The Hall of musical fame

'Four Score & More: The History of The Music Academy, Madras,' to be released on Friday evening, is a chronicle of the institution.

December 10, 2009 05:02 pm | Updated November 17, 2021 10:48 am IST

The Music Academy.

The Music Academy.

The Music Academy, Madras, is synonymous with Carnatic music. The story of how this landmark institution came to be forms the subject matter of ‘Four Score and More: The History Of The Music Academy, Madras', a book by historian Sriram V and Dr. Malathi Rangaswami, secretary of the Academy. Incidentally, Malathi has done a PhD on The Music Academy.

Founded in 1928 as an outcome of the music conference that was held in conjunction with the All India Congress Session in Madras city the previous year at Spur Tank, it was conceived to be the institution that would set the standard for Carnatic music.

In the process, in 1929, the Academy has began the practice of hosting annual conferences on music at various venues including the Senate House, Mani Iyer's Hall, People's Park, old Woodlands Hotel, R.R. Sabha and P.S. High School grounds, before it found a permanent place at the current venue. This in turn spawned the December music festival, one of the largest cultural events in the world.

In fact, the Academy completed 80 years of hosting the annual conference. In the book, musician-painter S. Rajam and committee member of the Academy, K. Vaitheeswaran, recall the 1927 conference held at Spur Tank.

Collaborative exercise

Founded by a group of opinion-leaders of the Madras Presidency, all of whom had their individual ideas on how the institution ought to function, the Academy soon won over the entire community of artists. Its evolution became a collaborative exercise between the two groups. The ragas were debated upon, theory of music was discussed in detail, young talent was encouraged and senior artists were given a platform to present their art to the cognoscenti.

Talking about the book, which has 25 chapters, Sriram says, “If one talks about Carnatic music in the past 150 years, one cannot but always get some information or the other about it. It was and continues to be one of the biggest platforms for the arts.” Besides the Academy archives, Sriram and Malathi got plenty of inputs from The Hindu archives, magazines such as Kalki, Ananda Vikatan, Sruti , and individuals such as Rajam and A.R. Sundaram.

In the 1930s, the Music Academy championed the cause of classical dance and provided a forum for discussions on the subject and more important, presented dance performances with a view to getting the public to see the beauties of a traditional art that was in danger of dying. In addition, the Academy has also been a venue for Hindustani music and classical dance forms from the rest of India and the world.

Anecdotes abound about some of the greatest names in the music and dance fields. Way back in 1936, Veenai Dhanammal heard that T.R. Rajarathinam Pillai was taking the Academy stage for the first time, at Royapettah. At that time, she was very old with poor vision. She got into a rickshaw and went up to the entrance of G.P. Road, which was already crowded.

Since the rickshaw could not go further, Dhanam got down and felt her way along the wall up to the hall. Once she reached the venue, she was recognised and led inside. After the performance was over, she was missing. For she had already reached the stage to congratulate the nagaswaram maestro. As the curtains came down that evening, the image that remained was that of Dhanammal blessing Pillai! Such stories pepper the book.

Over the years, the Academy's organisation of the December music season became a byword for efficiency and its auditorium has seen music lovers from all over the world flocking to it to revel in its unique artistic atmosphere. As in any institution, the Academy too attained its stature owing to the people who gave it their time and dreamt big plans for it. ‘Four Score and More…' is a chronicle of the Academy in the past 80 years, its growth, the various personalities who were at the helm of affairs and the incidents and episodes that went into the making of a unique cultural icon.

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