What to expect? Whom to listen to? As another season dawns, some thoughts whiz past in our heads.
Another December Music Season returns. Do we speculate on what trails this one will leave behind? What new vistas will open up? What new defining characteristics will be ushered in? Or do we just sit in and enjoy the fare as we do every year? “To see the future, you must look backwards”, to borrow Isaiah’s biblical phrase.
K.V.Narayanaswamy, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and M.S. Subbulakshmi entered the other world within a short space of time and it is about a decade since then. Even though they were past their prime or had effectively stopped performing, they held the symbolic strap to the old era of Carnatic music.
There is quantity
In the rapid decade that followed, we could take pride in the fact that neither performance nor audience support has let us down. The traditional format is still largely in place, despite coming under transgression threats and the glam and glory has marched on. Now, we have more performers, more performances, more sabhas, more cut-outs, more talk, more analysis and of course, more music. Quantity is certainly not in short supply.
Opinions on quality are bound to be diverse, depending on whom you ask. There are the odd cynicisms and innuendos and there is intense commentary in all forms of media. Media itself has taken a liking to Carnatic music and is welcomed or decried, depending on which end of the spectrum you stand.
Carnatic music moved a few notches in creative marketing and branding. News making is now as important as music making. Times are dictating the repertoire and even fidelity of notes and structures.
The new crop of stalwarts (who will be spoken about in the same breath as Semmangudi or GNB or MS, but only in hindsight as is wont) is accumulating the laurels to reach that summit. The audience composition, in the meantime, has evolved from residents to NRIs to returned NRIs and foreigners. In summary, quite a sea change from when MS, Semmangudi and KVN moved on but the art is alive and kicking.
So what is in store this year and the coming ones? This writer is always delighted to hear new, young musicians breaking into the scene, with abundant talent and traditional grooming. The gurus should be thanked for this. (What happens to the styles of these talents as they climb the star ladder is often baffling). We may see more changes in formats, programme menus, blurring and even downgrading of compositional significance, the Trinity’s battle for relevance, aggressive self-promotion and marketing by artistes, transfusion of classical and commercial genres, iconisation and blind tailing, elite shows audio and light sophistication, artist branding and maybe Sabha branding as well. The audience world could further metamorphose into a retro-cum-modern entity, driven by musical knowledge chiselled with net and social media strokes.
In this milieu, we will still get to listen to aesthetically brilliant and soul-stirring music, as we have always listened to. The sideshows are not going to go away. They just don different colours!