Of concert lists and rasikas' quirks

The Carnatic music concert list is laced with unique nomenclature. Flipping through the lists is a way to relive those kutcheris

December 24, 2011 11:06 pm | Updated December 25, 2011 10:23 pm IST

Before the advent of internet and blogs, on a dew-set margazhitingal madinirainda day, I sprouted musical ears for which I blame no one in particular. Attend I did since then, numerous Carnatic music concerts in and around Madras and learnt to make lists of the concert repertoire. Now, almost all attendees of Carnatic music concerts, including the accompanists and shishyas on stage, seem to make lists. Making concert lists is a rasika quirk, faring in annoyance quotient well below walking out on tanis and mangalams .

The Carnatic music concert list is laced with unique nomenclature. Each song, apart from the raga, tala and composer, is also accompanied by letters R, N, S, T. The ‘R' denotes that the song was preceded by a raga alapana; the ‘N' signifies a neraval at an appropriate juncture — an elaboration of a suitable lyric section, during the exposition of the kriti; the ‘S' indicates that the particular song had swarakalpana; the ‘T' signifies taniavartanam, the percussion solo. The separate pallavi section, when delivered, is marked ‘RTP', the ragam-tanam-pallavi. The list ends with the garland of ragas used in the viruttam and a scribbled mention of the mangalam often in Sowrashtra, Shri or Madhyamavati. These concert lists are useful when comparing notes with fellow rasikas during the music season.

Even as their occasional late arrival is exonerated, the onus of arriving “latest” every season in their music weighs on our performers. For instance, already Poorvikalyani threatens this music season with what Kolaveri did to YouTube. Sharing what went before through such concert lists with the artistes could positively influence the season trend. The Music Academy prints the artistes' repertoire in advance, in their conference souvenirs. There are musicians who maintain lists of their delivery over the years, to avoid becoming outmoded, if not outdated (after all, the Carnatic music kirtis are timeless).

Flipping through these lists is a way to relive those concerts, although most of the music has receded in memory. Few instances, awkward and wayward, undeniably linger, with cryptonomicons like ‘bulb', ‘tso-tso', ‘standard-fare', ‘yawn', scribbled around the lists indicating the associated quintessential moods. Glancing at your recent concert lists, certain ancient rasikas can wax nostalgia on how it resembles a sixties concert of Madurai Mani or how a sequence of ragas in your current list reminds them of a Semmangudi concert in the late seventies.

What is that kriti?

The urge to make the Carnatic music concert list has to be seen to be denied. I have, over the years, witnessed septuagenarians documenting concert contents in squeaky glyphs that elevate by contrast, a doctor's prescription to a model of lucidity. Complete strangers would tear sheets from my notebook and when denied such luxury by xenophobic notebooks, would settle to use their palm, if not their palm pilots.

There would be a buzz in the concert hall when the singer is about to begin a kriti. Either she would have already elaborated the raga with an alapana ably supported by the accompanist, which reduces the possible kritis to a few tens, or she would directly hum the beginning strains of a kriti. This would send paroxysms of enlightenment amongst those rasiks who could identify the kriti, its creator and chief proponent, a la “this is a favourite of Ramnad Krishnan,” when a Bhuvinidasudane in Sriranjani or a Smarane sukhamu in Janaranjani is indicated. They then proceed to jot it down in their list, whispering helpful remonstrations to their as yet clueless neighbours.

Certain musically-challenged rasikas, undaunted by their ignorance, remain upbeat in creating the list. Armed with a printed booklet of a few thousand kriti titles sold at the concert hall, these nouveau rasikas wait until the singer begins the kriti, fervently flip through their booklet to identify the song details and proceed to record it in their notebook with alacrity. Having served The List thusly, they turn around and complain to you about the umpteenth Todi they hear that season.

The Italian novelist and professor of semiotics Umberto Eco famously quipped, “We like lists because we don't want to die.” Even as years and life intervene to transmogrify the self into a Hydra of multiple interests, distractions and profession, I retain my musical ears, Margazhi music season and the habit of making concert lists.

I realise I am neither first nor unique in conceiving concert lists. The first one must have been by Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, when he conceived the present Carnatic concert format — as a list.

(The author is a faculty at IIT-Madras and writes regularly on science and music in the Internet)

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