Shift, Enter December Season

Trichur Brothers performing at the 2019 December Season at The Music Academy   | Photo Credit: K.V. Srinivasan

As always, a cool breeze will sweep across the city, heralding pleasant days ahead, but Margazhi mornings and evenings will not be the same this year. You are unlikely to wake up to the sound of bhajans sung by groups of devotees walking around the streets with their cymbals and songs. You may not hear the pealing of temple bells that break the pre-dawn silence. You will not be able to hop from sabha to sabha dressed in your traditional best. And the many who like a crisp rava dosai before an elaborate raga alapana will miss the delectable spread at the canteens.

Instead, this December, switch on your laptop or mobile phone, sit back with a cup of home-made filter coffee, and watch your favourite artiste online.

“We know that it is difficult to recreate the ambience and mood of the Season on the digital platform, but we have tried to make the experience exciting for rasikas. Much before the lockdown was lifted, we had decided on a virtual festival to avoid placing the artiste or the audience at risk,” says N. Murali, president, The Music Academy.

From a formidable line-up of 83 concerts every year, filling senior, sub-senior and junior slots, the festival has shrunk to 27 concerts of shorter durations (seniors - 90 minutes and sub-seniors and juniors - 60 minutes). The festival will also be held for only eight days (December 24 to 31). No titles are being awarded this year, not even the Sangita Kalanidhi. And neither will music lovers be able to participate in the usual well-curated lecture demonstrations.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at the foundation laying ceremony of The Music Academy’s present building on October 5, 1955

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru at the foundation laying ceremony of The Music Academy’s present building on October 5, 1955   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Digital challenges

In these times of uncertainty, fear and social distancing, you still don’t know when it will be safe to walk into a sabha again and keep beat with the performer onstage, uninhibitedly utter sabash or bale in appreciation of a heartwarming swara phrase, or peep into the raga guidebook your neighbour is frantically going through to know the raga being sung. It’s hard to match the atmosphere of live music to the one-dimensional screen of your preferred device.

“The intimacy and connect of a live show obviously cannot be transmitted through electronic gadgets, but we hope to make the virtual kutcheris engaging with cutting-edge technology. We held discussions with filmmakers such as Rajiv Menon before roping in Usha Rajeswari of Prakrithi JIVA Media. The aim is to ensure flawless audio and visuals.

“The artistes chosen in the three categories are recipients of honours and titles last year and a few Sangita Kalanidhis. There will also be a nagaswaram concert and harikatha performance. The performances have been recorded on the Music Academy stage. And, as always, the sub-senior and junior concerts are free while that of the seniors are ticketed. I think this year’s virtual Margazhi could open the doors for a hybrid festival, a mix of physical and digital streaming, in the future,” says N. Murali.

The Music Academy archives has precious books, periodicals and recordings

The Music Academy archives has precious books, periodicals and recordings   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

More than tech

Technology apart, what will enhance the viewing experience are the audio-visual clippings that will be streamed between concerts. Did you know the various locations the Music Academy functioned from before shifting to the present building? Do you know the architect who designed the bell-shaped structure? Are you interested in the Academy’s rich archival treasure of books, photographs and recordings? Do you want to know about the famous cooks who have run its canteen (the Academy pioneered the concept of canteen in 1941)?

According to Sriram V, historian and secretary, Music Academy, “During the making of the 18 clippings, which deal with both the history and the activities of the institution, we realised there is so much to share with the Carnatic aficionados who have over the years developed a special bonding with the cultural institution.”

Not just the past, the audio-visual capsules track the journey of the Academy from its first Margazhi Season in 1929 to the present. “We have a large collection of books and recordings that could be a scholar’s delight or help young artistes develop a better understanding of the art. We have newspaper clippings from 1925 that have been digitised. The year-round academic activities, include workshops, lec-dems and music classes to train young enthusiasts in the art,” says Sriram.

There are clips on the Sangita Kalanidhi title awarded by the institution, considered the highest accolade in the field of Carnatic music. “One of the clippings has Sudha Ragunathan talking about what the award means, not just personally to the recipients but to the art, while Aruna Sairam describes the sense of fulfilment she experienced to see her photograph up there,” says Sriram.

Virtual concerts may not have the energy and emotion of a live concert, yet their content should be designed to make sure the performances still have a raw, human edge to them. The Music Academy’s 2020 Margazhi Utsavam certainly seems to be an effort in this direction.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2021 6:51:00 PM |

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