A college band that began 50 years ago got together once again to recapture their music and memories

The evening began on a high note with the screamed chorus of Ilaiyaraaja’s title track for Neethane En Ponvasantham. As the young PSG Techian reached for the top pitches, the crowd hooted, whistled and screamed along.

Scattered in the audience and seated on the sidelines were a considerable number of salt-and-pepper heads bobbing along to the music, reminiscing the days they once enthralled audiences from the same stage years ago. Twenty of them prepared to do so once again this evening, with 40 songs at the Golden Jubilee Concert of Tek Music — PSG Tech’s 50-year-old college band.

Opening the alumni concert was R. Jayaprakash (1980) on the mridangam. As the carnatic number in Raag Nattai progressed, he remembered a hostile audience he once played before, three decades ago with fellow Tekians. “Many groups had performed before us and the crowd was bored. So on an impulse, I told the singer to shout out, ‘Do you want to hear thunder rolling, rain falling or horses galloping?’, and as he spoke, I recreated the sounds on the mridangam. The crowd went crazy!”

For many alumni, like Jayaprakash, who now plays professional mridangam, the music from their Tek days has continued into their adult years. S. Shivkumar (1983), for instance, is based in Chennai but still jams with seven Tekians across batches, and even conducts shows.

Many Tekians are professional composers today. “Our batch made its own music quite frequently. Through my years with Tek, I completed five Trinity grades in music theory and today head Gaananjali, which has produced five albums of my Carnatic devotional compositions,” says S. Giridharan (1984).

Besides kick-starting musical careers, Tek Music has also been a platform that trained leaders. D. Suresh (1985) singer and Secretary of Tek in his final year and Joint Secretary in his third year, says, “You didn’t have to be the best musician to be Secretary, You had to organise, handle people and sort misunderstandings. Leading 10 people then has helped me lead 400 now.”

Lifelong bond

Moreover, the friendships forged at Tek Music have lasted decades and often spawned marriages. Jayaprakash fell so in love with N.R. Alamelu’s veena playing, he married her. Couples such as Mahesh and Vardhini even perform together today. For this evening, they rendered the soulful duet Andhi Mazhai.

The equipment-heavy stage they sang on, however, is quite different from their college days. Says Shivkumar, “We practised in a small room on the terrace and had just basic instruments. After a college competition we’d won, G.R. Damodaran gave the band Rs. 7,500. We went all the way to Kochi and bought guitars, tablas and other percussion instruments.”

Adds classical guitarist Vignesh N. (2003), “Those days, we moulded ourselves to the needs of the band. I shifted to the bass guitar at Tek, even though it was a rare instrument then, because we played many Ilaiyaraaja songs and most of them were bass-heavy. Soon people began recognising the instrument and even increasing its volume on the speakers!”

Improvisation was also often the order of the day. Drummer Raj Thilak (2003) recollects one concert where he sang instead of drummed. “My parents still think someone was singing backstage while I mouthed the lyrics!”

The oldest alumnus for the evening, B. Ramakrishnan (1971) remembers an age where PSG Tech had no women. “We used to perform at Krishnammal and Nirmala colleges and even for weddings in R.S. Puram. I often sang the female leads at our concerts. The first girl entered PSG in my third year. Much later a few girls joined us but they wouldn’t sing anything but devotionals!” Today, Ramakrishnan harbours a mental bank of 10,000 songs in Marathi, Hindi, Tamil and Gujarati — a treasure trove whose first deposits began in PSG Tech.

The start of every academic year at PSG Tech began with auditions for Tek Music. “Then, it wasn’t too difficult to get in because very few people played instruments,” says R. Shankar (1982). As he listens to the current batch of Tek Musicians open for their alumni, he says, “They have three separate Tek groups now — for Carnatic, light and Western music! That’s the kind of talent and opportunities this generation has.”

But, despite just the morning’s rehearsals, the alumni singers still stole the show.