Perspective Music

Passion without performance

Chinnani (second from right) with Music Trinity

Chinnani (second from right) with Music Trinity  

Of a family spanning four generations deeply involved in music — but as a pastime

Musicians have always reached out to friends for social company, for personal or career advice or furtherance and for well-meaning criticism. The eco-system was completed by many well-to-do families, who acted as the scaffold to the musicians. For over seven decades, our family has sustained a competence — intense involvement with Carnatic music, without going into the ring. The four generations of the family have gone about it as if it was a tryst. A typical week between 1940s and early 21st century (yes, a long span) would consist of some members attending two or three concerts (individually and together), listening to hours of tapes or CDs or radio music (often special selections rather than random music), discussing the concerts, judging ‘state of the music’ now and then, visiting a few musicians’ families, inviting a musician and his or her family for a meal, hours of practice by budding youngsters in the family, chorus effects from others, who only had passive learning, heated debates about A’s music vs B’s music (A and B may be A-listers at the relevant times) and a lot of passive listening. The musical osmosis was so complete that even those not formally trained could sing a couple of minutes of Rishabhapriya or Karnaranjani.

There was however, another undercurrent. Every now and then, the young brigades were banished to mind their studies and quite strangely, advised not to be addicted to Carnatic music (just like you would dissuade people from the cinema craze). There was a lot of love, certainly no hate but pragmatism had the upper hand. Pragmatism stemming from a clear choice when it came to education, career, etc. Music could only be a pastime, even if it was intense.

The members were encouraged to formally or informally learn music but the Lakshman Rekha was clearly drawn — not to go the professional distance. Except for one mridangist with an AIR ‘A’ rating, the family of perhaps over 60 people across generations produced nothing of substance that went beyond homes. Some of us became official critics, (a good second option) — including my late grandfather K. S. Mahadevan, and many others remained unofficial critics retaining their RTC (right to critique, without fear or favour). They had no qualms about trashing briga music or slow music or applause-centric music and calling a spade a spade. This is despite forging intimate friendships with about 20-25 top musicians and their families and an ‘acquaintance’ level association with scores of others. So, both friends and the unacquainted were put on the altar of family scrutiny.

It is not clear if the friendships of musicians brought the family close to music or the other way around. A Bharat Ratna as a close friend for five decades, many Sangitha Kalanidhis as good friends (occasional teachers to the new generation in the family), many Padma Vibhushans and Padma Bhushans performing at family weddings, the crème de la crème dancers or musicians presiding over family events, and many others dropping by for a chat or a meal meant that the social side of music and our family was always on a hyperbole. Many families in Chennai have had this privilege. The only difference I could perhaps glean was that our family did not conform to the typical category of lawyer-patrons or wealthy organisers or upper-income Chennai ‘lutyens’ (who may even have lanes named after them in Mylapore).

The love without marriage relationship with music has been an enigmatic core of our family. No one symbolised this more than my grandmother who would have been 100 this year (The family got up a small event to commemorate this). Chinnani, as she was known, was the classic combo of deep but amateur interest and stoic detachment. An uncle with top knowledge (self-acquired) who drew awe and respect from musicians, just passed on. The umbilical cord to music never went away even across continents and across generations of musicians.

This phenomenon may not be unique as Chennai may have more such stories with some variations. Youngsters in such osmotic environments must be thankful for the subconscious initiation and venous infusion of one of the greatest forms of music.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 7:09:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/passion-without-performance/article30633039.ece

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