Legends have graced its corridors and many of its pupils have shone in the musical firmament. Chitra Swaminathan on the 64-year-old Tamilnadu Government Music College that's located in the beautiful Brodie Castle that was built in 1796

It couldn’t be a more perfect setting for the Tamilnadu Government Music College. Housed in a heritage structure (the majestic pristine white Brodie Castle constructed in 1796) along the Adyar River, it is surrounded by lush greenery and soothing quietude.

It’s 10 in the morning and the sun is burning bright. But inside the college a cool breeze wafts through the old-world corridors (the building is now aptly named Thenral) and classrooms and the river, viewed from between the stately pillars, presents a placid picture.

The high-ceilinged prayer hall has sepia-tinted photographs of music stalwarts Sambasiva Iyer, Chowdiah, M.L. Vasanthakumari, M.S. Subbulakshmi, G.N. Balasubramaniam, Karukurichi Arunachalam, Madurai Mani Iyer, T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai and many others. Boys clad in veshtis and shirts, and girls in sari or dance-practice attire render the melodious Tamil Thai Vazhthu. After the National Anthem, you hear the sound of a temple bell as students and teachers, before departing to their classes, rush to pray to the Ganapati idol placed in the circular foyer.

Though James Brodie, a civil servant with the East India Company, whose home it was, is said to have designed it after the Brodie Castle in Scotland, the architecture of this imposing turreted structure, particularly the foyer’s jaaliwork, reflects some eastern influences too. Brodie fell on bad times and drowned in the Adyar River. After his death the castle changed hands quite a few times till it was bought by the Government.

The Music College, set up in 1949, was shifted in 1956 to this famous garden house on the present Greenways Road after functioning for two years at Rahamath Bagh in San Thome and then for five years at Bridge House in Adyar. The services of scholar-musician Prof. P. Sambamurthy were sought to make the college an institution that would support and propagate the rich arts of the country. Eminent musicians and scholars have headed the institution. Among its best-known alumni are T.R. Subramaniam, S.R. Janakiraman, T.K. Govinda Rao and Sirkazhi Govindarajan.

Musiri Subramania Iyer was its first principal. He was succeeded by Sandhayavandhanam Sreenivasa Rao, followed by ace violinist T.N. Krishnan. The present principal, accomplished veena artiste E. Gayathri, assumed office last year.

The two-year Sangeet Vidwan course available earlier only in vocal, violin and veena has now become a three-year diploma course offered also in Bharatanatyam, nattuvangam, nadaswaram, thavil, kanjira, ghatam, mridangam, flute, morsing and the folk arts. “We are planning to introduce a two-year advanced course because I feel three years is not enough to gain proficiency in an art form,” says Gayathri, sitting in her tastefully done-up office.

The institution has an evening college (6 p.m. to 8 p.m.) that offers two-year certificate courses in veena, vocal, violin and mridangam.

“Despite the peeling plaster and cracks in the building and rising pollution levels in the creek behind it, the ambience inspires creativity in us,” say a few students busy arranging colourful flowers around the nandi in a standing posture holding a mridangam at the college entrance.

“We have revised the syllabus with the help of experts in each field to enable students to gain a broader perspective of the arts as they are perceived today and not limit their knowledge to their field of interest. We wanted to cut down the theoretical part and shift the thrust to practical training. Since most youngsters coming here have no background in music nor have facilities at home to hone their skills, the challenge is to make them understand the nuances of the classical arts in a simple manner,” says Gayathri.

Besides a few classes held in the main building, portions of which are in a state of disrepair, others are held in the new blocks nearby and igloo-shaped kudils. There is also an open-air stage with an amphitheatre-like seating arrangement.

“We have around 200 students and an excellent faculty. The best part is that most of the teachers go beyond the course and do not mind working longer than their stipulated time. We also plan to invite well-known artistes to interact with the students,” she adds. “My desire is to make this a thriving institution that does not limit itself to teaching but helps youngsters to experience the joy of learning an art.”