Patron C. Narayanan has been archiving his remarkable collection of Carnatic and Hindustani concerts.
For any art to flourish, a promoting connoisseur is essential. C. Narayanan is one such music aficionado. He has been doing a novel service to the music field by sharing his collection of Carnatic and Hindustani concerts. A familiar figure in the concert circuit, he never misses a recital whether it is by a senior or junior musician. A philanthropist in his own way, he carries on his family’s tradition of being a patron of music by archiving, preserving and sharing thousands of concerts, some of which are classic.
A retired bank officer Narayanan is also an artist. He comes from the AL. AR Zamindar family of Devakottai, which promoted the arts in the Karaikkudi region during the 1950s. His father Chockiah Chettiar, a renowned patron of music and dance, was pivotal in the growth of several veterans including Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Palghat Mani Iyer and Chowdiah.
He says, “Family functions and temple festivals lasted 10 days or more and all these vidwans stayed at our house. Ariyakkudi and K.V. Narayanaswamy were regular visitors.”
His taste in music developed through these chamber concerts and those broadcast on the radio, apart from his tutelage under Kalpathy Subbaiyer (guru of Palghat Mani Iyer) in mridangam.
With a collection that accounts for 50,000 hours and 2,500 radio concerts, this curator is ecstatic when he says that he has the recordings of almost all the musicians, beginning with Ariyakkudi and other giants to the young and up-and-coming artists.
Last year, he donated around 8,000 hours of concert recordings to the digital library of The Music Academy, Chennai, apart from sizable donations to the Kalakshetra and Annamalai University.
Began as a hobby
What prompted him to start this venture? “I’m carrying on my father’s legacy, only in a small way,” he says.
“I started collecting music as a hobby, 30 years ago. My father had the practice of collecting gramophone records. It roughly amounts to 6000 GB now. I also have a large collection of Harikatha Kalakshepam,” says Narayanan. He collects the recordings from various sources all over the country. The formats vary from antique gramophone records, spools and wire records to the more recent cassettes and CDs, which he converts at his own expense.
What makes him stand out is his magnanimity in sharing his collection. “Music is public property, which shouldn’t be kept to oneself. Listening to concerts of maestros is always a learning experience for students. I only wish to make this treasure trove of knowledge available to the youngsters, so that they can get the maximum benefit out of it,” he expands. .
It was not until four years ago, that he began sharing his collection. “My first beneficiary was T.M. Krishna. Now, many people including senior and up-and-coming musicians approach me for specific concerts but I only share them with dedicated pursuers whose motives are sincere.”
He knew that his efforts had paid off, when he shared his collection with legends such as Lalgudi G Jayaraman , T.N. Krishnan, and the late Vellore Ramabhadran.
In his early 70s now, Narayanan keeps pace with the changing technology. He has converted the whole collection to mp3. He has around 12 external hard disks apart from roughly 2,000 CDs and DVDs. How come he is so tech-savvy? “I am not well-versed in the technicalities of computers. If I face any problem, my sons, both of whom are computer engineers, help me.”
He has also learnt hard lessons from lending some of his precious CDs or DVDs. “Some students and performers are so nice when they want to borrow DVDs for copying, but turn indifferent and irresponsible when it comes to returning them in a good condition, which has cost me dearly,” he adds. There have been instances, where rare concerts from the collection have been marketed and sold as commercial CDs, without the consent of the owner and the artist.
On the probabilities of setting up a library of music, he says, “I do not wish to commercially propagate the collection nor start a library, though there have been such requests. I will be satisfied as long as the collection remains in good hands.”
He refrains from accepting donations except in the form of music recordings to maintain his collection. The conversion, maintenance and storage costs are managed by him. In his father’s memory, he has also been conducting music festivals to promote young artists since 1987.
He was recently felicitated by The Neelakanta Sivan Sabha, Thiruvananthapuram. He ends the interview by saying that he gets satisfaction by sharing music rather than from being applauded for it.
Narayanan has a collection that accounts for 50,000 hours and 2,500 radio concerts.
He has converted the whole collection to mp3.
His father’s gramophone records collection roughly amounts to 6000 GB now.
He donated around 8,000 hours of concert recordings to the digital library of The Music Academy.