The mildly overcast sky on Monday left very little scope for the usual shadows to play on the corridors leading towards the Department of Indian Music at the University of Madras.

In between the venerable walls stood a door with a brand-new signage --‘TAG Digital Listening Archives'. A signboard asks visitors to leave their footwear outside.

On Monday, on its 80 birthday, the department that was headed by Tiger Varadachariar when it was established in 1932, was given a special gift: 1000 hours of live concerts from music connoisseur R.T.Chari's personal collection.

In a room decorated with pencil sketches of music maestros drawn by Sankara Narayana, music lovers can listen to the music of any artist, from any year, sung in any composition or raga of their choice.

“The archive has a collection of songs by veterans such as G.N. Balasubramaniam, M.S. Subbalakshmi, M.L. Vasanthakumari and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar,” said Premeela Gurumurthy, professor and head of the department.

“Then there is also Musiri Subramania Iyer, D.K. Pattamal, D.K. Jayaraman and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.”

And, the list does go on, spanning illustrious vocalists between the 1940s and 1990s – teachers and disciples, senior and junior artists, all sharing space on a user-friendly software.

Talking about his collection to a group that had gathered to celebrate their department's birthday, Mr .Chari said that visits to collectors' homes made him establish a music archive at The Music Academy.

“I found one thing that was common in the houses of collectors that I visited. The collection was pushed to a corner and was decaying. Even their children did not take much interest in preserving it.”

For posterity

Dreading such a fate for his own collection, he established the archives at the Academy in 2008.

“Through the interactions at the Academy, we realised why not create smaller archives in music colleges?” he said about the birth of the first such collection on the University's premises.

Older students who were part of the gathering craned their necks to see the presentations on the digital archives, fascinated that such an archive was never known when they were students. “Back then, me and my batchmates used to go to concerts together,” said Padmaja Parameshwaran from the 1982 batch.

“Not many people opted to go for the music line then. Nowadays, more people opt for the subject,” she said before joining a group performing a Thillana composed by the current head of the department.