Ambition overrides passion. And money rides roughshod over both. But there are honourable exceptions for whom passion means much more than the other two. Son of an RBI employee, rejecting the admission from BITS, Pilani, he chose music more as his mission than profession. Despite knowing full well that Carnatic music pays little, R. Suryaprakash's passion for Carnatic classical music has become his life's driving force.

A disciple of Sangeetha Kalanidhi T.V.Sankaranarayanan, he has imbibed the rich tradition of the legendary Madurai Mani Iyer and assimilated the best of other traditions. A post-graduate in Indian Music from Madras University, he has performed not only in various parts of India but also the world. He has conducted workshops and lecture concerts in India, the US and Australia. He has also trained a number of students all over the globe. He has composed original lyrics and score for three dance productions of Nrithakshetra, Australia.

The 42-year-old musician has a fascination for vintage Carnatic songs featured in the movies and theatre of the 1940s and has pioneered their revival by participating in special programmes on TV and cutting a disc titled “Legendary melodies”.

Mr. Suryaprakash, the recipient of “Gana Kala Vipanchee” award from Balamuralikrishna, spoke to G. Sathyamurthy on the changing tastes, current scenario of the carnatic music and how the situation could be ameliorated.

“From my childhood I have been fascinated by the truthful voices of the mikeless era. What an amazing range MKT, S G Kittappa, Desigarand T R Mahalingam had! Not to forget the crisp, classical songs composed for them by legends like Papanasam Sivan, where you get the essence of the raga in just 3 minutes of rendition.

I am now happy that there is a place for songs like ‘Paattum Naane' in the realty supersinger shows today on TV. Who knows, a Carnatic-based movie might be round the corner. That is the very purpose of my revival mania.”

Cinema was extremely helpful to concert music in the olden days.

For instance, there used to be a minimum of 10 songs in the movies featuring M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, all of them classical Carnatic based. The audience were then capable of identifying the ragas like Kalyani, Bairavi, Charukesi, etc. from the mood of the film itself.

Thus the 3-minutes of Charukesi in the movie made the 45 minutes of Charukesi concert interesting. Thus, cinema provided the stimulus.

Of course, now cinema music has no connection with classical music though it has “trappings of classical music”.

Carnatic music now faces a tremendous challenge in taking it to the audience. No singer can go beyond the purview of the audience and they cannot be schooled. Any musician should bridge the gap between the scholarly and also the well- liked musicians. And he ends up somewhere in between.

For instance, there have been very scholarly musicians like Madurai Mani Iyer and G. Balasubramaniam in 1940s, Balamuralikrishna, Semmangudi Sririvasa Iyer, T.M. Thyagarajan, M.S. Subbulakshmi, M.L. Vasanthakumari and D.K. Pattamma during 1960s and T.V. Sankaranarayanan and Seshagopalan during 1970s. It was during 1980s there was a sort of a renaissance and youngsters like Vijay Siva, Santhanagopalan, Mandolin Srinivas, Sowmya, and Sanjay Subramaniam took over the mantle.

Audience taste has also been undergoing a lot of change.

He goes on to explain how: In the early part of 20 {+t} {+h} century, there used to be an invocation song on Ganapathy. “Then it will be only Ragam, Thanam and Pallavi in all its glory for three hours. There will be only one thukkada.”

It was Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar who brought about a sea-change by performing a three-hour concert with 25 songs. But, he was strictly classical and uncompromising. “We can call him epitome of classicians.” Thereafter, every five years, there were changes . While M.S. Subbulakshmi popularised Annamacharya Keerthanas, MLV popularised Purandaradasar keerthanas. The concept of singing more Tamil songs also crept into Carnatic concerts. Even Hindi Bhajans, abhangs, etc., entered the arena.”

“According to the prophets of doom, tomorrow's music is always diluted,” quips Mr. Suryaprakash.

He dismisses the impression that the patronage of sabhas has diminished. “On the contrary, while quite a lot of youngsters are performing now, the sabhas are not able to allot slots to them because at least 25 are competing for each slot.”

As against three sabhas in Chennai in the early days, there are now 70-odd sabhas holding music concerts, all during the same December season. “Thus, as against the enthusiasm and anxiety for the performances, some sort of laxity has crept into the rasikas themselves. Seeing an almost empty hall is not a rare sight in Chennai nowadays.”

He also laments that when upcoming artistes perform, there is none to cheer. “Thus, young ones get cold shouldered.”

More often than not, the audience have become just a “floating population. Audience discipline has taken a severe beating.”

What do you think is the duty of the present-day-musician?

It should not be limited to one's own quest for presenting effective concerts. We have to really spread the glory of our traditional music among the uninitiated. I really feel I should bring at least a handful of people into the fold of rasika database of Carnatic music at every concert; it is my duty.

We should tell them that Carnatic music not only relaxes one's mind, but also improves one's concentration. Once you start listening, your other activities will take a quantum leap.

Besides, every parent should realise that going to music concerts is neither a distraction nor a hindrance. “This will not do monumental damage that the idiot box does.”

What do you feel is the role of sabhas for the sustenance of classical music?

I feel sabhas are organising a lot of concert music despite the odds of dwindling audience turnouts and thereby contribute a lot to our culture. With this looming trend of over-supply, I feel after sometime there will be lesser number of concerts and each concert will be a well-publicised affair.

One can only hope that the deserving upcoming musician should not be overlooked in that shake-out.

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