The Music Academy has maintained a unique balance between upholding tradition and adapting to changing times and tastes
FOUR SCORE & MORE — The History of the Music Academy, Madras: Sriram V. and Malathi Rangaswamy; Westland Limited, No. 307, Venkat Towers, Maduravoyil, Chennai-600095. Rs. 2000.
The way it is designed and written, this book has done full justice to the Music Academy’s service record spanning eight decades in the field of Indian classical arts, particularly Carnatic music and dance. The Academy has ascetically directed the destiny of the fine arts and stamped its triumphal march as the greatest single contribution to the cause of classical music. All those who have music in them and the Indian community of music professionals will remember with justifiable pride and gratitude the hospitality extended by it.
The Academy has not been without its share of vicissitudes. No doubt, as the poet sang, like a tall cliff that lifts its awful form and midway leaves the storm, the Academy took in its stride the phase of the Tamil Isai challenge and the legal tangle it got embroiled into more recently. In documenting these two major episodes, the authors, Sriram V. and Malathi Rangaswamy, have commendably held the scales even. In fact, a sense of fairness comes across distinctively in their accounts of not just these two but all events, even the minor ones.
Behind the Academy’s magnificent achievement, as the book highlights, lies the far-reaching vision of the early promoters with strong moorings in Indian culture. It is a matter of satisfaction that the ideals enunciated in the resolution of the founding fathers still inspire those who are steering the Academy today. This explains the pre-eminent stature the Academy has acquired and the esteem in which the public holds the institution.
The Academy has had its troubles and the causes varied from infighting among office-bearers to the idiosyncrasies of musicians and their tantrums and boycotts. When the Tamil Isai movement was in a state of frenzy, M.S. Subbulakshmi did not participate in the Academy series for a few years. Senior vidwans like Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, hurt by the perceived ill-treatment meted out to them, boycotted the function at which Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation for the Academy’s new building. There was also the tiff over Ariyakudi’s insistence on the Academy providing a concert slot for Dhanammal. Time always heals wounds.
On the ecstatic side is the account of Veena Dhanammal groping her way to hear T.N. Rajaratnam Pillai. The other one refers to the spell-binding soul-stirring music of Roshanara Begum.
The presidential years of K.V. Krishnaswamy Iyer and T.T. Vasu are significant landmarks in the history of the Academy. It was during the latter’s regime that Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer threw his weight about in the selection of Sangita Kalanidhis. After referring to one or two instances, the authors say: “Kalanidhi controversies abated somewhat though it became clear that anybody harbouring hopes of being so feted and ennobled definitely needed the blessings of the Pitamaha as Semmangudi was now styled.”
The whirligig of Time exerted its influence on the affairs of the Academy. Many sabhas sprang up and they diligently followed the Academy footsteps in the conduct of music festivals in December. Democratisation has necessarily made classical music and dance suffer in quality. Morning sessions of discussions and lec-dems have become a part of every sabha’s programmes. In a brief note under the heading “The fall of academics”, the authors note that the academic side became increasingly neglected in the 1990s and say, without mincing words, that “Slowly but steadily, the Academy was losing its grip over the scholarly side and was downgrading itself to the status of a mere sabha.”
A stunning display of photographs, a wide variety of snippets and a wealth of information on dance and Hindustani music add to the richness of the publication, but they have to go unnoticed because of space constraints. Still one aspect stands out. The Academy has maintained a gracious, unique balance between upholding tradition and adapting to changing times and tastes.