B. Thambiah who later also became a committee member.
In addition, R. Iswaran, D.K. Pattammal’s husband and a member of the Committee, practically lived on the campus, monitoring the work to the smallest detail possible. Work began with a mega show; for, as soon as the old bungalow was demolished, the premises was rented out to movie mogul S.S. Vasan to conduct the wedding of his son, an event that is still remembered by old timers of the city. This brought the Academy much-needed funds.
The total budget for construction was Rs. 18 lakhs. As work progressed, many ambitious plans were given up, largely owing to paucity of funds. One was a revolving stage to enable quick assembly and dismantling of sets even as a play progressed. Another was a ramp leading directly from the car park to the first floor. The third was a patio featuring sculptures and mosaics depicting the Indian arts.
In an era when fire-safety and other norms were strictly adhered to, the exacting standards to which the Academy was built, makes for interesting reading. Safety was given utmost importance. The doors in the balcony were made wide enough to ensure that the audience, of which the majority would be on the first floor, could stream out quickly and make it to the car park through a multitude of fire escapes. The ground floor had narrower doors, which were compensated for by a larger number of exits.
To keep the funds flowing, TTK used his influence and ensured that several industrialists from Coimbatore signed up as patron members. By 1961, the shell was complete and the grhapravesam was conducted. Money ran out, and thanks to TTK and R. Venkataswami Naidu of Coimbatore who was vice-president, a fund-raising series of dance performances was held in the Textile City. This was a success and work was largely complete by December 1962 when the Maharajah of Mysore, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar, inaugurated the Hall on December 20. A day before the inauguration, it was discovered that the stage curtains had been forgotten and Vasan was appealed to. The Gemini Studios’ tailoring department produced the curtains in 24 hours!
Originally planned without mikes, the acoustics of the hall was found to be terrible. The first season, to be held in 1962, saw sackcloth covering the walls to minimise echo. Scientists from the National Physical Laboratory studied the problem and M/S Philips was roped to in to install a high quality stereophonic sound system, which was completed in 1964. Further comfort by way of air-conditioning was also ensured when in the same year, G.D. Birla, induced to contribute by TTK, donated Rs. 3 lakhs. The air-conditioning plant was for some reason positioned under the stage and made such a racket that by next year it was moved out, to the rear of the compound.
Servicing the loans became a problem, though the new auditorium was soon generating a steady income. A newspaper baron, known for his interest in real estate, began discussions with the Indian Bank to take over the property on the guarantee that he would repay the dues. TTK summoned a meeting of industrialists on January 1, 1968, for a brainstorming.
V.D. Swami suggested rather light-heartedly that the place could be run as a cinema theatre when it was not hosting music concerts. TTK was furious though the idea itself was quite practical as the Academy had all the facilities including a projection room. It was left to T.S. Narayanaswami and K.S. Narayanan to mollify him. A Board of Trustees headed by TSN was formed and within the year, it was able to garner enough donations to keep the lenders at bay. By 1970, though TSN had died, the Board had done its work and the Academy was debt-free. It was perhaps in gratitude for what he achieved that a portrait of TSN still hangs in the Committee Room of the Academy. A larger tribute was for TTK. When he passed away in 1974, what was till then referred to as New Hall was named the TT Krishnamachari Auditorium.