. “I lost a few audience who were patronising me during my initial years. But instead, I gained thousands of audience from all walks of life”. Carnatic musician Aruna Sairam, while delivering a lecture on ‘Singing in Madras – Chennai Heritage’, shared with the audience memories of the hardships she had to face when she started performing for the public.

“This city is both the best and most difficult launch-pad for any singer. For, Chennai audience is the toughest one to please and so it was for me,” said Carnatic musician Aruna Sairam, on her struggle to gain foothold as a singer in Chennai.

She delivered a lecture on ‘Singing in Madras – Chennai Heritage,’ as part of the ‘Madras Week’ celebrations here on Monday. Beginning her lecture with a note of gratitude to her guru T. Brinda, she said her guru was a taskmaster and she paved the way for learning Carnatic in its purest form. When she made an entry into the then Madras as a singer in 1973 through a concert at the Music Academy, the audience did not quite welcome her. “I did not even know whether they liked the concert. Singing for Chennai audience needs mental fortitude to remain detached; because you would never be able to know how you performed,” Ms. Sairam said.

The city made her rework on the presentation of her concerts and after many of years of experimenting with a repertoire of songs, she began to gauge the audience’s taste. But it was not easy at the start as many music purists, who attended her concerts, were left dissatisfied. “I lost a few audience who were patronising me during my initial years. But instead, I gained thousands of audience from all walks of life. It also gave me a satisfaction that I have begun to react to the demands of the audience.” Criticisms also came her way as she slotted in ‘abhangs’ while rounding off her concerts. “A few even said I betrayed my guru’s school of music. But all along, I knew my guru never wanted me to be a clone of her.”

The city has set a high benchmark for the performers and any singer who dreams of making it big has a mammoth task of attracting the Chennai audience first. For any singer, the career would never be complete without gaining recognition by people of the city that nurtured Carnatic music for centuries, she said. Historian S. Muthiah and Carnatic music chronicler V. Sriram were present.