December is keenly awaited by Chennaites not only for the short break from the sweltering heat but also for the music season. I enjoyed the last two seasons after nearly eight years. In the last season, I consciously attended tier-II concerts to encourage upcoming artists. My own experience makes me wonder whether the quality of listening has improved over the years and whether the season has made a positive impact in promoting Carnatic music.
I find that the sabhas are still filled with talai attum kootam (nodding audience) and the participation of knowledgeable young rasikas has not increased. Wonder whether the sabhas are a refuge for the home alones (senior citizens with their wards in the U.S.) — referring to the ready reckoner to know the ragas. Some may feel that one need not have theoretical knowledge of the music that we are listening to — be it Carnatic, Hindustani or even rap. But the nuances are better appreciated if we have some knowledge of swaras.
I recall a write-up “Epidemic Musicitis” in The Hindu (Open Page, January, 1, 2011) wherein the writer said that the audience were afflicted with a “seasonal serious infection” and classified them sarcastically with funny medical names, exposing their lack of knowledge and interest in music as such. As he rightly put it, “the disease is self-limiting. It settles by mid-January only to recur next year.” Good music appreciation knowledge is the preventive treatment.
One of the sabha organisers has been conducting music appreciation programmes. A knowledgeable audience will enhance the quality of singing by musicians.
While the season provides crowded slots for top artists, it still does not offer scope for young talent. In fact, it is shocking to note from T.M. Krishna's interview in The Hindu that mid-range musicians without clout have to struggle to get a chance to perform and talented people are getting frustrated. In fact, the situation was highlighted in a discussion on ‘marghazi music season — commerce or culture' on a TV channel. Many of the sabhas wear a deserted look during the afternoon programmes and are only half-full even for newly promoted evening slot performers. The sabhas are not bothered as the season is sold out to ‘sponsors' and free passes are issued to the sponsors. They are overcrowded for a few popular artists only. More than 100 sabhas, with 50 per cent in South Chennai conduct nearly 1,000 concerts in a short span of 30 days. There is an over supply of Carnatic classical in December and too many choices are no choice at all.
Why not the sabhas issue free passes to nearby schools requesting the managements to send some students to the afternoon programmes as well, I wonder. It will ensure music inclusion, facilitating innovation. The challenge is to get a wider and diverse audience.
Further, currently the music mood dies down after December or at best is extended till the Tiruvaiaru utsavam. Nurturing music should be a passion and should not be ritualistic. We need to be proactive lest we miss the opportunities. Why not one more season during May-June (the summer holidays) with a clear focus on promoting young, new talent? This time also coincides with financial closure for many offices and office-goers will be in a relaxed atmosphere. This will give them opportunities to listen to good music.
(The writer's email ID is firstname.lastname@example.org)